Bob Wake writes like Ralph Steadman draws: a few choice words and boom! thereís a real, living, breathing character. And since this is a collection of short stories, that means we donít waste precious time trying to figure out who these people are, we know them. Thereís something about the way this guy puts a sentence together that just hits me hard. Heís confident enough that he doesnít try to use the most obscure words or convoluted sentence structures to say what he wants to say. He just comes right out and says it, and itís perfect. And although this is a book of short stories, the stories and the characters spill over from tale to tale. Characters that were definitely fictional in one story show up in the real lives of other characters in the next. Donít get me wrong, this isnít some hokey pomo device. Thereís also spoofs of murder mysteries, apocryphal dogs and the delightful Sarah Randall who gets to be both a first person and a second person. And, perhaps the highest compliment I can pay anyone, I thought of at least ten people I wanted to lend this book to. Maybe Iíll make them go buy it. Caffeine and Other Stories kicks ass, rocks hard, and leaves you wanting more.
Diddy Kong Racing; ClayFighter 63-1/3; RoboTron 64
$12.95 from: CBR Press, Box 222, Cambridge, WI 53523
This is a novel about a 13 year-old drug-taking metagenius named Mark Leyner, who has the daunting assignment of writing a script for a contest that awards $250,000 a year for life to the writer of the best screenplay from Maplewood Junior High. This is due the day after his father's scheduled execution by lethal injection. That's like uh, the plot. The book itself is divided into three distinct parts: Mark witnessing the scheduled execution, which is written in traditional prose, Mark's illicit liason with the prison warden (a 35 year old woman), which as a script, and the review of the non-existent film, The Tetherballs of Bougainville, which is written by the 13 year old Mark Leyner. In some ways, this is similiar to William Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own, which featured a the script for a play that one of the characters wrote. For me, the review of the non-existant movie was the most rewarding section. The movie, The Tetherballs of Bougainville is about 13 year-old Mark Leyner teaming up with a hyper-intelligent and lab-abused bonobos chimp , Polo, to write some of the most popular books of the late 20th century, including Prozac Nation, Infinite Jest and The End of Alice. Eventually, there is a trial to expose the imposters who pose as authors like Wurtzel, Wallace, Coupland, with Mark suing to award the book profits to Polo. I thought this was a really humorous way to introduce the "death of the author" argument, and the book is entertaining enough to those who are not interested or not familiar with the debate.
Although the plot is convoluted it's easy enough to follow. The jokes never stop (I especially liked the ones about Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Karr). Additionally, I'm wondeirng if Bougainville is an oblique reference to John Barth, who seems to have the bougainvilleas constantly blooming all over the place in his books, in an oblique reference to Georgia O'Keefe. Leyner is definitely, clearly, obviously, the funniest writer in America right now.
Anyway, after finishing Tetherballs I had a tremendous headache, like I'd just eaten an entire Cookie-puss all by myself in under an hour.
Four words: writer in a coma.
1997, Harmony Books, New York, 240 pages, hardcover, $22.00
I've decided to treat myself to a history lesson in post-modern fiction, and since I was home, I trotted up to the Inwood Library and checked out Samuel R. Delany's Atlantis: Three Tales and John Barth's On With The Story. Both are collections of short stories from people best known for other things, but you know it's the library, you get what you get. I was sort of looking forward to reading Barth's Lost in the Funhouse, but it wasn't there. I was definitely looking forward to reading Delany, since he's not only writing experimental science fiction, but he's a black guy witing experimental science fiction, and sometimes I see myself as a non-white girl writing experimental science fiction (mostly because it's not really science fiction at all, but a lot of my stuff contains vague sci-fi elements. Whatever).
Here are my thoughts: I can see the beauty, artistry, talent, everything, but it doesn't reach me. It doesn't touch me. I don't ID. I'm obviously not the target audience. The Delany book (not sci fi, but semi-autobiography) uses these very gimmicky double columns for concurent narrative that I just didn't jibe with. The stories are interesting, he puts them together well, it is certainly well-communicated, but after reading the death of the dog scene I felt all dirty. Mostly because I feel like a cheap whore when an author uses the death and/or torture of an animal to make me feel something. To be fair to Delany, his sci-fi is amazing, it's good literature which you don't often find in the genre, but >i>Atlantis: is not his best book.
On With the Story uses this very gimmicky wrap around the actual "stories" of a couple who is fictionalizing their lives. Or is the author fictionalizing them. The reader doesn't find out. This may have worked for me if I had any sort of affinity for the characters, but they were older than my parents! I was reminded very much of a painting teacher I had as an undergrad, who I loved but certainly would not want to hang out with. An underlying theme is quantum physics, thus, this "did this or did this not happen" is a constant question. We're always trying to figure out what universe we're in. This is fine. This part I'm ok with. But who the hell are these people? It's weirdly romantic, something else I had a problem with -- I don't like romances very much, and this was definitely a romance. A clever romance, but a romance nonetheless. Here are the other problems I had: a very strange typeface is used, with ligatures, so every time a double F comes up in type, the run together and my eye stops cold. This is death in this book, let me tell you, because the words themselves are so carefully chosen you really hang on each one: this is not a book you daydream through, you really get involved with the prose. But that damned type! Ach! And the cover: the cover is obscene. This little table for two, outside, wineglasses and flowers. A window behind. The only thing missing was a cat in the window. Anyhow, this Barth book is how they say "too clever by half" for me.
