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London Peculiar and Other Non-Fiction on West End Extra

by Dan Carrier
West End Extra
March 8, 2012

Michael Moorcock is a London landmark who could stand proudly alongside Nelson’s Column and the Albert Memorial, or have a space reserved for him on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth.

The writer, novelist, musician and commentator has a new collection of his works published: essays, diaries, assorted journalism including obituaries and reviews, and general musings on friends, work, books and, above all, the capital in which he grew up.

Moorcock is renowned as a science fiction author and 1960s underground magazine editor—and for playing guitar in the prog-rock band Hawkwind—but his range and breadth is so vast that he sits just as easily at high tables penning think pieces for the Financial Times as he does turning up to talk Martian at American sci-fi conventions.

In his piece, "Heart and Soul of The City," published in 1990 in the Observer, he wrote of a London he remembered and one that had been swiped away by developers, by weak-minded planners, by the rampant organism of economic growth.

“As a boy I wandered across vast acreages of docks still full of the world’s ships,” he says. “I climbed piles of bombed brick bright with Rosebay Willowherb, the fireweed brought from the slopes of Vesuvius and which took so happily to our ruins.

“If the little foetid canals and waterways under the rotting jetties have given way to dainty fountains and ornamental streams at least we are no longer as likely to die from some nameless toxin as we were when steam was king. For better and for worse, the times as well as the Thames, are changing.”

The Thames reappears in the essay with musing on how it is no longer the reason for the city to exist, rather an appendage to it.

“From what was predominantly a working river, the Thames has become a profitable scenic resource.

“Not very long ago, the GLC built fairly imaginative blocks of flats looking over the water.

World’s End was transformed to give many residents a chance to live with a view instead of a damp problem.

Now the idea of local government wasting such important real estate on its ordinary citizens is received by many pretty as much as [Salman Rushdie’s] The Satanic Verses was received in Bradford.

There is more profit in leisure than in product.

The river is a facility, no longer the reason for London’s existence.

“If, for me, the river has lost some of its romance, it has admittedly lost most of its danger,” he says.

“The dark mysteries of Dickens’s Thames have gone but the benevolent Thames of Jerome K Jerome still exists.”

London comes alive through his pen—a London he says has disappeared and that he now strains to catch glimpses of Sid James sitting on a bus in a Carry On film, or as the backdrop for an Ealing comedy.

He also reveals wonderful confidences with an uncle. “My family opened their homes to the American flyers, some of them friends of my RAF uncle who had disappeared while ferrying a Spitfire in Rhodesia and was disappointed to be found in the bush by rescuers,” he states.

“He hadn’t wanted to be rescued, he admitted to me many years later. He had enjoyed his African Christmases and has several African wives, extraordinary status in the village and no chance of being shot at . . . and his wife, one of my mother’s many powerful sisters, he confided, was a bit if a harridan.”

Music appears: in the article "The Deep Fix," published in 1994, he writes of Ladbroke Grove in the 1960s and 1970s, recalling Island Records having a studio ten minutes from his house, and how it took on the mantle of Soho in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the London music scene.

“Everybody knew everybody and it was quite often possible to be involved in a session with someone like Charlie Watts on drums, Long John Baldry doing vocals and Pete Green on guitar.

I cut my first demo with EMI in 1957 and it was considered, even by the standards of the day, too dreadful to be released.” Moorcock’s anthology works for numerous reasons, not least the simple fact it is a collection of lovely lines.

Examples abound on every page: “Talbot’s elaborate brass-and-mahogany steampunk paraphernalia constantly add to the visual delights of the tale, demonstrating his mastery of the graphic narrative,”  he writes in one book review, while the obituaries he has penned, including one for his close friend the feminist Andrea Dworkin, are simple eulogies.

Of Dworkin he writes the memorable lines: “Even now when I see her picture, I can’t emotionally come to terms with her death. In her most despairing, painful moments her vitality informed all she did and thought.”

He also writes passionately of the loss of his friend Angela Carter, quoting the letter she sent him when she knew she had lung cancer.

It’s a privilege to have such a collection of humanistic and touching articles between the covers of one book.

In the introduction, editor Allan Kausch says: “Compassion and anger can be used against the bastards who enslave us, that the only art that matters is the truth.”

This book illustrates such a sentiment perfect­ly—Moorcock’s works combine truth, beauty, insight and humour in well-measured portions.

