I spent some time last month playing the interaction fiction games of the 2009 IfComp
. More about that in some future post. I did read a few books too:
Black Wings Has My Angel -- Eliot Chaze (1953)
I picked this up because of the cover, figuring it for a typical Gold Medal novel about doomed losers pursuing dreams of wealth. It's that. A man and woman, both on the run, almost pull off a perfect crime involving the heist of an armored car. However, when I started reading I immediately realized the book was far from typical. A quick google revealed that it has a cult following, and well deserved. The whole story is vivid and gut-wrenching and the ending is perfect and perfectly horrifying. Not to mention hideously ironic and I truly love irony.
The Day of the Locust -- Nathanael West (1939)
From reading about losers chasing wealth it was but a short leap, or maybe a skip to the right, to a tale about Hollywood newcomers seeking movie fame along with fortune. Brilliant, freakish characters drive this book--a belligerant dwarf, a washed up vaudvillian using his talents to sell polish door-to-door, a Mexican who keeps fighting cocks, and even Homer Simpson. Yes, a sadly dorky businessman, in Hollywood for his health (!) has been cited by Matt Groening as the inspiration for his cartoon character's name. And then there's aspiring starlet Faye Greener, one of the most evilly manipulative characters you'll ever be happy you didn't meet in real life. Though the book is short the final scene feels as surreal and epic as Revelations.
Love Conquers All -- Robert Benchley (1922)
After the first two books I decided I needed to lighten up a bit. I love Bencley's humor and I admit to stealing some of his riffs over the years. What writer of humor hasn't? Dave Barry uses so many of Benchley's tricks that I had to give up copying Benchley for fear I'd be accused of copying Barry. This is a particulalry good collection. Most of the essays are about universal themes, so one doesn't need to now what was going on in 1922 to find them funny. The latter part of the collection consists of books reviews and demonstrates that Benchley could be extremely cutting, but in a hilarious way.
The Throwback -- Tom Sharpe (1978)
Having been put in the mood for humor I reread this uproarious (actually I hate the word "uproarious" but I just used "hilarious") tale of a weallthy bastard (literally) brought up at a gloomy estate in the north of England, who has been taught to respect all the virtues of the Victorian Age. Set lose to pursue his fortune, protect the family manse, and find his unnown father, he wrecks havoc on every vestige of modern (circa 1978) civilization in his path. That I find the idea of turning a ritzy suburban enclave into a war zone and putting civil servants to rout funny probably says a lot about me. And this has to be one of the funniest books I've ever read. Mary was glad when I finished since I kept reading bits of it to her and laughing wildly.
The Deep Range -- Arthur C. Clarke (1957)
After the previous book I thought I had better read something to restore my faith in the human race. (As if....) Well, Clarke had a go. Here he episodically traces the career of a whale herder who rises to the directorship of a united world's whale fisheries. Some nice underwater action and a bit of philosophy. Unusual, for sf, in having a sea, rather than space, setting. The book was not, however, the one I thought I would be rereading. When I was a kid I was vastly impressed with a novel (or series) featuring underwater cities. I went on to be a fan of the television seris Sea Hunt and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. So what 1950's (or earlier) sf book featured underwater cities?
They Shoot Horses Don't They -- Horace McCoy (1939)
After an uplifting book why not descend into the depths of noir? With my dreadful memory I only vaguely recall the 1969 movie. I liked it. But while reading, the only character from the movie I kept seeing was Gig Young's Rocky, the emcee of the marathon dance which is the book's setting. (I'm not surprised he won a supporting actor Oscar) The confined world of the marathon dance, with its strange rituals, could be fantasy, although I suppose it must be a realistic depiction since McCoy lived in the Hollywood of that era. The endless "dance," with its unrelenting toil, its false promise of riches, the fact it is all rigged, serves as an obvious metaphor for society but the author never mentions that. He lets it speak for itself. And how amazingy apt it is for today. A classic.