Saturday, May 09, 2020
The Dangerous Strangeness
Cover artwork by Selwyn Rodda. Fifteen one-act plays in the absurdist tradition including one longish monologue. Also songs and dances! One of the plays was written in collaboration with the Mauritian author Vatsala Radhakeesoon.
None of my plays has ever been performed and only one ('Yesferatu') has even been published before (in Brazil), so maybe writing plays at my age is the super folly/crisis of a middle-aged man :-) But by heck, I enjoyed the process of writing them!
They were written for the page as well as the stage, but I do hope that one day some of them will be acted (with puppets or people) or turned into animated films.
When the first is performed I will consider myself a playwright but not before then. Nonetheless, I am delighted with this volume and the way it has turned out. I only began writing plays in the year 2018. Wish I had started sooner!
The book is available from Amazon and elsewhere :-)
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
My Very Last Horror Book
I am delighted to announce the publication of my new book, Crepuscularks and Phantomimes. The book was originally published in an ultra-limited edition in Brazil by Raphus Press. That edition has sold out now (unless there is a special reserve copy in the possession of the publisher; email him to inquire) but the paperback and ebook editions have just become available. The limited edition is a collector’s item. The paperback is a mass market book.
Selwyn Rodda. The book includes thirteen tales (the limited has eleven; I always add a bonus or two for paperback editions) of a strongly gothic, ghostly and lovecraftian slant. This will certainly be my very last book of horror stories. My short story writing career is drawing to a close. I planned a long time ago to write 1000 stories and no more. I am finally nearing that limit, a destination I never imagined I would arrive at.
Unlike so many of my story collections, which use horror ideas and tropes for non-horror or even anti-horror purposes, the comedy and whimsy and invention in Crepuscularks and Phantomimes is wholly with the horror authors who inspired the tales in the book. These stories are tributes to Lovecraft, Machen, Dunsany, et al. Already the book has had great reviews, for example this one, and spectacular blurbs, as follows:
“Wryly dark and creepily funny, the stories in Crepuscularks and Phantomimes simultaneously scratch the horror itch and strike your funny bone, What might happen if Firbank’s head was grafted onto Lovecraft’s body and then released into the wild.” – Brian Evenson.
“Crepuscularks and Phantomimes, Gothic, Ghostly and Lovecraftian tales in the ironic mode is a perfect showcase for the author’s adroit wordplay, for an imagination as whimsical as it is grotesque. His voice is refreshingly original, darkly witty, dazzling and delightful. My highest recommendation.” – Jeffrey Thomas.
“These tales defy anticipation, schoolbook rules, humdrum parsing, genre conventions. They stutter, they sing, they ingest and indigest. They gimp and they gag, they traject orthogonally, they do the seven year itch. They show us butts inside butts, ruts atop ruts, and guts within guts. They kick and they frack. They love craft, they craft love. They rapture and enrapture, if sometimes only fractionally. They case shadows and shadow casts. They separate and conjoin, and when they stop dancing, the jig still isn’t up. Enter this collection at your peril and try not to fret if you emerge as someone you don’t yet recognise. All will be well, and if it isn’t, oh well, you’ve had a hell of a slide.” – Michael Bishop.
One of the stories in the book has been translated into Russian and has just gone up on the website of the premier Russian horror fiction journal, Darker Magazine. This is only the second time I have been translated into Russian.
Thursday, March 05, 2020
Crepuscularks and Phantomimes -- Pre orders!
My next book release from Raphus Press in Brazil is taking pre-orders from today!
CREPUSCULARKS AND PHANTOMIMES is an ultra-limited collection of weird stories inspired by Poe, Dunsany, Ligotti, Lovecraft, Machen, and other luminaries in the ghostly and gothic traditions.
It is one of my few collections in which darkness flourishes without hindrance...
Pre-orders available from RAPHUS PRESS
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Postmodern Mariner Returns!
My long out-of-print book, The Postmodern Mariner, has come back in a second edition. I arranged this primarily so that I had a hard copy to send to my publishers in Serbia (there is going to be a Serbian translation soon).
It was originally published in 2008 by Screaming Dreams Press. It is described as "A short book of implausible adventures featuring absurdities, anachronisms, exaggerations, outrageous puns, pirates, mythological beings, giant cups of tea and the occasional metafictional trick..."
The contents are as follows:
(1) The Münchhausen of Porthcawl
Castor on Troubled Waters * Canis Raver * The Plucked Plant * When Wales Played Asgård * Interstellar Domestic * The Cream-Jest of Unset Custard * The Day the Town of Porthcawl was Accidentally Twinned with the Capital of the Cheese and Biscuits Empire
(2) Piper at the Fates of Ooze
The Lip Service
(3) The Postmodern Mariner in Person
Rommel Cobra's Swimming Carnival * Eight Blathering Buccaneers
I have included a bonus story in this second edition. 'Eight Blathering Buccaneers' is a set of interviews with the pirates in the novella 'Rommel Cobra's Swimming Carnival' (a story I am especially fond of).
Copies are available from Amazon and other online bookstores...
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Facets of Faraway
But I have doubled the length of FACETS OF FARAWAY by including lots of new work. I am very fond of these stories.
I have also deleted the old ebook and replaced it with a new ebook that includes all the extra stories.
The book is available from Amazon and other online bookstores, and details of the contents can be found as usual on my Aardvark Caesar site.
The stories in this collection are the kind of whimsical fantasies that I most enjoy writing. Unfortunately 'whimsy' isn't highly regarded in the contemporary fantasy world. Why this should be is a mystery, as some of the greatest fantasies ever written are whimsical in the extreme (the novels of James Branch Cabell for example), and in fact the entire genre in its modern form has whimsy at the core of its origin (The Shaving of Shagpat by George Meredith and Phantastes by George MacDonald among many others).
Whimsy is generally a tool rather than an end in itself, and I believe this is true of the stories in FACETS OF FARAWAY. It allows the imagination to branch off in more unusual directions than a more sober and sombre approach does. Also it doesn't mean that poignancy and profundity are excluded. A story can be deeply meaningful and lightly absurdist at the same time.
Thursday, January 02, 2020
Review of 2019
2019 is over and we are now starting a new decade.
I read 82 books last year, the highest number of books I have read in any year of my life. I didn't plan to do this, it just happened. True, some of the books were short, i.e. single plays or slim poetry collections; but others were long novels and big omnibus editions. I doubt that I will ever read so many books in one year again, but who can say for sure? Anyone who cares to see what those 82 books were can check out my Goodreads page...
