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The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow on SFRevu

by Benjamin Wald

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow presents an excellent introduction to Cory Doctorow; both his fiction, and his activism against restrictive copyright laws. The book contains a new novella by Doctorow that showcases both his fertile imagination and his central conviction about the future; that it will bring change, and more change, and then still more change. Also included is Doctorow's speech to the 2010 worldcon, "Creativity vs. Copyright," and a lively and fascinating interview. All in all, this book provides an excellent picture of Doctorow's fiction and his activism, making it perfect for those already fans of Doctorow's work and for those just discovering it.

The novella follows the adventures of a young bio-engineered immortal boy named Jimmy in a future America totally transformed by ceaseless technological change. Advanced technologies allow anyone with an agenda and the right technological know-how to change the world, but each change lasts only until someone else changes it yet again. The pace of change has fragmented America into small communities united by mutual outlook, often organized around bizarre technological assisted models of social life. The wireheads, for instance, all have antennae in their brains that constantly broadcast and receive each other's emotions, making each person's emotional state a gestalt of the entire community's, while in the wiki country the buildings and landscape are subject to community edits.

Jimmy’s father has engineered him to be immortal. This has the side effect of retarding his ageing, so that at the start of the novel he is chronologically fourteen, but biologically more like ten. He lives with his father in the ruins of Detroit, the cities sole occupants. Detroit is one of the last cities, the rest having been torn up and recycled by the "Wumpuses," self-assembling creators that disassemble the relics of the past. The story follows Jimmy's coming of age and his travels. These travels reveal Doctorow's incredible inventiveness; he throws off mind-bending ideas every few pages, developing each one in ways both fascinating and credible before moving to the next.

The novella showcases all of Doctorow's strengths. We have fascinating ideas by the bucketful, but they never swamp the personal dimension of the story. Jimmy's struggles to deal with his past, his isolation as the only immortal, and his complicated relationship with his childhood friend and sometimes lover Lacey are all skillfully handled, giving the story emotional depth that belies its flashy set pieces. Despite the extravagant setting, the story is still deeply relevant to our own time and place; it tells us both that things will change and keep on changing, but that the basic elements of human life, our relationships to our parents, ourselves, and each other, will still be with us.

The speech, "Copyright vs. Creativity," is an excellent summary of and introduction to Doctorow's passionate fight against restrictive copyright and internet monitoring laws. He makes his point with eloquence and force, impressing the seriousness of the issues on the reader, while avoiding the rhetorical excesses of some committed activists. It won't be new to those who have read Doctorow's views on the subject before, but its still well worth a read. Finally, the interview provides an interesting window into Doctorow's views on writing, the role of the internet, and privacy, among other topics.

Overall, this book contains some excellent material. The novella is Doctorow at his best, and the other material gives a nice picture of Doctorow as a person and the causes that he so passionately defends.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author page

A Canadian's Take on "New American Vegan"

by Mylene
My Face is on Fire Blog
April 2, 2012

Context, Yes!

It's not a secret to anyone who's ever been inside my home that I am a little cookbook-obsessed
just a little. I will often read them cover to cover and it's not uncommon for me to keep a few of them on my nightstand for bedtime reading. Reading through recipes from a new or trusted cookbook author is a great way to introduce yourself to different taste and texture combinations. A good cookbook will also offer up a bit of introductory information for those who may be new to cooking. What tools will you need? What are some basics with which you should stock your cupboard? It will teach you a little about potentially new ingredients used in the book's recipes and then, if it's a really awesome cookbook, its author will have done what I always appreciate, which is to suggest pairings of different dishes. If it's a vegan cookbook, its author will also (hopefully) spend some time explaining not just why we don't need to use animals to eat delicious food, but why we shouldn't treat animals as things and why we should consider going vegan.

Abolitionist animal rights activist Vincent Guihan's
New American Vegan does all of this and more. The little extras in his book leave it rising (far) above most of the vegan cookbooks on the market these days. There are a lot of them and many of these books, sadly, are missed opportunities for their authors to actually educate others a little about veganism and about what it's like to go and to be vegan. Vincent not only shares his own experience going vegan, but provides some pretty useful advice on things like how to entertain as a polite but unapologetic vegan. He also goes over and above most other vegan cookbook authors in conveying to his readers how flexible and forgiving recipes can beparticularly his recipes. He suggests alternative seasonings for the recipes, as well as substitutes for those harder-to-find ingredients.

This empowers the reader, whether a new or experienced cook, to feel comfortable being creative with the recipes without having to worry about wandering too far off course and possibly ruining t
he recipe altogether. Cooking should not be a daunting experience; neither should going vegan and learning new ways of approaching meal preparation. I was one of the original testers for the recipes a few years ago and I got hooked even then. I'd been anticipating the book's publication for a while and was thrilled when I first heard that it was finally coming out.

On Feeling Free to Drool

Here are some of the gorgeous and tasty treats I've tried and loved which you'll find in New American Vegan:

Clementine, Kalamata Olive & Collard Salad
. A little sriracha, as suggested in the book, really rounded out this already intricately tasty dish quite nicely.

Quick, Rich Borscht. A lover of beets, I'd never tried borscht before; now I have a recipe that's a keeper.

Basic Crackers. Those pictured above are the yummy Pepper Jack variation, great by themselves or with soup, chowder or dip.

Avocado Creton. The smokiness combined with the rich fatty avocado is awesome.
It was perfect with the aforementioned Basic Crackers.

Chickpea, Avocado Ceviche.
Again with the avocado, because who doesn't love avocado? The cilantro and spices in the recipe are subtle and the lime picks it up just perfectly.

Fiery Illinois Corn Chowder. Creamy with an adjustable spiciness, this chowder is even more amazing topped with a handful of cilantro.

The Interview-ish Part

I contacted Vincent with some questions to weave some of his answers into this exploration of his book and he graciously replied:

MFIoF: When and how did you first learn to cook?

VG: Not surprising for Chicago, the first thing I learned to cook was pizza. That meant learning how to prepare bread dough, the sauce, etc. Pizza is a big deal in Chicago. There are a lot of different ways to make it -- some very inventive, and the toppings and combination of ingredients make it a good place to learn flavour combinations and flavour layering.

MFIoF: How did going vegan impact your time spent in the kitchen and the development of your mad culinary skills?

I spent more time in the kitchen after going vegan. I was a vegetarian for a long time, which although well-intended, was misguided. After going vegan, I spent a lot of time working with more basic ingredients in combination to create the food I wanted to eat. In most respects, it was a liberation of my palate in a move away from prepackaged foods, and more important, away from prepackaged cultural notions of what food should be, how it should look, how it should be prepared. Notions of the 'centre of the plate', eating in courses, and of course, the primacy of animal products in meals are all deeply culturally contrived.

What other sort of activism have you engaged in? Where and how does writing a vegan cookbook fit into your activism as an abolitionist?

Activists approach moral problems differently. In most social justice movements, organizers play an important role with helping people to understand the issues and get started in terms of practical work. There's not a lot of that today in the movementjust a lot of businesses co-opting donations and volunteers (the free labour of the movement) to do fundraising. I think it's important for advocates to bypass the animal agriculture-welfare complex and promote abolition. My cookbook is a direct appeal to the public to go vegan and work for the abolition of the property status of nonhuman animals. But I think people fear change when they cannot envision who they will be after the change. The cookbook is really meant to speak to the notion of how life goes well as a vegan.

Why did you decide to write a cookbook? How would you describe your cookbook?

It's awesome. Seriously. I know some people in the community may be offended that some vegans aren't prepared to bow and scrape to promote veganism, but I think people who are not vegan are cheating themselves out of a much better life. Veganism is good news for them. I wanted to write a book that would be full of good news for people who were ready to hear it. My book is provides the basis for personal change for anyone who's ready to go.

What advice would you give to new vegans who are first learning to cook, or at least learning to prepare vegan food for the first time?

