Tag Archives: books

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

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You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!

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One Of *Those* Posts – Things I Enjoyed

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I usually avoid doing those “year end” kinda things – ‘cos really, it’s only the year-end in the Gregorian calendar, not in loads of other calendars. Anyway, here’s a list of some things I liked this past spin around the sun. In no particular order or category:

The Summer: Even though I left my job at the beginning of June, I had quite a good summer this year. I visited my family back in the U.S.A. for two weeks – I hadn’t seen them in nine years, so it was a treat to see all the nieces and nephews and my cousins and their little’uns. I also met a friend and did a bit of record shopping, too. Back in the UK, it proved to be a decent time, as the weather (mostly) brought sunshine and warmth. Compared to last year, this year was a model season.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: I first heard this band through Marc Riley‘s 6Music show a couple of years ago. I kinda liked their strange, psychedelic R&B-influenced sound, but not enough to pick up the first record. Riley started playing the first single off of the new album, “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)” and it became a near-instant earworm. The album was released in February of this year and I bought it shortly after. I find there’s not a bum track on it – though for those with short attention spans, “Monki” can probably overdo it a bit.

A Field In England/Kill List: Pixie and I watched “Sightseers” early in the year and I really enjoyed it, particularly for the performances of Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, as the main protagonists. “Sightseers” was released in 2012, but we missed it in the cinema. Director Ben Wheatley was finishing up “A Field In England” even as were sending the rental DVD of “Sightseers” back. I was back in the UK in time to watch A.F.I.E. on BBC Four in early July and it blew my mind. Set in Civil War-era England, it involves some deserters who are tricked into helping a necromancer into searching for a ‘treasure’ hidden in a deserted field. There’s madness, psychedelic mushrooms and magick thrown into the mix. I thought it was brilliant and I’m definitely buying the DVD. I watched “Kill List” shortly after and while it wasn’t quite as visually arresting as A.F.I.E., the story, in places, seems far more intense. A soldier-turned-hitman gets lured back into the business by his friend and ‘associate’. At first, it seems like a routine mission, but things get progressively weirder as the film goes on. The ending scene is a shocker and it’s wonderfully played and is a genuine “Holy shit!” moment when you realise what has happened. Superb.

Fuck Buttons: I’d heard about them a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure I’d like their music. I checked out a couple of clips on You Tube, but I filed them in the “kinda interesting, maybe check them out later” dept. This year, they released their third full-length album, Slow Focus. I listened to a few of the new tracks and really liked them – so I bought up the back catalogue (not tough, as it’s only two records so far). At the moment, “Tarot Sport” is my fave, though “Street Horrrsing” has it’s ace tracks, too. I also found out that Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Powers‘s (of F.B.) ambient side project. Blanck Mass’s track Chernobyl was used to excellent effect in “A Field In England”.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (the stage version at the Apollo Theatre, London): You can read my longer review in the last post. Excellent staging and cast – highly recommended. You won’t be able to see it until the beginning of January, as part of the ceiling in the theatre collapsed during a performance – luckily there were no fatalities.

Leonard Shlain – The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: I didn’t get to read quite as many books this year as I wanted to – but “The Alphabet…” was quite entertaining and enlightening. I read it while on holiday in the States. Shlain’s theory posits that while worldwide literacy has been very beneficial on the whole, it has also brought subjugation of women in almost every culture in which it’s been introduced. You may not agree with it, and find his research lacking – but I find it quite compelling and very possible. Copies are still available – I bought mine quite cheap off of eBay.

