RIP, PJF

Philip José Farmer, one of sci fi’s great minds, is gone (see entry on him in BoingBoing).

Damn. I shed a tear.

PJF was one of the writers who turned me on to the genre. Not just to what sci fi was, but what it could do and where it could go. WHen I discovered his work as a youjng teen, First via his Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche, HAdon of ANcient Opar, which actually was one of the best books he ever wrote), and then with ‘vebus on the half shell’ and the ‘world of tiers’, it changed how I read sci fi.

When I began reading, it was because I wanted fantasy and space. Narnia, Tolkein, Asimov. But it wasn’t until I found two authors (Farmer and Zelazney) that I encountered what I’d call ‘adult sci fi’; sci fi that isn’t just about space, but is about life and people.

Farmer isn’t by any means a great writer. His work can be clunky and awkward to my reader’s eye today. But it wasn’t his prose skills that made him important. What made him important was the wild, bizarre imagination, and the impossible yet believable world he created. Who else could have invented River World, with every human ever to live reincarnated along the banks of a seemingly endless river? Who else could have invented the World of Tiers (a world shaped like a giant wedding cake), or Day World where everyone’s in status 6 days a week and gets to live only on one week day. Who else could have gotten into the minds (and crotches) of tarzan, doc savage, teh Wizard of Oz, and so many other characters? He invented the ‘Wold Newton’ concept, interconnecting characters and real people in common universes. Zelazney’s ‘lonesom october’ and alan moor’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” certainly owe him direct debt, as do dozens of other writers who use this device.

PJF was, for many years, my favorite write; and he’s still one of those few who I think changed sci fi, not just for me, but for the genre itself. He opened doors between the real world and the fantastic one in a way no other writer I can think of (then, at least) ever did.

He’ll be missed.

Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book

Cory just posted this on BoingBoing: Last week, I wrote about Neil Gaiman’s video book-tour for his new young adult novel, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman read a different chapter at each day’s tour-stop, and videos of the readings were posted, in sequence, to a website, so that you could follow along and hear Gaiman (a […]

Cory just posted this on BoingBoing:

Last week, I wrote about Neil Gaiman’s video book-tour for his new young adult novel, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman read a different chapter at each day’s tour-stop, and videos of the readings were posted, in sequence, to a website, so that you could follow along and hear Gaiman (a virtuoso reader) perform the full text of this wonderful book.

Seems like it worked. The Graveyard Book is now number one on the New York Times’s Young Adult bestseller list. And deservedly so: Gaiman’s combination of The Jungle Book’s elegant and sweet structure and style with a genuinely creepy setting and situation (Bod is abandoned in the graveyard as a baby after his parents are murdered by a serial killer; he is raised by the graveyard’s ghosts, who go back to pre-Roman times, and who give him an eclectic education and rescue him when he goes astray) is utterly inspired, and beautifully executed.

This is a book that is especially fabulous when read aloud — a perfect bedtime book for your little monsters. Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book — video tour

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I was at the reading of Chapter Five in Palo Alto, California, and I have to say, it was fucking fabulous.

My daughter is a huge Neil Gaiman fan; her favorite book is Coraline, and she loves Neil’s other kids books (like the brilliant Wolves in the Walls). She came home a couple of weeks ago bouncing off the walls with excitement over a flyer she’d seen about this reading. The timing couldn’t have been better; she finished American Gods a month ago, and finished the incredible Sandman a week before the reading.

The two of use share so much common taste and interest; I was nearly excited about this as she was, and she was practically vibrating on the way to the theater last Saturday.

Gaiman is one of my favorite writers; I’ve wanted to hear him speak for ages. He completely exceeded my expectations; as a reader, as a speaker, as a story teller. He’s funny, quick witted, surprisingly relaxed in front of an audience of almost seven hundred people.

If you watch the video of Chapter Five, you’ll see my exact viewpoint; we waited in line for a couple of hours and were sitting directly behind the camera.

I have not yet had time to read Graveyard Book; but if it’s anywhere near as good as the chapter Neil ready last weekend, it’s going to be a winner.

Neil also was showing exclusive clips from the Coraline movie, which is looking to be utterly stunning. Directed by Henry Selig of Nightmare Before Xmas, it’s got some of the same spooky, otherworldly quality of Nightmare, but with Neil’s unique point of view. I can’t wait to see it.