Keep going. Most people hone their palates licking the boots of the oppressor, so to speak. Eating inferior tasting "foods", thinking that what is least interesting about a dish is the most important. Few things taste as good or look as beautiful as a slice of fresh mango or pineapple. Meat, diary, and other animal products do have flavour and texture. However, it's often the 'garnishes' and the preparation that gives the finished dishes their appeal. Once you understand that animal products tend to be 'canvas' ingredients that absorb the flavour of the rest of the ingredients, the more you understand that it's the other ingredients that have beautiful flavour, colour, texture, etc., that are important. Free your plate. And keep going.

Where's the best place for the interested to snap up your cookbook?

VG: It's at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and I believe you can buy it directly from PM Press.

The Freebies!!

To share the New American Vegan love, I have a copy of the book to give away! To enter the contest you'll need to do the following: Email a photo of your favourite vegan dish to m.of.the.maritimes @ along with a list of its ingredients. Because I am not a wealthy vegan, the contest is only open to folks residing in Canada or the US (i.e. unless you're willing to cover international shipping costs, I can only mail the book to either country). The winner of the cookbook will be drawn randomly from all entries on Monday, April 9. When I announce the winner, I'll post two recipes for dishes pictured above based on requests by email and comments below indicating which recipe you'd love to have most.

Now go out and buy this cookbook!

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Vincent Guihan's Author Page

Ken Wishnia’s Filomena Buscarsela: A New Hero For A Culturally Diverse America

by Bruce De Silva
Bruce De
April 4, 2012

This review is either two months premature or fifteen years late, depending on how you do the math.

Kenneth Wishnia spent nine years trying to find a publisher for 23 Shades of Black before finally self-publishing it in 1997, setting the type himself, and shipping off a few copies to book reviewers. The result: a few rave notices, nominations for both the Edgar and Anthony Awards, and sparse sales.

Now the novel–the fifth in the author’s series featuring crime fighter Filomena Buscarsela–is scheduled to be released again, this time by PM Press, on June 1.

My wife Patricia and I first met Ken, a Brown University grad who teaches comparative literature at SUNY Stonybrook, two years ago at the Bouchercon crime fiction convention. He pressed a signed copy of the Imaginary Press edition of 23 Shades of Black into our hands. We never got around to reading it. Last week at another convention, Left Coast Crime, he gave me another signed copy, this one from his new publisher.

I’d brought several books with me for cross-country flight, but by the time I arrived in Sacramento, I’d read them all. So on the long journey back to New Jersey, I cracked Ken’s book and immediately saw why so many publishers had turned it down. Who wants to read a novel about a Hispanic female police officer who spends half of her time high on drugs and alcohol, the other half fending off fellow cops who want to play grab-ass, and all of it in a left-wing-politics-fueled assault on a conglomerate that is hell-bent on committing environmental and cultural genocide?

Me, that’s who.

For one thing, this guy can write. The prose is as tight as my favorite band, the humor bites like a Great White, and the mood is as angry and bitter as The New Black Panther Party on a bad day.

For another thing, the heroine is something truly fresh in the sometimes copy-cat crime genre: an Ecuadorian-born New York City flatfoot with a longing for her home country, a jaundiced view of her adopted one, and an unyielding passion not just for justice but for social justice.

Filomena is tough, vulnerable, insolent, compassionate, unsentimental, violent, sexy as all hell, and alternately proud and self-doubting.  Although this first novel is set in Ronald Reagan’s 1980s America, she is a true hero for the culturally diverse, politically polarized, class-warfare America of 2012.

The Tea Party crowed will hate her, which should be all the endorsement you need.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page

Barred For Life in Vice Magazine

by Greg Pike
Vice Beta
March 2012

Like Sublime suns or Insane Clown Posse portraits, most band tattoos look like complete shit. But Black Flag transcends this rule because even the shoddiest stick ‘n’ poke versions of the punk band’s logo, four rectangular bars, somehow always look great. In fact, a chance meeting between strangers sporting time-weathered versions of the iconic bars prompted geologist Stewart Ebersole and friends to travel North America and Europe for five years shooting photos of others inked with the cult insignia for the upcoming book Barred for Life. Having a crooked and faded set of the bars myself, this compilation reminds me of how meeting others who’ve defaced themselves similarly often means meeting your new best friend or future wife.

What’s the deal with Black Flag tattoos being everywhere?

Stewart Ebersole: The story always goes, no matter where you have the bars, you always make room for them amongst a battery of other tattoos. So, if you have a full sleeve, your bars will stand out prominently with an unrelated halo of tattoos around them. No one will ever tattoo over them. And they also won’t add them into the general motif of the sleeve because it’s just four rectangular bars. What are you going to do with them?

And no matter how faded they get, I find that people rarely get them touched up.

That’s it. They never get touched up. Actually, that’s how the idea for the book came up because my friends and I were all in agreement that they were just the shittiest tattoos that we had all ever gotten. Even my worst tattoos pale in comparison to the fact that my bars are bleeding together and are just becoming one big blob. My friend told me I should just make three new blobs and then it would be four big blobs.

That’d be a graceful save: Black Blob. Are the bars blowing up anywhere in particular right now?

The building wave is coming from Scandinavian countries. I don’t know what it is about Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, and places like that, but these people are super hardcore about it. There are like thousands of them, at least from the impression that I get. But Black Flag isn’t theirs. This isn’t church-burning metal, this is Black Flag. It’s totally different.

I was really surprised to read that Bryan Adams has the bars? How did you find that out?

I actually found that out a long time ago through a mutual friend. I also heard that the guy from Fight Club has one.

Edward Norton?

Yeah. Edward Norton has them on his back I think. Johnny Depp has them too. There was actually a rumour that we couldn’t substantiate about that girl who’s married to the other guy from Fight Club. What’s her name? Angelina Jolie, that’s it. She has a Sick of It All tattoo as well, but I don’t know if that’s a punk thing or not. There’re some other rumours that are surfacing. It’s starting to get kind of out of control in a way. There are so many crazy stories.

Like what?

We spoke with this guy who was fighting in Afghanistan and got his leg blown off by a mine. After six months of being in a coma, he all of a sudden started hearing Henry Rollins’s voice in his head. But that’s what actually made him wake up out of his coma. Henry Rollins was literally beside his bed, stopping by in the middle of doing an USO tour.

That’s crazy.

I don’t know how Henry Rollins sounds, you know, like his real voice. But for this guy, the next thing he knew he was waking up from a coma to the sound of his voice and then going to get the tattoo. All inspired by the guy who seems to pretend like he was never part of the band in the first place.


Barred for Life is coming out early this fall on PM Press.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page

London Peculiar reviewed in SF Signal

by John H. Stevens
SF Signal
April 11, 2012

An erudite, edifying literary journey with a perceptive, witty raconteur. No, really!

MY RATING: four and a half stars out of five

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A prime selection of Moorcock’s articles, reviews and opinions selected by the man himself. Moorcock writes with fondness and verve about his home city, his life as a writer, and about literature and culture.


Delightful variety; evocative writing; meticulous and enjoyable reminiscences and ruminations.

CONS: Some entries are flat, while others may not be of interest to genre fans.

BOTTOM LINE: A mosaic memoir of Moorcock’s life that shares his insights into life and literature.

Michael Moorcock is witty, and he knows it. The tone of the writing throughout London Peculiar and Other Nonfictions is one that combines surety, charm and cleverness, creating a vibrant, consistent voice through the variety of offerings in the book. Moorcock has compiled a selection of his writing over the course of fifty years, ranging from very personal reflections to journalistic pieces on topics of the moment. The collection contains diary entries, published journalism, introductions to books, reviews, a cornucopia of non-fiction writing covering topics from life in WWII London to the deaths of friends.  While the collection ranges widely in subject and time, you glean a definite sense of Moorcock as a writer and person. London Peculiar reads like a mosaic memoir of Moorcock’s life, and his love and appreciation of that life emerges strongly from this book.

The book is organized by themes, some of which feature one sort of writing (for example, “Other Places” is mostly entries from Moorcock’s diary). Over a third of the book is comprised of the most general subject, “Introductions and Reviews,” but others range from a small “Politics” section to one on “Absent Friends.”  The book opens with reminiscences about Moorcock’s early life in London, from surviving the Blitz to getting his first writing job. What quickly becomes clear is the inextricability of Moorcock’s outlook from London’s influence. While he later moves to the U.S. and lives and travels to many places, London is always a reference point, even in his fiction writing. “The metamorphosis of Blitzed London became the Chaotic landscapes of Elric the Albino” (21). From his love of and experiences in London an astute, whimsical cosmopolitanism emerges from his writing and creates a thread through the collection that ties it together in subtle, sometimes surprising ways.

