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Karen Joy Fowler's The Science of Herself: An Ambling Along the Aqueduct Review

By Timmi Duchamp
Ambling Along the Aqueduct
August 24th, 2014

Have you read Karen Joy Fowler's The Science of Herself, a new volume in PM Press's Outspoken Authors series? The publication date is 2013, but I only recently read it. This series, if you don't know of it, includes, among other slim volumes the size of Conversation Pieces, Nalo Hopkinson's Report from Planet Midnight and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Wild Girls. The Science of Herself contains a brand new story, "The Science of Herself," two reprinted stories (the searing "The Pelican Bar" and "The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man"), "More Exuberant Than Is Strictly Tasteful," a characteristically snappy interview conducted by Terry Bisson, and "The Motherhood Statement," an essay combining fire and irony.

By the time I finished reading the second page of "The Science of Herself," which opens the volume, I'd fallen hard for it. The seaside village of Lyme Regis in the first decades of the nineteenth century? How could any voracious reader not think first of Anne Elliot watching Captain Wentworth as he fails to catch Louisa Musgrove when she willfully throws herself off the stairs, in Jane Austen's last novel, Persuasion? Fowler takes Anne Elliot's visit to Lyme Regis as her point of departure, leading to imagining Austen herself walking that beach and not seeing (yes, yes , not seeing) a young girl who was often to be found on that beach. "Strangely deressed, lower class, odd in affect, and desperately poor, she was not really the kind of girl who wanders into an Austen novel." (2) But then Fowler quickly goes on to note that Austen's visit to Lyme Regis had actually been made to see this girl's father, Richard Anning, a cabinetmaker. The connection between the unnoticed young girl and Jane Austen, though virtually invisible to the casual eye, is actual.

Anning, besides being a cabinetmaker, was also a fossil hunter; more interestingly, his daughter Mary proved to be not only a more redoubtable fossil hunter than he, the person who recovered the first complete ichthysaurus ever to be found, but also a sharp paleontologist whose contributions to the field were only belatedly awarded public acknowledgment when the British Royal Society named her on their list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. "The Science of Herself" tells a story about Mary Anning's life that "wouldn't have made sense [in Austen's novel] with her bits of gothic history, her lightning, her science, her creatures. She wouldn't make sense in any story until the story changed." (25)

 I've long been interested in the problem-- one that Fowler has been mining for some time-- of stories that don't fit "the story" that is the template for how stories are told. It's a problem faced by writers wishing to write stories that don't fit the limits or language or assumptions of the current conventions, and a problem for readers longing for such stories and virtually unable to find them anywhere (and so often resort to ingenious methods for reading what is there slant). That template is, fortunately, always shifting. "The Science of Herself" is as much an exploration of how the stories that could be told about Mary during her lifetime were constrained and limited--how her life overflowed those constraints. The form Fowler uses to tell the story is what? It's prose, certainly. But is it fiction or nonfiction?

I'm particularly interested in the question of the form Fowler uses to tell Mary Anning's story because I've been sporadically working on a story about Emilie, the Marquise du Chatelet, for years now, struggling against the form it seems determined to take. The only form in which I seem able to cast the story of Emilie bears no resemblance to the forms in which stories about historical women are usually told. And I've been fighting that form because it resembles the form taken by "The Science of Herself," aware as I am that many readers would reject it as not really fiction (much less science fiction). I don't want to write an essay about Emilie. I want to imagine and explore aspects of her life as a woman of science in the same way in which I imagine and explore aspects of the lives of the characters I invent. In this sense, "The Science of Herself" is not an essay. Or is it? I'm thrilled that Fowler put this story out there, defying the demands that the writer choose one or the other. I think it will embolden me to finish the story. And I will say, for myself, that I'm increasingly uncertain about whether any clear distinctions can be drawn in every case between fiction and nonfiction. Obviously, some fictions are clearly, unequivocally fictional. But as someone trained in history, I've long been aware that because history is composed of narratives, it must always partake of the uncertainties (and distortions) of representation and won't ever be certain. Though based on "facts," imagination is the glue that makes those facts meaningful. In the end, we come down to story, and what stories can be told under this or that set of circumstances.

