Posted on September 20th, 2014 by Scraps.
Categories: Literary Criticism, Words, Writers.

Hewlett married Hilda Beatrice Herbert on 3 January 1888 in St. Peter's Church, Vauxhall, where her father was the incumbent vicar. The couple had two children, a daughter, Pia, and a son, Francis, but separated in 1914, partly due to Hilda's increasing interest in aviation.

--Wikipedia: Maurice Hewlett


beckett tattoo

Posted on January 26th, 2014 by Scraps.
Categories: Quotes, Sports, Words, Writers.

Reading about the Australian Open winner, Stanislas Wawrinka, a first-time major winner, I read that he has a Samuel Beckett tattoo on his left forearm. It's one of my favorite Beckett quotes: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

I think Stanislas Wawrinka is my favorite player all of a sudden.


g md fraser addendum

Posted on January 5th, 2014 by Scraps.
Categories: Books, Comedy, Short Stories, Words, Writers.

I forgot one thing in my "review"! I couldn't understand half of the Scots lingo. It was funny, but sometimes I was very lost, and MacNeill's commentary didn't clear it up at all. I'll bet that in America it was never published. (My editions are Pan.) Fraser in the introduction to the second book he says diffidently that lots of people begged for a glossary, so he provides a skimpy one. I think it helped in two or three places. Oh well.


reading etc: george macdonald fraser

Posted on January 5th, 2014 by Scraps.
Categories: Books, Short Stories, Words, Writers.

I'm slowly enjoying reading again, at least sometimes. Complicated reads are still frustrated for me at the sentence level. And I can't delve into why I'm enjoying anything*, let alone analyze anything. But I'm going to report what I'm reading, because.**

The last two books I've read in the previous year were The General Danced at Dawn and McAuslan in the Rough, two books of short stories somewhat based on true events of George MacDonald Fraser's life as a lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders after World War II, mostly in North Africa. I bought them used at St Vincent de Paul; I didn't know they existed, but I read (a long time ago) almost all the Flashman books.

They're mostly good. Fraser is funny, of course. The viewpoint character, MacNeill (presumably Fraser), is complicated and he looks back on himself with kindness but sometimes of course he's wrong. Mostly he's good, trying to lead, eventually learning. He's very much the opposite of Flashman. Sometimes that's embarrassing. With Flashman you know he's a cad and a coward. With MacNeill, his views of Arabs, in passing but everywhere, is uncomfortable-making. There is a story that is about a black man who wants to play with the band, and the author is at pains to point out this was in the forties. The dialogue in which the black man gets in is fascinating, one of the the best in the book, diving into the heads of several of the men, and you can see how very carefully Fraser gets dialog. But Arabs? Apparently Fraser hasn't seen the necessity of treating Arabs as people. (The two books were written in the early seventies.) I'm not treating Fraser severely, I think; I think he's a good guy, etc. (Anyway, he's a good writer.) But I wouldn't recommend these two books to Arabs***.

(Another thing that bemused me. I'll just quote:

This was in the days when the British Army was still spread all round the globe, acting as sentry, policeman, teacher, nurse, and diplomat in the wake of the Second World War, and getting no thanks for it at all.

No irony, if you're wondering.)

But another good thing or two. There are several long paragraphs, usually setting up the story, economical and pleasing, lots of them with long sentences linked with several semi-colons. It looks easy, but. Eventually I started looking for them, because it was pleasing. And the characterization was fleshed out immediately, even though they were mostly comic characters.

I bought them thinking that these were comic novels (or linked short story collections), like the Flashman books, and the publishers sold them that way. But they were not really; comic-tinged, but human, lived-through books.

* I wrote this before writing what came after. I, uh, will still defend that "can't delve into why" thing... my thoughts around my thinking is always scattered, and I still, looking back on what I've immediately written, is how I didn't express most of my thoughts clearly through my brain-fog.

** "because" is the word of the year according to the American Dialect Society. I approve.

*** I know late in life Fraser took shots at "political correctness". If you want to point this out, and j'accuse! me: yawn.


st vincent books

Posted on October 11th, 2013 by Scraps.
Categories: Books, Short Stories, Words, Writers.

Yesterday we went to St. Vincent de Paul thrift store again. We're making it a habit; it's only half a block away. We got clothes, glassware, etc. I like best the one small room that's devoted to books. I almost always find at least one. This time I found four:

The Country of the Pointed Firs and other stories by Sarah Orne Jewett (Doubleday Anchor paperback, 1956). Selected and with a preface by Willa Cather (1925).