Fans of his heroic fantasy novels may feel a bit disappointed by this book; Moorcock writes little about his iconic creation Elric of Melniboné, and only part of the book examines fantastic literature (under several different rubrics,  including ‘visionary literature’). He also notes in several entries that he has not read in the genre for many years. What he does discuss, however, is the effect of his years of writing SF/fantasy and editing New Worlds on his own perspective, and what lessons he believes can be taken away from that work. In “A Million Betrayals,” for example, he discusses what he was striving to accomplish with that work:
”As I had often insisted in New Worlds editorials, I thought that good escapism should confront real issues, and the confrontational fiction should always contain an amount of escapism, no matter how experimental the form. One reason I never wrote fantasy and sf under a pseudonym was because I thought it important to reunite popular and literary forms. That was why I had been attracted to visionary fiction in the first place” (p. 203).

This idea of engaging and pushing literary forms is the underlying story that Moorcock is telling with London Peculiar. Taken together these entries describe, from manifold angles, his lifelong quest to inject new vitality into literature and to understand the world through it, to examine literature’s capabilities and challenge them in the context of a life driven by curiosity and a growing sense of purpose. “I took over New Worlds magazine, determined to bring some fresh conventions that [J. G.] Ballard, Barrington Bayley, and I felt were needed to reinvigorate English fiction” (45), he notes in one entry, and this determination is what fully manifests over the course of the book. Even when writing about his musical efforts or his childhood,  there is a powerful sense of drive and ambition in the narrative arc of Moorcock’s life that, like his voice, creates a sense of continuity through the collection. In what he does, as well as in how he writes about it, a strong biographical picture emerges.  This speaks to the excellent editing of the book as well, but by the time you reach the largest section of the book, Moorcock’s writing has set both a pace and tone that frames his writing on literature with clarity and stimulates an enthusiasm in the reader to step deeper into his literary mind.

The last section of book was, for me, the most satisfying; Moorcock displays his historical knowledge of literature and his critical love of fiction here. Moorcock unearths a number of literary gems for the reader to marvel at, and contextualizes and rhapsodizes about them wonderfully. His introductions to R.C. Sheriff, H. G. Wells, and Rudolf Nassauer are deep and lucid, setting the scene for both novel and author. I found myself adding books to my reading lists and jotting down points to think about later as I read. Moorcock’s introductions are not only informative, but they make you want to read the book. He passes on to the reader facts and enthusiasm with equal facility.

My main criticism of the book is one common to any collection: that not all of the writing measures up to the general standard exemplified by the writer. Some of the reviews in the final section fall short of the benchmark that Moorcock establishes with the rest of his writing.

They are not just too brief, but too cursory. Some of them perform admirably, such as his review of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, while others barely pierce the surface of the novel, such as his review of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Often the ones that fall short are written for newspapers and periodicals. That may be an effect of the intended audience he is writing for, but there times in my reading when I wanted more than what Moorcock delivered. These moments are few, however, and for the rest it’s a pleasure to read essays and reviews by someone who not only loves books but loves thinking and whose investment in the book being discussed is obvious. Moorcock’s best reviews loop back to the underlying story of London Peculiar, as they are his reflections on the dynamics of literature and life. They are not only great essays, but are lessons in how to write great essays. In fact, the extra half-star for this book is specifically for this last section, which brings us into Moorcock’s life in a different way than diary entries, in a manner more profound and accessible. Moorcock’s nonfiction is about the story of his life and the stories in his life, and he shares both of them abundantly with the reader.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michael Moorcock's Author Page

London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction in The Guardian (UK)

by PD Smith
The Guardian (UK)
April 10, 2012

This collection of Moorcock's nonfiction spans more than half a century and includes several pieces published after 2006, the cut-off point for John Davey's earlier compilation, Into the Media Web. It includes some wonderfully intimate articles about Moorcock growing up in south London during the blitz. The bombed out cityscape, colonised by rosebay willowherb, was "a wonderland," a terra incognita to be explored.

Whether he is describing the bleakness of 1950s London ("all my girlfriends wore black and thought a lot about suicide") or the "smugness" and conformity of modern London ("I like my classes mixed"), Moorcock writes with genuine love for the city. There are heartfelt pieces on fellow Londoners JG Ballard, Angela Carter and Iain Sinclair, as well as authors, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs ("a master tale-spinner"), Philip K. Dick and Mervyn Peake, whose Titus Groan novels he describes as "idiosyncratic works of genius." It's a pity there's no index but nevertheless this is a fine selection.

London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction edited by Michael Moorcock and Allan Kausch is published by Merlin Press, £17.99

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michael Moorcock's Author Page

The Background to the Moorcock Multiverse: London Peculiar

by Karin L Kross
March 30, 2012

Is there anything Michael Moorcock hasn’t done? Creator of some of our greatest literary anti-heroes—Elric of Melniboné, Jerry Cornelius, Colonel Pyat. Editor of the seminal New Worlds magazine. Musician. Counter-culture hero. Cosmopolitan resident of London, Paris, and Texas. Friend and correspondent of talents as lasting and varied as Arthur C. Clarke, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Angela Carter, Andrea Dworkin, Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore, Tom Disch, Iain Sinclair, Leigh Brackett, and Brian Aldiss.

He’s even written a Doctor Who tie-in novel. Somehow, amidst all this activity, he has sustained a prolific journalistic career as an essayist and reviewer.

Much of this work originally having been published in the UK, it may be largely unfamiliar to American readers—even those of us who, like me, share a Moorcock obsession with the protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s “One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock” and who also get most of our news and reviews from British papers like the Guardian. London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction isn’t the first such compilation of Moorcock’s work; in 2010 Savoy Books released the massive and beautifully designed anthology Into the Media Web, edited by Moorcock bibliographer John Davey. It’s now out of print, but even if you were lucky enough to get hold of a copy, you will be glad to know that London Peculiar—edited by Moorcock and Allan Kausch—isn’t simply a “best of” extracted from the larger volume. Inevitably, there’s some overlap, though where Into the Media Web covers Moorcock’s career up to 2006, London Peculiar also contains many more recent works. There’s also several previously unpublished pieces, including a review of Iain Sinclair’s The Falconer and Slow Chocolate Autopsy that is a masterful pastiche of Sinclair’s own dense, multilayered style.

The wealth and richness of the material (grouped by theme: “London,” “Other Places,” “Absent Friends,” “Music,” “Politics,” and “Introductions and Reviews”) is a little dizzying; Moorcock is, of course, a terrific raconteur, and his varied life has provided him with ample material. The net effect of these essays and reviews is a kind of multivalent memoir, written in transparently clear prose that is a real joy to read. Certain themes and elements are repeatedly invoked: Moorcock’s strong populist instinct, deeply felt egalitarianism, outrage at injustice, and a firm and healthy streak of skepticism toward all manner of establishment, whether it be government or dyed-in-the-wool genre convention.

As the volume’s title suggests, London casts a long shadow, and is central to many of Moorcock’s social and political concerns—it’s the city where he was born and where he has lived much of his life, and to which he paid loving tribute in the brilliant Mother London. But Paris also puts in a key appearance, as does the Texas Hill Country, where Moorcock has lived part-time since the early 1990s as a kind of cultural immersion education in an area where the lifestyle and politics are as different from London as you can get; it’s a part of the country for which his deep affection is obvious in the diary entries from 2001 to 2010 collected here. (His Lost Pines home, the Circle Squared Ranch, narrowly escaped the devastation of the Bastrop county wildfires that swept the area in September of last year.)