"The Science of Herself" plus "The Pelican Bar" alone would make this a bold book for a volume so slim, but "The Motherhood Statement" pushes it into the red zone. The book's second entry, "The Motherhood Statement," takes as its point of departure "The Motherhood Statement" in the Turkey City Lexicon (which Fowler describes as "a primer for science fiction workshops." "Motherhood" in this statement, like "apple pie," exemplifies "conventional social and humanistic pieties." Fowler, as anyone familiar with her work knows, is all about challenging comfortable conventions and "pieties."In principle, she's in agreement with the statement. But.
It's the specifics that give me pause. Apple pie, okay, fine, whatever. But motherhood? Nothing, absolutely nothing, appears to me more contested in our political and social and private lives than motherhood. Any woman who has ever had children can tell you it is no picnic of affirmation. Any woman who has not had children can tell you that that, too, is a controversial place to be. Neither is much admired. (28)

Fowler reminds us of something most science fiction (particularly that written by men) has not, until very recently, taken note of: "Motherhood is a concept that changes from culture to culture and over time. Sometimes it's set in opposition to mothering--motherhood, in this schematic, is the sacred duty of women, an artificial construct which underlies the whole system of patriarchy."(28)

Of course tarring "motherhood" with the brush of conventional social pieties has been a longstanding woman-bashing tradition for fiction written by US men in the twentieth century. It was a part of a concerted (highly successful) program for ejecting fiction by women from the upper echelons of literature in the US.* Fowler doesn't go into that, though, but focuses more closely on attitudes toward women vis-a-vis childraising, before paying tribute to the explorations made by feminist sf in the 1970s and then concluding with attending to the ferocious, on-going twenty-first-century attack on women's reproductive rights and how the free exercise of such rights has become a story many people and venues approach (if at all) with timidity at best and repulsion and censorship at worst. "I can remember no other time in which the attacks on women's freedom have been so widespread, so sustained, and so successful," Fowler writes. "Or half so scary... An argument that begins by positing women valuable only as mothers will end by suggesting that, even as mothers, women are not valuable at all." (32-33)  

Fowler ends the essay by returning to "The Motherhood Statement": "The easy assumption that motherhood constitutes some easy assumption is neither accurate nor serving us well. " (34)

She has a lot of good lines in her interview, but I'll offer you one here: "I believe that the learning in workshops happens to the critiquer not the critiqued." (72) Now go read this sharp little book yourself, if you haven't already.

Buy The Science of Herself now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Karen Joy Fowler's Author Page

Reading on a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio

Lucasville graphicBy Stefan Christoff
Free City Radio
August 27, 2014

Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising is a striking account on an important and under acknowledged prison uprising in recent US history, communicated by longtime lawyer, social activist and writer Staughton Lynd.

Lucasville articulates so clearly the reality of internal colonial dynamics in the US vis-à-vis the African-American experience, as the majority white town of Lucasville, Ohio, plays host for a major prison with a majority black prisoner population, staffed by almost exclusively white prison guards.

Also this excellent book speaks in detail to a localized manifestation of the greatly expanding US prison industrial complex, a horrifying colonial-capitalist machine that so clearly has, with the active collaboration of politicians and policy makers over recent decades, swept up millions of African-Americans, youth from immigrant communities and also poor, working class white communities.

Importantly Lucasville is a real story of prisoner solidarity and resistance, a book detailing a courageous stand taken by prisoners united across race lines, acting to assert a diverse set of demands, working together against incredible odds and violence in the spring 1993.

Also Lucasville is the story of a legal system that fails so clearly at delivering justice for the Lucasville Five, tried as the leaders of the prison uprising, found guilty in courtroom context that clearly is distant from any ideals of justice. 21 years later, the Lucasville Five remain locked away on Ohio death row, still proclaiming innocence, denied access to face-to-face media interviews, despite a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.

