Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race

Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race

Press Release

We are pleased to announce the fall release of Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race, the first collection of essays about contemporary music, art, film, literature, television, and nightlife trends by Harlem-based cultural critic Carol Cooper. For the focus of this book Cooper has chosen stories that first appeared in various British and American publications during the last 20 years of the 20th Century. Continue reading “Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race”

Harlan Ellison, 1934-2018

‘The consistency with which Ellison wrote smart,
complex stories in his own unique voice stands out
as proof that he belongs in the mainstream literary
canon as much as Poe, Camus, Baldwin, or Austen’

Most of the early obits about award-winning writer, teacher, activist, and legendary cultural gadfly Harlan Ellison center on a long biographical checklist. His beloved father died when he was young; he was bullied daily at grammar school in Painesville, Ohio; he became a serial adolescent runaway; he took on diverse working-class jobs to survive; he served two unhappy years in the Army, then was expelled from Ohio State University for insubordination; was fired from Disney on his first day there as a writer after making playfully profane jokes about the animated characters trademarked by the Mouse House. None of these details speak to what Harlan would have called “the work”; and I would say, as Ellison sometimes did, only his work matters. Continue reading “Harlan Ellison, 1934-2018”

Catching Up With the Next Generation of Sci-Fi Writers

‘In a community that attracts atheists, Wiccans,
CIA agents, physicists, semioticians, libertines,
libertarians, and unrepentant Trotskyites, one
might anticipate a few political debates’

Ever wonder where new science fiction writers come from? Typically, the best ones emerge from its readership. This would include video gamers and other genre media fans whose love for a broad spectrum of imaginative literature is both critical and obsessive. SF fandom (the initials here meaning “speculative fiction” to capture all flavors of fantasy and science fiction in one easy acronym) incubates its own future. Continue reading “Catching Up With the Next Generation of Sci-Fi Writers”

In Celebration of Ursula Le Guin’s Fantastic Legacy

The late author was obsessed with the nuances of language, and how words can shape the beliefs and behavior of entire civilizations

Scholar, poet, translator, essayist, teacher, and fantasist Ursula K. Le Guin was working right up until her death in Portland, Oregon, last week at the age of 88. 2017 saw the release of her latest book of nonfiction essays, and she had recently finished collaborating on a crowdfunded film and an authorized biography, when mortality snuck up and shocked her fans with her premature departure. As a writer, a teacher, and a role model, she will be missed. Continue reading “In Celebration of Ursula Le Guin’s Fantastic Legacy”

In Victor LaValle’s “The Changeling,” a Fairy Tale Gets Hard-Boiled

The Changeling
By Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau, 448 pp.

Historically speaking, this has always been a mad, mad world, but the 21st century reveals the hallucinatory essence of each day’s “new normal” more vividly than even visionaries like Guy Debord or William Gibson could have predicted. Today’s global societies are not only multilingual and multicultural, but multi-perceptual as well. To accurately reflect this truth in fiction, writers must become so sensitive to pluralistic points of view that their storytelling speaks of, for, and to multiple perspectives at once. Because speculative genres like fantasy, horror, and science fiction specialize in exploring unusual perspectives via myth and metaphor, the literature of “what if” is potentially more useful to any truly ambitious author than the starchy literature of “what is.” Continue reading “In Victor LaValle’s “The Changeling,” a Fairy Tale Gets Hard-Boiled”

The Wildly Surrealist Stories of Leonora Carrington

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington
By Leonora Carrington
Dorothy Project, 232 pp., $16
Down Below
By Leonora Carrington
New York Review of Books, 112 pp., $14
The Milk of Dreams
By Leonora Carrington
New York Review of Books, 56 pp., $15.95

April 6, 2017, marked the centennial of artist and writer Leonora Carrington’s birth. A British-born textile heiress who ran away from her parents, her inheritance, and bourgeois conformity to join the Surrealist carnival in Paris at the age of twenty, Carrington proceeded, like many iconoclastic Surrealist women, to build a legendary life around her own imagination. Although American biographers, art galleries, and museum curators have been raising Carrington’s public profile since the mid-1980s, she only continues to attract curiosity and admiration in the 21st century. Continue reading “The Wildly Surrealist Stories of Leonora Carrington”

These Must-Raeds Explore Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and the Art of Opposition

Pirate Utopia
by Bruce Sterling
Tachyon Publications, $19.95, 192 pp.
The Last Days of New Paris
by China Miéville
Del Rey, $25, 224 pp.
Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth
by M.E. Warlick
University of Texas Press, $32.95, 335 pp.

