Friday, October 19, 2007

The Book of Norman

This was a little out of my comfort zone, but in today's Rocky Mountain News, you can find my take on Norman Mailer's very suddenly released book, On God. Subtitled "An Uncommon Conversation," the book features conversations about faith, God and the Devil himself between Mr. Mailer and Michael Lennon, the author's 'literary executor" (and I have no clue what function that means).

While I think the review is fair, I'll be the first to admit that it's something of a softball pitch and probably far from the critical drubbing he'll get from, say, the Times. After all, Norman has never been the least contentious writer in the world and once called its most prominent book critic, "a one-woman kamikaze."

That said, asking me to give my full attention a book about religion is like being asked to choose between two doors marked "things you don't care about," and "more." The book is, as indicated above, the gnostic-leaning contemplations of Mailer, left to his own devices out there on the end of Cape Cod, staring at the sea. A personal cosmology, if you will, no twist.

For a different approach, you can also check out David Ulin's take at the L.A. Times. "God, however, is a more amorphous concept, and Mailer's inability to deal with that condemns 'On God' to failure by closing the book to the vagaries of faith."

The guy's under the weather, too, I'm sorry to report.

In other news, there's a new interview with Richard Lange over at Things I'd Rather Be Doing.

By way of Neil Gaiman, I've spent the morning memorizing Carny Lingo.

I'm also engaged in memorializing World War II flying ace Tex Hill, who passed away last week.

And to kick off your weekend, here's a website dedicated to the photos and videos of iconoclast Allison Jackson. Jackson, you'll recall, is the British photographer who uses celebrity lookalikes to create some very disturbing fake images of celebs at their worst moments. It's kind of like US magazine, only with satiric and artistic value. Not, as they say, safe for work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One More Rider

I'm not sure how many mystery fans this will appeal to but I know plenty of crime buffs who like to settle in with a good Steve McQueen movie every now and again, be it Bullitt or The Great Escape or that Peckinpah classic The Getaway.McQueen was close friends with a hotshot motorcycle racer and stuntman named Bud Ekins. It was famously *not* Steve McQueen who made the 65-foot motorcycle jump pictured to the left, but instead his mate Bud Ekins, who performed the first $1,000 stunt in the history of the movie business.

Bud was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. And he died on Sunday, at the age of 77.

You can read a very well-written obituary at the Times here, and an interesting latter-day interview with Ekins here. It's also worth looking at Bud's entry at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

For an interesting look at the world that McQueen and Ekins ran in during the 1950s and 60s, you can read my interview with another Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee, Ed Kretz, Jr., here. Ed was friends with James Dean, McQueen, Ekins, and many other hell-raisers of the day, and drove McQueen's motorcycle in the 1965 International Six-Day Trials on the Isle of Man.

On a brighter note, it's Elmore Leonard's 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Dutch. You don't look a day over completely cool.

You can read a mostly unpublished interview with hisself about his latest novel, Up In Honey's Room, here. It's also worth noting that a nifty little hardback edition of Elmore's 10 Rules For Writing will be published by William Morrow on October 23.

See you on the other side of the fence.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Karma Slap

The new issue of Bookslut is up, containing yet another scintillating Mystery Strumpet column written by your unforgiving host. This month, we turn with baleful eye to the topic of revenge in "The Payback," a rumination on karmic chameleons, ice-cold reprisals and the odd justifiable retribution, inspired by the title track from the 1974 James Brown double album and not the movie, thank you very much. The column considers the roots and consequences of bloody vengeance and more importantly recommends the fictional settling of scores in new books by Walter Mosley, Kevin Wignall, Tom Piccirilli and Chelsea Cain.

