Merry Mondaymas, dear fastidious reader of this, the traditionally-least-entertaining-yet-most-informative of my weekly blogs. Have I got news? You bet your sweet bippy I do.
This weekend I celebrated my 1st wedding anniversary. I can’t believe it’s been a year! I wrote my wife a soppy poem about everything we’ve done in our first year as husband and wife. She bought me an axe and a flamethrower. Being married is great, you guys.
On Sunday I went into the garden and flamethrew, cackling. Seriously. I think I might be the only gardener contravening the Geneva Convention. I have zero interest in ascertaining noncombatants. I just carpetbomb the area. ‘We can build a new garden from the ashes of the old,’ I say, holding my wife back as she tries to save something, anything, from the flames. ‘It was the only way.’ I would nuke Earth from orbit just to get rid of a dandelion. I’m not a finesse man, is what I’m saying. I’m a landscape gardener, if you consider ‘scorched wasteland’ a landscape.
This week, I have gigs in London and Glastonbury.
On Wednesday 26th, it’s Homework at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club in London. Me, Ross Sutherland and Luke Wright will be performing half-hour tasters of our brand new shows.
On Friday 28th, Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th, we – that is, I, Luke Wright, Ross Sutherland, John Osborne and Joe Dunthorne, aka Aisle16 – will be performing at Glastonbury on the Cabaret Stage. We’re usually on around 11:40am-midday sort of time, each day. If you’re at the festival, check the chalkboards outside the Cabaret Stage, all the way over in the Circus Field. We’re billed as Aisle16. It would be lovely to have your support! It is pretty damn early to be doing a gig, buzzkilling a bunch of mellow families and hungover wreckheads with shouty performance poetry that suddenly doesn’t sound quite so witty as it did in that lovely black box theatre space. Sometimes, our Glasto gigs are great! Sometimes, they are not so great.
The good news is, this will be my first sober Glasto. I’ve been teetotal for almost 12 months now! So I will only be fighting sleep deprivation and nervous fatigue on our Sunday performance, instead of a wretched hangover-comedown. There’s nothing like the heat of stage lighting and 600 bored, judgemental faces staring at you while you try to recite poetry to bring a hangover into full bloom. I don’t feel you’ve really experienced a hangover until you’ve done that. It’s the Platonic ideal of a hangover – your emotional/mental state rendered suddenly, vertiginously literal. The folly of what I do for a living crashes into sharp focus: oh my God… why on earth did I think this was a viable career? As hundreds of festival attendees look on, unimpressed, a little sad.
This Week, I Have Mostly Been Reading
Brave New Worlds, an anthology of dystopian fiction edited by John Joseph Adams. It contains lots of stories with totalitarian governments/oppressive societal mores/horrible living conditions. A few end triumphantly, most end in grim aporia.
Like any anthology, there are some great pieces and some clunkers. The stories dealing with extrapolations of contemporary religious extremism (mainly Christian Fundamentalism) tend to be rather leaden, heavyhanded affairs populated less by characters than ideological cyphers. Dystopian SF walks a swaying tightrope of cautionary, zeitgeisty extrapolation, suspended over a steaming vat of pearl-clutching slippery-slope-ism. Stories like JG Ballard’s Billenium, where an exploding population means space is running out, despite some rather artless spoonfeedy exposition in the dialogue, work really well precisely because the engage the senses and jab a scalpel into our secret fears. Billenium perfectly evokes claustrophobia – almost too perfectly, in fact, such that if the story were any longer it would be intolerable.
There are some obvious choices in this collection: I’m not exactly sure why Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Harrison Bergeron enjoys quite the reputation that it does. I think it’s SF for people who don’t like SF – easy satire, quite good fun, I suppose, but uncomfortably Libertarian in its message: equality is a scam perpetuated by Big Government! An inclusive, non-discriminatory society is the thin end of a draconian, mediocre wedge! Oh fuck off.
On the other hand, I enjoyed Robert Silverberg’s Caught In The Organ Draft, which takes the subject matter of Kuzuo Ishiguro’s dire, glurgy Never Let Me Go and actually places it in a plausible cultural milieu. Basically, young people can be ‘called up’ to donate organs to older citizens who need replacements. I’m not sure Caught In The Organ Draft is great literature – it’s a little expositiony and on-the-nose, admittedly – but it makes some fantastic, gut-wrenching points about how we already do this, to all intents and purposes, by encouraging our young men to go to war. In Caught In The Organ Draft, the poorest members of society lose out the most. I can’t help but feel that in Ishiguro’s ponderous, implausible novel, the real horror is supposed to be that… gasp! They’re exploiting… middle-class people! People who read books and like music and everything!
This collection also contains famous pieces like Philip K Dick’s Minority Report and Harlan Ellison’s ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman, which I found to be two of the weakest stories of the lot. Seriously, Dick’s prose is bollocks. I was shocked. Ellison’s story smacks of a failed experiment – an author throwing up chaff and all sorts of twee linguistic trickery to disguise the tissue-thin story beneath.
If it sounds like I’m being crazy-harsh, I should say that overall I enjoyed reading this collection! I’d recommend it. You might like different stories to me – I liked Ursula K Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, which makes a nice companion piece to Adam-Troy Castro’s Of A Sweet Slow Dance In The Wake Of Temporary Dogs (although the latter has a gratuitous gang-rape scene that I didn’t feel it earned). Geoff Ryman’s Dead Space For The Unexpected does a nice job of getting us to root for the wrong guy. Jordan’s Waterhammer by Joe Mastroianni is a beautiful outsider narrative about oppressed mine workers grappling with the forbidden concept of love. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Pop Squad is the standout piece, for me – a little derivative of Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality stories, perhaps, but the prose is so. Damn. Good. And the characters are convincing, and the world feels whole.
So anyway, if you feel like you’d enjoy a grab-bag of dreadful futures, pick up Brave New Worlds.