A Vintage (1968) collection by Paul Goodman: People or Personnel and Like a Conquered Province in one. I've never read either of them, and I'm salivating just reading the title of the first one.

Writing Home by Alan Bennett, a 634-page Faber paperback that collects essays and diaries.

And: a 1907 hardcover (Doubleday, Page & Company) edited by Hamilton Wright Mabie called Famous Stories Every Child Should Know. It's a series; the spine and the cover says The What Every Child Should Know Library. It's published by -- ready? -- Keep-Worthy Books. (It's a subsidiary of The Parents' Institute, apparently, publishers of The Parents' Magazine.)

A good haul. (cost: $5.06)


frederik pohl, the last futurian

Posted on September 2nd, 2013 by Scraps.
Categories: Science Fiction, Words, Writers.

among other things. I'm sad.

I was just musing last week that he was still alive, as far as I knew he was spry and probably in his nineties (and he was 93, turns out).

My mind always turns to demographics, in this case the science fiction field. Did you know (I ask myself) that Frederik Pohl outlived C.M. Kornbluth* by 55 years? And Pohl was older than Kornbluth by three and a half years, too.

* Pohl and Kornbluth were frequent collaborators, most famously on The Space Merchants.


congratulations chip!

Posted on August 20th, 2013 by Scraps.
Categories: Life, Science Fiction, Words, Writers.

I just realized that Samuel R. Delany has now been a published novelist for 50 years (The Jewels of Aptor, 1962). Gee! I just had a conversation with him three weeks or so ago; I wish that I'd thought of that to congratulate him.

He was my favorite writer as I passed from adolescence to adulthood, and his writing colored my theories about dealing with life and people. I was fortunate to stumble upon science fiction fandom* -- the writing part, not the movie and tv part -- and somehow, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer got it in their head that I would be a perfect houseboy** for Samuel Delany, who needed one to take care of his mudane life while he worked his very late book.

So I went. I should have written down all of it; now, it's faint, except I was very happy, and amazed. We talked constantly, and I felt stretched; I wish I had a teacher like that. Chip -- which everybody called him -- was frank, penetrating, the most intelligent man I know, and, especially, was perpetually fascinated; he said that everybody was interesting. Ever since, I tried to keep that belief.

I'm grateful for many things that were, really, random, but they happened to me young enough that they shaped me.

* thank you, Patrick and Teresa.
** some people snerk at this. whatever.


reading report

Posted on August 31st, 2010 by Scraps.
Categories: Books, Words, Writers.

Two days ago: finished Baum's The Sea Fairies. It ended better than it began. The first half of it was Baum's patented punning travelogue, only duller than usual. I had to look up "codfish aristocrat", for instance, and while I appreciate the education, having to look up a simple pun detracts from my enjoyment. On the other hand, the curiously philosophical happy slave, Sacho, is the best boy character apart from Button Bright in Baum.

Now I'm reading Franklin P. Adams's Tobogganing Down Parnassus. I've never read any Adams, and I collect humorists.


old post #22, 2 may 01

Posted on February 28th, 2010 by Scraps.
Categories: Old Posts, Reading Classics, Words, Writers.

A Wrinkle in Time is explicitly religious all over the place, but it doesn't have the veneer of priggishness and cold self-righteousness that ruins parts of the Narnia books. L'Engle's mood is more pitying than judgmental. On the other hand, she treats evil as a force more than a choice, and while Lewis's opposite treatment is more judgmental, it also has more to do with the way evil actually works, in my opinion. I'd rather re-read L'Engle's books, but a lot of the reason the religious message slides right by, in my opinion, is that it's not grounded in the actions of the characters. In the Narnia books, Edmund falls into evil by choice, and is redeemed by choice (as is Eustace, while Susan is cold-heartedly damned). In A Wrinkle in Time, Charles falls into evil because he is possessed by the evil force while trying to save his father. That's scary, but it's also unreal in a way that Edmund's choices are not.


old post #10, 22 jan 05

Posted on February 12th, 2010 by Scraps.
Categories: Books, Old Posts, Reading Classics, Words, Writers.

