Tag Archives | Literature

Richard Dawkins: Why I Want All Our Children to Read the King James Bible

King James BibleRichard Dawkins writes in the Guardian:

A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian. In the week after the 2011 census, my UK Foundation commissioned Ipsos MORI to poll those who had ticked the Christian box. Among other things, we asked them to identify the first book of the New Testament from a choice of Matthew, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles, Psalms, “Don’t know” and “Prefer not to say”. Only 35% chose Matthew and 39% chose “Don’t know” (and 1%, mysteriously, chose “Prefer not to say”). These figures, to repeat, don’t refer to British people at large but only to those who self-identified, in the census, as Christians.

European history, too, is incomprehensible without an understanding of the warring factions of Christianity and the book over whose subtleties of interpretation they were so ready to slaughter and torture each other.

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The Politics of Steampunk

Steampunk Mask

Photo: Jim (CC)

I thought it would be interesting to continue the discussion from my previous post on “Steampunk and Anarchism” (found here). This next article by Magpie Killjoy explores the intersection of radical politics and steampunk fiction and aesthetic Via TOR.com:

I first consciously got into steampunk back in 2004. It was the perfect aesthetic lens for my interests: history, mad science, genre fiction, the underclasses, and radical politics. It was steampunk, really, that helped me realize how awesome it is to be classy yet poor, that we can celebrate individual and communal ingenuity without babbling on about how great this or that nation or empire might be.

Now, seven years later, I’m constantly amazed by how many people, including some of the most die-hard steampunk adherents, seem to believe that steampunk has nothing to offer but designer clothes. There are people (a minority, I would argue, just a loud one) who act like steampunk is simply a brassy veneer with which to coat the mainstream.

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Anarchism and Steampunk

Aerial HouseExploring the radical roots of a popular science fiction genre. Via Airships, Anarchists, & Anachronisms:

Steampunk began as a radical satirical form of fiction, but today it encompasses much more. What precisely is steampunk? As the editors of Steampunk Magazine explain, steampunk is “a vibrant culture of DIY crafters, writers, artists, and other creative types, each with their own slightly different answer to that question.” By its diverse nature, steampunk resists definition. Furthermore, in the ever evolving nature of steampunk, “as each new iteration of the idea be­comes more ambitious, the mutations are delightfully limitless and unpredictable.”

This definition seems in line with Rachel A. Bowser and Brian Croxall’s statement that, “Steampunk is more about instability than any other single characteristic. It resists fixedness by unsettling the categories from which it cribs.” Yet, the authors do provide a definition for those looking for the quintessential steampunk. They write:

That being said, one common element arguably shared by all steampunk texts, objects, or performances is the one on which this journal is predicated: the invocation of Victorianism.

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William Gibson Answers Readers’ Questions on Intelligence Communities, Style and More

WilliamGibson

Photo: Gonzo Bonzo (CC)

Here are some notes from an older (September 2010) questions and answers session from William Gibson’s Zero History tour. Via Technoccult:

Asked about the intelligence communities in his books

I don’t want anyone to think I’ve gone “Tom Clancy” but what you find is that you have fans in every line of work. How reliable those narrators are I don’t know, but they tell a good story.

Asked about humor in his work.

Neuromancer was not without a comedic edge. My cyberpunk colleagues and I back in our cyberpunk rat hole sniggered mightily as we slapped our knees.

But writers can’t have more than two hooks. “Gritty, punky,” sure. “Gritty, punky, funny” doesn’t work.

I asked him about the slogan “Never in fashion, always in style” because I read that slogan on his blog and never found out what company that slogan actually belonged to.

Aero Leathers in Scotland.

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Groundbreaking Experimental Author Christine Brooke-Rose Dies At 88

thruPioneering, yet little known by the general public, in her mind-bending works, she “exploded the fixed architecture of the master narrative.” The Guardian writes:

One of Britain’s most radical exponents of experimental fiction, the marvelously playful and difficult novelist was fond of the device of omission.

