Briefly: Bradbury

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I tend to avoid these tribute books–the ones I’ve read about Richard Matheson and Roger Zelazny only reminded me of how much I miss those two fine writers.

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Yes, I’m vamping, deadline to meet, gimme a break!

So far, SHADOW SHOW is the best of this weird, often unsatisfying sub-quasi genre. Neil Gaiman’s “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is an odd story about just what the title says. Harlan Ellison’s “Weariness” is one of those non-stories sometimes called a “meditation” that works beautifully. So many of his work in the last decade has been about avoiding the “this happened, then this happened” quality of straightforward stories, and this is another example. He spent years writing crime and SF stories in traditional modes, and it’s fascinating to watch him change his style over the years. This one should be read without any preconceived ideas.

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Hoity-Toity magazine-thing McSWEENEY’S, beloved of people who talk about “the art of story” when I talk about “stories,” mashes together a couple of anthologies, one edited by Bradbury, another by “Hitchcock.” They forgot to mention that Hitch didn’t actually edit or intro the books with his name on them, but I guess they don’t do that in these Hoity-Toity Art magazine-like objects. I’m only mentioning all of this because I labored through the opening letters and am just sitting down to start this tonight. So this is even less a review than my usual non-reviews, but I feel we’ve grown close and I want to be completely honest with you. Plus, I’m late, gotta run.

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UNTHINKABLE!

I liked RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but happy memories don’t make it a classic. It’s actually kind of boring. Well-made, but boring.

I can’t handle Flat Earthers. I think they’re all kidding, but some of them seem to believe that stuff. I just walk away. What do you say to that?

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Two Ray Bradbury novels no one seems to like. I love ’em. (Third in the series is awful.)

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Steven Spielberg and Stephen King have produced a couple of masterpieces each–more than most. But most of their stuff is crap. Some entertaining crap, but their worldviews are so narrow and blah. They have so little to say. And they keep saying it.

I will probably never see another superhero movie. They’re repetitive and dull for someone over 16.

Good, dark, weird movie you should see:

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We should be more demanding of our entertainment. Just because someone LIKES TV and comic books doesn’t mean they SHOULDN’T give them up. It’s time to move on, grow, learn more. Sure those things are fun and comfortable, but don’t you want to, you know, GROW? Life is too short for adults to be into comic books and Star Trek.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” – some guy in the bible

I love watching livecams at night. City streets, lights, hardly anyone around. Good way to come up with ideas for crime stories.

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None of this stuff applies to anyone but me–you know that. THIS I will predict about everyone: No one, on his or her death bed, will wish they spent more time watching TV, posting on Instagram, or reading comic books. They WILL wish they spent more time learning MORE and spending more time doing interesting things with people they loved.

I’m taking some time off from online. I have to come here to post this and send out stories, work on Amazon, etc. But it’s deadening. Social media brings out the worst in people. And it’s mostly a waste of time.

If I could get away with it, I’d use an electric typewriter and pay someone to do online stuff.

Most of the music I love now is melancholy.

I’m developing a taste for stories that take place in winter, including ‘cozy’ stories. Not a lot, have only read a couple. I may start writing my Christmas novel now.

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Sigh…. OK, enough of this, what’s on TV?

I’m really lazy when it comes to getting on YouTube. I have the camera, I used to edit film and video, but I can’t settle on a format. Short daily vlogs, edited versions of these postings. (Which I’ll be gathering into collections for Kindle.) I want to create an online place where folks who like this stuff can hang around for a few minutes and find something to try that they might love.

I’m writing this in the middle of March. After tonight I hope to be offline for a month. Things to do.

When Harlan Ellison dies, all my youthful heroes will be gone. I kind of wish I’d never heard of him, though.

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Jesus, we need to end this on an up note.

Good film score for a bad film:

My 3 Favorite Philip K. Dick Novels

I’ve been catching up with some PKD novels I’ve never read, mostly minor books that rarely get discussed, like VULCAN’S HAMMER. I enjoy pretty much every one of his novels I’ve read, even the minor ones or obscure ones no one much discusses.