The Genocides is an underrated book. It was a paperback original, his first novel before he had acquired much reputation (it was published in 1965), and his next two novels were undistinguished (I think Camp Concentration is the fourth, not counting work-for-hire stuff). The Genocides was also vilified by a couple of reviewers, including Algis Budrys, who dismissed it as a J.G. Ballard imitation (and we were all supposed to know how we felt about that back then; the war between the traditionalists and the radicals was already beginning to heat up). But it's a compact and neat story of collapse, and the character delineation is superb. Disch has said that to his mind, the appeal of the disaster novel was the implacability, and his disaster wasn't going to be diluted by any kind of rescue or redemption. Even so, it isn't bleak, exactly; the narrative follows the characters and their emotions and tribulations like a camera, but there is something about it that feels disengaged, so the story isn't sad or tragic or even bracing; it's just there. In that sense it is like Ballard, except Ballard's disaster novels tended to suck all human emotion out of everything except one character's interaction with his disaster.


a writer who is down my damaged path

Posted on October 23rd, 2009 by Scraps.
Categories: Reading Classics, Words, Writers.

I realized yesterday that my damaged reading strengths now are right down Samuel Beckett's path. I tested it with some Beckett at home, and I was right. He tends to be short, and mordantly funny, and his voice -- especially -- is vivid, like a voice speaking to me, and -- especially especially -- his voice frequently falls into the incantatory. My damaged language reading falls naturally into the incantatory, only most of the time the material is not: a false incantation, and I have to start (the sentence, the paragraph, the section) over. Beckett's writing is a true incantation; he's therefore easy (relatively) to read now.

I'll always wanted to embark on a Beckett bender. I think it's time. I'm excited. Really!



Posted on May 5th, 2009 by Scraps.
Categories: Reading Classics, Short Stories, Words, Writers.

Today we began with pain. My physical therapist was switched; Douglas was now my PT. And boy, he caused hurt for a half an hour. And I mean, I wept. My arm was bad -- the tone was steadily worsening, and finally it was time to do something about it. It will be bad every day for at least a while. But what can I say? This is the road to being better. I hope.

So I rewarded myself. I sat down, coffee in hand, and I read a story from The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. This was my first story, for pleasure, since my stroke. It's ten times harder than before. But I can do it. I chose Porter because, A) she's adult; B) she's awesome; and C) she's pellucid; she's not difficult, but she's very very good.

Now it's been half an hour writing this post. It's tiring. But still: I am improving, every day. And now I can read fiction. It's good. It's funny; for the past ten years, my fiction reading dropped to nearly nothing (except for pay). But now, post-stroke, I'm itching for fiction. And now, I can. Slowly; but I can.


my god

Posted on September 13th, 2008 by Scraps.
Categories: Words, Writers.

David Foster Wallace has killed himself.

He was 46.

I could not be more stunned.


good news bad news

Posted on November 22nd, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Science Fiction, Words, Writers.

To my relief, Amazon is finally announcing the 11th volume of the complete Sturgeon, The Nail and the Oracle, for July 2007.  It's going to be introduced by Harlan Ellison.  What do you want to bet he finds a way to claim that Sturgeon has been inadequately appreciated by the philistines of the science fiction world?


seuss stuff

Posted on November 21st, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Music, Words, Writers.

I'm trying to find Dr Seuss texts on the web, and am finding dribs and drabs, but nothing close to comprehensive.

The Wikipedia page is one of those peculiar Wikipedia combinations of helpful and lame.  For example, after a fine several-paragraph discussion of Seuss's meter, concluding:

While most of Seuss's books are either uniformly anapestic or iambic-trochaic, a few mix triple and double rhythms. Thus, for instance, Happy Birthday to You is generally written in anapestic tetrameter, but breaks into iambo-trochaic meter for the "Dr. Derring's singing herrings" and "Who-Bubs" episodes.

Wikipedia then adds:

Dr. seuss also inspired other authors to write in his story way and taught kids many things like reading.

Thud!  Wikipedia also notes Seuss's consistently progressive and Democratic-party politics, and says this about his attitude toward Communism:

His early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and he urged Americans to oppose it, both before and after the entry of the United States into World War II. (By contrast, his cartoons tended to regard the fear of communism as overstated, finding the greater threat in the Dies Committee and those who threatened to cut America's "life line" to Stalin and Soviet Russia, the ones carrying "our war load".)