Mystic Pig back in print

This was just posted in the comments in Hiromi’s blog, by Jon Gifford of Oleander Press: I just wanted you to know that Richard Katrovas’ Mystic Pig is available again as of today [actually amazon USA isn’t shipping it, but Amazon UK is taking pre-orders]. At the beginning of last year I came across an […]

This was just posted in the comments in Hiromi’s blog, by Jon Gifford of Oleander Press:

I just wanted you to know that Richard Katrovas’ Mystic Pig is available again as of today [actually amazon USA isn’t shipping it, but Amazon UK is taking pre-orders]. At the beginning of last year I came across an old post of Hiromi’s mentioning the book; her comments were enough to make me google it and I found Karl’s and Ray’s blog entries. As a result, I then tracked down a copy in NYC, read it in one sitting and decided then and there to republish it. Richard happily agreed.

Oleander doesn’t really publish fiction but, as a direct result of your enthusiastic championing, a novel that shines with humanity, integrity and passion (as well as noir humour), one that really needs to be in circulation and in people’s hands, is back where it belongs.

We may not sell many – such is publishing in a world dominated by Oprah (Richard and Judy over here) and the big houses – but I’m very proud to have made sure that it’s here for when someone tells a friend “Hey, there’s this great book you have to read…” A mention on your blogs would be a great help in getting the ball rolling though. If it does well over here I’m planning a US relaunch in the spring.(I know you’ve stopped posting Hiromi, but just thought I’d let you know anyway. I enjoyed lurking for the last couple years and am glad you’ve found your way to a great new place, geographically and every other way.)

To say I’m excited about this fails to convey the feeling. Mystic Pig is one of my top five favorite books ever; and it’s been tragically out of print for several years now. Having it back, that alone is a huge victory. Knowing that we had a hand in bringing it back? I’m nearly speechless. Jon’s posted a bit about how this happened here.

I owe a thousand thanks to Jon for making this happen, and to Hiromi and Ray for joining me in writing about this amazing book.

Go buy it. Go blog about it. Richard Katrovas should be a household name (at least in literary households), and only by gettin tthis book in people’s hands will this happen.

Note: you can also order direct from oleander press.

Straight Life

Arthur Edward Pepper: Narcisist, Musician, Convict. Composer, Dope Fiend, Artist, Criminal. Author; Womanizer. One of the greatest alto saxophonists the jazz world ever produced; and one of it’s most tragic flame-outs. What can I say about him; he tells the story himself with unflinching honesty and and an almost noir narrative voice. I’ve just finished […]

Arthur Edward Pepper: Narcisist, Musician, Convict. Composer, Dope Fiend, Artist, Criminal. Author; Womanizer. One of the greatest alto saxophonists the jazz world ever produced; and one of it’s most tragic flame-outs.

What can I say about him; he tells the story himself with unflinching honesty and and an almost noir narrative voice.

I’ve just finished reading Art’s Autobiography, Straight LIfe – The Story of Art Pepper; and I find myself nearly speechless.

Art’s own words describe the circumstances under which this photo, the cover for his autobiography, was taken:

STLFcover.jpgin 1956, Diane and I lived on one of the steepest hills in Los Angeles, on Fargo STreet. I woke up one morning to a phone call from Bill Claxton, the photographer, saying he had to take my picture today for the cover of The Return of Art Pepper. I had run out of heroin and was very sick, and was unable to score befor Bill got there. We climbed to the corner, and he snapped this picture of me in agony.”

For those who haven’t heard of Art, or some version of his story, here’s a short version, mostly culled from Art’s book. Born in 1925 in southern california to a merchant seaman father and a fifteen-year-old mother. He was a weak, sickly child, raised by a a powerful, tough grandmother after his parents divorce. He grew up neurotic and fearful, seeking outlets in music, sex, and later, alcohol and a incredible capacity for drugs.

By the 1940s, only eighteen, he was touring with one of the country’s top jazz outfits, the Stan Kenton Orchestra; by the early fifties, he was becoming one of West Coast Jazz brightest lights; an alto player, often compared to Charlie ‘bird’ Parker and Lester Young early in his career.