Horrible Histories/The Wrong Mans: H.H. finally finished this year, after it’s fifth series and it’s a shame, because it got better and better as it went along. The song/band parodies were ace and their send-up of “Masterchef”, ‘Historical Masterchef‘, was seriously funnier than most adult sketch shows, to me, anyway. “The Wrong Mans” is a series on BBC Two, that was shown in the early autumn. It stars Matthew Baynton, who was part of the H.H. cast and James Corden. I’m not really a fan of Corden’s, so I thought it could go either way. Luckily, Baynton held his own and Corden’s usual antics were limited to just a few scenes. I thought it was good, for a modern Hitchcock pastiche. There’s not much wiggle-room for a second series – but then, teevee writers can come up with some convoluted shit in order to keep a franchise going. We’ll see…

The World’s End: The final film of Edgar Wright‘s “Cornetto Trilogy” (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) was released this past year. To me, it didn’t have quite the gut-bust laugh quotient of “Shaun Of The Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“, but it’s still a quality flick. Part 90s nostalgia, part sci-fi and part “you can never go home again” story – it makes a fitting end to the trilogy. I won’t go into plot specifics, in case you’ve not seen it, but I will say that “Fuck off back to Legoland, cunts!” is one of my fave film lines of the last ten years.

Matt Berry – Witchazel: I’d been meaning to pick this up for a loooong while and was given the CD as an X-Mas gift this year. It’s as good as I’d anticipated and for anyone who digs early 1970s psychedelic/progressive folk and English whimsy, this is a must-have. Berry is a comedic actor who’s appeared in some of the funniest shows of the past five-to-ten years: The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace…and (the somewhat patchy) The IT Crowd. The guy’s also a solid musician and I’ve got his second album “Opium” as well (his first album, “Jackpot“, is waaaaaay out-of-print and you most certainly won’t find it on the interwebtubes or eBay – trust me, I’ve looked). Berry’s newest series, “Toast Of London” was broadcast in the autumn and it looks like a second series has been commissioned. “T.O.L.” uses “Take My Hand“, from ‘Witchazel” as it’s theme tune.

There’s loads more music, some teevee and books I enjoyed – but then this post would be mammoth and would stretch your reading patience to it’s limit. Hope your year was near what you wanted it to be and roll on Gregorian calendar year 2014!

Film As Language? Kubrick’s “The Shining”

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My first year of high school was spent in a Catholic one. I had attended a Catholic middle school and some of my good friends were opting to go to a Romish institution, rather than a public high school (that some other of my friends had chosen to do). I took the entrance exam and was accepted. Most of my classes were in the second-tier strata. The top level classes were called the ‘Honors’ cirriculum. I was only placed in one ‘Honors’ course, called “Literary Arts”.

The course was taught by a white-haired and goateed rotund man called “Allen”. Come to think of it, he looked a bit like Robert Anton Wilson‘s evil twin. He seemed quite pompous and pretentious, too. Our first day in class, he had us write down a speech that started “You are the salt of the earth….” – I wish I could remember the rest and I don’t have my old notebook anymore. It’d be hilarious to read it now….some ghastly prose. Apparently, he had a thing for the young ladies, too. Allegedly, he would get a bit chummy with some of them and there were rumours that he touched the legs of a few (skirts were required uniform for girls – I don’t think trousers were allowed) to make sure they were wearing tights/nylons (I can’t remember if they were required as part of the girl’s uniforms as well). I suspect that was an urban legend amongst the students, though – I can’t imagine that would’ve been tolerated, even in a creepy Catholic school.

I found the course pretty dull, and Allen’s jibes at the counter-culture (though, to be honest, I didn’t know all that much about the late 60s at the time) and his utmost allegiance to “tradition” rankled me at the time, even if I wasn’t quite sure why that bothered me. He would bleat on about people getting married “under porches” (hey???) and jumping out of planes and coruscate them for not following tradition. I got the feeling he didn’t like me much, either. I didn’t raise my hand a lot and didn’t chuckle at a lot of his cheesy put-downs of people not like him. As such, I got a lot of “C”s and “C+”s on assignments. I’m not saying he graded me low because he didn’t like me – if I’m honest, I just didn’t get enthusiastic about a lot of the coursework.

The one part of the course I did really enjoy was the bit about ‘Literary Archetypes‘. I can’t remember if he went into anything about Carl Jung and psychological insights – but I do remember him briefly discussing that there’s only ‘x’-number of stories/myths and they are continually being re-told, but in different ways. If you learn to recognise certain ‘clues’ in a story, you can figure out which original story/myth the new writing alludes to. He then led us through analysing a few different short stories and novels – such as Shirley Jackson‘s The Lottery and John Knowles‘s A Separate Peace.