But then someone else (presumably) say this:

Interestingly enough [a phrase that has no business in encyclopedia writing], there is some thought that Seuss's Imagery, especially that of The Cat in the Hat was a metaphor for "sweeping out" communism and cleaning out the "red".


I did not know, by the way, that his name is properly pronounced "Soyce" -- that is, it's the way he pronounced it -- but since his parents were German and it's his own middle name, it makes sense.


one chocolate at the bottom of the bag

Posted on August 5th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Books, Words, Writers.

I have always kept one book unread by my favorite authors, for some time in the future when I really need it (and in some stressful times I have read a few of those saved books). I have done this since childhood; to this day I have never read one of the eight books in Enid Blyton's Adventure series (The Ship of Adventure), even though I read all the others obsessively (especially Valley and Circus and Sea). Several years back I bought the complete set for myself as a sentimental indulgence, but I've still not read Ship (and probably can't, at this point, since I can't re-read the Blyton I once enjoyed without wincing).

Some single books by authors that are saved for when I need them:

  • Samuel R. Delany, Empire Star
  • Gene Wolfe, There Are Doors
  • Joanna Russ, Kitatinny
  • William Gaddis, Carpenter's Gothic
  • R.A. Lafferty, Arrive at Easterwine
  • John Crowley, Beasts
  • Cormac McCarthy, Child of God
  • Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train

And many others that will come to mind later. I'm such a slow reader that with most authors it really isn't necessary to do this, because I will never catch up with their output, but if the author is a favorite I will reserve one anyway that won't be read.


gilbert sorrentino, r.i.p.

Posted on May 21st, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Words, Writers.

It's a bad month for my culture heroes. I just found out that Gilbert Sorrentino died Thursday of lung cancer. Sorrentino was my favorite living writer. His voice was as vivid and singular as anyone who ever wrote: cranky, hilarious, acerbic, coldly observant, graceful, a brilliant mimic of all kinds of talk and writing, nothing out of place; even his deliberate awkwardnesses were perfect. He was off-puttingly snobbish, and didn't suffer fools at all: a type I usually dislike, and that rarely are as clever or superior as they think they are. He was. He disdained literary politics, including the literary politics of the avant-garde, so while he had a passionate following, he never found the audience or critical respect that he merited.

He was 77. I'm not shocked as I was by Grant McLennan's death, but I'm sad. Here is a good set of audio files of Sorrentino reading and being interviewed.

On the Well, we play a Guess the Author game with quotes from their work. Eight years ago I used Sorrentino. Here are several passages from his novels:

What were some of the things about T___ that made women admire and men distrust him?

To speak but of the moment, summer 1939: He swam too well, he owned a shining green Plymouth coupe (which word he pronounced, only half-jokingly, coo-pay), he often wore white and pale yellow to set off his deep tan, he owned a half-dozen pastel slack suits, he was divorced but did not speak of his former wife to his fellow guests except in mawkishly admiring terms, he smoked Rum and Maple pipe tobacco into which he shredded bitter chocoloate, his hair was always perfectly cut and combed and gleamed with rose oil, he was a successful salesman for a meat-cutting-machine company and did much of his work by telephone, work which he somewhat speciously characterized as "stealing money."

To return for a moment to T___'s coupe -- or coo-pay: Why did this mundane vehicle have the effect that it did indeed have upon people?

It spoke of independence and the devil-may-care, of freedom and youthful rakishness. Thus it appealed to the feminine libido and awakened masculine envy and fear of cuckoldry.

Was T___ indeed a maker of cuckolds?

If rumor is to be given credence, the answer is "yes." Three men putatively so served were: Lewis D. Fielding, a junkman of Ossining, N.Y., through his wife, Barbara; Alfred Bennett Martinez, a plumber of Ozone Park, N.Y., through his wife, Danielle; William V. Bell, a shop teacher of Paterson, N.J., through his wife, Joanne. These are not their real names.

We have been given certain intelligence concerning particular words and phrases used by our subject, these serving to set him apart from what he thought of as the hoi polloi. May we be enlightened as to the nature of these distinguishing uses of the language?

He delighted in "ab-soid!"; "coozy" for "cozy"; "nook" as a term for the female genitalia; he always "built" a drink; "sunny honeys" was his name for fried eggs; he pronounced "croquet" "crocket," save when he was losing; a navy-blue jacket that he wore on semi-formal occasions was his "din-din coat" or "soup catcher"; his briar pipes were, in winter, "mitt warmers" and in summer, "skeeter chasers"; his Plymouth coo-pay was affectionately dubbed his "perambulator"; and, among men whom he knew fairly well, he called his moustache his "womb broom" or his "pussy bumper."