As his career began to peak, however, he discovered heroin; one night in Chicago in 1950, a singer in Art Kenton’s group offered Art both her body, and a snort of heroin, a substance art would love with more passion and commitment than any other person or thing before or after.

It’s hard to understand, from today’s point of view, what heroin was, then and there. Today we know it as a tragic destroyer of lives and careers, as well as a substance with a dark, romantic allure. We see both the broken down and lost, and the wasted glamor of rock music. Then, though, it wasn’t even seen as that big a step from pot; in 1910 it was beleived to be a non-addictive alternative to morphine; until 1924, it was still routinely used medically. When era greats like Charlie Parker began to use it, it was generally seen as cool, and even to enhance one’s playing (after all, some of Parker’s greatest records were made when he was too strung out to stand up.) Heroin use in the jazz community was ignored by the press; it was just part of the scene, the way cocaine was seen in the late seventies. If you weren’t using, you weren’t really in.

Today, we hear some musician is a junkie, we just sort of think of him or her as a nit-wit. In those days, you looked in a cat’s eyes and saw his pupils like pin-holes and you’d think, he’s cool. So in those days, starting up wasn’t big; a lot of the major figures of the day used at one point or another; many (MIles Davis, Coletrane) kicking, while some (Pepper, Chet Baker) never were truly free of it, and saw brilliant careers ended, shortened, or derailed because of it.

In 1952, Art did his first stint behind bars; somewhere he’d find himself over and over for the next twenty years. He was in and out of jail for much of the fifties, meanwhile producing incredible jazz albums like the incomparable Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and Art Pepper +11.

In 1961, Art ran out of road and wound up in one of the worst prisons in the country, San Quentin; in 1966 he was released, hardened and embittered, and more addicted than ever. In the late sixties, Art discovered acid, and added it as well as speed and incredible amounts of alcohol to the heroin he was already shooting many times daily. He all but gave up jazz, playing rock or whatever he could get paid for when he had his horn, though as often as not he would hock it to buy drugs.

In 1968, attempting one of many come-backs, he joined Buddy Rich’s Big Band; after half a tour, though, years of punishment and neglect began to catch up with him. He was hospitalized for a ruptured spleen, and was found to have severe cirrhosis; he was advised to quit drinking and drug use or face certain death. But quitting wasn’t going to happen. The last day of Art’s life, in 1982, he was both injecting and snorting coke.

In ’69, in a state of physical and mental collapse and quite literally near death, Art was more-or-less coerced into joining Synanon, a late-sixties organization that began as a sort of AA-for-dopers, and then went on to become a bizarre commune/cult, and finally collapsed under it’s own weight under attack from the IRS and the federal government.

While in Synanon, Art quit smack (at least temporarily), met Laurie Miller, the woman who’d be his last wife and collaborator, and found some sort of peace in the unlikely form of Synanon’s “game” (a type of encounter group/attack therapy hybrid).

After Synanon, Art both discovered cocaine, and got onto a methadone program; never clean, he was at least able to function, with Laurie’s help, and entered the most musically productive period of his life. Between 1971 and 1982, Art recorded some thirty albums, toured internationally, and, unexpectedly, found artistic recognition and some degree of satisfaction, finally, with his own playing. He also began, with Laurie’s help, to record stories of his life; a chronicle of drugs, music, crime and punishment. He told these stories in the voice of an author, brutally honest, unflinchingly confessional. He talked about his childhood, life, his crimes, his music, his fears and hates. He talked about his obsessive sexuality in pornographic terms. He talked about love.

Early in Straight Life, after describing his first experience with heroin, Art says:

“I realized that from that moment on I’d be, if you want to use the word, a junkie. That’s the word they used. That’s the word they still use. That’s what I became at that moment. That’s what I practiced; Thats’ what I still am. And that’s what I will die as — a junkie.”

In 1982, after shooting coke all night, Art suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; his wife took him to the hospital, where he proceeded to snort coke on his gurney in the emergency room. I want to be high when I die, he said. Art asked Laurie not to let the doctors cut him open. Doctors doubted his nearly-destroyed liver could survive surgery anyway. He was pumped full of morphine to help the pain in his head and methadone to control his withdrawal symptoms. His last words, when they gave him his drugs, were “it’s about time”.