I could work up a top ten list, but now that PKD is becoming a superstar (as opposed to a cult figure), these are the three new fans need to read to get just how good his books can be.

#3 THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

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While this is treated as a great alternative history science fiction tale, what’s most significant for a PKD fan is how it is the maturation of PKD’s paranoia and sense of reality. The Nazi/Japanese material might fit in the FATHERLAND spy genre, but it’s the life under totalitarian rule that is the best part of this. PKD’s paranoia and his hatred for Nazism and how all-powerful government impinges on the individual’s sense of reality. The Nazis and Japanese have divvied up the US, and instead of battle scenes or a focus on Hitler (and his syphillis) OR a ‘regular family’ under Nazism, PKD focuses on someone like himself–an outsider already, reduced to wondering if this novel about a U.S. that helped BEAT the Nazis might, somehow, be the truth.

#2 DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP

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I should’ve reduced the size of this. But I’m still sick, so fuck it.

You could film DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, sticking to it closely, and many people would say, “There are a couple of things that reminded me of BLADE RUNNER. Sorta.” The script process that led to BR is long and tortuous, but to me the key failing is in the perception of the androids. PKD said he saw them as beneath humanity, where Ridley Scott saw them as sad Supermen.

Dick was inspired to write about what makes people human by reading about a Nazi soldier complaining about the cries of starving kids in the Polish ghetto or a concentration camp. How could a human being complain about being kept awake by the cries of kids you were in the process of exterminating?

Scott, on the other hand, saw the replicants as misunderstood, clutzy special needs kids, who just wanna live. It’s a significant difference.

The plot–Rick Dekkard has to retire some runaway androids–is the same in both, but they are treated in wildly different ways. The city of the novel is emptied out, dry, with unoccupied skyscrapers. The religious and ‘mood organ’ elements, so important in the book, are not touched on in the movie; the artificial animals that motivate Dekkard in the book are just details in the movie.

I’d love to see a straight(er) adaptation of this book.

#1 UBIK

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A book about altered perception of reality that just doesn’t show you someone in that state, but puts YOU in that state, questioning the reality you thought you’d been reading about.

A masterpiece.

The Articulate Villain Tell

THE WRONG CASE by James Crumley is pretty good, but it gets a little…gnarled in the last quarter. It gets tiring the way Crumley holds drunks up as paragons of virtue. This is something drunks who write do. Those who don’t drink but who spent a lot of time around drunks don’t often do this.

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Appropriate cover illustration

The book takes one to the knee in the end, though. Our hero, Milo, has finally come up with answers, and confronts the villain. The book could’ve ended in a few pages, but it goes on. Though it takes place in a kind of banged-up ski town, there is Mafia influence. And after two hundred pages of characters who talk like people, we get…a movie Mafia enforcer. Here is a mobster from “back East,” meeting our hero in a bar. Apparently, they don’t have pinball machines Back East. (They do on MY version of planet Earth.)

“Now what does one do? What is the purpose of all those lights? Oh, I see. These are the strike zones, and one should hit the strike zones as the flashing lights cross, and that elicits the highest score. Am I correct?”

Then, as he plays:

“You might begin by giving me some insight into what might have causes Nickie’s coronary this morning… And to what purpose you were carrying a weapon.”

I have no idea what the late, great James Crumley was thinking when he wrote these words, so this is all based on my reading and nothing else.

After 200 pages, the grand climax needed something to boost it a little. It needed to tell the reader that Milo was up against someone Different–someone who wasn’t just some stumblebum hick he could knock around.

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Pretentious cover art, another tell

THE WRONG CASE was written in 1975, so I give a little leeway in terms of the development of dialogue in movies and fiction. But no Mafia goon has ever talked this way, ever. Worse, some violence follows that would not be ALLOWED to happen after we’ve been told what a badass this guy is; Milo would be dead before the next scene.

It gets worse.

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He then goes to meet “his lady,” an embarrassing creation. Her character does what’s required of her for the scene; she’s not a real person, but a drunk’s idea of a Madonna. But she sits and sulks through the climax, while…her mother gives us another visit with someone who talks like a Bond villain instead of a person.