Was he an absolute fraud regarding his relationship with M___?

Perhaps not an absolute fraud.

[. . .]

While it is not my wont to discuss my philosophy of life willy-nilly and in whatever environings at all -- particularly on this offensive and odiously cockaroachish street corner, the Arab says, you tempt me sorely to present a briefly compendous sketch of my basic creedo because of your remarks anent the vague nature of good and evil and their effect upon the homo known as sapiens, in short, us.

Go ahead, Fat Frankie says. Me and Big Duck are all ears. Right, Duck?

Big Duck grunts into a glassful of vanilla malted.

Allow and permit me then to present my ideas in simple wise, and the Arab takes up a position midway between the candy counter and the soda cooler. Psychologocal behaviorism suggests with stern puissance that people who tread paths of evil, however disguised, tend to fall, or get pushed, a posteriori, into disrepute. Holistically, and tautologically, this is sometimes given the terminology of "falling on evil days" -- odd contradiction! Allow me then, for a brief sec, to give you a rather puerilitous phenomogical example, invented out of wholesome cloth, yet still basically a mere outline. Still and yet, it obtains a certain odd logic that draws me. May I go on?

Onward! Fat Frankie says, keeping his place in Sexology with an index finger.

Let us suppose that what mankind takes to be success -- in terms, of course, of ethical objectivism -- may be presented paradigmantically, as an enormously high tower built upon an equally high or maybe perhaps even a higher mountain. This homely image comes from certain obscurant works on dialectic materials, yet it will suffice to serve our purpose. Take then this skyscraper of looming -- nirvana!

Holy Moses! Big Duck says.

Upon, so to speak, this beetling scarp, two men, pure products of the raging debate between the forces of appearance and those of reality, climb up, flushed with victory. They are successfully, or so they think, assaulting the tower of Aristotelian nous with pick and hook and rope and grappanels and heavy-cleated hobnail clunkish boots, all of which have been made in the small yet renowned workshop down in the valley that I might as well entitle Neo-Platonic, Inc., if you follow my analogous metaphor?

Holy cow! Big Duck says.

Go on, Arab, Fat Frankie says. This is getting pretty good.

What's up? Irish Billy asks, entering the store with Curtin.

Sh, Fat Frankie says. The Arab is explaining his philosophy.

Oh boy, Irish Billy says. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

[. . .]

I have said that Lou willed himself into poetry. How this came about is a long and involved story. Let it stand that he did so. At first, the poems were shown to friends, or kept to himself, but later he began to publish them in little magazines. He was a poet. I would guess that William Carlos Williams was responsible for this in the way that George Herriman might be held responsible for Roy Lichtenstein. These masters cannot be blamed for the aberrant desires of a minority of the populace. It comes down to: "Hell, I can do that too." And you're off. If things fall right, you'll be accepted after a few years, and take your place among that great body of useless grinds who won't for a minute stop expressing themselves. Borrow, borrow, you can get into Williams and get the very names of shrubs and wildflowers into your work -- anything but the terror that dominates your own life. Lou's thinking went, perhaps, like this: If I avoid the demons that maraud through my intelligence, I'll write poems that are acceptable. I'll always know that when the time comes I'll confront these demons and out of that confrontation will come great poetry. The next step however is more difficult and can lead to total destruction. That is: the confrontation with the demons does not necessarily lead to the creation of great art (or any art at all). You can writhe in the darkest pit and filth of yourself and come up with some dull fragment of vers libre, indistinguishable from that of a hundred contemporaries. Thus pain does not guarantee anything. Art, you see, is not interested in your suffering. It is not a muse. Look at Robert Graves -- all that palaver about his Goddess, and all those third rate poems. What is one to do with all that chatter?