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London Peculiar and Other Non-Fiction on The Electric Review

by Bryan "zepp" Jamieson
Electric Review
February Spotlight

Michael Moorcock’s latest collection of essays, London Peculiar and Other Non-Fiction is a mixed bag. It’s divided into sections: London, Other Places, Absent Friends, Music, Politics, and Reviews and Introductions. “London Peculiar” presumably refers to the toxic black miasmas of sulfur dioxide that famously enveloped London from the time of Shakespear until the 1960s, the infamous soft-coal “fogs.”

As someone who, like Moorcock, was raised in London, I read his accounts of the city with a fair bit of interest. His was the more dramatic childhood since I came along about fifteen years later and missed that whole “insane-Germans-lobbing-high-explosives-at-my-head” thing.

The most strident Londoner will probably find little of interest in grumbles from 1980 about how zoning panels are permitting gentrification to ruin some of the more interesting parts of the city. For all that, I had a huge laugh at Moorcock noting that surprisingly little of post-war London was preserved on film, and what there was existed in “Carry On” movies, and usually blocked by Sid James’ head. I’ve found myself watching those old flicks and sharing the same complaint. “Hattie! Move over! You’re blocking Islington! You’re blocking ALL of Islington!” Yes, I scream at long-dead comedians in fifty year old black and white movies. I need help.

“Other Places” is mostly about Texas, where Moorcock resides, and is singularly lacking in the expected fish-out-of-water element. Moorcock likes his new neighbors, and seems tickled that he’s better known to them as an amateur musician than as a writer. His stance on politics, less surprisingly, is puzzled astonishment at the American flat-earth right.

“Absent Friends” is a discussion of people who are dead, usually people Moorcock liked and respected. Andrea Dworkin, JG Ballard, Phil Ochs and Thomas Disch get loving attention, as they should. Moorcock has a deep respect for voices which are unique and fearless, and for originality of thought. This stance informs the entire volume from this point onward.

The most striking thing about this volume is the level of erudition. It isn’t enough to say that Moorcock read thousands of books; he ABSORBED them. He sounds like he did a stint in Disch’s “Camp Concentration” and survived. He had little use for work he considered facile or derivative—he dismisses Heinlein, and by extension much of American “golden age” science fiction—with the single word “mechaporn.” Moorcock loves the Titus Groan series, found Lord of the Rings a bit of a slog, and has no use for the Harry Potter books. That’s a good nutshell encapsulation of his view on literature.

There’s a sense in the essays themselves of looking back, rather than forward. He’s likely to write about HG Wells and Conan Doyle, but little or nothing about present-day writers such as Gaiman, the Foglios, or Stephenson. About the only active writer he deems worthy of more than cursory mention is Alan Moore.

Not many people will read every article in the book. But everyone who reads it will find jewels along the way, and come away with the realization that the things Moorcock treasures in his surroundings, his friends, and his fellow artists are among the very best that life has to offer.

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Abe in Arms on Children's Books Heal

by Patricia Tilton
Children's Books Heal
March 4, 2012

“What’s your name boy? He stares into the mirrored sunglasses. Words don’t come out. I’ll tell you mine, then you tell me yours. What’s behind those mirrors? All he can see is himself. What’s inside the camouflage uniform? My name is Grant. See, it’s easy. Now tell me yours. He finds a voice. It comes out: James.”  Abe in Arms is a gripping novel about a teen who has survived the war in Liberia, escaped the rebel army, and is adopted by an American doctor and his loving family. Abe may have survived the war and started a new life, but his scars are so deep that his senior year begins to unravel as he deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a story you will not easily forget, or want to forget. It evokes a powerful response within you.

Abe is a high school senior on his ways to a Division 1 Track scholarship.  He is an honor student, has a girlfriend and has developed a close relationship with his brother, Niko, and parents. Abe is at a track meet at the starting line with the other runners when he hears the gun “BANG.” Abe leaps forward, but is suddenly  transported to another place and time where he hears the BANG of rebels guns shooting randomly at people in his village. He has collapsed at the starting line and is curled in a fetal position.  His coach is shouting his name. Abe is rushed to the hospital. Over the following months, Abe suffers disabling flashbacks and seizures as he relives the events of his young life in war-torn Liberia, where he loses his mother and sister. At home, his brother Niko, observes his flashbacks at night and his explosive temper over silly things. At school he is zoning out in classes. He fights with another runner and knocks out his teeth. He distances himself from his girlfriend. His father, Dr. George Elders, recognizes Abe is in trouble and has him work with a therapist who specializes in PTSD. Abe journeys into a dark world where he has suppressed his memories. He finds himself facing the demons of his past life as a boy soldier—something he wants to bury. This action-packed novel is full of suspense, twists and turns, surprises and hope.