I can’t quite recall which myth Jackson’s story covers – but it’s definitely on the ‘harvest-sacrifice’ tip. He told us that the colour black almost always signifies death (the black dot found on the ‘chosen one’s card). The names conjure up symbols, too – ‘Mr. Graves’ and ‘Mr. Summers’ and ‘Mr. Warner’ (geddit?). There’s more, but those are all the ones I can recall and I don’t have my notes anymore. “A Separate Peace” ‘is’, according to the archetypal analysis, a re-telling of the Jason & The Golden Fleece myth, set on a boarding-school campus. Some of the clues are a bit obvious (“The Golden Fleece Debating Society”), but there’s loads more that are well-hidden. “Phineas” represents Poseidon (his nickname is “Finny”), or something like that. I’ll really have to see if I’ve kept my notes – I don’t think I have.

That stuff seemed pretty cool – I liked the way the ‘clues’ added up to show the myth buried under Knowles’s novel and Jackson’s short story. As I say, the rest of the course seemed pretty dull – other than when we were learning about poetry rhythms and we read some rock song lyrics as poetry (even old Allen had to admit the rhymes were clever), like Eleanor Rigby and The 59th Street Bridge Song. I left the school at the end of the year, for various reasons, and finished the rest of my high school days at the public one.

Where is all this leading, you ask? I’ll tell ya’s! A friend posted a link on FaceBook about a cinema in New York City showing Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, both forwards and backwards at the same time. The cinema staff decided to do so based on a comment from a site run by someone called The Mastermind. The comment was that “The Shining” should be viewed both forward and backward. The Mastermind studied the film and picked out ‘clues’ to it’s hidden narrative – in a similar way to Archetypal Literary Criticism, with dollops of Jungian symbolism thrown in. The theory is that written language is coming to an end, and a visual language, particularly via film and video games, “is” the future of communication. Now, I’m not quite sure about that, but who knows? He or she may be correct.

You can read the original post here. It is quite long, but fascinating. Each scene is inspected, with possible motives for camera angles and placements of objects. “Is” it what Kubrick had in mind? I don’t really know and I don’t think Stanley ever revealed his true intention for the film. Still, as an interpretation, The Mastermind certainly did his/her research!

Here’s a clip of the forwards/backwards showing of “The Shining” – pretty trippy:

The Shining Forwards And Backwards, Simultaneously, Superimposed (Excerpt) from KDK12 on Vimeo.

Rock-N-Reads: “Staring At Sound”

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I found the ‘official’ Flaming Lips bio, called “Staring At Sound” in a charity shop for £3. I couldn’t pass it up at that price and I’d meant to buy it when it was first published in 2006.

Written by Jim DeRogatis, it traces the band’s history from their childhood days up to the making of their (then new) record “At War With The Mystics”. I also own DeRogatis’s history of psychedelic rock, called “Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades Of Psychedelic Rock” (previously published as “Kaleidoscope Eyes” in 1996). I quite like “Turn On Your Mind”, even though, to me, he misses out some pretty important bands. I suppose that is to be expected with any book attempting to cover an entire genre in just a few hundred pages.

Featured in a chapter of “Kaleidoscope Eyes” and updated in “Turn On Your Mind..” were The Flaming Lips – who DeRogatis cited as one of the more important psych guitar bands of the 1990s (along with Anglo-Irish ‘shoegazers’, My Bloody Valentine). He was able to hang out during the recording of their 1995 release, “Clouds Taste Metallic” and used that as some of the chapter in the book. I suppose after that and some more meetings with The Lips and their spaced-cowboy Okie leader, Wayne Coyne, over the next five or six years led him to expand it into a whole book about the band.