Moorcock is a staunch English liberal who believes that the quality of the state is measured by how well it cares for its least fortunate citizens. In writing about the theme-park transformation of London—“the bizarre ruralisation of the city, with Home Counties yuppie colonists confidently moving in to take over traditional working-class and middle-class strongholds”—he is driven less by an outraged conservative nostalgia than by the way in which these changes marginalize the poor and homogenize a city, the greatest strength of which is its diversity. “The threatened sub-culture, enduring and benefitting from many transitions, represents a currency of memory, identity, and political power. Its loss to London would attack the depth and balance of our national narrative. Our rich inheritance would be replaced by a commercial heritage industry substituting a sentimentalised and corrupted version of what it destroys.” The first passage quoted there was written in 1988; the second in 2006. The “ruralisation” marches onward, as many a London East Ender could tell you.

He is no less passionate about the state of science fiction and fantasy. He is deeply impatient with the most conventional manifestations of the genres: science fiction that is “ritualised, sterile—having neither social nor literary pretensions and becoming quickly stale,” and deeply conservative fantasy in the Tolkien vein that is obsessed with old orders of royalty. (His famous critical essay “Epic Pooh” is not included here, but you ought to seek it out. Even if you disagree, it’s a thought-provoking read.) Though he certainly doesn’t deny his own status in the world of SF&F, it’s worth noting that many of the references to his own writing in London Peculiar have more to do with the “Between the Wars” quartet, Byzantium Endures, The Laughter of Carthage, Jerusalem Commands, and The Vengeance of Rome. These novels follow the gloriously unreliable narrator Colonel Pyat on European civilisation’s collective road to Dachau, a path paved with, among other things, the betrayal of principles and history “merely by avoiding minor social discomfort,” as he describes his reaction an uncomfortable shipboard incident in the essay “A Million Betrayals”.

In writing about other authors and their work, his enthusiasm is infectious; though the “Introductions and Reviews” section is perhaps the most diffuse and disjointed (roaming as it does very rapidly from, say, Mervyn Peake to H.G. Wells to Alfred Jarry), it’s packed with work that is a solid master-class in book reviewing. You might have never heard of Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome or R.C. Sherriff’s The Hopkins Manuscript, but when you read what Moorcock has to say about them, you immediately want to tackle them for yourself. He analyzes classic characters who we have all come to take for granted—the “glorious all-American hero” Conan, John Carter of Mars—and invests them with new relevance. (I imagine he must be rather dubious about the forthcoming John Carter film, the trailer for which often bears a distressing resemblance to Attack of the Clones; in the foreword to Richard A. Lupoff’s Master of Adventure: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, he writes, “It makes me wonder whether, for instance, John Carter’s Martian adventures will ever be successfully brought to the screen . . . It would need the same sort of loving attention which brought The Lord of the Rings to the screen, but it would definitely beat anything Star Wars has yet been able to offer.” Alas.)

And you would have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by the remembrances in “Absent Friends”. He remembers J.G. Ballard as a flawed but loving father; pays tribute to radical feminist Andrea Dworkin’s bravery and mourns her as a lost sister; and wryly recalls his first meeting with Arthur C. Clarke, where he and a host of other guests were subjected, sans any ameliorating alcoholic beverages, to Clarke’s home movies of the Great Barrier Reef—“The projector breaking down was the high point.” The catalogue of great writers, artists, and musicians whom Moorcock has called friend is fairly stunning; even were he not a literary giant in his own right, his connections to all of these people alone would make him remarkable.

The finest piece in this collection, and the one that it seems all the others revolve around, is “A Child’s Christmas In the Blitz,” originally published in Alan Moore’s magazine Dodgem Logic. It is a gorgeous memoir of five-year-old Michael Moorcock’s Christmas 1944, of a childhood shaped by war and by parental separation, and the passions and beliefs that were in turn shaped by those early experiences. There is the dazzling color of the Christmas grotto at the Portland Stone department store, the smell of a father’s shoe polish, the uncle who worked for Churchill and his Christmas present of a ten-shilling note, promptly deployed to shore up a legion of toy soldiers. There are the ruined houses from which lead could be unrolled from roofs, later to be sold to scrap dealers. Friends and neighbours vanish in a moment, destroyed by the flying V-2 bombs; meanwhile young Michael’s Jewish grandmother teases his Anglo-Saxon father, insisting that if the English win, all the Anglo-Saxons will be rounded up: “Better hope the Germans win, Arthur.”

All of these experiences and the years of rebuilding that followed, Moorcock writes, shaped his fiction: “We tried to create a new literature which expressed our own experience—Ballard of his years in the Japanese civilian camp, Aldiss of the terrors of being a boy-soldier in Malaya—all the great writers who contribted to my journal New Worlds were rejecting modernism not from any academic attempt to discover novelty but in order to find forms which actually described what they had witnessed, what they felt.”

London Peculiar
is thus a kind of career-spanning director’s commentary on Moorcock’s fiction.

This is where you’ll learn about his history, influences, and contemporaries, and about the politics and social concerns that inform his work. As such, it’s invaluable for the Moorcock enthusiast, but even a newcomer will find a lot to enjoy here. Like a map or a guidebook, it’s filled with irresistible routes and destinations, from London to Melniboné to Mars and beyond. And you’ll want to follow, whether you’ve traveled those paths before or are lucky enough to be visiting them for the first time.

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Crime Travels: Mystery Preview 2012

By Kristi Chadwick, Director, Emily Williston Memorial Library, Easthampton
Library Journal
April 13, 2012

Judging from current trends in mysteries and suspense, no place in the world is safe from crime. The best-selling appeal of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series remains strong with American readers, and as those fans search for read-alikes, U.S. publishers are importing more mysteries from around the globe.

“[We] see hundreds of series mysteries, police procedurals, and detective stories each season that are set in many different countries,” says Brooke O’Donnell, publishing director of Trafalgar Square, a leading U.S. distributor of British and Australian titles.

Scandinavian thrillers continue to dominate the market, with no signs yet of peaking. In May, Trafalgar Square will release Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment (Phoenix: Orion), which introduces Inspector Christian Tell as he investigates two brutal murders in a small town on the Swedish coast. Offering a debut author from Sweden, especially one who has hit the number ten spot on that country’s best sellers list, allows the distributor to offer something a little different from its usual Anglocentric fare, explains O’Donnell. With its twisting plot, well-developed characters, and remote, stark setting, Frozen Moment is bound to draw in Larsson and Henning Mankell fans.

This June, American readers will meet Malin Fors, 34, a blond, divorced single mother of a teenage daughter and a hard-driving Swedish police superintendent who embarks on a manhunt for a brutal killer in Mons Kallentoft’s edgy Midwinter Blood (Emily Bestler: Atria). The first entry in a four-book series, this thriller garnered a laudatory blurb from fellow Swedish author Camilla Läckberg, sold an astonishing 300,000 copies in Sweden alone, and has been published in 22 countries.

Atria also shines the spotlight on Scandinavia’s most successful female crime writer. Liza Marklund this month joins authors John Connolly, William Kent Krueger, and M.J. Rose on the 12-city Great Mystery Bus Tour, which travels from New York City to St. Louis (April 12–19) to celebrate the Simon & Schuster imprint’s tenth anniversary. Marklund will be promoting Last Will (Emily Bestler: Atria, Apr.), her latest novel about investigative reporter Annika Bengston.

Other houses—Farrar Straus & Giroux, Houghton Harcourt, and St. Martin’s Minotaur imprint—are offering a tasty summer smorsgasbord of titles from new and favorite Nordic authors. Lars Kepler (a husband-and-wife team) brings back Swedish detective Joona Linna in The Executioner (Farrar, Jul.), a sequel to the nail-biting The Hypnotist. Norwegian Inspector Sejer investigates a series of cruel pranks in Karin Fossum’s The Caller (Houghton Harcourt, Aug.). Making his U.S. debut is Swedish journalist Håkan Östlundh with Viper (Minotaur, Aug.), a crime thriller set on an isolated resort island. Iceland is well represented by Yrsa Siggadóttir’s Ashes to Dust (Minotaur, Apr.) and Arnaldur Inridason’s Outrage (Minotaur, Jul.).

In the fall, Norway’s award-winning K.O. Dahl makes some Lethal Investments (Minotaur, Nov.).