A great amount of detail in the book is dedicated to illustrating the injustice of the trails surrounding the Lucasville Five, clearly articulated by author and lawyer Staughton Lynd. Numerous court records and accounts detail with precise argument the injustice delivered, the cynical and violent punitive measures asserted by the state in the Lucasville Five case, deadly verdicts that only seem to have been assured through organized manipulation of the legal system in Ohio.

Introducing this both broadly reflective and extensively researched text on the Lucasville uprising is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who writes :

The name is evocative. People who hear it, who may know very little about its recent role in Ohio history, seem to recognize its penal roots.
It has become a site etched upon the American mind that means prison, like Sing Sing, Marion, or Lewisburg.
The name evokes an aura of fear, of foreboding, of something strangely sinister.
That this exists is a testament to how the state has set aside sites of invisibility; where people know, in fact, very little of substance; yet know enough to know that this is something to be feared.
Yet, Lucasville exists simply because millions of people, like you, the reader, allow it to exist. It exists in your name.
Amid the silence that greets its mention, is the silence of ignorance, an ignorance that serves the interest of the state, but not of the people.
Lucasville is written to dispel that silence, to go behind the walls erected by the state (and its complicit media), to show its true face. It reveals how and why a deadly riot occurred there, which snuffed out ten lives.
Yet, there is a reason why Lucasville is not the latter-day equivalent of Attica. The five men who are the focus of this work (who have been called the Lucasville Five) worked, against great odds, to prevent an Attica (where over thirty men perished when the state unleashed deadly violence against the hostages taken, and falsely blamed it on prisoners). They sought to minimize violence, and indeed, according to substantial evidence, saved the lives of several men, prisoner and guard alike.
Yet, as the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.”
The record reflects that these five men couldn’t have been any five men, drawn from the burgeoning, overcrowded population of Lucasville. Why these five?
They didn’t snitch. Or, to be more precise: they didn’t lie.

Beyond these words I would simply encourage people to pick-up a copy of Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising published by PM Press, this is a must read book that articulates an important moment of resistance to the contemporary US prison industrial complex.

— Stefan Christoff, August 27, 2014 (accompanying graphics from the book)


Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Staughton Lynd's Author page 

Fire on the Mountain on GuysLitWire

By Sam J. Miller
August 13th, 2014

Maybe you remember John Brown from your history class. An abolitionist, he believed that peaceful reform of slavery was impossible, and only a violent disruption of the slaveholding status quo would end this massive, brutal injustice. In 1859 he attempted to start a slave revolt by seizing the US arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia, but the assault went wrong and he and his comrades were caught and executed for treason.

Terry Bisson's Fire on the Mountain is an alternate history that asks the question - what if the assault had succeeded? What if instead of a civil war started by slaveholders who wanted to continue exploiting human beings, America had a revolution started by people who believed that all human beings should be free? In real life, John Brown worked closely with Harriet Tubman, and many scholars believe that if she hadn't been prevented by illness from traveling south to help him plan the attack, he would have succeeded. Fire on the Mountain takes a simple change - she didn't get sick, she helped the rebels, the attack was successful and started a revolution - and extrapolates a whole complicated marvelous utopian future from that. It opens 100 years later, as the prosperous state of Nova Africa is about to put a man on Mars, and pieces together the history through letters and testimonials. 

Bisson's John Brown is no white savior, coming to rescue helpless people of color. Harriet Tubman is as important a force of liberation, and the book is full of strong compelling characters (including slaves) who make active decisions that drive the plot forward. Nor does Bisson skimp on the nuanced details of how, exactly, the Harper's Ferry raid leads to such massive historic changes. It's also remarkable for how, without seeming boring or didactic or ideological, it captures the diverse opinions of abolitionists (ranging from people who oppose slavery but refuse to DO anything about it, to people who take up arms and are willing to kill and die for the cause).

Alternate history is like candy-coated medicine. We love it, because it's fun and wacky and imaginative and
isn't bound by some of the things that can make real history range from boring (like memorizing dates) to upsetting (like the fact that history is full of oppression and suffering and massacres and exploitation).

