The couple days have been spent revisiting Derek Raymond's (aka Robin Cook) autobiography The Hidden Files. I remember, when it came out, some expressed disappointment because they said the book did not have the same edge and dark focus of his crime/noir novels. That its prose and presentation was a bit self-conscious, as though Robin was trying to prove his worth as a writer. Maybe there was some truth in the latter, though at the time of its publication, I enjoyed the book immensely. But, for some reason, I hadn't looked at it since. This even though I've re-read Robin's Factory novels, and some of his others (Crust On Its Uppers, A State of Denmark, The Legacy of the Stiff Upper Lip, etc.) at various times since their publication or re-publication. Re-reading The Hidden Files was not only a great pleasure but I found it quite moving. For me, no matter how under-appreciated it might have been at the time, The Hidden Files really does deserve to be up there with the likes of Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise, a kind of scaled down version of Anthony Powell's multi-volumed Dance to the Music of Time. For me there has always been something admirable about old Etonians- and I seem to have known a few over the years- who have the political and personal nous to reject their class, their education, and sense of entitlement. Certainly no one personifies that kind of downward mobility more than Robin. What a pleasure it was during late 1980s and early 1990s to run into him on the streets of Kilburn, where we were neighbours, or at events at Compendium or Murder One. As I was revisiting The Hidden Files I couldn't help but be reminded of those days, which led me to dig out my 1992 interview with Robin which took place at this favourite pub, The Coach and Horses in Soho, and subsequent article that appeared in the Observer Magazine later on that same year.
Wednesday, June 01, 2022
As a postscript, I can, like Williams, recall seeing the CLR James BBC documentary. Though it must have been a repeat because I would have put watching the film sometime in the early 1980s. I say that because my first encounter with James occurred a bit before viewing the documentary. I was travelling by train to teach a class in the west of England when I heard a lilting West Indian voice coming from the back of the carriage holding forth on how the ill-fated SDP (which had recently been formed in 1981 by disgruntled rightwing Labour MPs) was destined to fail. Not because of its politics but simply because of the way the House of Commons was constructed. That is, its actual space did not allow for a major third party opposition. I'd never heard anyone talk about the politics of physical space in that manner (though I had yet to read anything so abstract as Bachelard's Poetics of Space, I was reminded at the time of the seemingly endless debate a decade earlier about the shape of the table prior to the peace negotiations at the end of the Vietnam war). I turned and saw a group of young black students surrounding this man who was holding forth. But it was only while watching the aforementioned BBC documentary that I realised that person was, in fact, CLR James.
Friday, March 11, 2022
Still Dangerous, Still New: Dangerous Visions and New Worlds- Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985, edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.
It was a long-haired donkey-jacketed council labourer from Yorkshire named Tex who introduced me to Michael Moorcock's New Worlds magazine. It was that glorious summer of 1967 when, as someone once said, there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air. I had been staying briefly in a house in Bermondsey. It was most likely the only time I ever had anything close to what one could call a conversation with the taciturn Tex, this one lasting only long enough for him to hand me the magazine, mumble a sentence or two before going back to his thousand-piece jigsaw he and his girlfriend had been working on for as long as I'd staying there. In the weeks that followed it seemed like everyone I ran into was reading the magazine. And one or two were even writing for it. With Michael Moorcock, not yet the author of all those Jerry Cornelius novels and so much more, at its helm, the magazine set out to explore, not the cliché-ridden realms of outer space, but that murky world referred to at the time as inner space, and, in doing so, make speculative fiction a kind of road map directing readers to what might be possible in a world that was being turned upside down.