Why I like this book: Pegi Deitz Shea has written a powerful book for teens about young boys forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries like Africa. She isn’t afraid to take her readers to complicated and uncomfortable places. These boy soldiers suffer unimaginable violence and are made to do things by rebel armies that are horrific. They are robbed of their childhoods. How will those who survive, ever live normal lives? Abe in Arms is just one shocking story about a teen coming to grips with his past. Fortunately, Abe is grounded by the support and love of  his family who long to see him heal. Click here on the Reach and Teach  resource link for Abe in Arms. This site has information from Amnesty International, resources, lessons plans, ways to get involved and a very moving video about a boy soldier. Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.

Pegi Deitz Shea is an award-winning children’s author, who has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages through books that include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift, Patience Wright, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.

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Love and Struggle in Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
March 5, 2012

Though Gilbert is still in prison after almost 30 years for the botched 1981 Brink’s robbery, these are not prison memoirs. Rather, Gilbert (No Surrender) reflects thoughtfully on his development as a leftist organizer and revolutionary in the context of the social tumult of the 1960s and ’70s, driven by a fundamental desire “to get America to live up to its ideals of democracy for all.” In a conflicted and conflict-ridden period of cold war anticommunism, civil rights struggle, Black Power, antiwar organizing, class divides, a burgeoning youth counterculture, and second-wave feminism, Gilbert’s political education and personal growth sometimes painfully intertwined, as he relates in candid passages detailing his failings as well as advances vis-à-vis colleagues, peers, and lovers, including longtime partner and fellow revolutionary Kathy Boudin. Some sections of this loosely chronological narrative, spiced with older diary entries, are more grounded than others. Inside knowledge of flashpoints—the breakup of SDS, the Weathermen’s springing of Timothy Leary from jail, or the beginnings of a rift between the renamed Weather Underground and Black Panthers—add to the historical record or underscore the complexities of the movement, while glosses on larger historical events or figures (the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Bob Dylan) prove less novel. However, such lively ruminating from someone on the inside of important recent history makes for vital reading. (May)

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Send My Love in The Mystery Gazette

by Harriet Klausner
The Mystery Gazette
December 12, 2011

This eighteen story anthology pulls no punches or switchblades as the compilation focuses on rebellion by rebels with and without a cause. Fifteen of the entries are new while one of the reprints is actually a first time translation into English (“Bizco’s Memories” by Paco Ignacio Talbo II starring soccer played under the underground convict rules of a prison). The other previously published contributions, “Gold Diggers of 1977” by Michael Moorcock is one of the Cornelius tales looking at the Sex Pistols mythos (may not survive the test of time), and “I Love Paree” by Cory Doctorow and Michael Skeet in which Old Paree is in trouble due to the foreign invasion. In “Nickels and Dimes” by John A Imani, riots come to UCLA in 1972 but not daring to disturb the Wooden NCAA run. Kim Stanley Robinson looks at a slave revolt on the moon in “The Lunatics.” In “Murder . . . Then and Now” by Penny Micklebury, he claims to be X at the Black Student Union. This is a gripping timely collection in which people past and present across the spectrum rebel against those they believe are their oppressors.

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Text as Folk Art: Black Flags and Windmills

The Anvil
February 19, 2012

We could create change and resist the destruction that they wrought on the world. I felt joy and hope in all the possibilities we could continue to create, rebelling against their hallowed message that we should give up and give in.

I had to climb the hillside to see what was on the other side.

Once I did, I saw the giants everywhere. I continued onward with curiosity and courage. I saw others doing the same and many of us walked together in mutual support (42).

From Rousseau’s infamous noble savage to a fascination with tourism, western capitalist society has found many ways to both maintain and exploit the image of some people as Other. One of the more pernicious flavors of this is to see some people as more authentic, more in touch with their humanity and their experience. This increased authenticity can be attributed because they have suffered more, or because they are not seen as fitting into the model of the Normal Person ™ (who is supposed to be some combination of [sub]urban, white, middle class, straight, certified sane, etc). A particular kind of interest in folk art is part of this alienation.