Well, it’s 2017, a century-plus since Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire first raised the flag of Dada derision above the senseless carnage of World War I. The founding group of Dada expats soon attracted many other bohemian rebels seeking freedom from existing social, aesthetic, and governmental norms. Of course, as Bruce Sterling’s new novella, Pirate Utopia, points out, the pro-war, pro-nationalist Italian Futurist movement was winning followers at the same time, and their manifestos ultimately supported the rise of Italy’s Fascist Party. Continue reading “These Must-Raeds Explore Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and the Art of Opposition”

Dreaming in Black and White

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Doubleday, 2011, $26.95, 384 pages

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is the best first novel I’ve read since William Gibson’s Neuromancer. And although it’s a dark metaphysical fantasy set on the cusp of the 1900s, while Gibson’s book was near-future science fiction that foretold the rise (and mixed results) of a commercialized Internet, they share an intensely evocative and visual style of writing that makes the imaginary worlds they create unforgettably vivid and provocative. Continue reading “Dreaming in Black and White”

Vampires, Fairies, and Succubi: Inside the Shapeshifting Mind of Laurell K. Hamilton

Ardeur: 14 Writes on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series
Edited by Laurell K. Hamilton
Smart Pop, 224 pp., $14.95

Laurell K. Hamilton writes supernatural mysteries — overtly erotic and political thrillers that sell millions of copies around the world. Sometimes her protagonists are actual detectives or police surrogates; other times they’re vampires, fairies, succubi, or necromancers. Bizarre though such casting may seem, during the early ’90s Hamilton began proving the viability of blending gothic romance, horror, Celtic mythology, and the police procedural. Her books now top the New York Times bestseller list with surprising regularity, and her international fandom is almost as avid and well-organized as Neil Gaiman’s.

Despite comparisons to the currently higher-profile Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse properties, those multimedia franchises appear little better than updated rewrites of Dracula compared to the complex story arcs Hamilton crafts — for a moody necromancer named Anita and a fairy princess called Merry. Moreover, Hamilton’s witchy, combat-ready heroines intentionally evoke tragic tribal avengers like Britain’s warrior-queen Boudicca more than Joss Whedon’s Buffy — with all the depth and sociological resonance such a distinction implies.

That’s why the critical essays in Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series couldn’t arrive at a better time. After more than eight years of authorial blogging and online fannish debate, the many controversies raised by the characters and content of 18 Anita Blake novels get formally addressed, not only by fellow novelists like Lilith Saintcrow and Vera Nazarian, but by “role-play” game writers, professional academics, and the author herself.

The pieces explore Hamilton’s signature innovation of juxtaposing zombies (the ugly living dead) and vampires (the pretty living dead) against shape-shifters (viral, hyperabundant life) in interpersonal situations where body image, body strength, and bodily urges all loom equally large in determining character motivation. They discuss the symbolic meaning of unrepentant female violence in a series about female empowerment. And they examine the pivotal moment in book six when Hamilton transformed her quasi-virginal, sexually repressed vampire executioner into a sex-positive, polyamorous maverick.

Hamilton confesses the autobiographical nature of her process. Plotting by subconscious impulse, she playfully indulges then explodes the rules and tropes of classic horror fiction. Some essayists have a better grasp of exactly how and why she does this than others. But all the contributors agree that, despite the fact that Hamilton habitually defies conventional pacing and audience expectations, her stylistic transgressions function to liberate not only Anita Blake, but the narrative potential of horror fiction itself.

Published in: Village Voice, April 6, 2010

Philip José Farmer: 1918-2009

The wildly inventive and passionately polemical science-fiction writer Philip José Farmer quietly expired at home, Ash Wednesday morning, at the ripe age of 91. I and many others first became aware of Farmer’s work in the 1970s, shortly after the first volume of his legendary Riverworld series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go won the Hugo Award for best novel. The central conceit of Riverworld is that all existing religions are wrong about the afterlife: In Farmer’s work, earth’s luckier dead reawaken in fresh adult bodies on a magical planet far, far away where all the most influential or memorable personalities of human myth, literature and history are reborn (memories intact!!) to coexist. Provocative collaborations and personality clashes ensue. Continue reading “Philip José Farmer: 1918-2009”