Elsewhere in the issue, Colleen Mondor indulges her love for all things Bradbury in "October Country," Melissa Lion debates whether Mario Batali is just one of a host of "Prissy Little Bitches" of the culinary world, Eryn Loeb takes on Susan Faludi's "The Terror Dream," and Liz Miller puts out the call for "Young Adult Adaptation Anguish". There's also other stuff, not least an interview with the celebrated Shalom Auslander about his new novel, and a rather disappointed review of Douglas Coupland's latest satire.

Elsewhere in the literary universe...

Susanna Clarke (Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) must be feeling much more sprightly these days, I'm very happy to see. She recently did a Q&A in London with Neil Gaiman and now she interviews Alan Moore for The Telegraph.

Here's a student project worth mentioning. A graduate student in the Netherlands has created a very cool videogame featuring full-motion video, a futuristic detective-ish storyline filmed in black-and-white no less, and a distinctly noir sensibility. And, go figure, it's free. You can watch the trailer for "Fate By Numbers" and download the game here.

Finally, in other science fiction news, I'm a little suprised to report that the planned film version of the classic John Carter novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs have gained significant ground with the announcement that they'll be produced - wait for it - by Pixar as a live-action project. I personally would have started with the Venus series, as Carson Napier and the pirate sensibilities and devious traps (the dreaded Room of the Seven Doors) always seemed more ripe for cinematic translation. Is Kerry Conran still on this thing?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I bear two recommendations from current reading, one well outside my realm of experience and the other soundly within.

I finally managed to ‘obtain’ a copy of Wall and Piece by the obsessively anonymous (which is not the same as reclusive, in this particular case) British artist known far and wide as Banksy. His art is well-known and for further examples, you can start by visiting the artist’s web site, although whether it’s really his website or if he makes any contribution to it is anyone’s guess. The copyright page of his book reads “Copyright is for losers ©™,” if that gives you any insight into his attitude towards ownership.

I knew his work in London before I knew that he was becoming a big deal in the art world, primarily because my own reaction towards it was so instantaneous. In 2003, I lived on the South Bank of the Thames and it seemed like his stencils were everywhere. A rat here. A monkey wearing a placard bearing “Keep it real.”

The night I saw a blow-up doll tethered to a balloon bearing the McDonald’s logo, floating ominously over the statue of Eros in the midst of Piccadilly circus and couldn’t decide whether it was a joke or not.

My own favorite image is this little girl that lived on a wall near the exit to London Bridge Station. I took this picture before I knew anything about its origins. Its parallel in the book is accompanied by a single white page that reads, “When the time comes to leave, just walk away quietly and don’t make any fuss.”

The art is well-recorded in the book but I’m surprised to find how insightful, caustic, and tentatively hopeful his writing is.

Yes, he pretty much calls for pretty much open warfare on the plague of corporate advertising (“Any advert in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”). This, accompanied by the gagged and bound characters from a Disney film facing a head-cutter.

But more often, his messages are meant to impart a greater good on the world. (“I like to think I have the guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in – like peace and justice and freedom.”). This, accompanied by an image of a child hugging a bomb.

Graffiti has never been one of my creative impulses but I can see the attraction. Moreover, I like how Banky’s artwork has become part of London. Far from being an eyesore, it became, at least in my experience, the pleasant surprise of finding rats painted on walls and tunnels and other dead spaces all along my walk home from Waterloo to Borough High Street, each of them cutting locks, protesting vandalism, propping up brellys or plotting other minor crimes and misdemeanors.

“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said, ‘That’s clever it’s an anagram of art,’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along,” he writes. You have to give props to a man who’s in on a joke, even if it's on him.

It’s interesting to note that the use of stencils developed out of the need to cut down his painting time, to thus avoid getting pinched by the cops. “I got home and crawled into bed next to my girlfriend. I told her I’d had an epiphany that night and she told me to stop taking that drug cos it’s bad for your heart.”

