Monday, 27 April 2009

Night of the Saucers, by Eando Binder
(Five Star Paperback, 1972)

“You mean they’re planning to blow up the Pentagon?”

“Yep, they’re going to blow up everything.”

“They’re going to blow up the Vatican…?”

“They’re going to blow up EVERYTHING.”


Fucking Vexxans, honestly, infiltrating alien cultures through dark political machinations just so they can blow shit up...

How indeed!

I was going to say “it’s not as much fun as it sounds” just as a natural reflex action, but actually, unlike every other Five Star Paperback I own, it turns out ‘Night of the Saucers’ is kind of a blast. It’s really simple-minded good fun, like if someone wrote a straight up novelisation of a whacked out AIP b-movie.

I’ve scanned some choice examples of "Eando Binder"s typically two-fisted prose for your enjoyment below:

Thursday, 23 April 2009

J.G. Ballard, 1930 - 2009

For days now, I’ve been struggling to find an opportunity to get something down in writing on the death of J.G. Ballard. A decent obit of such a contentious and fascinating character would be difficult at the best of times. A writer/thinker who added an entirely new, autonomous region to the landscape of twentieth century culture, who birthed an aesthetic which is forceful, definite and yet impossible to fully define upon the world… yes, an appropriate headstone for Ballard does not exactly roll off the chisel, so to speak.

Perhaps what’s most fascinated me about Ballard’s work, and what’s kept me coming back to it occasionally ever since I started working through his reserves of global disaster sci-fi as an apocalypse-obsessed teenager, is that I can never QUITE get an angle on where he’s coming from. As a kid, I was looking for catastrophe, ruin and reassuring daring-do in the Wyndham mould, and, I suppose in theory, Ballard delivered. But at the same time, his stories – if you can call them that; they’re often more like gigantic, slowly unfolding canvas of choreographed destruction – left me completely cold. This guy seemed to be approaching the end of the world not from the point of view of someone who WANTED it to happen, or from someone who wanted to STOP it happening, nor even from the point of view of someone who’d SEEN it happening and wanted to convey the experience. He seemed instead to be operating from a perspective completely removed from humanity, delighting in taking apart the pieces of the modern world, flinging them around violently to see what new shapes they make. Characters, such as they were, were just some poor, self-serving shmucks who got in the way. Even when characters are blessed with a bit of development in these early novels, they tend to exemplify the trend found in much ‘new wave’ British SF (also see Priest, Aldiss etc.), wherein heroic everymen are phased out in favour of new everymen who are shallow, immoral, deeply unhappy bastards who tend to spend their time running grim small businesses that they secretly hate and cheating on their wives just for the sake of it.

It is perhaps this sense of alien perspective, of emotional coldness, that helps make Ballard one of the most genuinely challenging of the pantheon of 20th C. modernist/punk novelists. Whilst most of his books might still ‘make sense’ in narrative terms, they lack the underlying humanitarianism of Burroughs or the humour of Joyce, and these absences prove far more disturbing and off-putting than the simple matter of one sentence following another; I know I’ve spoken to several people who find Ballard’s books borderline unreadable, impossible to connect with.

Was Ballard really a modernist though? It seems to me that on the one hand he was an ultimate, uncompromising futurist in the sense Marinetti originally intended – a proponent of vast, violent, impersonal action, of the artistic properties of physical, industrial weight, of the momentum of a movement, whether creative or destructive, being more important than it’s direction. But at the same time, how can you possibly throw a ‘modernist’/’futurist’ label at someone who seemed so obsessed with distrusting, disassembling, sabotaging all forms of post-industrial structure - indeed of pulling apart the whole veneer of socially constructed reality? Someone whose work seems so fixated on stasis, inertia, endless repetition, with the only peace to be found in sitting in a blankness beyond ruins, dreaming of nothing? You’d be forced to conclude that Ballard was at once modernist and anti-modernist; perhaps turning the tools of modernism against themselves in some appropriately Crash-like auto-destructive suicide pact? Quite what that makes him in the ‘-ist’ stakes, who the hell knows.

Some pretty jinky ideas there to try to get to the bottom of in a quick, belted-out-in-60-minutes weblog obituary, huh?

Like other such similarly omnipresent yet tricky characters as Lynch, Borges and Burroughs, Ballard lived to receive the dubious honour of seeing BALLARDIAN enter common critical shorthand, a quick shortcut to a common set of ideas/images/meanings that most of us implicitly understand, but couldn’t possibly express in words.

I’ve spent a long time reading Ballard over the years, and his ideas have no doubt filtered through me pretty thoroughly, but if challenged I’d probably hesitate before saying that I even LIKE his work. Appreciate, certainly, but LIKE? Even for his fans, there’s still an implicit threat within Ballard’s view of the world, a baffling ambiguity in the pictures he paints, that can provide a fly in anyone’s ointment…. but isn’t it that threat and uncertainty that keeps successive generations coming back? Unlike most of his contemporaries, Ballard’s pre-‘Empire of the Sun’ body of work has never settled down, never been tamed.