In Europe, psychiatric collections, mediumistic art work, and paintings by autodidacts such as Alfred Wallis (1885-1942) and Henri "le Douanier" Rousseau (1844-1910) were held aloft by modernists, along with colonial plunder from Africa and the Americas as salvation from industrialization’s increasing ravages (Gale 1999:16 and 17). Across the Atlantic, a similar fascination with "naive" expression was taking place. Championing the romanticized notion of a fast-fading authenticity inherent in Anglicized American heritage, certain collectors, scholars, gallerists, and museum professionals turned their attentions to folk traditions.

The definition for folk art is quite contested: how is it distinct from crafts (or is it)? What is its relationship to fine art and schools of art and art schools? Must it be completely untouched by the art market, or can folk pieces be in dialog with fine art pieces? Can fine artists do folk art? Should folk art be an umbrella term that includes naïve art, art brut1, tribal art, tramp art, self-taught art, etc, or is it a thing distinct from any of those? And so on.

For our purposes, wikipedia gives a reasonable entry:

Folk art

a) encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic
b) expresses cultural identity by conveying shared community values and aesthetics. It encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media and

c) is practiced by people who have traditionally learned skills and techniques through apprenticeships in informal community settings, though they may also be formally educated

As with all attempts to define a group as outside of capitalist, western, urban values or experience, this can be read optimistically (the definers are dissatisfied with the status quo and are reaching for something, trying to understand the world in different ways), or pessimistically (the definers are attempting to integrate all difference into the status quo, to flatten differences even while they trumpet how “different” they are).2 More to the point, the members of the given group are both inside themselves and outside themselves at the same time. The Situationists were brilliant in their analysis of the Spectacle as something that divorces people from our own experience, an alienation that we are all subject to, but that members of Otherized groups are subject to differently. Vine Deloria’s article “Anthropologists and Other Friends” is intense and paradigm-shattering in its depiction of the relationship between anthropologists and the people-being-defined, negating (among other things) the idea that any of us can be untouched by the society that envelopes us.

Organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts rightfully define folk art as art coming out of a specifically identifiable tradition. Folk art is “learned at the knee” and passed from generation to generation, or through established cultural community traditions, like Hopi Native Americans making Kachina dolls, sailors making macramé, and the Amish making hex signs. From the website for the American Visionary Art Museum Hopi-Native-Americans-making-Kachina-dolls (et al) are not just involved in a deeply spiritual and practical effort that their people have done for generations, they are also operating as Authentic Others within a capitalist model. These two ways of existing are diametrically opposed – are even mutually exclusive—and yet this paradox is embodied in these Hopi (et al), and to varying degrees in all of us.

Our truck sped along the highway, our thoughts in a tumult. Few cars moved our way, apart from the occasional military vehicle. In the other direction, the roadway was overflowing with evacuees. They began to look like refugees from another place (45).

In Black Flags and Windmills (BF&W), scott crow—the best known (or at least the most interviewed) of the founding members of Common Ground Collective (CGC)—explains how he grew up and in to a world view that promotes a certain way of looking at race, class, disenfranchisement, responsibility, and privilege. BF&W is a reflection of that world view—one that has been called variously anti-racist, anti-colonialist, leftist—with many of its strengths and weaknesses.

While the group had many contributors and co-creators, it is fair to say that CGC (now a non-profit called Common Ground Relief) was initiated by a local ex Black Panther, a local woman, and an anarchist, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans was traumatized; entire neighborhoods had been emptied—sometimes through force; the government was demonstrably more interested in controlling the behavior of those who were left, than it was in meeting their needs. CGC, like many other efforts that seek to serve people’s needs without government or NGO mediation, has been lauded by some as an example of direct action, and criticized by some as a charity. In fact it was probably both, depending on when and on which people or subset of people one focuses on. Scott crow makes clear that there was an ongoing negotiation between working with people who were not anarchists, not used to dealing with anarchist horizontal process and mostly probably not interested in learning to deal with it, and the anarchists who made up most or sometimes all of the volunteers who were coming in from outside the area. Differences that were not made any less challenging by the different racial, economic, and cultural compositions of the two groups.

Naïve art:

The main characteristic of naïve art is a rejection, or strained relationship to, the formal qualities of painting, especially the three rules of perspective (as defined by painters of the Renaissance):

The rules of perspective are

    1.    decrease of the size of objects proportionally at distance,
    2.    enfeeblement of colors with distance,
    3.    decrease of the precision of details with distance.

The lack of these characteristics leads to an equal accuracy brought to details, including those of the background, which would be shaded off in fine art paintings.