Endless fascination

Why do these dark crime novels continue to fascinate readers? They deliver what Poisoned Pen publisher Jessica Tribble believes mystery fans seek: interesting people and places, plus puzzles to uncover. “We used to think that American readers didn’t want the dark and grisly,” Tribble says.“The [Scandinavian] landscape is foreign to most Americans, and the bare and often disturbing portrayal of humanity acts as a foil to much of our own popular fiction. I think these stories provide a more complete experience: it’s all part of globalization.”

Emily Bestler, editor in chief and senior VP of her own eponymous imprint at Atria, agrees that much of the appeal of Scandinavian fiction lies in its setting and mood. Cold weather features prominently: ice, snow, frozen lakes, freezing rain, and blizzards all form a very effective and “chilling” backdrop to murder. “Similarly, though the writing styles are all different, the tone of these stories is similar,” Bestler notes. “The mood is quite somber and has an almost poetic quality. It’s really very different from the way most American and British thrillers feel.”

Tip of the global iceberg?

The Scandinavian surge has begun to generate a wave of new crime fiction from other countries. Bestler is seeing more commercial fiction from Germany, Holland, and France, and she credits Larsson’s best-selling success here for encouraging foreign publishers and agents to have their titles translated for consideration in the United States.

“A mystery in translation is a great way to introduce a new writer from a foreign culture to American readers,” says River­head Books editor Laura Perciasepe. “The genre constructs provide a familiar road map through a new writer and a foreign setting.” In June, the Penguin Group (USA) imprint is publishing Chilean mystery author Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

“Ampuero is already a literary star internationally, but this will be his first time being translated into English,” says Perciasepe. In this political thriller, Ampuero brings an integral piece of Chilean history—the 1973 military coup that violently ended Salvador Allende’s presidency—to life as his protagonist, PI Cayetano Brulé, fumbles through his first investigation, brought to him by the dying Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Another Spanish-language author making his American debut is Victor del Árbol. In his The Sadness of the Samurai (Holt, May), a Spanish aristocrat in 1940s pro-Nazi Spain plots to kill her Fascist husband, resulting in betrayals and lingering repercussions for three generations. Holt president Stephen Rubin believes American publishers will continue to acquire foreign authors like Árbol, not just because readers are looking for an “international” mystery but because they are always on the lookout for new, interesting writers.

George Gibson, Bloomsbury USA’s publishing director, agrees. “One of the great virtues of mysteries, perhaps even more than general fiction, is their ability to transport us to places we’ve never been,” says Gibson. “Perhaps crime heightens our senses; it certainly reveals the human condition.”

In August, Bloomsbury’s Walker & Co. imprint will take readers to the exotic locales of Gibraltar and Morocco with Thomas Mogford’s series debut, Shadow of the Rock , in which ­Gibraltar lawyer/detective Spike Sanguinetti tries to save a childhood friend from extradition on murder charges. Tracking down a Mafia boss hiding in Germany keeps Commissario Alec Blume busy while his partner deals with murder in Milan in The Namesake (Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan,
Jun.), the third entry in Conor Fitzgerald’s acclaimed Italian crime series.

As a rising economic power with a traditional society in transition, India is becoming a popular setting for crime fiction. This summer, Delhi’s portly sleuth Vish Puri investigates organized crime (and cricket) in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (S. & S., Jul.). And 2010 Costa First Novel Award winner Kishwar Desai examines the lives of Indian women in Witness the Night (Penguin, May). When an acerbic social worker comes to the defense of a young girl arrested for arson and murder, what starts as a not-so-simple case quickly grows into the discovery of a deceitful web of crimes against women.

“There’s a great deal of interest in India as an economic force in the world,” comments Penguin USA president Kathryn Court. “But as our book reveals, India is still a very exotic and unknowable country, where the lives of women are particularly difficult.”

Into the criminal past

The French writer and philosopher Voltaire stated that “history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.” So what could be a more perfect venue for a crime novel than the past? Mysteries that draw from the well of history not only have their own central crime but can be influenced by the time period in which they are set, along with that era’s transgressions.

Historical mysteries continue to sell well as a crime fiction category, says Minotaur publisher Andrew Martin. “Like international crime, which transports readers to a place presumably little known and intriguing to them, a historical mystery transports them to a time gone forever, even more unusual and apart from their everyday world.” Martin would be hard-pressed, though, to pick one time period that works best. “A great well-written story in any time period is still a great well-written story. When a really good book catches on, often people mistakenly attribute that success to that period. It is clearly not that simple.”

One debut historical high on Minotaur’s spring list is Eleanor Kuhns’s A Simple Murder (May), the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur First Crime Novel competition. Set in 1796 Maine, the mystery features Will Rees, a widowed itinerant weaver who gets drawn into a murder investigation at a Shaker community while trying to reconcile with his son. What attracted Minotaur editorial director Kelley Ragland to the book was its wonderful evocation of a time and place in American history that had not been covered much in suspense fiction.

Kuhns, a career librarian, explains that she chose this particular time period because historical mysteries about the United States tended to focus on wars. “Although our history is shorter than the European or Asian theaters, it is no less rich. The New Republic is especially interesting to me because so many of the issues then are still hot-button issues today,” Kuhns says.

Ragland praised the book’s other strong draws: Kuhns’s in-depth characterizations and the depiction of the Shaker community and its relationships with the outside world. “She’s a terrific discovery, and we’re thrilled that our first novel competition brought her to us,” says Ragland. Plans for the book include a targeted library marketing campaign and Kuhns’s appearance at the American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim, CA, in June.

Grasping the unfathomable

If early American history is virgin territory for most mystery writers, World War II continues to inspire numerous crime thrillers. Rebecca Cantrell’s fourth Hannah Vogel novel, A City of Broken Glass (Forge: Tor, Jul.), finds the German reporter with her son in 1938 Poland when she hears about the deportation of 12,000 Polish Jews from Germany. Her investigation lands her back in Berlin and danger.

In cases where history is harder to stomach, such as the rise of the Nazis, Tor/Forge associate editor Kristin Sevick believes readers are trying to understand how and why the events happened. “It’s one thing to look at historical events on a global scale and quite another to see them on a personal level, through the eyes of a sympathetic and compelling hero or heroine,” says Sevick. “This close-up, detailed, personal view allows the reader to be on the ground, experiencing and examining the sights and sounds of the time period. And, of course, a catastrophe like Kristallnacht (as seen through Hannah Vogel’s eyes) creates incredibly heightened and compelling circumstances for a crime to take place.”

The 1980s are history

While events of 30 years ago may not seem particularly “historical,” PM Press cofounder/publisher Ramsey Kannan disagrees. The early 1980s of Reagan’s America, he explains, were “the beginning of the ‘take back what’s ours’ trickle up economic onslaught of the neocons, the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and the assault on the social gains (from trade unions to welfare) ushered in from the New Deal through civil rights.”

The socially conscious press highlights this era with the republication of Kenneth Wishnia’s 1998 Edgar and Anthony Award–nominated debut, 23 Shades of Black (Jun.). Set in 1980s New York City, it introduces Latina police officer Filomena Buscarsela. An immigrant single mother stepping into a white man’s world, Buscarsela must not only deal with betrayal from her fellow cops but also enforce unjust laws relating to drugs and undocumented immigrants in her own community.

A golden oldie reborn

Other mystery publishers prefer turning to the genre’s own rich history for their titles. Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone , published in 1868, has long been heralded as the first modern detective novel. But this month, the British Library is bringing The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams back into print. Originally published in serial format in 1862, the novel follows insurance investigator Ralph Henderson as he discovers that the death of a baron’s wife may not be as accidental as first thought. Presented as Henderson’s own findings in the form of family letters, diary entries, depositions, and other recorded evidence, this innovative work is a true Victorian mystery, steeped in more modern concepts of forensics and ­investigation.

Held in the British Library’s collections, the novel resurfaced publicly thanks to the library’s digitization program of out-of-copyright books for print-on-demand publication. While the book was already enjoying decent sales through Amazon and its UK affiliate, a January 7, 2011, New York Times Book Review essay by Paul Collins triggered a sales spike, thus facilitating the decision to rerelease the title in a trade edition.

“Apart from the POD edition, it has not been in print since its original [volume] publication in 1864,” explains British Library editor Laura Spechler. “We also decided to include the illustrations by George du Maurier [grandfather of Daphne] from the original serial publication…. These were not included in the original volume edition or in the POD.”