It seems appropriate then that Ballard picked an awkward time to die; just as I’ve been busy travelling, working, faffing around, settling into new house, lacking an internet connection, and I even bloody locked myself out yesterday and wondered the streets for hours instead of getting a chance to sit down and write this. So, a belated obituary I’m afraid to say farewell to a man for whom the more common deathblog standbys of “what a great guy” and “I’m really sad” and “watch this clip of him being awesome” just won’t suffice.

All I’ve said above is more or less random observation trimmed as it fell out of my head ; novices are advised to steer clear of the perplexingly bad string of recent novels currently choking up charity shops, and to take in everything he wrote up to, say, the mid 80s instead, for a whole universe of other notions to scratch away at.

Huge array of tributes and the like at, including words from pretty much every surviving writer whose work I enjoy. In particular, this piece from Michael Moorcock makes me feel guilty for writing such a cantankerous obit for a guy whose personal life I’ve never really taken the time to experience/understand.

Monday, 13 April 2009

(or, a quest to briefly understand Japanese animated television before I waste too much time), Part # 3

11. Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure

Episode 1, part 1, English Sub.

PAUL'S COMMENT: Same old, same old. Nothing to say about this. A Mecha show with an 'unwanted Harem' (i.e. the protagonist is surrounded by girls and is embarrassed by the fact, whilst the girls, for the most part, exhibit more extrovert behaviour).

BEN’S COMMENT: You should give this one another go Paul, I think you’re selling it short – it seems pretty well made, smart and interesting to me! It seems to tell the tale of this kid who spends his whole time fantasising about giant robot battles, and writing stories about them, a hobby that obsesses him to the extent that he not only has no friends and blushes and runs away whenever a girl talks to him, but he regularly has crazy, involuntary visions of his giant robots. I can relate! So it seems that he gets mixed up with this mad professor dude, ala Back to The Future, who sends him into a parallel world where his family & home don’t exist, and where his robot knowledge is coveted by a bunch of fascistic military types, the scientist guy is head of something called the Earth Defence Force, and the girl who tried to make friends with him in his homeworld is an evil, emotionless solider who helps capture him, or something. Quite reminiscent in tone to one of Philip K. Dick’s early novels actually, and the first anime we’ve looked at so far that I’d actually quite like to watch in full, if only I had the time…

12. Samurai Pizza Cats

Samurai Pizza Cats - The Case of the Bogus Billionaire

PAUL'S COMMENT: The American team didn't get a transcript of this one in time to do the English dub and had to write their own based on what the action seems to depict. Hence, the dialogue and commentary run in the style of Danger Mouse (after all, The Magic Roundabout was 'translated' from the French in much the same way). The result is not as good as all that: (1) it is not hard to work out what is going on without a script, leaving little room for invention and (2) Americans wrote it, so it is not funny in the way it is intended to be. A curiosity.

BEN’S COMMENT: Imagine being the poor guy the American producers hired to write/sing a new English language theme tune for this damn thing! The results sound like the work of an utter lunatic, so I guess they must have found their man.

13. Strawberry Panic

Episode 1, part 1, English sub.

PAUL’S COMMENT: I honestly can't tell the difference between this one and # 17 - honest. Hence... see # 17 for comments.

BEN’S COMMENT: Hmm…. more uneventful catholic schoolgirl shenanigans. Less jolly hockeysticks, more hyperreal, dreamlike, chaste gothic romance. Certainly LOOKS a hell of a lot better than the last one of these we looked at too. In my weaker moments, I can almost see myself getting really into this sort of thing, and waking up sprawled across the living room floor a week later, wondering what happened.

14. UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie

Season 1, Episode 1, Part 1, English Sub.

PAUL’S COMMENT: A set of characters in an unreal setting. It vaguely resembles a 'magical girl' series (e.g. Card Captor Sakura, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha). However, nothing terribly out-of-the-ordinary seems to happen beneath appearances, at a glance - quite unlike the name in that respect.

BEN’S COMMENT: Nothing out of the ordinary…?? This show opens with some wonderfully realised scenes inside a vast spaceport of some kind, with all kinds of aliens wondering through customs etc., before switching the action to the travails of this wistful looking young guy whose day job involves managing this sort of communal public bath wherein a whole host of cute girls with cat ears seem to gain an inordinate amount of pleasure from lounging around in the nude chatting to blobby alien types. Our protagonist seems to be assisted in his bath-related labours by a whole crew of oddballs, most notably a strange, hyperactive little girl who is indeed dressed as some Japanese equivalent of a valkyrie, and who seems to live in the swimming baths and just kinda gets in everyone’s way. Cut to some school girls standing on a bridge, watching our hero pass by beneath. They seem pretty enamoured with him, but swiftly change their minds when they notice he’s walking hand in hand with the weird valkyrie girl and conclude that he must be a paedophile. Wistful guy and valkyrie girl watch a rocket taking off, and he explains to her that, yes, the rocket is full of people going into space. She gets incredibly excited at this prospect and experiences some kind of dream vision, or something. Cut back to the swimming baths, and more naked cat girls. They seem to be emerging from this robotic contraption that looks a lot like a transformer. They seem to be finding it very enjoyable. That’s what happens in the first EIGHT MINUTES. It’s beautiful, and dreamlike, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Those responsible for producing popular entertainment in the west should watch and learn. The theme tune is totally awesome Shonen Knife-style bubblegum punk too. Nothing out of the ordinary..?!?