Reading highlights for me in the year 2019 were the 'Occupation Trilogy' novels of Patrick Modiano; Cities of the Red Night by William Burroughs (his best novel?); W.G. Sebald's Vertigo; the plays of Büchner, Ionesco, Lorca, Beckett, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Brecht, Rostand, and J.B. Priestley; the poems of A.E. Housman; William Goldman's The Princess Bride (surely one of the most charming fantasy adventure novels I've encountered); The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier; The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant; Silk by Alessandro Baricco; Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (one of the best non-fiction books about war I have ever read).
I also finished reading my reading of Richard Brautigan's prose works: there are none left for me to read. And I read a novel that has been sitting on my shelves for decades, in fact for 35 years, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, and I was astonished at how good it was, one of his best, perhaps his very best (and I am a huge Bradbury fan).I read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, a writer I have a special fondness for (because he introduced me to 'modern' literature when I was young), and I found it to be excellent; I also read the sequel Sweet Thursday, which isn't quite as good. I discovered John Williams, finally read the wonderful Stoner and the not so great Nothing but the Night, and went out and bought Butcher's Crossing as my last book purchase of the year. But my most significant discovery of 2019 was the work of Ingeborg Bachmann. I intend to seek out as much of her work as I can get my hands on.
And yet my 'book of the year' is this one. The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. I picked it up without any great expectations. And let's be clear: not every piece in this volume is excellent or even good. Far from it! There is a lot of pretentious nonsense here, word salad gibberish, and some of the best-known writers represented in the pages are responsible for some of the worst contributions. But there is enough brilliance to elevate the entire collection, and in fact I have even come to the conclusion that the gems are set off to better effect because of the presence of these duds. One of the things about this volume that works surprisingly well is that all the prose poems are presented in reverse chronological order, from our contemporary age right back to the 1840s when the prose poem first became a viable mode of artistic expression. I found this reverse order very affecting, I am not sure why.
As for my own writing.... 2019 was another busy year.
Books Published = 5
* The Nostalgia that Never Was
* Mombasa Madrigal
* Slap-on-the-Wrist Stories
* Arms Against a Sea
* Better the Devil
Books Accepted = 2
* The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelm
* My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand (my favourite of all the novellas I have written)
Stories Written = 36
Articles Written = 5 (I skimped on article writing in 2019)
Plays Written = 10 (one in collaboration with Vatsala Radhakeesoon)
This brings my total of books published up to 52 since the year 1995. A reader could read one of my published books every week for an entire year, if they wished to do that...
945 stories in total since the year 1989.
27 articles in total since the year 2017 (when I started again from the beginning).
15 plays in total since the year 2018.
This year I am hoping to have at least one of my plays performed on stage, radio or even as a film. We shall see :-) I began the year of 2019 in Kenya, and also went to Marseille, but spent too much time in the UK for my liking. Next year I am hoping to do a big trip in Africa, as well as a teaching post in Tanzania, before returning to the farm in Kirinyaga. :-)
Monday, December 16, 2019
Better the Devil
More than 100,000 words of fiction and featuring eighty-six stories, it is a volume of my collected chapbooks that have previously been available only in limited editions or as ebooks, namely Romance with Capsicum, The Skeleton of Contention, Madonna Park, Plutonian Parodies, Young Tales of the Old Cosmos, To Err is Divine, The Devil You Don't, and The Dangerous Strangeness. Some of these chapbooks have been extremely rare. The earliest story here is my earliest surviving story, and the volume samples my career from 1989 to 2012.
The author A. A. Attanasio wrote the following about this big collection, "...dazzling disintegrations of the reality principle. These are rites of passage to the greater world beyond common sense. Their levity raises the bar on profundity and sets a comic standard for the tragic limits of our human experience. Like parables, these antic tales reveal by hiding. And like the Uncertainty Principle, they guard the secret of being from intellectual bondage. They're fun! Like Beckett on nitrous oxide. Like Kafka with a brighter sense of humor."
The contents of the paperback edition are slightly different from those of the ebook edition. Full contents can be found on my Aardvark Caesar site. For example, the Fanny Fable tales have been replaced with the Young Tales of the Old Cosmos stories.
Available from Amazon and other online bookstores.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Worming the Harpy returns, again!
My first book, Worming the Harpy, has just gone into its third edition. Three editions in 24 years might not seem so great to you, but I am delighted that the book is available again. It can be obtained from Amazon and other online bookstores, and some real bookstores in the real world too, as well as directly from the publisher here.
The book came out in 1995 and the stories were written in the early years of that decade. But some of the ideas for some of the stories go back a lot longer than that.
For instance, I wrote versions of 'The Falling Star' and 'Velocity Oranges' when I was in my early teens. The originals were lost and the actual prose of them might not have been very good, but their ideas were sound, and I believe that my later rewriting of those pieces has improved them.
Certainly I no longer write the kinds of stories that are to be found in Worming the Harpy in quite the same way, although I still utilize weird and gothic themes, of course. And some of the story-cycles I have been adding to slowly over the decades find their starting point here. This book includes my first three 'Chaud-Melle' tales and also the first 'Darktree' story, among others.
I still had a Poe / Hoffmann / Lautreamont thing going on at the time these tales were written, though refracted somewhat through an ironic-whimsy lens. Anyway, I am rambling to no good purpose. The book is a paperback again, and all errors in the first (hardback) edition have been corrected. This edition includes a story that was left out of the hardback, and a chapter missing from the original printing of the title story has now been returned.
Friday, November 01, 2019
Arms Against a Sea (and Other Troubles)
My new book, Arms Against a Sea (and Other Troubles), has just been published.
The limited deluxe edition, published in Brazil courtesy of Raphus Press, has already sold out.
As with Mombasa Madrigal and Other African Escapades, I have followed the procedure of waiting for the limited edition to go out of print before launching the paperback and ebook editions. Those are available now.
The paperback edition of Mombasa Madrigal contained a story ('Sailing to Port Manitou', one of my absolute favourites) that wasn't in the limited edition. For the paperback and ebook editions of Arms Against a Sea I have taken the liberty of including no less than four bonus stories.
This contents of this new collection (and of all my books) can be found on my Aardvark Caesar site.
As I have said, the Raphus Press edition has sold out. The paperback and ebook versions can be obtained from Amazon by clicking on this link. The majority of the stories in this new book appear in print for the first time.
Thursday, August 29, 2019
SLAP-ON-THE-WRIST STORIES is a selection of tales controlled by numbers.
For example, 'Postcards From the Hedge' is told in 50 postcards from 50 different animals and each postcard is exactly 50 words long... 'Trouble with Drabbles' is a story made up of 100 stories each 100 words long... 'Only Sixty-Nine Whims Away' consists of 69 chapters each 69 words long... 'Ten of Our Trombones are Missing' consists of 66 chapters each 66 words long.