A noir master’s lost manuscript

If publishing the first detective novel is a literary coup for the British Library, consider Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime (HCC) imprint and the mysterious case of the lost James M. Cain novel. A longtime fan of the author of such noir classics as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, HCC editor Charles Ardai had always hoped to publish one of his titles. However, Cain’s best books were still in print.

Then writer Max Allan Collins told Ardai about a lost, unpublished Cain manuscript he’d heard about but never seen himself, a book Cain apparently wrote at the end of his life called The Cocktail Waitress. So Ardai started hunting for the manuscript, a quest that took years until he learned that his own agent in Hollywood had inherited the files of Cain’s agent, H.N. Swanson. Ardai asked his agent to check Swanson’s rec­ords. “Lo and behold, what should turn up in my mailbox a few days later but a copy of the manuscript for The Cocktail Waitress.”

This September, the novelwill finally land in readers’ hands. “It’s an announcement I couldn’t have dreamed of making when I created Hard Case Crime, and I’m still walking on air over it,” says Ardai. Noir fans will revel in this tale of a beautiful widow who takes a job as a cocktail waitress after her husband’s suspicious death.

Also big on HCC’s list is Ariel S. Winter’s The Twenty-Year Death (Aug.). Spanning the 1930s to the 1950s, this first novel by former bookseller Winter essentially provides three novels in three very distinct styles inspired by mystery legends Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. [For more on the Titan Books/HCC collaboration, see the Q&A with Titan managing editor Katy Wild and Ardai, p. 26.—Ed]

Current events

As another high-stakes election season gets into gear, mystery authors are shedding light on the dark side of politics. In what Midnight Ink publicity director Steven M. Pomjie calls the house’s first experiment with the political suspense genre, Maggie Sefton, well known for her “Knitting Mystery” series, in August launches a new series about a senator’s daughter heading back into a world she thought she had left forever: politics in Washington, DC.

While Deadly Politics may seem a radical shift from her previous cozies, Sefton has really just gone back to her roots. Growing up in North Arlington, VA, Sefton was “a stone’s throw across the Potomac. And I’ve been watching Washington politicians since I was old enough to read the Washington Post . DC is in my DNA,” she says.

Midnight Ink acquiring editor Terri Bischoff believes that Americans are disgruntled and suspicious of the political system in general. This mistrust is driving readers to books in which the villains are powerful Washington insiders. “It’s interesting that in old political thrillers, the bad guys were the Soviets. Now they are the power players in Washington,” says Bischoff. “Of course, in both there are heroes who fight the bad guys and give us, as the reader, a sense that all is not lost.”

One such hero is Jane Ryland, TV news star demoted to newspaper reporter and the protagonist of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s new series launch, The Other Woman (Forge: Tor, Sept.). Jane tracks down a candidate’s secret mistress days before a pivotal Senate election and discovers a link to a possible serial killer.

The Agatha and Anthony Award–winning Ryan is no stranger to politics. Her 30 years’ experience as a TV reporter investigating political insiders and the inner workings of the system taught Ryan that seduction, betrayal, and murder could happen in any political party. “What politics are in this novel of election-year suspense? The politics of power, greed, and revenge.”

Politics of today and yesteryear meet in William Martin’s The Lincoln Letter (Forge: Tor, Sept.) in which treasure hunters Peter Fallon and Evangeline Carrington battle nefarious forces to find Abraham Lincoln’s diary. Martin notes that readers living in difficult times look for comfort in characters who can survive hard times. “If a set of characters could make it through the Civil War, say, could survive the political backstabbing, the typhoid, and the terrible heartbreak of Lincoln’s assassination, well, maybe we can survive whatever politics, disease, and heartbreak come our way.”

Seasonal Smorgasbord— best-selling edgy Swedish series gets U.S. launch from Emily Bestler: Atria in June

The money trail

Poisoned Pen’s Tribble says the house has in general shied away from thrillers, but she was attracted to the economic issues raised in Mark de Castrique’s The 13th Target (Jul.), in which a former Secret Service agent investigates the suicide of a Federal Reserve executive. “Can we trust our lawmakers? What do we really know about the Fed? In economically uncertain times, it is important that we ask these questions and engage with the answers,” says Tribble. “We begin to speculate about their future decisions and the effects of these decisions on us. And what better way to see these things played out than in our fiction?”

Wall Street shenanigans lead to murder in James Conway’s debut, The Last Trade (Dutton, Jun.), and blue-collar men become white-collar criminals in Fifteen Digits by Nick Santora (Mulholland: Little, Brown, Apr.). John Schoenfelder, senior editor at Mulholland Books, stresses that this title was signed well before the Occupy Wall Street movement captured ­headlines.

Cozy news

Amid all these bloody crimes and high-stakes thrills, cozies remain a viable subgenre. Tiffany Schofield, Five Star Press’s acquisitions editor, sees these books as the initial stop for mystery newbies. “Cozy readers enjoy the small-town atmosphere and the quirky characters that inhabit the pages, in part because the murders typically occur off-site and there are usually very few if any gory details and/or explicit scenes. The focus is on the sleuth, not the crime itself.” High on Schofield’s summer list for its tongue-in-cheek humor is Jeanne Glidewell’sLexie Starr adventure Haunted (Five Star: Gale, Jul.). The middle-aged sleuth turns her boyfriend’s bed and breakfast into a Halloween haunted house for October and discovers that the dead bodies aren’t just an act.

Adding to the genre’s enduring popularity is its diversity. “We’ve got all kinds of cozies—everything from culinary mysteries to pet-related ones to bookstores, paranormals and everything in between,” says Berkley Prime Crime associate editor Michelle Vega, who points out that authors keep coming up with new and interesting ideas, from vintage kitchens (Victoria Hamilton’s A Deadly Grind , Jun.) to tapping into the “bonnet fiction” craze (Laura Bradford’s debut Hearse and Buggy: An Amish Mystery , Jun.).

Other series debuts such as Michelle Rowen’s Blood, Bath & Beyond (Signet: NAL, Aug.) and Molly MacRae’s Last Wool and Testament (Obsidian Mysteries: NAL, Sept.) continue to highlight the serial themes (and punny titles) that are central to current cozy mysteries, while showing that the subgenre has moved quite a bit beyond its Agatha Christie roots. Obsidian editor Sandra Harding notes that some writers are picking up elements from the urban fantasy world and incorporating paranormal elements into their mysteries. Others are blurring the boundary between the cozy and literary fiction and delivering mysteries with elegant, finely crafted prose that will appeal to general fiction readers.

Notable returns

Despite the publisher marketing push behind debuts, a successful mystery series can build a readership, and characters can become as well loved as family. “Series are still the brass ring,” says Ransom Note Press publisher Christian Aligheri. “When an author succeeds in creating an appealing protagonist and a strong supporting cast, readers’ interest in those characters’ lives can keep demand quite high.”

Making return appearances this summer are actor-turned-sleuth Tennyson Hardwick in Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, and Steven Barnes’s South by Southeast (Atria: S. & S., Sept.), Los Angeles DA Rachel Knight in Marcia Clark’s Guilt by Degrees (Mullholland: Little, Brown, May), Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective in Hellbox (Forge: Tor, Jul.), Detroit PI Amos Walker in Loren D. Estleman’s Burning Midnight, (Forge: Tor, Jun.), and small-town newspaper editor Gus Carpenter in Bryan Gruley’s third Starvation Lake installment, The Skeleton Box (Touchstone: S. & S., Jun.).

“There is an alchemy here that is impervious to finagling by even the best publishing minds,” explains Simon & Schuster senior editor Sarah Knight. “Plenty of would-be ‘next great series’ wither and die after one or two or three books.” Knight has worked with several authors who have succeeded where others have not. Among them is Jeffery Deaver who introduced his series protagonist Kathryn Dance in the Lincoln Rhymes thriller The Cold Moon. Now Rhymes makes a cameo in Dance’s third outing, XO (S. & S., Jun.). And longtime series favorite James Lee Burke’s Det. Dave Robicheaux takes his fans back into the bayou with Creole Belle (S. & S., Jul.).