In her 1968 novel Between, she left out the verb “to be” throughout, to stress the narrator’s disoriented sense of personal identity – the year before George Perec’s novel La Disparition omitted the letter “e”. She left out the word “I” from her autobiographical novels, instead describing the narrator as “the old lady”.

Her first truly experimental novel, Out (1964), was narrated by a white character facing racial discrimination in the aftermath of a nuclear war, with pale skin now indicating radiation poisoning and dark skin health.

As a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force officer during the second world war, she worked at Bletchley Park, assessing intercepted German communications.

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The Invention Of The Meritocracy

rise-of-meritocracy-coverThe New Inquiry unearths the 1959 work of sci-fi satire that arguably coined the term — now used in earnest by many pundits to describe and defend our current society:

Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy begins in 2034 with a puzzled member of the commanding elite of the future wondering why in the world various discontented factions of the meritocratic society could be contemplating a general strike.

The more plausible meritocracy seems, the more self-righteous and intransigent the “meritorious” will become. In other words, the obvious shortcomings of the meritocracy myth don’t prevent beneficiaries of the status quo from taking ideological comfort in the idea.

There are inescapable problems of definition and measurement. What counts as merit? Who decides, and how is this decision objective? What sort of tests can be devised to isolate “merit” from some inherently privileged position in society that facilitates it? Doesn’t power redefine merit in terms of itself, and what it needs to preserve itself?

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Dreaming of Electric Sheep

End Of The WorldIn this column for Toronto Standard, Emily Keeler asks, “Are Dystopic literary visions becoming the way of the world?” Call me Henry Case, but i think she might be on to something.

Okay, it’s true: I tend to prefer fiction to fact. Though some journalists (and essayists) who work with what you might call “reality” get my gears going, I typically think stories are better, if only because they offer a window to a different, much less banal world. I learned early that novels are a place to run to, islands of respite from the endless rowing across the boring and tedious ocean between birth and death. It’s a place, to abuse a phrase associated with one of fiction’s loudest champions, where I can go to get away from being already pretty much away from it all. Stories relieve me of myself, from the blandness of my mostly apolitical and largely unremarkable life, and none more so than fictions of the mystifying future.

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Varney the Vampire’s Feast of Blood

Varney_the_VampireThe fictional vampire may have made his debut at the Algonquin Round Table, but he flourished alongside the cave-dwelling cannibals and homicidal maniacs who introduced the British working class to the magic of reading. The 1845-1847 penny dreadful Varney the Vampire was penned by none other than James Malcolm Rymer, who created the character Sweeney Todd. Victorian Gothic writes:

James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire has been described as the worst book of the 19th century. Introduced in 1845, the completed serial consists of over 600,000 words of tedious dialog, aimlessly meandering storylines, maddening repetition, and enough kernels of genius to consistently inspire horror fiction into the present day. Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Russell T. Davies and Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau are just some of the writers and filmmakers who have been indebted to concepts originated in the pages of Varney, making it easily the most influential vampire story that nobody reads.

The first full-length work of vampire fiction, Varney appeared in the penny press some 36 years after the original short story sketches by Lord Byron and John William Polidori, and decades before J.

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The Lesbian Vampire Story That Inspired “Dracula”

CarmillaIn composing his novel Dracula, Bram Stoker drew heavily upon an earlier, more seedy story in which a young woman succumbs to the attractions of an undead countess. Victorian Gothic reviews J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla:

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was destined to become the universally-acknowledged masterwork of vampire fiction, but it was not, by any means, the first of its kind. Stokers genius consisted not in having invented the modern vampire monster, but in the imaginative way he synthesized and expanded upon the ideas that prior authors had already been exploring.

One of these was J. Sheridan Le Fanu, whose 1872 tale Carmilla provided a template for many of Dracula’s best-remembered characters and motifs, including the occult doctor (Dr. Hesselius), and the lonely Gothic castle set in a barbarous region of Europe. Many of the proper names in Dracula, in fact, are direct allusions to Carmilla’s characters and settings: “Karnstein” became “Carfax,” “Reinfeldt” became “Renfield,” and so on.

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