This book is therefore an example of OuLiPo writing.
The title of the book was suggested to me by fantasy writer James Bennett after I had expressed my enthusiasm for Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, one of my favourite short story collections of all time.
My book is available on Amazon and elsewhere in both paperback and ebook editions.
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
New Collection -- only ten copies left
Only ten copies left of the ultra-limited deluxe collector's edition of my next book ARMS AGAINST A SEA are left for pre-order. Seek out and contact Raphus Press if you are interested in securing one of these remaining ten. The same publisher did a wonderful job with my Mombasa Madrigal book.
This limited edition has distinctive production values. It is a perfect square in format (7.87 × 7.87 in.), 90 pages, with a exclusive, painfully handcrafted Japanese binding style. Only 25 will ever be printed. Fifteen have already been pre-ordered.
Friday, June 21, 2019
Best British Fantasy
Just received my complimentary copies of this anthology that contains one of my stories. I have been in "Best Ofs" before, but not very often because the main gatekeepers in the genre world have tended to be against me for various reasons.
But time passes, things change, the rusty old gatekeepers fall into disuse and new ones take their place. This is always the way. The writing business isn't like the famous Kafka parable. Gatekeepers do change. Take heart, mes amis!
Other news. Looks like I am able to announce my new ultra-limited collection, ARMS AGAINST A SEA (and Other Troubles), right now. The print run is only 25 copies in a handcrafted Japanese binding.
This book is going to be so scarce that it might as well be a rumour rather than a thing... Pre-orders are being taken and for further details and the chance to buy, please follow this link to the page that has just appeared on the website of the Brazilian publisher, Raphus Press.
Yet more news. My big book of tribute stories to authors I admire, THE SENILE PAGODAS, is in the final stages of preparation. With luck I will be able to announce further details very soon :-)
I thank you for listening!
Wednesday, April 03, 2019
Exploits of Engelbrecht -- for free!
Here's something you can't afford to miss. For the next five days the cult classic THE EXPLOITS OF ENGELBRECHT is free as a download for Kindle. I have made the ebook free for the maximum time allowed. Published in 1950 in a limited edition, this book features one of the great fantastika characters of all time, the dwarf surrealist boxer Engelbrecht, and charts his bizarre adventures as the champion athlete of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club.
Take advantage of this offer and spread the word, my friends! :-)
Monday, March 25, 2019
Mombasa in Paperback
There will never be an ebook version of this book. Some books, for some reason, don't seem appropriate for conversion into ebooks. There is only the ultra-limited edition that has sold out, and now this paperback edition that is available from Amazon and elsewhere.
I am especially fond of Mombasa Madrigal. I wrote most of it when I was in Africa last year. It is a collection of stories introduced by a novelette that is a fusion of memoir, travelogue and speculation. The fictions that follow complement and amplify the impact. Outrigger canoes with crab claw sails ride the currents of the Indian Ocean into oblivion, the mountains of Kenya loom high over grounded ships miles from the sea, pirates dream impossibilities and scheme them into reality along the Swahili Coast. And always Mombasa, the gateway to East Africa, pulsing endlessly in the heat of the night...
That's the promotional blurb! Hope you enjoy it if you buy it, and thanks for listening :-)
* Mombasa Madrigal (speculative non-fiction novella),
* In African Airspace (short tale written on an airplane while flying over Africa),
* Nothing Will Happen (the very last 'Captain Dangleglum' story),
* Noah the Second (bonus story not included in original edition),
* Sailing to Port Manitou (one of my personal favourites among my short stories).
Saturday, February 02, 2019
My new book is coming out very soon. In fact it is already here. I just haven't received a copy yet. This is because it has been published far away, in Brazil. It is also about a faraway place, a different faraway place, Mombasa on the Swahili Coast.
But in fact Mombasa will not be so far from me in a couple of days, as I am going back to Africa. I can't wait! My new book is called Mombasa Madrigal and Other African Escapades. It is published by Raphus Press and this is the ultra-limited handcrafted edition. There will be very few copies ever in existence, no more than thirty-eight. Yes! a limited edition of only 38 copies.
Pre-orders are being taken right now. There will be a paperback edition in the future, I am sure, but not before this ultra-limited edition has sold out. I doubt very much there will ever be an ebook edition, as the book contains photographs, diagrams and tables, and those are too difficult to format for ebooks.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
The Nostalgia That Never Was
Whereas World Muses was like Invisible Cities but with women instead of cities, The Nostalgia That Never Was concerns ghosts instead of women. It is clear to me that there will probably be a third book to complete what will then be a triptych, and this third book will surely be about machines rather than ghosts. But there's no rush. Maybe that will be a project for next year.
In the meantime, The Nostalgia That Never Was is ready and is available on Amazon as a paperback and also as an ebook. I am very pleased with the way it has turned out. Sometimes a book turns out not only better than one had expected, but even better than one had hoped. This is such a book. When I wrote it I had no conception of how it might flow as an integral whole. But I think it has worked out very well indeed.
A brief summary:
"Marco Polo is travelling again in the service of Kublai Khan but this time he wanders off the path and ends up in an unknown part of the world. In his solitude he becomes an emperor of dreams. The ghosts of prehistory visit him, and the phantoms of later ages and the future too. He even finds himself in the unexpected position of haunting himself. Only his very last spectral guest can know everything that is essential, and that last guest may well be you, the reader."
Thanks for listening!
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Review of 2018
I began the year in Africa in idyllic surroundings (in the uplands of Kirinyaga in Kenya) and with luck I will be spending more and more time there in the future and in other parts of that continent (Mombasa is one of my favourite places in the world). But my travels aren't really relevant to a blog concerned with literary matters.
So what did I achieve in 2018 regarding my writing efforts?
Books Published = 3
* How Many Times?
* The Honeymoon Gorillas
* The Early Bird Catches the Worm but the Wise Worm Stays in Bed
Books Accepted = 2
* Mombasa Madrigal
* The Court of Very Serious but Fictional Crimes
(With another few books currently in negotiation including Arms Against a Sea, Comfy Rascals and The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelm).
Stories Accepted = ?
I don't keep count of these but it's about 30
Stories Written = 28
Articles Written = 11
Plays Written = 5 (only started writing plays in the last month of the year, so I am very pleased with this total).
This brings my total of books published up to 47 since the year 1995.
909 stories in total since the year 1989.
22 articles in total since last year (when I started again from the beginning).
Next year I am hoping to have more books published (of course) including my first non-fiction book (Bullshit with Footnotes), but I am also hoping to have at least one of my plays performed on stage, radio or even as a film. We shall see :-)
As for reading... I read an incredible amount of superb fiction and non-fiction including Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan, one of my favourite ever short story collections, and No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi, one of my favourite true stories of adventure.