In the years before Art’s death, Laurie had taken the hours and hours of tapes he’d had recorded, and edited them into a cohesive, linear story; told in Art’s own words, it reads like some tragic, brilliant novel. I cannot tell where Art ends and Laurie begins; the finished work is a life, and a story. In another place and time, Art might have been a writer instead of a sax player, pouring his soul out into a battered typewriter instead of into a brass horn. The book was released not long before Art died.

I’ve long been a fan of Art’s music; his lyrical, expressive playing is unique and highly personal. Without knowing anything of who he was, I loved his work from the very first time I played meets the rhythm section. But after reading his book, I feel like I know the man, in an almost disturbingly personal sense.

While a generation and more separate Art and my eras, I know people just like him. Addicts, brilliant, tortured players, creative genius lost, destroyed or wasted under madness or self-destruction. I’ve lived with them, partied with them, loved them. I’ve bought and carried drugs for people like Art, knowing full well I handed them the bullets for a slow, inevitable suicide. I’ve seen lives lost and ruined, and I’ve narrowly missed that life myself.

This book is that story; the story from the inside of a brilliant, chaotic life, from inside the mind of the tortured genius. Like Art’s music, it’s a staggering work. I feel like I’ve been sitting with the man, hearing his stories with sharing a joint or a jug, or passing a mirror. I feel like I’ve met him.

Art was a difficult, complicated, incredibly sensitive man. He was the kind of person you love but may not like; the kind of person you’d help even when you know it’ll kill him. I can hear him telling the stories in Straight Life in his own voice. I’m still, twenty four ours after finishing it, feeling like I just watched someone I know buried.

My intent when I started writing this was to illustrate it with music from Art’s various periods of eak creativity; I find though that I can’t yet. That project will take more time. Later, it’ll be here, or in another entry that compliments this. For, this will have to be enough.

Sci Fi Starters

A friend of mine just asked me for suggestions – sci-fi/fantasy books for a very advanced fourteen year old boy. I’m having some trouble with it. I think about what I read now, and it’s fairly adult and literary (Bujold’s fantasy, GRR Martin, CJ Cherryh, GG Kay). It’s been a while since I talked books […]

A friend of mine just asked me for suggestions – sci-fi/fantasy books for a very advanced fourteen year old boy.

I’m having some trouble with it. I think about what I read now, and it’s fairly adult and literary (Bujold’s fantasy, GRR Martin, CJ Cherryh, GG Kay). It’s been a while since I talked books with a teenager.

He just finished Ender’s Game and loved it.

So – sci fi geeks out there – what are some good picks? I dug back into my memory banks about what I was into when I was a teen. My first thought was, actually, Gor, because the first four books are good (no, I’m not kidding, forget what you know about Gor as a BDSM icon,) though what mom is gonna buy her 14 year old Tarnsman of Gor (well, ok, MY mom, but I don’t think she knew).

So I went with some of my faves from the era: Zelazyny’s Nine Princes in Amber, PJ Farmer’s Riverworld, John Christopher’s The White Mountains, and then added a couple of more recent picks that seem like they’d be the right speed (Tad Williams Dragonbone Chair, Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos).

But I’m missing some good picks because I can’t quite dredge out specifics; I can’t recall which books would be at the right level from people like heinlein or asimov.

Help a brutha out; what would you buy for an advanced fourteen year old boy?

Hunter

I was at a used book convention yesterday, and one of the books I drooled over was a signed first edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I didn’t buy it, of course, but damn, I wanted to.

Last night, the friend I’d gone book shopping with called me and said Looks liek you should have bought that after all, the value’s going to go up by tomorrow.

HUNTER S. THOMPSON: 1937-2005 Original gonzo journalist kills self at age 67

I guess it’s a gonzo way to go out. Still, not, so not what I wanted to read. I can’t quite process that yet.

100 best novels

From Darrell at The Realist: Modern Library 100 best novels list. It’s a funny list, and I’m unsure if I much agree with it. Damn good conversation starter though. And if you’re a big reader (and you know you are, yeah, I’m talking to you), take a look at Darrell’s site which is dedicated to […]

From Darrell at The Realist:

Modern Library 100 best novels list.