But under the candy shell of crazy what-ifs and shiny rocketships, alternate history is history. It gives us a new and deeper perspective and insight into history as a real thing, a vibrant and compelling story, as opposed to numbers in a book. For example: Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan" trilogy takes place in an alternate-history World War One where 19th century scientific advances filled the world up with giant robots and flying whales... and yet it brings the spirit of the actual period to life, giving young readers a sense of the issues at play in that conflict.

Fire on the Mountain is a brilliant book, deeply moving for the strength of its imagination and the warm-hearted generosity of its spirit, for the audacity of an author who dares to propose a history less horrible. I suspect it would work as well on a young man who is excited about issues of history & race & activism, as it would on a guy who doesn't care about any of that, but likes a good science fiction story. 

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Return to Terry Bisson's Author Page  

Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables in Culturie

By Russ Bestley
August 26th, 2014

This is not a book about the Dead Kennedys career. It is more a tale of how they got together, recorded and released one of the iconic punk rock albums. The story of such a now fractured band requires a lot more discussion

Fresh fruit was different to so many other records at the time as there was no major record label providing financial supports. This was a band that were taking the shock aspect of punk and putting a positive message forward. The book charts the formation of the band as their early singles were released. The first two being “California über alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, both having raging guitar hooks, intelligent lyrics and breakneck rhythm. The story behind the controversy of the artwork and Biafra’s onstage antics is given great detail. How the album came about and the involvement of cherry red and subsequent setting up of alternative tentacles is included. All necessary components to the make up of the dks

Most of us now that the band did not finish on a good note or certainly the trajectory since their finish has not been a mutually happy event for the members. However it is good to see that not getting too much exposure here as that can be the sequel. For now we can read about one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the most innovative bands ever. We can get an idea of America at the time, the punk scene and the socio economic environment.

It is quite obvious, reading between the lines, that vocalist Jelllo Biafra, has a completely different outlook then guitarist east bay ray on pretty much all matters Dead Kennedys relating. It is hard to see what tale is fiction and what one isn’t but the fact is the record came out with those songs and we have been able to listen to them for years. The dead Kennedys had such a huge influence on music and this is summed up by the many quotes at the end from people like actor Elijah wood or slash from guns and roses or dave grohl from foo fighter/nirvana. The effect this album has had is phenomenal and is most worthy of the written word too

Another thing the book offers is a reminder of how great the artwork of Winston Smith is. It is reproduced here as are many of the fliers and posters of the day. Considering the author was involved in the art of punk book that came out over a year ago it is no surprise now has teamed up with once again with russ bestley to ensure that the words are accompanied with the relevant graphics and it’s all packaged very well

If you have ever listened to a punk roots and enjoyed it ten you should have a read of this

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page

Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables in The Register

By Mark Diston
The Register.UK
August 24th, 2014

Alex Ogg is the editor of the academic journal Punk and Post-Punk and definitely has his work cut out mediating the last of the great punk rock feuds since Malcolm McLaren went to visit the Great Situationist in The Sky.

For over two decades, Jello Biafra – the lead singer of Dead Kennedys – has been at daggers drawn with his former bandmates East Bay Ray and Klaus Fluoride, and their spat shows no sign of abating.

It seems that they are unable to agree on anything. Even their memories diverge on just about every key issue. It is to Ogg’s credit that he has been able to construct such a fascinating and even-handed biography of the early days of the band, though it seems his patience has been sorely tried. The last line in the book reads, alluding to the remainder of the story: “Some other poor bastard can tackle that”.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years performing

The spirit of the age: Dead Kennedys live

The book benefits from the collaboration of Winston Smith, who was responsible for most of the Dead Kennedys' artwork and which is spread liberally throughout the book, along with Ruby Ray’s captivating photos of the early San Francisco punk scene.

Alex Ogg’s book is likely to appeal not just to misty-eyed old punks but also to young musicians who will find many words of inspiration within, such as this description of the nascent SF scene: “The pressure was not on every band to sound the same and please the audience”. A better blueprint for musical creativity is hard to find.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years - Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation cover

Early underground music compilation album released on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label

There are some unexpected collaborations revealed, such as how old beats Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg financed the SF punk fanzine Search and Destroy, and a great anecdote about the Dead Kennedys supporting Sun Ra, who reputedly enjoyed them. However their respective audiences were less enamoured of each other.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years flyer

1839 Geary Street Flyer – click for a larger image

Alex Ogg has really gone the extra mile in his research and the result is a labour of love. We get insights from teenage punks who hitch-hiked after the band during their first UK tour and reminiscences from support acts.