But two books among the dozens and dozens stood out. The Short Plays of Harold Pinter, which inspired me to begin writing plays again (I had wanted to write plays when I was much younger), and Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata, certainly a supreme achievement in the art of the very short story.
That's all. Onward to the year 2019 !!!!! :-)
Saturday, December 08, 2018
Better the Devil for Free
To celebrate the coming of Christmas, my ebook of 100 ghostly, monstrous and supernatural stories BETTER THE DEVIL is free until tomorrow.
This ebook consists of many of my previous chapbooks collected together, including my very first chapbook Romance with Capsicum. It includes flash fiction as well as longer tales.
It can be obtained from Amazon by clicking on this link:
Hope you enjoy :-)
Friday, November 16, 2018
Eyelidiad for Free
My early fantasy novella EYELIDIAD is available to be downloaded to kindle for free over the next three days. Click on the following link to obtain it:
The novella was written in one month back in 1995 and published by Tanjen Ltd the following year. It actually forms one third of my planned novel The Clown of the New Eternities, but whether that novel will ever be finished or not, I can't say.
The first two parts are done but I have been dragging my feet over the third part for twenty years!
Anyway, here is Eyelidiad. Hope you enjoy! :-) :-)
Saturday, October 20, 2018
The Early Bird Catches the Worm but the Wise Worm Stays in Bed
There are 46 stories in total in the paperback edition (the ebook version omits the last story) and the early stories tend to be fairly straightforward while the later ones tend to be more experimental.
It's no secret that I am working on a sequence of exactly 1000 stories in a grand story cycle. Each story works as a standalone tale but is also thematically, systematically and metafictionally linked to all the others.
I have now written 905 of these stories and it has taken twenty-nine years to do so. The idea is that one day the 1000 tale sequence will be completed and every one of the stories will be available in one of my books.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm but the Wise Worm Stays in Bed was initially put together in order to gather up some of my uncollected early stories.
While doing this, it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to juxtapose them with samples of stories I have written in the past few years.
More details about the contents of the collection can be found on the relevant page of my Aardvark Caesar blog, which is actually a complete catalogue of all my books.
This new collection can be ordered from Amazon here and also from other online bookstores.
The ebook edition can be found here.
Monday, September 24, 2018
To celebrate my birthday I am making the ebook of my book of cat stories and poems free for the next five days. Just go to Amazon and download it for free!
Cats, cats and more cats! One can never have too many of them.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
For the next five days only my collection FLASH IN THE PANTHEON is available for free on Kindle. This book was originally published back in 2014. It features 123 stories, the longest of which is 999 words and the shortest only 6 words long.
Click on the link above to download it from Amazon UK. For Amazon outlets in other countries, simply search for the book on your Amazon. Hope you enjoy!
Flash fiction is a style of literature I especially enjoy. For example, Yasunari Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, a volume of flash fictions he wrote over a sixty year period, is one of my favourite short story collections. I regard it as inspiring. I enjoy reading flash fiction and I enjoy writing it.
Flash fiction is a style of literature I especially enjoy. For example, Yasunari Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, a volume of flash fictions he wrote over a sixty year period, is one of my favourite short story collections. I regard it as inspiring. I enjoy reading flash fiction and I enjoy writing it.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
The Honeymoon Gorillas
I have wanted to write a weird Western for a long time. This urge was considerably amplified by the weird Westerns of two great writers that I enjoyed immensely, The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan and The Place of Dead Roads by William Burroughs. Both have been an inspiration on my own novel to some extent.
The Honeymoon Gorillas has now been published by Bizarro Pulp Press. It's available from Amazon and other online bookstores. A brief resume of the novel follows:
"Spud Gunn is the son of Hopalong Beech and Una Gunn. When his parents split up he begins his travels through the West, a place of myths, tall stories and strangeness. On his journey he has many peculiar encounters with the characters who inhabit the West and he begins to suspect that something is not quite right about the world he is living in. Could it be that this West is just a simulation? If so, for what purpose was it created? Before he finds the answer to this and other questions, he will have to evade the unusual attentions of a troupe of lethal roving actors, the schemes of fake orientals, the catastrophic effects of asteroid strikes and the fury of a giant who is one of the original gods of the West and who has been assembled from his scattered parts in order to break down the walls of existence and reveal the truths beyond.... But what does this have to do with gorillas? Rather more than it may seem to the casual eye!"
This novel was one of the most fun projects I have ever worked on. In fact I will go further and say that it was the most fun I've had working on a book.
This very morning I received my author's copies, so I decided to take some thematically appropriate photos that might help to promote the novel. This is one of them.
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
How Many Times?
My book contains a selection of OuLiPo works that are divided into categories. In the first section, there are stories in which I applied simple arithmetical rules to the creation of the texts. These are stories that consist of x sections, each section with x paragraphs, each paragraph having x sentences, each sentence made up of x words. The value of 'x' increases from one to seven, therefore the lengths of the texts rapidly increases too. The texts are individual pieces, yet they also work together to create a sum greater than the parts.
The second section features stories with a much more complex structure. OuLiPo is about the application of logical constraints that must be adhered to strictly in order to stimulate the imagination and push the creative impulse in unexpected directions. There are many official logical constraints and in the past I have applied several of these to various tales. But I also wanted to invent my own constraint and thus I devised one that I call "greater or equal to 2n plus one" because it consists of story grids that can be read coherently across each row, down every column and along the main diagonals, but it is also possible that other unplanned stories exist on other diagonals or in meandering courses through the grids. Some of the more advanced grids are asymmetrical and present even greater opportunities for readings paths.
The third section is a logico-erotic story in which the workings of progressively more intricate logic gates control the action of the sexual partners who are the objects of the study. I wanted to combine two seemingly irreconcilable functions, namely sensuality and logic. The boolean algebra that determines the outcome of each encounter therefore acquires a physicality that is surely quite new and unexpected.
My book can be ordered directly from the publisher here or from Amazon and other online bookshops.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Black Infinity Magazine
In the meantime, I will report that my novelette 'Swallowing the Amazon' has just appeared in the second issue of a new magazine devoted to weird fiction that is inspired by the pulp writers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
Black Infinity is a quality production from a publisher who has produced some extremely nice volumes in the past (including a deluxe edition of my novel Engelbrecht Again).
My novelette is an adventure set in a jungle that features explorers and dinosaurs, but I tried hard to make it different from the usual run of 'Lost World' style stories.