The chapters in “Staring…” are based around the group’s record releases, so you get the atmosphere of what was happening, tour-wise and studio-craft. I found the earlier years of The Lips more of a revelation than the post-“Soft Bulletin” era, simply because there seem to have been very few interviews from around then (unless you were hip to small ‘zines in the late 1980s that may have had pieces about The Lips). The author did a fine job rounding up ex-members of the band and letting them have a say – particularly former drummers Richard English and Nathan Roberts. Tellingly, Ronald Jones, the guitar wunderkind who joined just in time to help kick-start The Lips again in 1993, refused to be interviewed. He’s portrayed as an uber-sensitive soul who had a spiritual discovery while on the Lollapalooza tour in 1994 and subsequently left the group soon after the release of “Clouds Taste Metallic”.

DeRogatis doesn’t shy away from most subjects – Steven Drozd, the drummer/multi-instrumentalist who’s been with the group the longest, besides Coyne and bassist Michael Ivins, had drug and drink troubles in the late 90s/early 2000s and nearly left The Lips a few times. Coyne’s jealous streaks and control-freak nature are also given a public airing – particularly concerning his former girlfriend/band manager Michelle Vlasminsky. The group’s spats with producer/engineer Keith Cleversley, who’s portrayed as arrogant and fomenting tension between the band members, are another example of the bad times…as is the 2002 tour with Beck.

Through it all, though, you can’t help but admire their persistence and positive attitude. At each dip, they somehow manage to pull themselves out of it and start a new phase – such as in 1989, when Jonathan Donahue (who brought his own Lips-ian flair to his own group, Mercury Rev) joined and from their non-stop jamming, the guitar-skronk classic, “In A Priest Driven Ambulance” album was realised. They did it again after Jones left. Trimmed down to a trio (which they essentially remained since), Coyne got the idea for the “Boom-Box Orchestra” shows, which led to the 4-disc album “Zaireeka“, released in 1997. They then hit super-stardom with the “Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” records, released in 1999 and 2002, respectively. A few massive tours and four years later, “At War With The Mystics” was finally completed. The book ends with the band in the studio, recording that very album.

Though more detail could’ve been used for the later sections of the book, I’d recommend “Staring At Sound” for the Lips novice, though the hardcore devotees will probably find out things about the band they didn’t know either – unless they’re personal friends of the individual Lips.

Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riverworld”

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I used to be a pretty rabid sci-fi & fantasy reader in my teens and early 20s. I read a fair bit of the staples: Frank Herbert‘s Dune series (well, up to Chapterhouse: Dune), Tolkien‘s The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings (I started on “The Silmarillion”, but only got about a third of the way through), Philip K. Dick‘s Ubik and A Scanner Darkly, Heinlein‘s Stranger In A Strange Land, etc. etc.

I didn’t have time to read everything, natch – so there’s some I still haven’t checked out. Issac Asimov‘s Foundation series is one I keep meaning to delve into. Ray Bradbury‘s (who sadly passed away a short while ago) The Martian Chronicles is said to be very good as well. Some of my friends really dig Kim Stanley Robinson and Ben Bova, too. I’ve never read any of their books. I want to read more of Michael Moorcock‘s sci-fi as well – I’ve only read the Dancers At The End Of Time series and a couple of others.

I had heard of Philip Jose Farmer, but he was only on the periphery of my sci-fi knowledge. Around four years ago, Pixie and I visited Hidecote Gardens. There’s a used bookshop near the entrance to the gardens–in which I found three of the four main Riverworld novels, along with a short-story collection called “Riverworld & Other Stories”. I liked the cover art and decided to purchase all four books. On a side note, I found a copy of Camel‘s A Live Record LP in really good condition, so I bought that as well.

I’d recommend the book, as an introduction to Farmer’s writing. It covers a smattering of stories published in the 1960s and 70s. Besides the “Riverworld” story – there’s a great pastiche of William S. Burroughs, writing a Tarzan tale. Y’see, it’s supposed to be written by W.S., instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Very clever, or I thought so, anyway. It’s called “The Jungle Rot Kid On The Nod“. “The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol” sees the titular character having amourous adventures in a nursing home, which he describes in terms of World War I dogfights, as he is a former pilot. “Monologue” is a creepy story, told in the first person by an ill boy, lying in his bed. There’s more, but I won’t list them all. Find a copy of the book – it’s worth it.