BF&W is an exercise in folk and naïve art, because it is less a cohesive story (or even set of stories) than a record of part of a conversation. The book does not abide by any of the rules normal for books on any of the themes that it includes. It is more than a memoir of CGC (it includes some of scott crow’s childhood) but less than an autobiography—crow mostly discusses his childhood, political development, and part of his life during the existence of CGC. It includes a history lesson but only for a few disconnected and very specific pieces of history, without a larger context (primarily the Black Panthers and the Zapatistas). It is a political text by an anarchist who seems to have been most inspired by non-anarchists. It is a manual for disaster relief without much step by step information to duplicate specific success(es). It is an adventure story about fighting cops, vigilantes, snitches, and entitlement, as well as surviving the environment, without a clear ending. People who already know a bit about CGC might read this book for more information on Brandon Darby, who was a significant part of the story for scott crow, and who gained notoriety first from to his self aggrandizement, and later when he came out as an informant to the FBI. However, where scott crow discusses Darby, it has more to do with crow’s process of coming to terms with the fullness of Darby’s perfidity, than it does with an analysis or accounting of Darby’s behavior.

More fundamentally, the text does not follow a single line at any point. All of the threads are woven together in the way that spoken conversations sometimes flow, but that seem quite random on paper. Because there are so many threads that all seem to get equivalent attention, it’s hard to know which is foreground and what background.

This conversational style, in which bits from all the various themes are mixed together–biographical fragments with stories about the Spanish Civil War and crow’s alliances with ex-Black Panthers (a description that is featured heavily throughout the book), etc–is so pronounced that it makes the book seem like something new, perhaps a book that is for people who don’t read, who don’t like or want to be limited by the patterns or habits in more traditional books.

So Folk as a description operates here in two ways. First is that of “a set of practices learned by watching other people,” in the sense that crow learned his activism by watching and listening to ex-Black Panthers, and from them received a particular take on identity, society, and liberation that he faithfully represents here, even when it is in conflict with much of anarchist thought. In a chapter called Of Anarchists, Panthers, and Zapatistas, crow explains his own eventual embrace of the label anarchist (after rejecting it initially because of his distaste for punk anarchists in his youth), when he decided “it was time to shock the political system.” For some it will be odd that in this chapter the examples of actual action that he uses are two groups that have no anarchist affiliation at all.

It is not hard to find criticism of the authoritarian practices of many within the Black Panther Party; one example is this quotation from Paul Glavin’s friendly review of Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party (edited by Kathleen Cleaver—who wrote the preface to BG&W—and George Katsiaficas).

The authoritarian, top-down structure of the Panthers, combined with their reliance on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, is objectionable from an anti-authoritarian perspective. The Panthers saw themselves as a vanguard Marxist-Leninist style Party with hierarchical ranks and they were influenced by Mao. For example, Michael L. Clemons and Charles E. Jones’s essay, “Global Solidarity,” points out that fifty percent of BPP political education classes were devoted to Mao’s Little Red Book. Key members were given State titles, such as Minister of Information and Minister of Defense.

In this collection, Mumia argues it is hard to generalize about the BPP because it had many offices and a diverse membership reflecting regional and cultural differences. Yet by the 1970s the BPP did become increasingly authoritarian and centralized (

And the Zapatistas, as exciting as they have been for people looking to create mass movements, are themselves not even anti-state.

The EZLN has not hidden their agenda. Their aims are clear already in the declaration of war that they issued at the time of the 1994 uprising, and not only are those aims not anarchist; they are not even revolutionary. In this declaration, nationalist language reinforced the implications of the army’s name. Stating: “We are the inheritors of the true builders of our nation”, they go on to call upon the constitutional right of the people to “alter or modify their form of government.” They speak repeatedly of the “right to freely and democratically elect political representatives” and “administrative authorities”. And the goals for which they struggle are “work, land, housing , food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace.” In other words nothing concrete that could not be provided by capitalism. Nothing in any later statement from this prolific organization has changed this fundamentally reformist program. Instead the EZLN calls for dialogue and negotiation, declaring their willingness to accept signs of good faith from the Mexican government.


crow’s book exemplifies a conundrum for a particular kind of anti-racist activist, which is the question of how much one constrains their ideas to fit into models that have been approved by people of color. When one is an activist, as crow decidedly is, the models of the panthers and the zapatistas are too practical and successful (within limits) to be denied. But if anarchy is something more than a set of tactics, then one must admit that anarchy is impractical. It is not practical to have a beautiful vision of the potential in all of us, a potential that demands the overthrow of so much that so many take for granted or in fact demand. This dilemma continues to be acted out in many people’s political activities and organizations, and the scott crow book is (among other things) a story of the balancing that he was trying to do between its horns. "Anarchism means not waiting for the other to do something. It means knowing what the right thing to do is, recognizing we have the power to do it, then doing it" (73).