There’s the occasional celebrity namedrop too, such as Bob Mould of Husker Du introducing Biafra to Lydon (aka. Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols), before making a quick exit “because I’d never get a word in edgeways!”

This book encapsulates perfectly the time when punk was a movement and not an scholastic subject. Moreover, it reminded me of how relatively late on the scene the Dead Kennedys were, especially in the context of other bands emerging the UK at the same time.

Their first UK single, California Über Alles, came out after the debuts of Gang Of Four and The Human League. Biafra claims to have listened to Joy Division’s Closer (released June 1980) while designing the artwork for the band’s debut albumFresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years - California Uber Alles cover

California Über Alles satirised state governor Jerry Brown

The last section of the book consists of quotes from a pantheon of latter-day musicians attesting to the lasting influence of the wit and provocation of the Dead Kennedys. I can certainly concur with the latter, having narrowly escaped a serious battering in the 1980s for wearing a homemade I Kill Children badge, a song title from the first album.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years_fallout

Advertisement from the pages of Winston Smith's Fallout magazine

Dead Kennedys is a riveting read, concise without being academic. It captures the era and the spirit of the times perfectly. Alex Ogg maintains a stoic patience until the appendix, where he shows a slight bias in favour of Ray and Klaus’ claims for writing credits on the album. I’m sure Jello’s lawyers will be in touch shortly after publication.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years book coverAuthor Alex Ogg
Title Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables,
The Early Years
Publisher PM Press
Price £12.99 (Paperback)
More info Publication web site

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page

Making a graphic statement

Making a graphic statement
By Jayanthi Madhukar
Bangalore Mirror
August 25th, 2014

As a multimedia comic book artist, Seth Tobocman speaks out against injustice through his works

The bespectacled Seth Tobocman, with his hair tied back into a neat ponytail, can hold his audience spellbound with a dramatic narration of a story. This kind of narration is usually accompanied by live music. On a screen behind him, appear mostly black and white cartoon panels that he has drawn. It is those visuals and the stories accompanying them that make people sit up and listen. Tobocman calls this kind of audience interaction Cartoon Concert, a form he attributes to Vaughn Bode, an American cartoonist in the 1970s. "Bode would project his panels and perform the text," says Tobocman. "I chose those pieces that work well with a dramatic reading and sometimes also employ musicians to give atmosphere."

Speaking Through Comics

Tobocman's love for comics started young. As he says, he could draw before he could read. From a school-going boy who loved Marvel superheroes to a young adult's angst against injustice in society, today, Tobocman considers himself to be a neo-expressionist comic book artist. He has gone through the proverbial struggle, often feeling that "at any minute the ground would open up and swallow me" and has worked as an usher, a messenger and construction worker before finding work as an illustrator for New York Times and other newspapers.

In 1980, along with friend Peter Kuper, Tobocman started World War 3 Illustrated as a response to the Iran hostage crisis. "We were angry about Reagan and the rise of the right (wing). About gentrification. We felt someone had to say no!" he says of the times when no one was publishing serious comic art in the US. Theirs was the only comic book in those days to be sold in record stores as no book stores were interested in alternative comics.

The Inside Story

The stories Tobocman tells are often contained within one panel. Sometimes, within a book. But these stories are real, issues that people face, and very often from his own understanding of ground reality. As an artist and editor of the comic book World War 3 Illustrated, he says that what he really wants to do is to shake people out of their complacency. People, according to him, are way too passive. "They let too much stuff go. They know what is going on is wrong but they don't do anything about it. I also want to give some support and solidarity to those who are engaged in actions."