The “Riverworld” story features Tom Mix, the American actor who starred in several “Western” films in the 1910s to 1930s. The main premise of “Riverworld” is that every human who ever lived on Earth, suddenly is resurrected on a strange planet. Running along the circumference of the planet, is a mile-wide (or thereabouts) river. There are plains that extend back from the banks for a few miles, then foothills, then steep mountains, made of black, smooth rock. The mountains are impossible to scale, as their faces rise up 10,000 feet at a sheer angle.

All of the humans are ‘resurrected’ at the same time and all wake up on the planet at the same time. Farmer initially called this the “Day Of The Great Shout”, as no-one was prepared and the disillusionment and utter confusion caused chaos and dread, until everyone began to adjust to the new world. No-one know why they are there, but most religionists are in agreement that it is nothing like what they were promised on Earth. This causes loss of faith, though many still cling to their beliefs.

The short story happens some time after “The Day Of The Great Shout”, as Mix is sailing on a boat, with a crew of disparate resurrectees. City-states have been established along the banks of the river and Mix and co. are fleeing from one of them. One of Mix’s crew is a mysterious Palestinian who lived 2,000 years before Mix. It turns out this character was quite famous. Mix and his crew are captured by a German Protestant zealot, who was living during the 16th century. I won’t reveal too much more detail, but you peice together who the mysterious Palestinian was by the end.

The first proper book in the series, “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”, concerns explorer Sir Richard Burton and his awakening and journey through Riverworld. The book starts as Burton dies – then he suddenly ‘wakes up’ in a massive dark space, which is filled with millions of other human bodies, somehow floating, but held in stasis. He is able to move his hands and momentraily breaks free of whatever force is holding him. As he does this, a strange floating canoe-like craft approaches him and he falls unconcious again – only to wake up again on the Riverworld. Like Mix – he gathers a disparate crew around him. They build a boat and travel up the river. Burton is joined by Alice Liddell, the model for the heroine in the “Alice In Wonderland” stories, by Lewis Carroll. A Neanderthal called “Kazz” and a 20th century American called “Peter Janus Frigate” (check the initials, heh heh), are also part of the group. They are captured by a surprisingly philosophical Hermann Goring, but escape from his territory. Goring is killed in an ensuing battle, but as happens in Riverworld, he is ‘resurrected’ in another spot along the river and meets up with Burton again. This happens a few times – Burton and Goring are killed (or kill themselves) and then resurrect near each other. There’s much more to the story, but I don’t want to include any more spoilers in this post.

The second book in the series, “The Fabulous Riverboat”, swaps Burton for ‘Mark Twain’ (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens), as a lead character and concerns his quest for iron deposits to build a grand riverboat, like the ones he used to pilot on the Mississippi River on Earth. He gets help from a mysterious stranger, one of the so-called “Ethicals”, who are the beings over-seeing the Riverworld planet. Clemens gets his iron in the form of a meteorite, but has to deal with the machinations of neighbouring states, as well as King John Of England. Clemens reluctantly co-rules his state with John, after John’s army defeats other invaders looking to get the iron for themselves. Clemens’s Earthly wife, Olivia, also turns up with Cyrano de Bergerac – causing him much grief.

There’s many plot twists and you can almost lose track of all the double and triple-crosses going on. In the end, Clemens does get his riverboat and loses it quickly. You almost feel his frustration, but he vows to build another boat and capture it.

There are two more books in the original series. “The Dark Design” is the third, which I’ve only just started reading, followed by “The Magic Labyrinth”. Farmer also published “Gods Of Riverworld”, which seems to be sort-of a postscript to the series. Seriously, if you dig your sci-fi – you really can’t go wrong with “Riverworld”. It’s epic, in a good way and Farmer had a knack for dialogue, even between historical characters. He doesn’t over-do the detail in his imaginary planet either, so you don’t get bogged-down in miniutae. The series (so far) gets a big thumbs-up from me!