“Then I feel it is my responsibility as Helen’s mother to acquaint you with several matters of some importance. I know that you must be quite fatigued, so I won’t impose on your hospitality any longer than necessary.”

I can’t quote more, it goes on like that.

I like Crumley. I like this book, though not as much as I’d hoped. I like that he wrote about a private detective in an interesting way.

But this is bullshit writing.

BULLSHIT.

10 Days, 30 Men: NUMBERS by John Rechy

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The author, using his book cover to hook up.

I’ve never understood why John Rechy isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Bukowski. It can’t be that straight readers won’t read about gay sex; Bukowski writes endlessly about abusing women and the wonders of booze, and folks who don’t beat women and aren’t drunks read him. Rechy’s writing is much slicker than Bukowski, but I think of them and Hubert Selby as working similar beats.

(Speaking of Beats, Rechy is the Kerouac of gay American males, isn’t he? I’m asking for a friend…)

A narcissistic former hustler returns to Los Angeles after three years away. In his hustling days he didn’t do certain acts with men, so he isn’t really gay, but he prides himself on his ability to attract other men. He looks at himself a lot. He thinks he’s the hottest number around. To buttress his narcissism, he goes out looking to fuck thirty men in ten days. He gets laid. He gets laid again. He gets laid again. He keeps getting laid. He slowly begins to get an idea of what all of this means about his nature.

If that was all there was to NUMBERS by John Rechy, famous for CITY OF NIGHT and other gay-themed books, I don’t know if anyone would be able to get through it. This is the rare book that carried me along purely because of the style. The sexual encounters are related not in blow-by-blow detail, but as actions that inflate or deflate Johnny’s ego. There’s a lot of buildup to the real high, when Johnny feels awesome that he hasn’t lost it.

 “Ideally, ‘Numbers’ should have the tight, urgent control of a story by Edgar Allan Poe. I wanted to write a contemporary horror story about dying.” – John Rechy

NUMBERS is a sex story that makes shit like THIRTY SHADES OF LAME look like the soft, unrealistic romance fiction it is. The vivid style creates a world that has little if any contact with regular American society. It’s one of those great horror stories that you don’t find categorized AS horror, because it’s the horror of an attractive person struggling to hold off the impact of time on his ability to attract people, which is how he measures himself. (The most memorable sex scene is one that doesn’t happen, between “Johnny” and a woman; just knowing he COULD make it with the woman is what really gets him off.)

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If you’re not into men blowing each other in public places in L.A. and you can’t handle explicit sex scenes that aren’t the sort of thing you’d get into yourself, this is a must-avoid. Ditto if you’re a reader of any sexual persuasion who is easily bored by the exclusive focus on a guy who is completely infatuated with himself.

But readers and writers who work in crime and horror really need to look elsewhere sometimes when they read. Rechy’s writing is vivid and evocative without being lumbering. For a book with very repetitive action, NUMBERS moves right along. Johnny tells himself and the reader how awesome and hot he is, but he’s fooling no one. When he sees men he tried to attract passing him by, it gets him nuts. So to speak. The suspense in the book is about how long it’ll take him to reach satisfaction, and how he’ll feel about it in the end. But instead of flipping to the end, the reader is drawn along because, let’s face it, losing your sexual attractiveness is a big deal, one of the truly scary things that’s rarely explored, especially in horror.

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As much as I like his writing here, I’ve bailed on most of the Rechy books I’ve read. My favorite is the first of his books I read, THE FOURTH ANGEL, which is focused almost entirely on youth. His most famous book, CITY OF NIGHT, is another book I can appreciate without liking much. As with much of his output, it’s based on his real-life experiences, with disguised portraits of some hustler-patronizing Hollywood figures.

NUMBERS reads like outtakes from one of my favorite books, Samuel R. Delany’s DHALGREN. I can’t say most people will like it–it’s too much of one thing, repeatedly. But the character’s–and the author’s–deep fear of age is compelling. It’s not a horror novel in the way most people think about horror novels. But it’s shot through with white-hot fear. And blowjobs.

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The author later.