So it’s appropriate that these two publications would form the basis, and focal point, for a study of radical science fiction from 1950-1985. In fact, Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, while keeping those publications firmly in mind, move both backwards and forwards in time with essays that extend the rebellious spirit, however varied, of New Worlds and Dangerous Visions. Nette and McIntyre’s volume really does cut a wide swathe, with excellently-researched essays from a variety of contributors on subjects that move across the board: from that utopias, dystopias, the bomb, revolution, the Vietnam war, race relations, feminism, the sexual revolution, ecology, and drugs, to sub-genres like Russian, gay, and young adult sci-fi, as well as chapters on publishers, editors, and writers, both obscure and well-known, from Moorcock, Judith Merril, Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delaney, Barry Malzberg, J.G. Ballard, Ursula LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, to Denis Jackson, Hank Lopez, R.A. Lafferty, Octavia Butler, and James Tiptree. With something for everyone, there are bound to be writers discussed that will be unfamiliar to readers. I for one had never come across the likes of Hank Lopez (Afro Six) or Denis Jackson ("Flying Saucers and Black Power"!). Likewise, there’s a plethora of paperback covers, all excellently reproduced which will make readers want to track down some of these titles on secondhand sites and bookstores.
Monday, January 10, 2022
On Dangerous Ground: Woman On the Run (Norman Foster, 1950), "One More Thing" (Apologies to Columbo).
Woman On the Run (Norman Foster, 1950)
Who finds Playland sinister necessarily gumshoes
fate, not unlike Pinocchio ogling the Fat Lady before
dodging phallic double-parkers, bumper stickers
decrying the benefits of spousal abuse. Payback hot
wire exhaust fumes stodgily mashing suburban mush.
They said it was over even before it was over, the song
celebrating insinuation, or, better yet, the benefits of
capitalist degeneration. Those westward petit-bourgeois
wankers, ensconced in ocean-side condominiums,
wallowing in cryptic crossword clues and anxious
evenings of cathode narcolepsy. Gawked while stuffing
coupons into letterbox conspiracies. Others say only
movies make it real, concentrating the mind on guilt
rather than gelt. Leaving idle hands and loose ends to
track some alienated dog walker, thrust into the numinous
night. Witnessing shock and awe gangland murder not
far from where Kid Schlemiel once shared a joint with
Janis Joplin, who, for all I know, was in fact Daffy Duck
in disguise. Or is that stating the obvious? One person's
truth being another's collective amnesia. But, yes, the man
on the leash, marriage on the rocks, would have been
better off had he allowed his mutt to simply crap on
the carpet. Yet any deliberation over whose tail is wagging
what dog can only be speculative. That mask of civility
frozen at the seams, Mrs Dog Walker totes the medicine
that might alleviate her husband's frozen heart. But loyalty
only goes so far; it's not that she wants him dead, just out
of the way. Even if the guy she confides in is not now,
nor ever has been, a confirmed newshound. Still, he speaks
in complete sentences and treats her as if she just might
actually qualify as human. But tattoo this: never fully
trust a man in a film, circa 1950, who purports to take
a woman seriously. As for Foster, his bona fides are
themselves slightly suspicious, from the Mercury Players
to Mr Moto and Charlie Chan. Schlepped his puny budget
from L.A. to San Francisco to hoover the city's crevices.
Call it psycho-geography, but only if emphasising the prefix
of that neologism. As if the gaffer might have been stealing
glances at Schlemiel's tear-stained Baedeker, to give him
license to prowl the city like a wounded coyote woofing
and warping at every pit stop. Either smart before its time
or retrograde after the fact, its laws and stipulations bleed
the Avenues to the zoo and ocean. Holy smokey eyes,
what politics of inevitability do not decry le bon temps
roulet remain forever contradictory, insisting the plot
is not the story, the narrative barely the end of the matter.
"One More Thing "
Adjectives like floating insects in a Hollywood swimming pool.
So 1950s, larger than life, inflated by superlatives. Magnified to
billboard proportions. Though these days big would be biggest.