And that is why during the mid-80s and late '90s, he was part of the squatter movement of New York. Much before he moved with them on the suggestion of the squatters themselves, activists from New York to the African National Congress in South Africa had started using his pieces for leaflets and posters. Tobocman, along with the other squatters, seized about 30 buildings in Lower Manhattan. Thirteen of them were legalised in 2000, and the people squatting there became the owners. Along the way, people had to fix those buildings and defend them from police. He slept under leaky roofs, cleared rubble, lived without heat or hot water. One of the squats, Umbrella House, which he helped save from demolition crew and renovate, where he ran a printing press from its first floor, still remains, inhabited by many people.

Two things stand out. One, Tobocman was personally not in need of a home, since he had already rented an apartment. "I chose to work with the squatter movement because I felt they were addressing the most pressing problem of my community: lack of affordable housing." He was arrested about 20 times and convicted twice. Only an internal disagreement led him to give up the membership and leave the squat.

And that brings the second point to fore. Unlike most squatters, he compiled his experiences in the book War In the Neighbourhood (2000).

A Fighting Oeuvre

Tobocman has several books to his credit, each and every subject picked, being relevant to the people. Understanding The Crash illustrates how Wall Street created an economic whirlpool, while Disaster and Resistance described the first decade of the 21st century including 9/11, George Bush, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and hurricane Katrina. Three Cities Against the Wall unites artists in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and New York in protest against the Israeli government's building of the wall through the occupied territories. Portraits of Israelis and Palestinians came out of a sketchbook Tobocman carried with him on his travels through the occupied territories in 2002 which saw him teaching art and English to kids in a Palestinian village.

At the time of this interview, he is outraged over the killing of Michael Brown by a policeman on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. "This happens all the f**king time!" he fumes. "American cops just can't seem to stop killing black people. It makes me very angry that there is so little progress on this issue. At least there is more awareness. When I was a kid, I think there were a lot of white middle class Americans who did not believe this was going on. Now, with all the videos and media, there is no excuse for being ignorant." And for that matter, no excuse, he says, for a citizen anywhere in the world to be passive. The best government, the best politicians and laws and Constitution, isn't worth anything if people don't speak up. Taking action on anything, be it art, politics or just paying attention to loved ones, he points out, is a great alternative to depression and despair. "Every day I gotta shake myself, break free of my demons and go for it."

Seth Tobocman was in the city recently for a Comic Conce

Buy World War 3 Illustrated now | Buy World War 3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Seth Toboman's Author Page

Jeremy Brecher's Strike! in Booklist

By Diego Báez
August 14th, 2014

Brecher’s riveting primer on modern American labor history catalogs U.S. workers’ movements from the railroad strikes and Great Upheaval of July 1877 to the mass demonstrations and Haymarket affair of 1886 to Great Depression protests and Vietnam-era revolt to Time’s declaration of “The Protester” as person of the year in 2011. Brecher dives inside the everyday struggles of rank-and-file workers and provides a thoroughly researched, alternative history rarely mentioned in textbooks or popular media. Each chapter contextualizes the wide array of tactics workers have employed to negotiate fair wages and humane working conditions since the nineteenth century, such as collective bargaining, organized protest, nonviolent resistance, and armed conflict. This edition (the first was published in 1972) includes additional chapters on the Battle of Seattle, which disrupted the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization, and Occupy Wall Street, which inspired demonstrations across the country. Not surprisingly, Brecher’s text has been updated and reissued numerous times because of its compelling narrative style and exhaustive documentation. An important compendium, to be read alongside the books of Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky.

Buy Strike! now | Buy Strike! e-Book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher's Author Page

John Barker's Futures in Booklist

By David Pitt
August 20th, 2014

In the 1970s, Barker was a member of the British anarchist group the Angry Brigade; he served time in prison for conspiring to carry out bombings in London. Later, in the mid-1980s, he was convicted of being involved in a scheme to import cannabis into England. The novel, which tells the story of a group of people who create a new kind of cocaine market in late-1980s London, was written over a period of a couple of decades and is being published now after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s a fascinating backstory, but what’s most interesting is how very good the book is. The characters are fully realized, the dialogue is snappy and appropriately vulgar, and the story is a riveting mixture of ’80s greed and violence (think Bret Easton Ellis). Obviously, Barker brings a certain firsthand experience to some of the story’s criminal elements, but it would be a mistake to write the book off as just another crime novel by a guy who did time. This is a serious literary achievement, a remarkably well told story that has real emotional depth.