My hope is that Black Infinity will sell well and will thrive. That's a difficult thing to do in today's market where so many magazines and journals that publish fiction tend to go out of business after only a few issues. In other words, if you enjoy pulp weird fiction, please consider buying BI#2 (or the first issue for that matter).
It is available from Amazon here. Each issue will be themed and the subject of #2 is 'Blobs, Globs, Slime and Spores'. The magazine also contains some classic reprints by tremendous authors from the past.
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Literary Review 2017
My literary review of the year is generally only concerned with my personal favourites of all the books I have read this year and doesn't have anything to do with my own writing. This is the way it should be. I can announce, however, that 2017 has turned out to be my most productive fiction writing year ever. Every year for the past two decades I have attempted to write a minimum of 100,000 words of fiction annually. Some years I have failed to do this, but generally I have met my target and exceeded it by a certain wordage. The first time I broke the 200,000 word mark, I was astonished. The following year I produced 240,000 words and that was a record I never expected to beat. That was in 2010.
Ironically, I decided to make last year the final year in which I worried about meeting my self-imposed target of one hundred thousand words. I just planned to write instead without counting and let the final total take care of itself. But for some reason, this year has been especially fruitful, maybe because I took the pressure off myself, I don't know. I have just reached a total wordage of 241,000 words of fiction, and this doesn't take into account that 2017 was the year I also decided to launch myself into writing non-fiction seriously. However, I certainly don't intend to keep up this pace next year. There is no need. I am only 120 stories short of finishing my grand cycle of 1000 stories, and slowing the pace seems the right thing to do at this stage.
I am also thinking about detaching my novels from the cycle and having them as a separate set of works, and concentrating more on them in the future. I have several novels that are in various stages of completion, plus I have ideas for others, and I don't want the arbitrary task of writing short stories to obstruct their realization. None of this is going to be of much interest to most of you out there, but keeping the numbers in mind helps me to determine where I am and how far there is left to go. And although I am prolific in comparison with many writers, I am not at all prolific compared with others. It's all relative! I ought to make a list of projects I intend to work on in the near future and then post the list on my blog. I will probably try to do this quite soon.
Now then! The best books I read in 2017 were as follows:
On Leave - Daniel Anselme
The Fugitive - Pramoedya Ananta Toer
One of the best short story collections I have ever read. This was also my introduction to the work of Jean Rhys and I will now certainly seek out her other books. There is a lot of variety here and the stories span a wide range of time, but they can be placed into four broad categories. (1) Stories set in the bohemian Paris of the interwar age, (2) Stories set in London before and during the Blitz, (3) Stories set in the West Indies, (4) Stories set in the countryside (of England or other European countries). The stories set in Paris and London tend to be equally about impoverished narrators trying to survive in their environments, but those in Paris are far less bleak than those in London. The London stories really demonstrate the appallingly claustrophobic social prejudices prevalent at the time and they do this as devastatingly as the stories of Somerset Maugham. In the Parisian stories, on the other hand, there is always something uplifting happening even when there is little hope in general... The West Indies stories are my favorites and the tropics are so deeply ingrained in the heart of this writer that they seem to be in the background even in the stories that aren't set there. There is always a yearning, a craving, for the light and brightness and intensity of the Caribbean, despite the fact that paradise isn't always paradise under the surface and Jean Rhys makes the reader acutely aware of this fact. As for the stories set in the countryside, these include a remarkable story which is a semi-autobiographical account of a stay in a remote cottage with three other guests, including the composer Peter Warlock; and a magnificent story of escape to Prague in a motor car just after WWI in the company of a husband who is a crook. Jean Rhys tends to be better at longer lengths. These two pieces are picaresque, somewhat rambling in structure, rendered in a prose style that is unusual, highly rhythmic and simultaneously melancholic and invigorating, not at all like the standard writers in English of her time.
Fever - J.M.G. Le Clézio
A General Theory of Oblivion - José Eduardo Agualusa
One of the best novels I have encountered for ages. Magnificent in every way and exactly the kind of book that reminds me of how magical literature can be. So much of my favourite contemporary writing seems to be coming out of Africa. This is definitely in the top 10 of novels I have read in the past ten years. It is probably even in the top three... The tangled life-streams of the various characters interact beautifully and surprisingly with each other; the backdrop to the story is colourful, menacing and absolutely charged with history. José Eduardo Agualusa is clearly an extremely accomplished author indeed. I am awestruck and I certainly intend seeking out more of this writer's work.
The Journal of a Disappointed Man - W.N.P. Barbellion
Friday, November 24, 2017
Yule Do Nicely
We are on more certain ground when it is explained that the following fictions have been assembled in their present form in order to celebrate the festive season. They include work from the span of the past quarter century. The first twenty-four tales form a weird advent calendar from December 1st to 24th. Then it is Christmas Day and time for the stocking and the twenty-eight little strange tales inside it. Merry Xmas!
This book is available as paperback and as an ebook from Amazon and elsewhere. It is priced very low. £2.99 for the print edition and 99p for the ebook. This is as it should be at this time of year...
I have added the title to the blog where I keep track of all my published books to date, where there is also information about the contents of each volume. This blog is called Aardvark Caesar and goes right back to my first published book, Worming the Harpy, more than twenty years ago.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
This book began, in fact, without any thought of writing the full-length work it has become. I merely wanted to write a few very short fictions ('palm of the hand stories' as Kawabata termed them) and so I wrote a short text inspired by a friend of mine who lives in Indonesia. This was followed by other short texts for other female friends. Soon I was ranging the world in my imagination and before long I was inventing characters as well as basing them on real people. I am delighted with the finished project, which the mighty Des Lewis is already subjecting to one of his real-time reviews. World Muses pleases me very much.
The book was accepted by Ex Occidente Press in Romania and they have produced a deluxe limited edition hardback that is one of the most beautifully produced volumes I have ever seen. There are only just over 100 copies available. Among the fictions there are some experimental texts that utilize unusual typographical layouts. These have been rendered perfectly in the hardback and for this I am very grateful to the publisher. It is surprising how often publishers seem incapable of handling experimental layouts properly. Ex Occidente are careful and considerate, among the finest publishers of luxury books currently working.
To make it available to a larger audience I have arranged for the production of a paperback version that is priced at very low cost. The ebook version is also extremely cheap. This is the way it should be. No paperback or ebook edition of a work can ever compare with a carefully designed and exquisitely manufactured hardback, of course, but not all of us have the funds to collect such tomes.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Salty Kiss Island
this article to explain why I believe it's my best collection so far.
It is a collection of my fantastical love stories, 22 tales in total that were written over a period of 15 years. Two of the stories are novellas and one is a novelette, so the total wordage of the collection is just over 100,000 words.