Series characters, notes Knight, inspire a loyalty that carries through the years. “You want to keep up with them, be there in their time of need, follow them through one adventure to the next…the best series characters can’t let you out of their lives.”

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London Peculiar reviewed on Omnivoracious

by Jeff VanderMeer
March 29, 2012

From mainstream realism and surrealism to fantasy, science fiction to swords & sorcery, Michael Moorcock has done it all. Honored as one of the most iconic British writers of the post-World War II era, Moorcock has already won several lifetime achievement awards—even as he continues to produce vibrant and relevant work. His latest book, from PM Press, is London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction, and features an introduction by novelist Iain Sinclair.

This collection features the best of Moorcock’s nonfiction, with an emphasis on 2006 onward, but with plenty of material representing the full span of his fifty years of work. In addition to insight into Moorcock’s own literary output, readers will find excellent appreciations of Angela Carter, J.G. Ballard, and Thomas Disch, along with great essays on music and politics. A selection of introductions and reviews carefully chosen by Moorcock and PM editor Allan Kausch round out London Peculiar.

The most personal sections of the collection can be found under the headings of “London” and “Other Places.” The title essay, “London Peculiar,” is an impassioned relating of Moorcock’s memories of wartime London and the architectural “improvements” that occurred in rebuilding the city after the war. It is beautifully complemented by a longer rumination entitled “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” which will fascinate readers. Other essays on London include “Heart and Soul of the City,” “Building the New Jerusalem” and “City of Wonderful Night.”

The variety on display in London Peculiar reflects several core strengths: curiosity, passion, a need to understand the past, a compulsion to spin entertaining yarns, and a restless intellect always engaged in sharp and insightful analysis.

As Sinclair writes in his introduction, “The Man on the Stairs,” “I could never quite persuade myself that there was any such human entity as Michael Moorcock. I mean in the sense that you could touch him, or talk to him, or sit down with him for a meal at which the seamless stories, the astonishing anecdotes, the myths and memories, would ravel and unravel, lap and overlap like swirling, contradictory, sedimentary-heavy Thames tides. The man was too fecund, too prolific, in too many places, high and low culture, for me to believe he was one person and not a Warholite factory.” And yet, as Sinclair attests to, that is exactly the protean talent embodied by Moorcock.

In his afterword, Moorcock notes that although he has “been a working journalist all my life,” he believes U.S. readers will “be surprised by what they find here,” given his reputation in this country primarily as a “writer of imaginative fiction.” Perhaps, however, this highly entertaining collection will only confirm what most readers know: Moorcock is ubiquitous in the best possible way.

PM Press has also done an excellent job with the design of London Peculiar: it invites extensive and comfortable reading, and also includes a comprehensive bibliography of Moorcock’s works. Highly recommended.

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Review of David Gilbert's, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond

by Gabriel Kuhn
Alpine Anarchist Productions
March 2012

David Gilbert mentions the documentary film The Weather Underground by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, released in 2002, on the very first page of his book Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond. Gilbert relates how the film has made many activists of a younger generation aware of his case, leading to very rewarding and inspiring correspondence. Fittingly, my own awareness of David Gilbert’s role in the Weather Underground and of his subsequent involvement with the Black Liberation Army is strongly tied to watching the movie about a decade ago.

Armed Struggle

I got politicized in the radical European left of the late 1980s, when the urban guerrilla movements that had formed in the 1970s (the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigades, Action Directe, and others) had already succumbed to state repression and internal friction or were making their last stand. I remember defending the Red Army Faction in my high school after the assassination of the Deutsche Bank chairman, Alfred Herrhausen, in November 1989. I didn’t necessarily condone the killing, but argued that the group’s political motivations were honorable. I’m sure I said things that were self-righteous, insensitive, and pretty stupid, but still believe that the moral panic I caused was worth the exercise. There is no fault in reminding people that not everything in this world is rosy, even if you go to a good school in a First World country and have plenty of opportunities.

In my late teens, politics replaced sports as my number one passion and I became obsessed with people dedicating their lives to armed struggle. The willingness to pick up arms seemed to distinguish the most serious, most committed, and most heroic of all revolutionaries: people who had made the ultimate sacrifice and put the struggle for a better world above all else, especially decadent bourgeois ideals such as financial security, professional career, and nuclear family.

I feel embarrassed for these thoughts today, as they express elitism, a very masculine glorification of violence, and rather poor political analysis, but at the time they framed my worldview. Reading Love and Struggle, it appears as if I wasn’t the only one dealing with that kind of problem; David Gilbert speaks of “making a fetish out of violence” in the early Weather days. Had I read the book twenty tears earlier, I might have at least understood that machismo was not only a moral problem, but a tactical one as well: “When someone takes risks mainly to prove his manhood or her womanhood to peers—when one doesn’t feel a deep political and humanitarian basis for facing new challenges—he or she often makes dumb mistakes and has trouble maintaining commitment over the long haul. Macho is not only a male-chauvinist style; it doesn’t work, at least not for us, going up against such a powerful enemy and needing to build a long-term struggle" (131).

Perhaps luckily, I never faced the decision of intensifying militant confrontation. Going on the offensive was not in the cards for my activist generation. In the Europe of the 1990s, we managed little more than organizing modest resistance against capitalism’s claim to historic victory and the new wave of nationalism and racism that swept over the continent. We were mainly busy keeping left-wing culture alive at all in the midst of socialism’s apparent demise and a deep collective identity crisis. Entertaining the thought of urban guerrilla struggle was so outlandish that it provided little more than moments of amusement in otherwise depressing times.

The Weather in Israel

It was not least due to these circumstances that, by the mid-1990s, I increasingly framed my politics in individualistic terms, that is, expressing my values and principles in everyday life became more important than commitments to any specific community or collective. For over ten years, I traveled nonstop, doing my best to live up to the moment, meet activists in various countries, and join actions and campaigns if I happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was towards the end of this decade that, after a year-long overland trip from Cape Town, South Africa, I visited Israel/Palestine for a third time. During some weeks in the spring of 2004, I lived in a squat with Israeli anti-occupation activists in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv. One night, some of us went to a friend’s apartment to socialize and watch movies—one of them being the Weather Underground documentary.

I was excited to see the film as I only knew the basics about the Weather Underground Organization. It wasn’t one of the militant movements of the 1970s that we had paid much attention to in Europe. One reason was that its history was simply further removed from us than that of its European counterparts. Another reason was that we, correctly or incorrectly, held the belief that some of the European movements had come closer to shaking the foundations of the capitalist nation state. If there was an interest in militancy in the United States at all, it almost exclusively focused on the Black Panthers. Unfortunately, this interest contained—besides much genuine respect and support—elements of a patronizing mystification and romanticization of Black culture, something that still requires serious analysis in anti-racist movements in Europe today.

I enjoyed the Weather Underground documentary with a particular feature standing out. I was deeply impressed by the interview excerpts with David Gilbert. I remember thinking that I had never seen an imprisoned veteran of the armed struggle exuding such warmth and openness. The images of armed struggle prisoners I was used to were those of earnest and guarded folks. Not that I ever expected anything else; I rather regarded this as an inevitable consequence of their circumstances. Whether Gilbert’s circumstances differ vastly from those of other armed struggle prisoners across the world I cannot say. In any case, I was intrigued by his composure and, taking authoritative control of the remote at 4 a.m., I instantly switched to the full-length Gilbert interview once the movie had ended. The DVD extra confirmed my impression: here was an armed struggle prisoner who you’d want to have a cup of tea with and chat about anti-imperialism, revolutionary strategy, or, what the heck, the Denver Broncos at the next best opportunity—and I know nothing about American Football.

Love and Struggle

Undeniably, one aspect of being taken with Gilbert was a certain identification factor. I, too, come from a white upper middle-class family and have long wrestled with the question of how to meaningfully engage in revolutionary politics based on the privileges I was born with.

Furthermore, just like Gilbert and apparently other Weathermen (Gilbert describes a class interruption at a Brooklyn community college, 128), I find it hard to be impolite—not always the best foundation for intervening in messed-up conditions. Finally, I’m also prone to the “most anti-racist white activist” or “exceptional white person” syndrome, which, as Gilbert rightly points out, “usually undermines any serious effort to organize other people against racism” (304). This was one reason for my excitement when a collection of Gilbert’s political writings appeared as No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner in 2004, as I hoped to learn important lessons from those texts—and not in vain.