Buy Futures now | Buy Futures e-Book now | Back to John Barkers's Author Page

Peter Kuper's The System in Now Read This!

By Win Wiacek
Now Read This!
August 25th, 2014

Artist, storyteller and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland when he was six. The youngster met fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman and they progressed through the school system, catching the bug for self-publishing early. They then attended Kent State University together. Graduating, they moved to New York in 1979 and, whilst both studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, created the political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated.

Both separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and through art events, Kuper and Tobocman have championed social causes, highlighted judicial and cultural inequities and spearheaded the use of narrative art as an effective means of political activism.

Many of Kuper’s most impressive works have stemmed from his far-flung travels but at heart he is truly a son of New York, with a huge amount of his work using the city as bit player or star attraction.

He created The New York Times’ first continuing strip – Eye of the Beholder – in 1993, adapted such modern literary classics as Franz Kafka’s Give it Up! (1995) and The Metamorphosis (2003) to strip form, whilst always creating his own canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the many strings to his bow – and perhaps the most high-profile – has been his brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997.

In 1995 he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Mature Reader imprint by crafting a mute yet fantastically expressive 3-part thriller and swingeing social commentary for Vertigo Verité. The System was released as a softcover graphic album in 1997 and has now been magnificently repackaged in a lavish hardback edition from PM Press.

Following a moving Preface from the author describing the genesis of the project, Senior News Editor at Publisher’s Weekly Carl Reid offers an effusive appreciation in ‘Bright Lights, Scary City’ before the drama begins…

As if telling a beguiling, interlinked portmanteau tale of many lives interweaving and intersecting – and often nastily ending – in the Big City without benefit of word-balloons, captions or sound effects was not challenge enough, Kuper pushed his own storytelling abilities to the limit by constructing his pages and panels from cut stencils, creating the narrative in a form akin to urban street art.

It is astoundingly immediate, evocative and effective…

A stripper is murdered by a maniac. An old, weary detective ruminates on his failures. A boy and girl from different neighbourhoods find love. A derelict and his dog eke out a precarious daily existence and a beat cop does his rounds, collecting payoffs from the crooked dealers and helpless shopkeepers he’s supposed to protect. Religious zealots harass gay men and an Asian cabbie gets grief from the white fares who despise him whilst depending on his services.

The streets rattle with subway trains below and elevated trains above.

Strippers keep dying, children go missing, love keeps going and the airport brings a cruel-faced man with radioactive death in his carry-on luggage…

There are so many million stories in The City and they are all connected through the unceasing urban pulse and incessant, unending forward motion of The System

Clever, compulsive and breathtakingly engrossing, this delicious exercise in dramatic interconnectivity and carefully constructed symbolism is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can be.

Buy The System now | Buy The System e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page

The Cost of Lunch, Etc reviewed in We Love This Book

By Sally Hughes
We Love This Book
August 21st, 2014

Marge Piercy is a great poet and this is clearly evident in the way she handles words. This is her first collection of short stories (although drawn from the work of a number of years) but the same economy of phrase, depth of emotion and touch of astringency you find in her poetry is here.
The stories all focus on women and in particular their emotions and experiences at key times in their lives. There are stories of women coming of age, women facing death and of women coming and going in a range of different relationships. One of the most moving, a story about a woman whose partner is succumbing to Alzheimer's and the emotional journey through irritation, guilt and isolation to acceptance and tenderness is incredible. "Saving Mother From Herself" the tale of a compulsive hoarder is both tremendously funny and touching at the same time. 
These stories bear the hallmark of the 70s feminist movement - not in terms of setting, there are stories set up to today - but in terms of the emotional tenet and confessional nature of the collection. Men do not on the whole come out of the stories very well but you do get to meet an amazing caste of vulnerable, gritty and generally fabulous women of all ages.
Many of the stories are funny, a few shocking, all are interesting and incredibly well-told. For a journey into the feminine psyche it is unparalleled.

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