The style of these stories is mostly what one might term 'magic realist' and I am happy with this definition, despite the vagueness of the term and the fact that not all the stories in the book are quite that way. They were inspired by real feelings and people, moods, circumstances, dreams and daydreams, music from tropical lands, writers such as Amado, Couto, Vian and Calvino (always Calvino) and a curious yearning for a different kind of life, and generally speaking they highlight my urge to break free from the narrative restrictions of the conventionally told anglophone story, whether it be mainstream or genre.
I feel that with this book I have reached a milestone on the admittedly lonely path of my writing career. I am not especially successful financially. It has been a struggle. But this book exists. I feel that something important has been validated...
The book is available at amazon and other online stores, and the magnificent Des Lewis has already begun one of his real time reviews of the stories within.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Cloud Farming in Wales
My novel is a fantastical comedy set in Wales, and it is also a tribute to the writer Richard Brautigan whose Trout Fishing in America enthused me and taught me an approach to fiction that struck me as -- if not exactly new -- then differently accentuated, and it is an approach that appealed enormously to me. I wanted to write a book similar to his. Cloud Farming is my Trout Fishing. That's the idea anyway! The blurb I prepared for the novel runs as follows:
“In Wales it never stops raining. Or almost never. When it does stop raining from the sky, it rains from hearts instead. Indoors as well as outdoors, the people huddle in the endless drenchings, and over time they have evolved into aquatic creatures who only look and behave like men and women but aren’t really. There is a clue in the name of the country. Wales is a nation with no spot of dry land within its borders. Wales is an Atlantis that never stayed under but is just as wet. Crammed with mythical beings and happenings, Cloud Farming in Wales palpitates, germinates and extrapolates, but never evaporates, and the sodden heroes that wade and slosh through the mighty puddles of its pages are generally in search of a canoe."
The excellent Des Lewis has already completed one of his 'real time' reviews of this novel and it can be found by clicking on this link. I am extremely delighted with the way the book has turned out!
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Hardback Limited Edition
My new novel Cloud Farming in Wales is coming out soon. As well as the paperback there will be a limited hardback edition, limited in fact to only 60 copies, and this will be available to be ordered separately within the next few weeks.
In the meantime, both the paperback and limited edition hardback can be pre-ordered as part of a Snuggly Books bundle. There are two bundle offers, because all the books available as bundles come in the two different editions. More information will be posted here in the coming weeks...
Friday, March 24, 2017
Transition to Non-Fiction
I have lots of writing news, including information about a forthcoming novel and two story collections, but instead I am going to briefly talk about non-fiction writing.
The year 2017 is my Year Zero for non-fiction. Although I have written plenty of non-fiction in the past I never took it very seriously. I tended to do it as a chore rather than a pleasure. But now I am going over all my former pieces, adjusting them, rewriting them, getting them into much better shape. And I have also started writing new articles. This time I am putting as much effort into non-fiction as I do with my fiction. I intend one day to transition fully to a non-fiction writer.
Today I finished writing a article called, 'On Strawberries'. This article will hopefully be the opening piece in my first non-fiction book, which with luck will be called Logic and the Monsters. Although the article is ostensibly about strawberries it is also about higher dimensional geometries, Tantric yoga, warrior ethics, goblin markets, Malaysian girls and many other things. My scheme is to make unexpected connections between a very wide range of disciplines. There are lots of footnotes too. In some of my future articles, the footnotes will have end-notes that will also have footnotes*. * because that's the kind of man I am.
This is the list of subjects I am planning to write articles on (or already have). It's not a comprehensive list but good enough for the present purpose. It gives an idea of what my first non-fiction book might contain:
• Strawberries, the finest fruit
• The First Science Fiction Novel
• How every writer is their own favourite author
• Brexit: some thoughts on Europe
• Mazes, their symbolic meaning
• A most underrated writer, the work of Barrington Bayley
• When satire goes too far
• Parallel Universes, how even their non-existence will prove their existence
• Occam’s Razor, a new logical twist
• Alain Resnais, his films
• Why immortality accelerates time, an idea
• Life after death, a new way of looking at this question
• Kizomba, the most sensual dance
• Paradoxes, why they are so intriguing
• The Empathy Problem, some thoughts on empathy
• Mountaineering, a pure pursuit
• Coconuts, the floating food
• Jacques Tati, his films
• Penguin Café Orchestra, an appreciation
• Perpetual Motion, the joy of mechanical absurdity
• Logic and the monsters, an imaginary film script
• The hazards of being a pedestrian
• The perils of checking out women
• Three things I write about and three I don’t
• The Ultimate Existential Horror
• A logic flaw in the horror genre
• Walking through Portugal
• Predatory males, why they give real predators a bad name
• Italo Calvino, an appreciation
• Not in my name, usurpation through accidental nomenclature
• Unusual titles for stories
• The Workshop of Potential Literatures
• Desperate Straights, a logico-whimsical argument
• Some thoughts about Richard Dawkins
• The art and designs of Rodchenko
• Rules for an imaginary literary society
• The Poetry of William McGonagall
• The problem of evil, a possible solution
• Géza Csáth, his life and work
• Pierre Louys, his life, perversion and work
• Maurice Richardson, his neglected classic
• Romanticynicism, an outline for a new literary movement
• Magic Realism, what it might be
• What scares me, a personal list
• Metafiction, married a fiction, had lots of microfictions
• Stories never to be written
• John Sladek, an appreciation
• Creative writing classes, a few doubts about them
• Uranus, a planet neglected in science fiction
• Pretension, and what it really is
• Why songs are often illogical
• First band without the definite article in their name
• Rinky Dink Panther, Time Traveller
Saturday, February 04, 2017
The Seashell Contract
My 40th book has just been published. The Seashell Contract is a collection of 22 stories, all previously unpublished and written in the past two years. All proceeds from this book will go to The Mariposa Trust, a charity that supports families who have lost babies. The book is available from Amazon in both print and ebook editions. It is also available directly from Createspace, the printers, and if you take this option, a larger percentage of the cost price of the book will go to the charity.
Let's take a provisional look at the figures. If you buy the paperback edition, which is priced at $9.99, the royalties that come to me are as follows: $3.33 in the US; £2.93 in the UK; €2.68 in the EU. If you buy the ebook edition, which is priced at $3, the royalties due to me are $2.10. All royalties will be passed to the charity the day I receive them. This means that if you buy the paperback, the charity will get more money in total; but if you buy the ebook, a higher percentage of your money will go to the charity. One third of the paperback price goes to the charity, but two-thirds of the ebook price.