I was equally excited about the release of the autobiographical Love and Struggle. The book left the same impression as the abovementioned interview: a nuanced, balanced, and self-reflective account of Gilbert’s involvement in revolutionary politics. The absence of all polemics, finger-pointing, and bashing of other left factions—a rare feat for any of us—is a real treat. In addition, Gilbert’s prose is remarkably clean of both radical and theoretical jargon. Plenty of different views and opinions are portrayed, but always evenhandedly, leaving it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Gilbert’s fair-minded approach seems to be rooted in his own experiences. With respect to the conflict that split the SDS in the late 1960s, he writes: “The situation called for open, healthy debate, but more often we responded with posturing, quote-plucking, and name-calling . . . In challenging, heady, scary periods, we need ways to keep our grounding, to try to always base decisions on the interests of the oppressed, to always stay in touch with the humanist basis for our activism” (109-110).

Gilbert also offers crucial advice on how to handle one of the revolutionary’s biggest nemeses, the ego: “Looking back I’m amazed at how many times I thought everything I was doing was about making revolution, but my actions were self-aggrandizing . . . I now believe it is healthier to be conscious and explicit about self-interest . . . It’s not inherently evil to have self-interest, and in any case it’s not completely avoidable. What messed me up was when I couldn’t admit it to myself and then unconsciously maneuvered in dishonest ways. My method now is to try to be open and explicit about my personal concerns and then to rigorously evaluate them relative to collective principles and goals. Sometimes my personal needs are a legitimate consideration; at other times I’ll want to subordinate them to what’s needed by everyone” (110).

Learning from History

The final chapter of Love and Struggle might be the most captivating. This is no big surprise: the ill-fated Brink’s robbery, the arrest and subsequent separation from wife and son, the trial, and the prison experience all contain elements of tragedy that have been captivating audiences for millennia. (Gilbert only tells about his pre-trial detention. In general, he states: “For a number of reasons, I’m not yet ready to write about prison,” 7).

This, by no means, takes away from the rest of the book. Gilbert’s account is engaging throughout and provides a precious insight into the U.S.-American left of the 1960s and 1970s, its hopes, debates, conflicts, and disappointments. After introductory remarks on his childhood and youth, with two headstrong sisters paving the way for politicization, Gilbert takes the reader through his activities at Columbia University, the anti-war movement, the SDS, the emerging Weather group, and his six years underground. He describes a steady path of increasing radicalization: “Compared to many people in the ‘60s—when some leaped from Republican families to militant radicals in a matter of months—I was as slow and deliberate as a turtle, grappling with every step in the process: from liberal Democrat, to social democrat (hoping to bring about moderate socialism through elections), to nonviolent civil disobedience, to building resistance through street militancy and draft defiance, to supporting revolutionary armed struggle” (86).

A detail of special interest to me was that Gilbert’s first arrest came at a solidarity demonstration for Rudi Dutschke, the charismatic leader of the 1960s German student movement, who was shot by a right-wing youth in April 1968. (The incident would eventually cost Dutschke his life: he drowned in a bathtub on Christmas Eve 1979 after an epileptic seizure related to his injuries.) The fact that such a demonstration was held in New York at all confirms the internationalism of the era’s struggles. The shooting of Dutschke was a key moment in the radicalization of the German protest movements of the 1960s, out of which the urban guerrilla movements of the 1970s emerged.

Gilbert’s account touches on numerous issues of ongoing importance for radical debate such as free love, drugs, security culture, and movement infiltration. Gilbert also shares enlightening, and amusing, memories about the formation of the Progressive Labor Party, the origins of the LaRouche movement, Enver-Hoxha-touting Maoists, or the working process behind the 1974 Weather manifesto Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. Love and Struggle is certainly not bereft of humor. In his recollection of the Chicago “Days of Rage” in October 1969, Gilbert writes about missing a handful of cops with a bottle thrown from not more than a few feet, only to escape arrest a second later by a swift and unpredictable move. He concludes: “That moment was fairly emblematic of my brief ‘streetfighting days’. My offensive reflexes were close to nil, but my defensive reflexes were spectacular.” (133)

Common Ground

Particularly interesting from a German-speaker’s perspective are Gilbert’s final remarks on national liberation and anti-imperialism. Gilbert concedes that the former is no “adequate form of struggle in itself to build socialism and to spearhead world revolution” and that the latter can take on “right-wing forms”. Yet, he continues to see imperialism as “the main source” of much global strife and does not regard anti-imperialism as per se reactionary. This is a refreshing perspective in the light of the rifts that the national liberation and imperialism debate has caused among German-speaking leftists, with one side stubbornly clinging to simplistic anti-imperialist doctrines and the other accusing all anti-imperialist analysis of anti-American resentment, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and nationalist chauvinism.

It is hardly astonishing that the big questions the left is facing today are essentially the same that Gilbert and his comrades faced in 1970: “Did we support independence for various peoples of color within the U.S., or should we strive to forge a multinational working class? Did an independent women’s caucus give needed power to the oppressed or create divisions diverting us from the overall struggle? Should our limited resources be devoted more to big national demonstrations or to community organizing? Were election campaigns a good arena for organizing or a diversion from building a movement in the streets? Should you organize people based on immediate bread and butter concerns or was it essential to emphasize the major issues for society as a whole? Do we respond to growing repression with increased militancy or by restricting the movement to nonconfrontational tactics” (109). Also many of the personal conflicts described by Gilbert resemble tensions faced by contemporary activists.

Gilbert tells us, for example, how his commitments to solidarity work with El Comité, a Chicano/a organization in Denver, and his involvement in the city’s feminist movement and the group Men Against Sexism (MAS) created a situation that felt like “an unbridgeable gap” even if shouldn’t have (251)—the difficulty to unite different struggles against oppression rather than having them compete over center-stage positions haunts the left to this day.

Naturally, Gilbert is not able to provide definite answers to any of these questions – this being a task of utter impossibility. However, Gilbert provides numerous important guidelines that are essential for resolving the related challenges in the only way possible, that is, by drawing specific conclusions from analyzing specific circumstances. Perhaps most importantly, Gilbert reminds us that focusing on what unites us as radicals is far more important than fights over superior ideology, tactics, and revolutionary identity. The following words should be taken to heart: “As revolutionaries, our commitment isn’t to our own status but rather to advancing the struggle” (292).

While, as Gilbert rightly points out, “we still don’t have that foolproof method for distinguishing crucial debates from competitive bickering” (109), it is easy for petty squabbles to turn a movement of the many into an egotistical battlefield of the few. Differences in opinion and perspective are fruitful and productive for any movement, but we need to stand on a common ground that allows us to nourish the indispensable requirements for true revolutionary action: compassion, solidarity, and love, as there will be no strength, determination, and perseverance without it.

The willingness and the ability to self-criticize are key aspects of the process. Gilbert points this out several times. Yet, he does not mistake self-criticism for self-deprecation and achieves the rare feat of writing a revolutionary memoir staying clear both of denouncing one’s past and of glorifying it. He writes: “I’ve . . .  tried my best to carry on that dual responsibility of upholding basic principles while being open about errors and flaws” (323). He has been hugely successful. Gilbert’s honesty is one of the book’s main appeals.

Pushing Ahead

Love and Struggle is a gift to all activists, not least those of younger generations. We often fail to adequately pass on experiences acquired in struggle. Longtime comrades leave the movement or can’t be bothered to engage with newcomers; at the same time, a mixture of insecurity, youthful arrogance, and misconceived anti-authoritarianism complicates efforts to hand down knowledge in empowering and democratic ways. As a result, new generations of activists often have but a vague idea about what others did just a decade ago (let alone several), reinvent the wheel, and make the same errors. In light of this, a book like Love and Struggle—rousing and instructive, yet far from pretentious and obtrusive—is tremendously valuable. This alone confirms that David Gilbert, also an insightful commentator on current political affairs and a prison activist, remains as much part of the struggle as he has ever been.

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