I was never the biggest fan of either Mario or Donkey Kong, but the gamesters have really totally revamped the whole Mario/Kong universe and made it much more appealing. I think they sort of failed a bit with MarioKart 64: it was fun, but how long could you play for? Like one weekend, max. And when youíre spending 60 bux a game you need a lot more play time than that. Well, I guess they really just needed a few more months to come up with the ultimate racing game for the Mario/Kong universe, because Diddy Kong Racing is the shit. Yes, I know itís for little kids, but the characters are very appealing and the game itself is actually much more challenging than the average racing game. For example, you have to get first place in order to advance in most cases. Plus, there are a variety of tracks, vehicles and characters to play, and you really must pay attention to advance. Thereís a sort of story about saving the island which has been taken over by the Wizpig, gets the little ones motivated I guess, but for me the motivation is to get to the next race!
Atlantis: Three Tales; 1995, Wesleyan University Press; On With The Story; 1996, Little, Brown and Co.
David Foster Wallace
Much more manageable than DFWís previous outing Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing... is a book of essays, mostly reprinted, but here in much expanded form, from places like Harpers, where DFW is a contributing editor. Itís all good, baby, but the best stuff is the extremely ironic assignments that Harperís sent him on, like to the Illinois State Fair or the seven night cruise of the Caribbean. And why? Because DFW, in his hyper intellectual autism (he canít seem to filter the stimuli, you know what Iím saying?), cannot help but to ultimately write about himself, and thatís not ironic, itís strange and touching. DFW tries hard to be the objective observer, and tries even harder not to be the cynical meta-genius he thinks he is (what I mean here is that I think deep down heís not cynical at all, but he uses this to cover up his insecurities, but obviously is not doing all that good a job at it because I was only a psych minor in college and I can psychoanalyze right through this baby, but Iím not contesting the genius status, heís gotta be because Iím one, at least IQ-wise, and Iím not all that smart), but he always comes across as this head-scratching Jimmy Stewart type almost, very aw geez and everything, like a puppy, everything seems new. For those of you afraid to tackle something like Infinite Jest, please start with A Supposedly Fun Thing because I think youíll be incredibly motivated after reading this. Damn, the way DFW writes, it even makes tennis sound interesting!
1997, Little Brown, New York, paperback
by David Foster Wallace
Itís about words, membranes and secrets. Itís about 500 pages. Itís a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of days. Itís David Foster Wallaceís first book, published way back when he was just a little tyke of 25. And, as I read it, every so often that realization would pop into my head. I mean, he was a maximum of 24 when he wrote this masterwerk. Geez! The plot is this: underachieving switchboard operator Lenore Beadsman is searching for her great-grandmother, Lenore Beadsman, who has gone missing from her nursing home. Donít diss this --itís brilliant. Itís not the bizarre plot that keeps you reading, which is, of course, twisted (yes, it keeps falling back on itself, like Wallaceís more recent novel, 1996ís Infinite Jest), but the bizarre characters. And theyíre all very real, if not all very likable. Some passages keep the story moving, some are pure entertainment, and some are so exquisitely written that they just blow me away, like the one about the red-eyed new children, and the one about the toilet. Then thereís the bird and the purple dress. Donít expect any resolution. Neat thing is, you can read this for entertainment purposes only, or you can deconstruct it from now til the millennium, itís up to you.
1987, Avon Books, New York, 530 pages, paperback, 6.99
Since ballbuster videos doesnít provide instructions with their video games, this is the perfect rental: itís definitely plug and play or, in this case plug and shoot. Based upon the Midway arcade game from the early 80s, Robotron 64 takes advantage of the 64-bit technology by presenting the playing field as a flat 3-d plane that rotates to accommodate the playerís angles. The player can also change the viewing angle. The object is to shoot the robots, save the humans and save yourself. The game is really fast-moving: the earlier boards (levels or waves) takes less than a minute a piece to play. Each level has a goofy name like Thumb Pain or Save Yourself. Every twenty levels you get a bonus round. Your biggest decision in Robotron is which of ten really cool techno/ big-beat style soundtrax to play ( I like number 8).
by Julio Cortazar
CDB Bryan has called this the ďmost magnificent novel I have ever read, and one to which I return again and again,Ē to which I reply ďAre you on crack?Ē Remember, CDB Bryan wrote the classic but loony UFO Conference at MIT besides the books he won praise and awards for. This book, originally published in 1966 and translated by Gregory Rabassa, concerns the exploits of Horacio Oliveira, an Argentinean writer living in Paris, and his relationship with La Maga, a wacked-out nut case. Hijinx ensue. There are two ways to read this book: chronologically, like a normal person, or beginning with chapter 73 and following through to the chapter noted at the end. It was annoying enough to read it the ďstraightĒ way, and an exercise in futility the ďhopscotchĒ way. The prose is lovely! Iíll give you that, but the characters! I donít like them. Oh well. I do like the counting cat, but heís not really given enough to do. NOTE: If you read the ďhopĒ was, you skip chapter 55. See! I did read it!