15. Zombie Loan

Episode 1, Part 1, English subs.

PAUL’S COMMENT: Boring. No, the hero doesn't go to the bank and say 'I'd like to arrange a loan for 1000 zombies'. The explanation is too dull to be worth repeating.

BEN’S COMMENT: This is a kind of gothic horror/action anime that largely seems to focus on these two tall, skinny dudes going about the place looking cool, and doing slo mo action sequences with magic swords and guns and suchlike. More unhappy catholic schoolgirls too. Fair enough. Another awesome theme tune though. (Yes non-Stereo Sanctity readers, I think just about anything with a loud guitar and somebody shouting is ‘awesome’; get used to it.)

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Breakfast / Ruins

Saw this photo on The Gunslinger this morning, and thought, well hell, this HAS to become the new title picture for this weblog.

It's London, 1940, although I'd prefer to view it as more of a universal image, outside of historical context.

I'll see if I can't knock together a new title-banner-thingy for it as soon as I've got my life & home back in one piece, an internet connection, some time etc.

How sad it is that we don't really have milkmen anymore, as this photo makes me want to raise a toast to their whole noble lineage.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

My Back Pages.

This weekend, I will be leaving my current residence in Tooting for good and moving east across South London, to New Cross.

Although I’ve always liked the South East, and look forward to finding it a lot more lively and generally conducive to my way of thinking than my current suburbanised locale, one of the things I will miss most about life on the bottom end of the Northern Line is being able to walk across the common of an uneventful weekend afternoon to visit ‘My Back Pages’, opposite Balham station, one of my favourite bookshops in the city.

Now, I’m not the biggest Dylan fan in the world (I’m not the smallest either, but… that’s a subject for another blog), but I've got to admit, a bookshop named after one of his songs bodes well. It certainly suggests that, a) it’s unlikely to be some crusty, collector-centric antiquarian hang-out, and b) it’s liable to be an establishment with a certain amount of character, run by someone with at least a passing interest in the pointy end of 20th century culture. And indeed, this proves to be the case.

‘My Back Pages’ is about 75% second hand, with a fiction section stretching across several vast walls, divided (hell, why not?) by nation/continent with sections devoted to British, American, Irish, Russian, French, African, Hispanic, Asian etc. literature, each of them managing to largely avoid the tide of pastel-coloured middlebrow crap that has consumed most of London’s charity bookshops, instead offering a wide variety of books which, even if they’re not universally wonderful, are liable to be more than fifteen years old, of varied and interesting character, and, y’know, generally worth a look.

There are correspondingly big sections for history, politics, art, poetry, philosophy, media and, you know, all the other rubbish you may care to read about so as to gain knowledge and insight during your tenure on earth. They don’t have biggest crime or SF/fantasy sections you could hope for, but you can’t have everything, and there’s plenty of good stuff in that general vein scattered through ‘fiction’ anyway.

The ‘new books’ section of the shop is pretty good too, presumably reflecting the proprietor’s own tastes to some degree by mixing a selection of current bestsellers etc. with a heavy back catalogue of ‘cult’/beat authors, including some intriguing small press items, and some choice New Directions / City Lights paperbacks that I can only assume get taken down and dusted off every year or so before returning to the shelf and waiting for some random hipster dope like me to turn up and shell out for ‘em.

On my last visit, I believe I picked up a VHS copy of ‘Walkabout’ and a water-damaged book by Richard Hell off the bargains stall out front for 50p each, then headed inside to find ‘Over the Frontier’ by Stevie Smith, ‘Whitechapel, Scarlett Tracings’ by Iain Sinclair, Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, ‘Nightmare Movies’ by Kim Newman (long OOP, and essential reading for horror fans), Richard Williams’ book about Phil Spector, the abridged version of Gibbon’s ‘Decline & Fall..’ and one or two weird-looking pulp sci-fis – total bill: £25, and the Newman book alone was £11.

The shop briefly closed down about eighteen months back, and when it reopened I remember speaking to the owner, who said they’d just about scraped together enough dough to stay in business, and were hoping to keep on making their rent on a month by month basis, or somesuch. That was before the recession hit.

I realise Londoners who don’t live nearby may be hard-pressed to find any other reason to make the trip to Balham (you could, um, I dunno, walk across the common to Streatham Hill, and get the train to Battersea or Victoria? – it’s quite nice), but ‘My Back Pages’ is exactly the kind of shop I wish this city (or hell, this world) still had more of, and paying it a visit and throwing them some business could be well worth your while.