Buying this book, you are supporting the charity. However, you may prefer to make a direct donation to them. It could be that you simply don't really care for my work. It could be that you don't like the idea of either 66% or 33% of your money going to a printer and distributor rather than the charity. It could be that you don't approve of charity projects that are 'exhibitionist' and it can't be denied that releasing a book that promotes the writer as well as supports a charity is certainly an act of grandstanding.
What can be done about this? Nothing much. Writers will always write books and promote them, and they will take the money for themselves and keep it. In this case, I am not keeping any money at all, but certainly it is in my interest too that the book sells. It is not pure altruism. It is an act of striving that happens to be allied to altruism. Striving and altruism must work together.
I hope that this project will be mutually beneficially to both the charity and myself. At the same time, let's be clear. I am not an especially successful writer in commercial terms. The amount of money that this book will earn for the charity isn't going to be a large sum (unless something happens and I become more popular). I will, however, keep the paperwork accurate, donate the money to charity each time my royalties are paid, and I will make sure all the documentation of transactions is available for official scrutiny. I will have to write off against tax the profits from this book, however small those profits are. So it's in my interest to be very careful with the entire process.
The photo displayed on this blog entry is one taken by an excellent fellow and chronicler of SF and fantasy fiction, Michael Hutchins. It has given me an idea. Anyone who buys the book and posts a photo of it on social media or websites, or sends it privately to me, will be automatically entered into a competition to win a free copy of either my last book (Sangria in the Sangraal) or my next one (Cloud Farming in Wales), whichever is preferred...
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Story Collection for Charity
2017 has got off to a great start in terms of writing. I have been very productive already and I have lots of news to announce; but I am going to take things one step at a time, and talk about projects one by one. This seems the clearest and best way to proceed...
Therefore I am first going to deal with a book of my stories that will soon be published that has been created in aid of charity. The charity in question is The Mariposa Trust and it supports mothers and families who have lost babies. I chose this charity because my friend Katy Kear has done work for them; I wanted to help her efforts and this was one way I could. All proceeds from the sale of my book will go to the charity.
The book is called THE SEASHELL CONTRACT and will contain 22 stories. These stories are previously unpublished and all have been written in the past two years. I decided not to include any reprints in the collection, so anyone who reads the book won't encounter material they may have already read in magazines or anthologies. I am hoping this will encourage my readers to buy it. The stories are varied in theme, tone and scope. They are mostly speculative fiction pieces, some comedic, others less so, mainly fantastical and quirky.
The book will be available both as a paperback and in ebook form. It is being published under my own small Gloomy Seahorse imprint. This way I have more control and can ensure that all profits go directly to the charity. It also enables me to typeset it carefully and design the interior. More details will follow; and with luck the book should be out in the next few weeks.
In the meantime I leave you with an image from the photo shoot that took place in order to create a cover for the book. My endless gratitude to Vanessa Ndovela who kindly agreed to appear in the photos; and also to Lidia Ciotola who snapped the images.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
New Year's Eve
The year 2016 is coming to an end. It wasn't a bad year for me by any means, not as good as 2015 was (one of the best years of my life) but certainly nothing to complain about. On a geopolitical scale the year will probably go down in history as being pivotal, a time when vast changes were set in motion. It is really not easy to predict the future. My efforts in that direction fail nearly every time, and so do those of most others. I regard Brexit as a disaster but its full ramifications can't be known for a long time yet. Let's wait and see.
This year I had a new collection of short fiction published, a book beautifully produced by the wonderful Egaeus Press called Brutal Pantomimes that I am especially pleased with. It contains a story 'The Jam of Hypnos' and a novella 'The Impossible Inferno' that are among the two best things I have ever written (in my own view at least!). The book sold well.
My 1996 novella Elusive Plato was also republished, by Bizarro Pulp Press, but this did much less well. In fact it sold very few copies, even though reader demand had prompted the reprint in the first place. The publishing world is a baffling place at times!
Finally my sequence of linked historical fantasies Sangria in the Sangraal was published in an expanded and updated edition by Eibonvale Press and this was launched just a few weeks ago. The story behind this book is almost as convoluted as the story inside it. The initial idea for the collection came with the visit I made, purely by chance, to the little town of Albarracín back in September 2007. It has taken more than nine years to get from that visit to the final version of the story cycle.
As for writing new material... I completed two short novels in 2016 (or perhaps they can more accurately be termed novellas). The Honeymoon Gorillas is a 'weird Western' that I plan to submit to a publisher sometime in 2017 (I have a specific one in mind). Cloud Farming in Wales is a very unorthodox fantasia that was partly inspired by Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America and it has already found a publisher and has a provisional publication date of June 2017.
Every year I set myself the target of writing 100,000 words of new fiction as a minimum threshold. Last year I failed to meet my target. This year I easily exceeded it. Next year I plan to be less strict with myself about this figure. This doesn't mean I am going to slacken on my projects, simply that I won't be stressing about targets for wordage.
Projects for 2017 include a collection of short fiction called The Seashell Contract with all proceeds going to charity, and a book of ghost stories called The Ghost Comedians. I will also be attempting to write a novella for TOR. It's also high time I finally finished the novel I have been working on since 1994, The Clown of the New Eternities. But I say that every year... Let's see!
HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
End of Year Review 2016
This end of year review is concerned solely with books. For some reason 2016 turned out to be the year in which I read more fiction books than in any other year of my entire life. I also read a lot of non-fiction books, but I won't deal with those here. I have read a total of 63 fiction books so far and I will probably increase this total by two or three more titles before the year is finished. However, I feel ready to make a choice about my favourites.
My opinions on fiction have remained fairly stable over the course of my reading life. I have become much more open to non-European literature, however. I really don't understand why this didn't happen sooner. I have loved Latin American literature for a long time, of course, but it's only in the past decade that I have really begin to explore the literature of Africa and Asia in any depth. Anyway, here are my top fiction books of 2016...
* Dream Story -- Arthur Schnitzler
An almost perfect short novel. Having seen the Kubrick film that was based on this book (and thinking it good but hugely flawed) I foolishly assumed the book would also be flawed. But it isn't. It is a remarkable work in which the lines between dream and reality are blurred in a very affecting way, both occupying spaces of high clarity and reflecting the other, so it is never entirely certain what is real and what isn't. However this doesn't (as it might have done) lessen the impact of the powerful, sensual and grotesque events that occur. Schnitzler refuses to take the easy way or to allow his main protagonist, Fridolin, to use the "dream" excuse to escape the seriousness of what has resulted from his actions of one night. The prose of the story is powerful and sombre, yet charged with a rich atmosphere.