But Folk can also apply to the way that a work is understood to be outside of institutions; counter to what is considered learned or erudite; easy for the Common Folk to understand.

When the point of a work is to replicate cultural norms that are not scholastic or outside of a particular form-of-life, to be—for example—accessible to a group of people who are not used to reading, then the conversational flow and familiar language will be a comfort and an encouragement. These might be the people who take the story of Don Quixote’s windmills as an expression of hope and a refusal to concede, rather than as a sign of an old man’s delusion.

Reading this book brought up for me questions of habit and form, formality and structure.

Arguably, scott crow took the format—papers bound together with glue and a cover—and made it his own. A practice that egoists, among others, might be able to appreciate.

1. aka outsider or visionary art—i.e. art by people who are considered insane or far outside of social convention)
2. Of course both pessimistic and optimistic views are true simultaneously.

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Rudy Rucker's Surfing the Gnarl on BoingBoing

by Cory Doctorow
February 16, 2012

Surfing the Gnarl is the latest volume in PM Press's wonderful Outspoken Authors series: a collection of slim, handsome chapbooks curated by Terry Bisson that combine essays, stories and interviews (I've previously written here about the Kim Stanley Robinson volume, as well as my own).

This one is devoted to one of the world's happiest and most mutated happy mutants, Rudy Rucker, the prolific mathematician, computer scientist and psychedelic transreal science fiction writer. Rucker's addition to the series is a very worthy one, with two very weird, characteristically ruckerian stories. The first, "The Men in the Back Room at the Country Club," is a quintessentially transreal story, a kind of shaggy dog piece that outweirds itself with every successive sentence, playing what Rucker calls a "science fiction power-chord" in the guise of an alien invasion tale. The second story, "Rapture in Space," is a drugged out sex story about the slackers who use a robo-caller-driven Ponzi scheme to finance the world's first orbital pornography video, and it, too, is a perfect capsule of what makes Rucker Rucker.

In between these stories is an essay, Surfing the Gnarl, which posits a theory of literature that ties approaches to fiction in with the mathematics of complexity and randomness, and is an illuminating piece of literary critical thinking. As with the other volumes in the series, this one concludes with an interview between Terry Bisson and Rucker, in which Rucker is his charmingly oblique and uncompromising self on subjects from the history of cyberpunk to the nature of the universe.

I really like the Outspoken Authors series—these skinny little books seem to distill the essence of each of their subjects into perfect capsules.

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Reflections on Germany's Red Army Faction

by Stefan Christoff
February 16, 2012

"The most in-depth political history of the Red Army Faction ever made available in English"

As euro zone economic turbulence continues, German political manoeuvring at the EU now faces unprecedented scrutiny.

Over the past year German politicians, specifically Chancellor Angela Merkel, have emerged in the international media as prominent symbols of a highly contested EU economic austerity agenda.

Conservative policies that move to cut funds to public institutions are a focus of great debate across the EU, from the halls of power in Brussels and Berlin, to the mass street protests in Athens and Madrid.

Recent German government statistics report positive numbers on rising employment in 2012, while contesting critiques point to jobs gained only in part-time and low-wage sectors, not in long-term equitable employment.

Lost in current news on Germany is a deeply contested national history, rooted in lands divided by war and profoundly shaped by social struggles, a complex political history often sidelined in contemporary reporting.

Reading news reports on Germany over recent weeks in Montreal, often quick fix articles in the Globe and Mail, has been complemented by a heavy book The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History, Volume 1: Projectiles For the People. Nearly 700 pages in length, the book is a collaboration between PM Press in Oakland and Kersplebedeb Press in Montreal. The book points to key moments in the popular history of Germany over the past century, while piecing together an incredible picture of the Red Army Faction (RAF), the armed left-wing guerrilla group.

Described as "the most in-depth political history of the Red Army Faction ever made available in English," the book is an incredibly detailed effort to convey post-war Germany history from a progressive lens, placing translations of pamphlets and communiques by RAF in a proper context.

Critically the book outlines political realities of Germany in the 1950s, detailing the strongly conservative reality of Western Germany and the neo-imperial role that U.S. political interests played during the Cold War.

