NOT A REVIEW OF 'BREAKING WINDOWS'
By Steve Redwood
...but simply a call for people (and other humans) to get hold of the book. With 250 pages, great cover, clear print, it's a compilation of material from the 'Fantastic Metropolis' website. I was very hesitant about buying it (thinks: spend last euro on mental or physical pabulum?) since everything is freely available on the site, but as Luís Rodriguez, the editor, had done the cover design of my own Fisher of Devils (send away for my free brochure on 'The Art of Surreptitious Plugging'), I tightened the string round my waist (I had already eaten the leather belt). As Luís says in a very interesting introduction on the development of dystopian literature, this book is 'an experiment of sorts, an attempt to determine what sort of impact free online texts have on print publication sales'.
Well, I've no idea what those sales are like, but I'm positively gloating at my own perspicacity in buying it! A book still beats reading on a screen hands and eyes down. Some of the things I'd already read I enjoyed MUCH MORE rereading in this form, my decrepit body comfortably splayed over crumpled, slightly aromatic sheets. And other things I hadn't bothered or made time to read on the web page I did read in book form because...well, one likes to finish a book. And thus came across delights I had missed. I wouldn't normally have bothered to read an essay on Gerald Kersh (because I'd never heard of him!) by James Sallis, or on Mikhail Bulgakov (I thought he played for Russia!) by Andrew Hedgecock, but now I desperately want to read both writers. And the essays in question (indeed all the non-fiction) go much wider and deeper than a discussion only of the writer in question. They are also snapshots of the historical periods in which the writers lived, and essays on writing in general.
This happy ménage-à-deux between website and book works particularly well in this case, I think, because of the wonderful variety. Apart from the editorial, there are four main sections: editorials from the web site (approx 15%), fiction (50%), essays on books and writers (25%), and interviews (work it out yourselves, you lazy buggers!). So you can jump around just as easily as on the web, but with the added delight that you can actually witness the coffee stains building up into an intricate Rorschach pattern on the contents page (which is numbered wrongly, and poor old Zoran Zivkovic has been de-zedded, but who wants dead perfection?).
Editorials? Try Mike Moorcock (now even I had heard of him!) and a wide-ranging essay (which somehow manages to include references to Pete Seeger, Evelyn Waugh, and the dubious pleasures of fucking Ronald Reagan) on subversion in 'visionary fiction' and the deadly stranglehold of commercial fiction and film. Somewhat out of place (but remember, this is a website) is an essay by Jeff VanderMeer on Stepan Chapman's 'The Troika', winner of the Philip K Dick Award. Then there's a highly personal essay by L. Timmel Duchamp with the provocative title of 'The Private Passion of the Rebellious reader', so you can at last find out what little girls get up to at night, and ponder this perceptive comment; 'Fantastic fiction allows readers to flout the superior status of what is over what might be'.
We jump over the fiction to seven essays, two of which concern Mervyn Peake, whom Moorcock knew personally. Moorcock refers specifically to 'A World Away', the memoir by Peake's widow, Maeve, which I remember reading many years ago, and which for me is one of the most sensitive and human (without any hero-worshipping) memoirs I've ever read. Moorcock tells of the struggle to get Peake back into print, and it is this personal knowledge that makes the essay so interesting. But he also makes good points about the writer: 'He was both an heir to the great Victorians and a precursor to the post-modernists, the magic-realists.' Of course, the question of Peake v. Tolkein crops up, but as Peake himself said, 'I can't see that I have anything in common with Tolkein'.
And he doesn't. In another essay, Jeff Topham, in what is admittedly a nice satire of public taste in fantasy (an alternative history in which the public popularity and success of Gormenghast and LOTR is reversed), takes too easy swipes at Tolkein: 'the originality of Tolkein's creation involves many races and creatures that will be unfamiliar to even the most ardent of fantasy readers'. No, Tolkein didn't invent elves and dwarves, but surely the image we have of them comes from him, so in that sense he did invent them. He certainly gave them life. Don't blame Tolkein for his imitators. Reading the two trilogies for me both gave intense pleasure, why insist on drawing comparisons? But it is still sad that Peake should be so underrated in his own lifetime, and end that lifetime in such heart-breaking circumstances.
Hmm, can't go on like this, no time. Other essays include the studies of Kersh and Bulgakov (brilliant!) already mentioned, a most unusual list (with commentary) by China Miéville of SF-fantasy books socialists should read (inc. Eugene Sue, Swift, Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley...), an essay on Utopia in Clarke's 'Childhood's End' by the dezedded Zoran (message: material utopia will inevitably stifle art), and a rather slight 'Writing Rules I Like to Break' by Carol Emshwiller.
There are two interviews--Jeff VanderMeer with Dan Pearlman, and Paul Witcover with Tony Daniel--and a delightfully nostalgic set of Bayley-Moorcock reminiscences, giving an insight into the early days of the New Wave.
Bayley as in Barrington, who wrote one of the stories in the fiction section, which is a real treasure-trove. The names alone should indicate the quality: Andrew S Fuller (a well-written though for me rather baffling, complicated story, about (I think!) the Lie that is modern life, and the need for Story), Zoran Zivkovic (who says pirate captains aren't well-read?), Dan Pearlman (not a new idea, our need for other people so that we can ourselves exist, but very well executed), John Dodds (what a man will do in search of the source of love!), Rhys Hughes (a marvellous chapter from his forthcoming 'More Tales of Engelbrecht', a kind of continuation of Maurice Richardson's classic: this time the dwarf has to literally run a gauntlet of Gorgons, which would frankly leave me petrified), Jeffrey Ford (a one-sentence epic that had me baffled again, that's why this isn't a real review!), Colin Brush (never heard of him, but this sinister study of despotism--including the despotism of knowledge--and stylistic experiment is very impressive), Barrington Bayley (a corker of a story, as usual full of outrageous ideas, and a man literally disappearing up his own backside!) Rachel Pollack (find out what really happened to the Virgin Mary's 'hallowed vagina'!--though this story is much more than a cosmic joke), Aleksandar Gatalica (a quietly-stated horror story with a big slice of history), Nathan Ballingrud (another real corker, perhaps my favourite of an already great bunch, beginning, 'She found Heaven lying like a crippled animal by the side of the road', leading to an ad. in the paper: 'FOUND: One piece of Heaven, about a foot long, slightly crumpled; call Sally Baxter....'. But, no, there's nothing funny about the story, rather it is intensely sad). We end with two Portuguese writers, Luís Filipe Silva (a short intense look at a strange dead future world, and a love lost into a form of deadly perfection), and João Barreiros (another of my favourites, with a fine translation by Luís Rodrigues, where a teacher, carrying Test papers protected by Kevlar armour, is entering a school for the Exceptionally Gifted 'under a storm of rocks, slingshot missiles , even a bullet or two, all while being charged by students on spike-heavy bikes'). Clearly, not fantasy!
I hope these notes give an idea of the sheer variety of what this book has to offer. It has to be one of the most interesting this year.
And I say that on an empty stomach!!
Book available from Amazon, Shocklines (http://store.yahoo.com/shocklines/) and the publisher at www.primebooks.net
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