But Lou is our man here. What about Lou? Answer: he wants to live a simple life and be a brilliant poet. These things do not go together. (I know I am on the thin ice of romanticism here.) That simple life. I mean, Lou was one of those who thought enviously of men who lived -- all of the year, or most of it anyway -- in the woods, or the mountains, or at the beach, etc, etc. That was the simple life. There they were, sturdy with boots, pipes, and notebooks, chopping wood for the fire, observing birds, checking out the sunset, the sunrise, the changing seasons. Shrewd and loving observations of their neighbors, who had finally after all this time come to regard them as acceptable, etc, etc. Nauseating stuff. These dolts keep these enormous notebooks in which they tell us city slickers all about nature, and their lives in Maine, or Big Sur, or Colorado, or some other goddamned place, full of trees and the rest of the stuff of poesie. God, what a fucking bore it all is. They lead the simple life, they note all this trash down in those damned notebooks. "Observe the turning of the leaves." "What bird call was that I heard this morning in the icy stillness?" Arrghh. "Today I finally got the old stump out. Celebrated with a half-pint of applejack." And we read this swill. Not one year goes by but some little magazine runs excerpts from one of these "wood journals" by a poet -- there is also a small collection of his verse in the same issue. The poems have titles like: "Top of Pink Tit Mt.: Cold Beans." And we sit choking on the polluted air of divers cities, marveling at the freedom that can open the world of such verse to its practitioner. Simplicity! The simple life! It was what Lou wanted -- or thought he wanted, Simple life. Brilliant poet. With demons in reserve for his later years, when he could haul them out and write his Great Poems of Maturity. If somehow Sheila could be fitted in, i.e., if she would be a Good Wife, that would be fine too. Lou was one of those men who confused passing happiness or misery with the sources of art. The world is full of them. When one disaster or ecstasy is over, they turn to another. The war in Vietnam has spawned a thousand poets. They think their rage and impotence will make the poem. It is a banal truism that all the occasional poet needs to write a poem is an occasion. There is no lack of them in the world. That picayune poetic charge galvanized by a new friend, another storm, some red barn somewhere, anything.

[. . .]

This bored editor, how cool he had to be. No offend the signed writer. No insult Guy. At the same time, be sure to keep Guy sure of himself (ha-ho) by inviting him to send on future work. This is all such old stuff that I'll make up the letter that Vance Whitestone sent. I'll try to include all the elements of a good rejection letter. Those of you who are writers will recognize the stink immediately. You readers will understand slightly the boredom of getting one of these letters. O.K.

Dear Mr Lewis:
I'm sorry -- and I really mean sorry -- to have to tell you that your book of stories, American Vector, is a project that we can't see our way clear to publishing at the present time. Both the second reader and I were impressed at the way you handle the shifting locales and characters that reoccur throughout the book, and we both felt that many of the scenes really came alive. But the intensity of the title story as well as the longish concluding story, "Bath of Snow," isn't really matched in the rest of the book. In the very tough fiction market of today, we think it would be only fair -- both to us and to you -- to present a "package" (if you will excuse such a word) that would make its own way.

I know that it must be small comfort to you, but I want to tell you that you certainly can write, and that I would be very interested in seeing any of your future work.

Thank you so much for letting us see your manuscript. I'm mailing it back to you today. Please give my regards to Jim when you next write him.
With best wishes,
Vance Whitestone
Fiction Editor

There are a number of phrases in this letter that can be regarded as having taken their place along with such jewels as "raining cats and dogs," "snarled traffic," and "incredibly naive." The reader will see them for himself, and must not be surprised if I tell him that there is no rejection letter ever written by man that does not contain at least one of them. Guy believed this letter. Oh, he didn't believe it, but he thought it sounded -- right. Sincere. (As if an editor would not sound that way.) And he was flattered that Vance thought that he certainly could write. Here is a test for editors to see if they are fit to pass judgment on books. They must get six right.

1. What contribution to jazz drumming did Big Sid Catlett make? Jo Jones?
2. What is uniquely excellent about Paul Goodman's fiction?
3. What is a swizzle stick? A swizzle?
4. Name the great trombone section in Ellington's 1938 band.
5. What is Jack Kerouac's best piece of writing?
6. Explain how a critic like John Simon cloaks his ignorance.
7. Recount two legends on how the Gibson got its name. (This should be easy.)
8. What is Kenneth Patchen's best poem?
9. Point out a failure of one in The Sky Changes.
10. What is the basic flaw in Norman Mailer's fiction?