It’s a funny list, and I’m unsure if I much agree with it. Damn good conversation starter though. And if you’re a big reader (and you know you are, yeah, I’m talking to you), take a look at Darrell’s site which is dedicated to books and reading.

CJ Cherryh — Essential Sci-fi

CJ Cherryh is one of my favorite writers. Not just a favorite sci-fi writer, but a favorite writer overall. She’s written some of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read (Downbelow Station, Chanur, Cyteen, Foreigner), and some brilliant Fantasy (Fortress in the Eye of Time, Gate of Ivrel). She’s written a million books. most of […]

CJ Cherryh is one of my favorite writers. Not just a favorite sci-fi writer, but a favorite writer overall. She’s written some of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read (Downbelow Station, Chanur, Cyteen, Foreigner), and some brilliant Fantasy (Fortress in the Eye of Time, Gate of Ivrel). She’s written a million books. most of them good, many of them great.

Ok, she’s had a few stinkers. Hammerfall wasn’t so great, and a few of her early novels are of lesser quality. But everything she does is clever, and she’s a truly gifted writer.

She can be challenging. Her books are not easy, and tend to be grim; my friend Scorch (Who’s vanished off the face of the earth near as I can tell) described her typical scenario is “Take a character, put them in a bad situation, then have it get worse. Much, much worse“. But I find her work, all of it, to be very rewarding and worth the read.

But that’s not really what I meant to post here. What I meant to post was a link to this list, which I just found on CJ’s web site:

The Essentials: Science Fiction and Fantasy:

So you like science fiction and fantasy, but you came in through Star Wars and have
no idea, at your first meeting with fans that have ‘been there’ a while, what they’re
talking about. You’d like to go to the conventions and understand the in-jokes and
talk the talk—and you’d like to know what this wonderful field is. I’ll give you a
list of the essential writers, the ones whose works it’s really helpful to have
read—at least enough to be in the know. Must-reads, for the concepts and/or
characters: or just to understand what the field is, and what all these books have in
common.

I’m not completely sure I agree with every one of her picks and I think she may have left a couple out. But it’s a great list and a great starting pointg for those new to sci-fi.

Worth a look.

Book list meme

From Analyze Julie: Directions: copy this list of ten authors, then replace any authors not in your bookcases with authors who are. Replacements in bold. Go back via Julie’s blog and keep clicking back up the trail, it’s fun to see how this list changes. Here’s mine. I have ten billion books so I tried […]

From Analyze Julie:

Directions: copy this list of ten authors, then replace any authors not in your bookcases with authors who are. Replacements in bold.

Go back via Julie’s blog and keep clicking back up the trail, it’s fun to see how this list changes.

Here’s mine. I have ten billion books so I tried to make this a cross-section; it’s not exactly representative of my collection.

1. Tim Powers
2. Charles Bukowski
3. J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Hunter S. Thompson
5. Lewis Carroll
6. Bram Stoker
7. Dashiel Hammet
8. Daniel Handler
9. James Fenimore Cooper
10. William Shakespeare

The Stupidest Angel

I promised to post a review of Chris Moore’s new book, The Stupidest Angel, a week or so ago when I posted my run-down of his work. But Laura pretty much exactly nails it over in her blog. It’s funny as hell, better than Fluke, but not really up to the standard I expect from […]

I promised to post a review of Chris Moore’s new book, The Stupidest Angel, a week or so ago when I posted my run-down of his work.

But Laura pretty much exactly nails it over in her blog.

It’s funny as hell, better than Fluke, but not really up to the standard I expect from Moore. Go back and read the early ones, and read this if you gotta have more. Don’t start here though, partly because everyone in this book is from earlier Moore novels.

There are a lot of great lines, and if I had it in an e-book format that I could search, cut and paste, I’d drop several here, but this is one that particularly spoke to me:

    “Sure, everyone is [insane]. If you think anyone is sane you just don’t know enough about them. The key — and this is very relevant in our case — is to find someone whose insanity dovetails with your own. Like us.”

The concept of “dovetailed insanity” has been floating in my head for several days now. It sort of captures a number of relationships in my life.