* If on a Winter's Night a Traveller -- Italo Calvino
Calvino has at least two other books among my all-time favourites, The Complete Cosmicomics and Our Ancestors. And Marcovaldo may even be a third. He is certainly my favourite fiction writer. There are almost too many things I want to say about If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. The odd aspect is that I have met a few people who dislike it intensely, and the main reason they dislike it is always based on a misunderstanding. They believe it is merely a showcase for Calvino to display how clever he is; that it's a book dedicated solely to the act of showing-off. But in fact this is absolutely not the case. In fact the process of the book involves Calvino's ego dissolving away and the authorial voice being taken over by a host of other (imaginary but brilliantly realised) authors. It may seem like an egocentric book on the surface but underneath it is profoundly involved with the real world, with the outer as well as the inner. It is about life, experience, ideas, style, culture, differences, similarities, and the connections between them. And it tries to capture a very elusive mood, a series of very elusive moods in fact, that concern the art of literature and the act of reading: the fact that when we start reading a novel the potentialities are almost endless and the novel has immense (if not infinite) possibilities in terms of development and evolution. But as we read onward, those potentialities diminish, the possibilities became less, as the novel actually congeals into what it is, namely a book that is being read. Calvino's masterwork, on the other hand, is a cycle of connected beginnings in which the potentials are never lost, and these beginnings together form a coherent work of progress through time, with a conclusion that satisfies the demands of literary convention and yet is highly original. And the whole of this amazing construction is held together within a metafictional frame that tells its own delightful and remarkable quest story.
* A River Called Time -- Mia Couto
Mia Couto writes in a unique style that is very powerful. In fact I find his prose style one of the finest of any writer I have read. It has affinities to magic realism but contrives to be original too. I also see in it some similarities with the mannerisms of Milorad Pavić, in the sense that the metaphorical aspects of the worlds they both create are so spectacularly unusual and yet feel precisely right, as if they are pinning down some aspects of existence that had remained elusive before, and doing so with language that only seems willfully odd until we have acclimatized to it. It is difficult to explain precisely what I mean. Inexplicable events take place in Couto's work: they are embodiment in the external world of internal feelings, even when those feelings are not really understood by the characters experiencing them. And yet it is not feelings alone that drive forward the plot or justify the magic. Couto's novels, mystical and mysterious, are also adventure stories in which Africa is a wounded soul attempting to heal itself, as well as the extraordinary stage for the protagonists to move on, dancing between dangers and ecstasies.
* Heart's Wings and Other Stories -- Gabriel Josipovici
Josipovici is one of my favourite short-story writers and this volume is a selection of his work over the majority of his career. His style is crisp, lucid and luminous, always slightly strange, cool, aloof, and yet capable of cutting deeply into the emotions of the reader. He reminds me of some of the avant garde 'New Worlds' writers of the late 60s and early 70s who attempted experimental prose that connected with the head and the heart simultaneously. But they mostly failed, and Josipovici mostly succeeds. 'Second Person Looking Out' is a maze tale in which the labyrinth is a relentless shift-of-perspective in the grounds and interior of a weird house. 'Mobius the Stripper' is a dark comedy and a magnificent exercise in topography. 'The Bird Cage' is an elegiac prose poem. 'Christmas' is a brilliant kitchen-sink twister. 'Exile' is a story of poignant irony about self-imprisonment. 'Steps' (perhaps my favourite) demonstrates the artistry with which the author can switch between past, present and future, turning a bizarre encounter with a stranger into something that is poised between daydream/nightmare and reality. 'Love Across the Borders' is a powerful and chilling revenge tale... There is a strong flavour of Borges as well as Kafka in many of these stories, and in the others, and all are highly accomplished. This is a wonderful book.
* The Star Diaries -- Stanislaw Lem
Stanislaw Lem is a writer I especially admire. This book is one of his best. In fact it is one of the best science-fiction books I have ever read. A collection of the improbable voyages of the space explorer Ijon Tichy, it is delightful, funny, thought provoking, original, clever, charming and absurd (in a good way). This is the kind of science-fiction I most enjoy -- similar to Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics -- picaresque, playful, highly imaginative and not limited by those pointless concerns for veracity that 'hard' SF always insists on. In many ways The Star Diaries is more akin to Gulliver's Travels than to traditional science-fiction; but it is the endlessly inventive ideas that really make Lem stand out. He was a genius.
* The Nightwatchman's Occurrence Book -- V.S. Naipaul
It is only this year (2016) that I have really started to read his books in earnest, but V.S. Naipaul has already become one of my favourite writers. I read Miguel Street, his first book, in the spring, and followed it with his second, The Mystic Masseur; then I knew I would have to seek out his third, and so on... So I bought the third, The Suffrage of Elvira, but it seemed sensible to buy it as part of this omnibus and thus secure two extra books in one volume... I am glad that I did. The Suffrage of Elvira is one of Naipaul's 'early' books. Set in Trinidad it is full of comical characters who move in a setting in which many different races mix and interact. It seems almost one of a piece with his two earlier books. There is considerable charm here, but it is far from being merely 'charming' or 'colourful'. There is also darkness, sadness and frustration amid the tropical props and island scenery. This style of writing was one Naipaul was to abandon shortly afterwards, moving on to a much more precise and profound voice and manner of approaching his material. The second part of this omnibus features Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, an oddity that Naipaul wrote while he was travelling through India, although it is set entirely in England and was Naipaul's attempt to write a wholly 'English' novel. It works very well. It is a social satire along the lines of some of H.G. Wells' novels (The History of Mr Polly for instance) and the writing is sublime, subdued, muted but deeply thoughtful too, quite different from the prose style of the early Trinidad novels, but equally impressive and affecting in an entirely different way. The third part of the omnibus contains a story collection, A Flag on the Island. To my delight, this collection featured stories that are in the style of Miguel Street (in fact, one of them, 'The Enemy' was originally intended for that book but left out), and also stories in which the more mature and richer manner prevails. It is the title story of this collection, the brilliant novella 'A Flag on the Island' that actually proved to be an important transition piece for Naipaul, leading him to experiment with, and develop, a new voice that became entirely his.
* Trout Fishing in America -- Richard Brautigan (Picador)
* The Fall -- Albert Camus (Penguin)
In my 20s I read Camus and thought he was an extraordinary writer, fully the equal of his mighty reputation. So why didn't I read him again during the entirety of my 30s and 40s until now? It is a mystery that I can't explain. I picked up The Fall on a whim and devoured it. An astounding short novel that has the fundamental question of how to live in this world as its theme. Camus is a philosophical writer with a precise use of language. His prose has unstoppable momentum and a reader can't help but hurry from the first page to the last in a delirium of receptive inspiration.
* A Malgudi Omnibus -- R.K. Narayan (Vintage)
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