But I am amusing myself here -- perhaps cruelly, I admit. There's no reason to dump on editors like this. Guy himself told me many years ago that it would be difficult for me to become a cult figure -- my secret heart's desire -- if I insisted on railing against the world of publishing. I ceased to rail for years, just occasionally trying my hand at old Sicilian spells to persuade their Dobermans and German shepherds to bite the asses out of their pants. A jolly surprise on those bright mornings when one rises to greet the day. etc. Down to the beach with a jug of screwdrivers, etc. Hey, there's Larry Rivers, and there's Leo Castelli, son of a bitch! I hear Bruce Friedman may be out for the weekend. I mean just once, in the middle of that, to have those expensive mutts tear some ass.

Velma has been marking good passages in Sorrentino's Flann O'Brienesque masterpiece, Mulligan Stew, which I will transcribe and put up later.


damon knight, r.i.p.

Posted on April 18th, 2002 by Scraps.
Categories: Science Fiction, Words, Writers.

And then, two days ago, even worse news.

Damon Knight, 1922 - 2002

Arguably the most important figure in modern science fiction, with an unmatched breadth of accomplishments: he made crucial contributions to the field as a writer, editor, critic, organizer, historian, and educator.

As a writer, he's best known for short stories, especially "The Country of the Kind," "Stranger Station," "Masks," "Not with a Bang," and "I See You." He is most famous outside the field for having written the short story "To Serve Man," which became probably the most famous Twilight Zone episode.

He had always been a good but sporadic writer, but late in in his life he made a sudden leap as a novelist; the last two he wrote are the most ambitious and best of his life, deeply strange and creepy.

As an editor, he founded Orbit, an original anthology series (21 volumes) that revolutionized American science fiction in the late sixties, central to the American half of science fiction's new wave. The stories were literary, often experimental, and entirely eschewed space travel and other traditional elements of science fiction, because Knight thought they were played out and belonged to another era. It was in Orbit that Knight discovered and developed Gene Wolfe, who published most of his early stories there.

He was the first serious critic of science fiction; his columns, reprinted in the book IN SEARCH OF WONDER, were both insightfully appreciative and instructively nasty, and remain excellent reading today, whether or not one is familiar with the stories he's writing about.

He founded the Science Fiction Writers of America, and he co-founded the Milford Conference, which was the first regular workshop for professional science fiction writers.

He wrote the book The Futurians, a well-researched and anecdotally wonderful history of a group of 1940s fans that ended up having wide professional influence on the field (they included Frederik Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, James Blish, Judith Merril, Virginia Kidd, Donald Wollheim, Knight, and Isaac Asimov).

He co-founded Clarion, the first and by far most successful science fiction workshop for unpublished writers, which has had a profound effect on American science fiction of the last thirty years; among its graduates are Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson, Octavia Butler, George RR Martin, Vonda McIntyre, George Alec Effinger, Martha Soukup, and dozens of other writers I forget right now.

He took easily to the internet, and was a major figure on the science fiction round table on GEnie, which was the central online hangout of science fiction. He was acerbic, goofy, and kind. I literally can't think of a death among the major figures of the field that would upset me more. It's been a bad few weeks.


r a lafferty, r.i.p.

Posted on March 29th, 2002 by Scraps.
Categories: Science Fiction, Words, Writers.

R.A. Lafferty, 1914-2002

His death has been a long time coming -- he was a longtime alcoholic, and was a creaky old man when I last saw him twenty years ago -- but it still makes me dreadfully sad.

Lafferty was one of the true originals; there was no other writer like him. His style was recognizable in a single sentence; his narrative voice was a ludicrously overblown and self-conscious tall-tale teller's voice, suffused in Irishness, American Indian mythology, conservative Augustinian Catholicism, and just plain crankiness. He was also flat-out hilarious.

His work was published as science fiction by default, not because it fit there exactly but because it fit worse anywhere else. He wrote some of the best weird stories ever, and it's almost futile to begin listing them: "Nine Hundred Grandmothers", "Eurema's Dam", "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne", "Continued on Next Rock" (the best geology story ever written), "Narrow Valley", "Slow Tuesday Night", "Entire and Perfect Chrysolite". . . and splendid outpouring over three decades.

He was an erratic novelist, though even at his shakiest there was always his incomparable voice; at his best -- Fourth Mansions, maybe, or Past Master -- they were marvelous. He started writing late, not publishing until he was in his forties (as an alternative to drinking, he said), and he'd written nothing new for perhaps the last fifteen years, maybe more.

He will be terribly missed.


  • A man without a moral code is just an appetite.
    - Peter Blegvad