For example, the book details major popular opposition in Western Germany to U.S.-backed rearmament efforts in the early 1950s, sparking "the first large protest movement in the new Federal Republic." These protests sparked violence by German state security forces and resulted in the death of a young anti-rearmament protester who was killed by police.

Importantly, the book also notes a lack of national focus, awareness or accountability for government and corporate officials involved in the Nazi regime, many incorporated into the conservative, U.S.-backed, West German government. In a way, texts in The Red Army Faction point to a national amnesia at a popular level and convenient disregard for accountability at a government level with regard to Nazi war crimes.

The injustices of their nation's past inspired young German activists in the 1950s and 1960s who called for accountability and redress from those who helped construct and sustain Nazi Germany. These were key issues in the political context that led major left, non-governmental movements to flourish in western Germany, especially in Berlin, throughout the late 1960s.

Details on years of political pressure and state violence in West Germany against leftist popular protest and grassroots organizing, outlined in The Red Army Faction are also key to reconstructing the contested history that led to the emergence of RAF.

For example, the book also highlights a major protest in 1967 against a visit by the Shah of Iran to Germany, where protesters "wore paper masks in the likeness of the Shah . . . so the police couldn't recognize us . . . they only saw the faces of the one they were protecting." The demonstration was organized to protest the German-backed dictatorship in Iran that ended in dozens of arrests, major injuries and a young protester shot in the head by a plainclothes police officer with a contested history.

In the book this moment is outlined as key to the emergence of a more militant German left, a police killing that gathered between 100,000 and 200,000 participants at mass anti-police brutality protests.

The book paints a political narrative, that features original texts and translated documents, providing a clear context to the emergence of the RAF.

Police violence and state repression against an above ground and growing German left in the 1960s is illustrated in The Red Army Faction as key to understanding the wider context that led some left activists to go underground.

"For the first time ever in English, this volume presents all of the manifestos and communiqués issued by the RAF between 1970 and 1977, from Andreas Baader's prison break, through the 1972 May Offensive and the 1975 hostage-taking in Stockholm, to the desperate, and tragic, events of the "German Autumn" of 1977," describes the co-publisher PM Press.

"The RAF's three main manifestos—The Urban Guerilla Concept, Serve the People, and Black September —are included, as are important interviews with Spiegel and le Monde Diplomatique, and a number of communiqués and court statements explaining their actions."

More importantly, the book strays away from superficial, individual-driven narratives on the RAF, a refreshing read to follow-up from Hollywood-like portrayals like those in the 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex, which fails to provide the detailed context and authentic documentation outlined in this book.

In reading the details surrounding politics in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically on the vibrant and complex left movements in that era, it is striking to consider many of the social-democratic reforms introduced in Germany decades later. These were in many ways a response to the social and political critiques by activists toward conservative politics and economic injustice that shaped post-war Germany in the 1950s.

In ways the book fails to address, questions on the decision by RAF to take human lives for a larger political struggle are critical to consider. However, The Red Army Faction challenges common, unspoken conceptions on the existing monopoly on violence that state security and military forces maintain and deploy often without accountability.

Certainly the book is an important reference for anyone interested in European left history and is critical for anyone grappling to understand the context of contemporary German politics. - Stefan Christoff

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer, community activist and musician who contributes to Stefan is @Spirodon

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Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow in a Center for a Stateless Society

by Kevin Carson
Center for a Stateless Society
February 13, 2012

I’ll start by saying I found this a very engaging read.  I learned a lot of interesting new things about people whose thought I had already encountered, like Morris, Huxley and Orwell, and developed a strong appreciation for those—like Wilde—with whom I was less familiar.

I confess I found the pacifists—precisely those for whom Goodway has the strongest affinity—and the thinkers whose primary influence was in the world of letters, less interesting.  For example, I barely skimmed through the chapters on John Cowper Powys—a damning admission in a reviewer, I know.  But these are reflections more on me than on the inherent value of the subject matter, or of Goodway’s presentation of it.

All this being said, I’m somewhat puzzled by the scope of the book—in particular, as to why it begins in the late Victorian period with William Morris and his contemporaries.

Goodway argues that the “first indigenous anarchist groups” in Britain only dated from the 1880s. But he devotes a major share of the book to figures like Morris, Orwell, and E.P. Thompson, whom he himself categorized as libertarian socialists or libertarian communists: i.e., “meaning that they exhibited some or even many anarchist characteristics without signing up for the whole anarchist programme.”  So at the very least, I think it would have benefited from a long background chapter on the roots of left-libertarian thought in Great Britain, from Paine and Godwin to Thomas Hodgskin. Hodgskin, whose economic analysis closely prefigured in many ways that of the American individualist anarchists, was at least as anarchist-ish as (say) William Morris, who despite a brand of libertarian socialism indistinguishable in practice from Kropotkin’s never abandoned his strenuous denials of being an anarchist.