Leading to the inevitable, if ambiguous: The Biggest Sleep: perhaps
a euphemism for the most boring movie ever, or could it be a pill
to get you through a troubled night? The Biggest Clock, a travelogue,
or a typo in a porno ad? The Biggest Combo, a burger place on
the Strip or the world’s largest aggregation of musicians. Back then
big really did mean something. Like, before the first feature, a Big
Boy to forget the Big One, before the final shrug, as in big fucking
deal. Nodding out in sky scraping impeccable nonchalance. Framed
by cigar-choking expressionist emigrés, their motto: I shot therefore
I was. Time leading to paranoia, perversion to crime, and sleep,
not orgasm, the little death. That coffee thrown in Gloria’s face a
reality only when she clocks herself in the mirror. A woman with
a scar, sister under the mink, more dangerous than a gun or an
explosion. The mark so deep it becomes irredeemable. Which helps
explain why it's always night in high-contrast simulacra. Why in
the land of the minuscule, a less than average shyster can so easily
become king. That is, if size matters, if modifiers have more import
than that which they modify: Clock, Combo, Heat, Sleep, Steal,
Night, Knife, Goodbye. This one goes out to who would remain
anonymous, their ships lost at sea. Continents long since absent,
as insomniacs out of the past darkly. Falling adjectives like confetti
between more frames per second than reality can ever hope to count.
Sunday, November 28, 2021
PERHAPS IT’S NOSTALGIA that has allowed proletariat writing to enjoy a half-life that defies its poor reputation. Though few literary sophisticates read the likes of Jack Conroy, Meridel Le Sueur, Jim Tully, or Tom Kromer, the fallout from such writing, abundant and popular prior to and just after World War II, remains with us in various guises. There are elements of it in noir and hard-boiled fiction, past as well as present. It’s also an undercurrent in early Beat writing, even if the latter was in part a reaction to the sectarianism that proletariat writing produced. In fact, traces of it exist in any writing that comes from and speaks to those on the wrong end of the economic order.
Friday, November 26, 2021
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger, 1950)
"A cop is basically a criminal,”
with “an instinct for...legalized
violence.” Not so much symptomatic
as stating the obvious. Back before
the bald guy entered the picture.
It's a daddy-thing, I guess. The old
guy works for the man or
the mob, or is there a difference?
Reeking blood brother nemesis.
“I didn’t know a guy could hate
that much.” Say, what? Blame
the city, schmuck-face. All that
neon moral ambiguity. Kills the
soul as well as the robbery suspect.
Who never hopped a red-eye
heading for Dreamland. Dumped
the body but not the soul. They
say if you throw an egg from
the Dead Zone nine times out
of ten you'll hit a fucking Cartesian.
Framing the question, not
the cabbie- his high-flag
drenched in sassafras, headlong
towards an imperfect circle.
Blissed-out rainwater and graveyard
tips. Tight-wadded miracles
frenetically enbedded in a father
who falls for the murdered man’s
wife. As watered down as Luke
the Drifter retching for redemption
cralwing through a cookie jar
delirium. Prompting the great
man to feign ignorance: “I remember
nothing.” Low box office, high
impact, late night fodder, legalised-
something-or-other, without a
man-oh-manifesto to fall back on.
The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949)
So many roads, so far to gawk,
Yet, who, with any certainty,
can claim a reliable narrator.
If not imprisoned, witnessing a
crime, or living a lie, whether
barnstorming in black and white
or embeded in a complexity
of claustrophobic tenements
reeking of boiled tongue and
rancid cabbage. Lower East Side
gentrification dollars whinpering in
the wind-up. Walls cackling,
deaf to lack, lustre and rodents
the size of small seizures. Told to play
outside, the kid says “But there’s
nowhere to go.” Who verifies ash
can aesthetics, misty yet murky,
and oh, so Naked City, if only
from the waste down. Tinseltown
slobbering. Dream now, die later,
Woolrich. a fly in an overturned jar.
As for the kid, age 31, on the outskirts
of the Factory, overdosed in the
remnants of his childhood. From
Peter Pan to John Doe and a pauper’s
grave. Said, “I was carried on a satin
cushion, then dropped in a garbage
can,” a singularity without mercy.