Anyway, I’ve been bored stiff and creatively stifled for a couple of weeks now and this is the first thing to shake me out of my reverie so I wanted to share. In the interest of fairness, you can either buy a ticket to London and go see for yourself, or go buy a copy of Wall and Piece. Or steal it. I don’t care which. I’m not sure he does, either.
On a similar note, I’m completely addicted to Brian Wood’s high-concept political satire-slash-war drama DMZ. Set in a near future way too close to our own, open warfare has broken out in the United States between the federal government and a set of rogue “free states.” The line of demarcation is the island of Manhattan, the titular DMZ where the action is set, and where the people that are left live in a no man’s land of social unrest punctuated by the occasional carpet bombing of primary sites like Times Square. The Empire State Building still stands, occupied by snipers who toss visitors off the observation deck. Central Park is held closely by a tightly wound group of environmentally-minded special ops soldiers who grow bamboo in the vestiges of the zoo. It’s a lot to take in, and Wood (Local and Demo are among his other works) and Vertigo regular Riccardo Burchielli make the most of it.

The trade paperbacks are cheap and totally worth every penny. They introduce DMZ’s nominal hero, a greenhorn photojournalist named Matty Roth who goes off the reservation to tell both sides of the conflict what’s really happening on the killing floor, and Zee Hernandez, a med student turned local guide who provides introductions between Matty and the various denizens of the DMZ.

If that doesn’t convince you, it’s worth picking up the latest issue that tells the story of “Decade Later,” a graffiti artist who spends years dodging the cops, live ordinance, and the other terrors of war just so he can finally see the Big Picture. It’s the first of a series of stand-alone stories planned by Wood to focus on particular citizens of his fractured little world, and you can get a free taste of it here.

For more, visit Wood’s professional website here. You can get the scoop on his other projects, download whole issues of DMZ and other books, and buy the good stuff from a variety of retailers.

Guess I'm done shaking the tree for now. We now return you to your lives of crap advertisements, junk food, and television.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Waiting for God. Oh.

...brain hurts. I'm currently contemplating the overly complicated concept of evolutionary economics and waiting for Norman Mailer's book on God to arrive. These events are not by choice. In the meantime, let's clean out the assorted links before the month ends.

At least a few of the cool kids went north to Alaska this weekend to celebrate Bouchercon, where the Barry Awards were handed out to George Pelecanos, Ken Bruen, and other criminally-minded authors. The Rap Sheet has the rundown on the awards.

The Demon Dog
reflects on the "poet of collision," Dashiell Hammett, at the Guardian. His guilt, writes James Ellroy, was the driving force of his crime fiction.

Sarah Weinman
gets down with the serial killers from Dexter and Heartsick in her latest "Dark Passages" column at the Los Angeles Times.

Duane Swierczynski reports that Charles Ardai (Hard Case Crime) is moderating a Crime Book Club at Barnes & Noble, with help from the steady hands of Ken Bruen, Charlie Huston, Swierczynski and collaborator Jason Starr, among others.

Andrew O'Hagan at the London Review of Books
echoes my own feelings on the age of communication and the "the ridiculous, anachronistic pursuit of privacy."

"Nowadays, being unavailable is understood to be an act of aggression equal to driving tanks through the walls of the Danzig Post Office. To fail to answer your mobile phone, or to turn it off completely, is merely to announce that you are deep in the throes of a secret life. You don’t care, you’re not reliable, you’ve got something to hide, you’re screening. There are few modern crimes so remarked on as the crime of unavailability. Answer or you’re evil. Answer or you’re dead."

On that same note, I finally found something worthy of my wish list: the CJAM 1000. "Here we have one of the coolest devices in the universe. The CJAM 1000 can jam cellphones, pagers, and Wi-Fi with a quarter mile range." Too bad it's only available to governments and representives of Blackwater and such.

On the bright side, I've discovered that the original 1967 series Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot is newly available on demand at Netflix, complete with its bizarre jazz score and horrific dubbing into English. I'm off to watch the series' denouement, "The Last of Emperor Guillotine," in which Giant Robot fights, um, a giant eyeball. Yes, really.