Pantheon Books, New York, 564 pages, paper, $16
by Philip K. Dick
A long time ago (to me, anyway) I read about VALIS in something that Robert Anton Wilson wrote. It's natural that he had something to say about VALIS: not only does the subject related to something that he personally experienced, but he and his book Cosmic Trigger are mentioned. The premise of VALIS intrigued me-a group of chosen people being mentally manipulated by an ancient higher intelligence from beyond-- so I sought it out and eventually was lucky enough to find a used hardcover Book-of-the-month club edition that contained not only VALIS, but also The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, otherwise known as The VALIS Trilogy. But, silly me, I didn't know about Radio Free Albemuth, VALIS's predecessor, until I read about it in an interview with David Thrussell of snog. David stated that he thought RFA was better than VALIS, and since I have a lot of respect for Thrussell's opinion, I decided I needed to read it myself.
As luck would have it, the book is currently out of print, but Interstellar Groovy Dave was kind enough to lend me his copy, which was no small feat, as he lives in Idaho ("I'm Idaho," to quote little Ralphie Wiggums). I don't have my research materials handy (read: Iím too lazy to look this up), but from what I can ascertain, The VALIS Trilogy was released prior to PDK's death, but RFA while written before VALIS, was released after.
There are many similarities between the two books, but there are also many differences. The plot is basically the same: a higher intelligence contacting the protagonist. The similarities pretty much end there. Well, the books share a lot of minor details -- names of characters and so forth, but RFA is more of a novel, while VALIS is more of an insight into the mind of the insane. RFA is so entertaining, so moving, so touching, so frightening, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to almost anyone I knew, while I feel VALIS is for a more specialized, more intellectual and open-minded audience. Both books are brilliant, but I think they would attract a different audience. In as much as RFA, is the gentler of the two, and the more traditionally entertaining, I would say that it's a better novel, but VALIS is probably the more important of the two.
I know VALIS has been re-issued, and I'm pretty sure RFA is about to be, so you may not have to trade with people in Idaho to get a copy.
for Nintendo 64
Well, Ichybod Clay is back, and he's got some new friends. Clay Fighter has been updated for Nintendo 64, and, as you'd expect, this new edition takes advantage of all the N64 technology. The characters move through the new playing fields realistically, and the viewing angles change almost cinematically. The music is much improved over the original, and the fighting action is more intense. Things fly all over the place and the characters mutter constantly.
For those not familiar with ClayFight, the premise is simple enough: you pick a character to be and you fight all the other characters on various turfs. Standard fighting stuff, but ClayFighter has "wacky" chraracters like Bad Mr. Frosty and Bonker the Clown, each with their own special punches and magic. In the N64 version, there are several levels of play: cookie, normal, whoa, dude and psycho, ensuring that you'll be playing for quite a while. The new characters are pretty cool: Hougoun the voodoo guy and Kun Pow to name just two. Plus, Earthworm Jim makes an appearance.
I think this game is great fun, and you can play without reading the instructions, but my only gripe is this: where are the female characters? In the original, we at least had Helga, but she's been ditched. A game like this, with exceptionally cute characters and a natsy sense of humor seems to be aimed at girls, but the lack of actual female characters seems a little odd. But, that's no biggie. The game is still a lot of fun.
edited and with an introduction by Leonard Wolf
Yet another vampire anthology, and do we really need it? I do applaud many of Mr. Wolf's choices: an excerpt from Joyce Carol Oates' Bellefleur enticed me to re-read the entire book, and I adore the John Cheever story included (Torch Song}. But is it really necessary to include Anne Rice? Is anyone buying this book not familiar with her work? And where is Poppy Z. Brite? Too many of the stories are typical plodding vampire tales, much akin to the crap those Rice-a-bees churn out in writers' workshops. Additionally, the cover art is atrocious -- it looks as if the book is ready for the remainder bin. While reading this collection, I kept thinking that Mr. Wolf wanted to educate me. Well, it's not necessary. The audience for this book is already familiar with the types of vampire fiction out there, the scope, and how many "respectable" authors have dabbled in it. Maybe this would be a good book for a teenager, but I could think of better ones.
Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 370 pages, hardbound, $25
John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
Bought this at the airport in Jacksonville, a true crime book by an FBI investigator. I like this sort of book, but this particular one was really dull. Each chapter is composed of some horrifying and grisly case, except for the bizarre chapter wherein Douglas tells us how to protect our kids from molesters and murderers. Oh, and the "fantasy investigator" chapter where he imagines what he would have done and said if asked to do a profile on the Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman murders.
This was allegedly on the NY Times bestseller list, which doesn't say much for the book-buying public. I guess they're as brain dead as the movie-goers.
Pocket Star Books, New York, NY 382 pages, paper, $6.99
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