Goodway tips his hat to the idea that anarchism in Britain had native antecedents, but as a practical matter he treats it as some largely sui generis, encapsulated lump that came to a head like a cyst around 1880. In fact classical anarchism, classical socialism and classical liberalism all shared common—and frequently intertwining—post-Enlightenment roots. Despite his pro forma acknowledgement to the contrary, you’d get the impression that British anarchism sprang from the brow of Zeus.

One omission—G.D.H. Cole—can hardly be blamed on Goodway. PM Press vetoed his proposal to add a chapter on the primary theorist of Guild Socialism to the original 2006 edition.

Having stated these criticisms, I repeat I found the book a pleasure to read overall. Regardless of any quibbles over his choice of scope, my hat is off to Goodway for his masterful handling of an immense volume of primary source materials, and his ability to convert musty archives and University collections of faded letters into a lively narrative.

Now for a few specifics.  I enjoyed Goodway’s presentation of contemporary reactions to William Morris by the anarchist community—most of whom saw News from Nowhere, as I did, as one of the few future utopias one would actually want to live in (Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time comes close to rivaling it, aside from the decanting of babies and the linguistic reengineering; so does LeGuin’s Anarres, aside from the priggishness). Unlike, say, Bellamy’s Looking Backward—in which daily life strikes me as a lot like taking medicine—Morris’s green and pleasant land manages to seem more appealing than Coketown.  Kropotkin, especially, found it attractive—hardly surprising, from another thinker who took the Free Towns of the late Middle Ages as a model for libertarian socialism.

I confess my previous, and rather superficial, take on Oscar Wilde was heavily influenced by his stereotyped image of frivolity and facile wit. But the ideas expressed in his private letters, and in such seminal works as “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” evidence a powerful, focused and mature intellect.  The latter essay is not only only a manifesto of social and cultural freedom, but an incisive critique of the basic principle of authority.

Goodway doesn’t do much to reconcile the conflicted image of Orwell as a libertarian socialist who hated socialists (and most everybody else, one is sometimes tempted to think), but he fleshes it out with a wealth of interesting detail. I’d read little in the way of biographical material on Eric Blair, aside from his first person account in Homage to Catalonia of his experiences fighting in the (vaguely, kinda sorta Trotskyite) POUM militia in the Spanish Civil War.

His direct experience of the Madrid Stalinists consolidating power in 1937, and of a Civil War lost because they saw the anarchists as a worse enemy than Franco, I found especially moving. The Spanish Revolution was betrayed in the same way the Russian Revolution had been betrayed by the Stalinists, with Soviet trainers busily organizing Spain’s own NKVD and the Communist Party packing the prisons to overflowing with dissidents; the war was lost in no small part because the Madrid regime systematically deprived the CNT and other libertarian socialist militias of ammunition and victuals.  No small portion of Orwell’s personal disgust came out later in his respective portrayals of the ordinary animals and the Pigs of Animal Farm.

I was already vaguely aware of Huxley’s anarchistic sensibilities, from his quip in an afterword to Brave New World on a third alternative whose “economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque and co-operative.” Thanks to Goodway, I now know a lot more about that aspect of his thought.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on E.P. Thompson, with whom I was familiar mainly as the Marxist scholar who wrote the monumental The Making of the English Working Class and the essay “Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism.” I’d repeatedly seen Thompson dismissed by right-wingers as a crude Stalinist.  Not only was not that the case—he left the CPGB over Khrushchev’s invasion of Hungary, and likely would have left earlier if not for his devotion to the late brother under whose influence he joined the Party in the first place—but (as I should have guessed from his sympathetic treatment of working class institutions in Making of the English Working Class) he was a gifted and nuanced libertarian socialist thinker.

Goodway’s chapter on Thompson is especially valuable for its treatment of the influence of the Ranters and Muggletons and other antinomians of the English Revolution, by way of William Blake (another figure who would have been ideal for a background chapter, by the way), on Thompson’s thought. Here we’re getting into Christopher Hill country—also hospitable terrain for anyone who enjoyed Ken MacLeod’s Engines of Light series.

It’s fitting that the book concludes with a chapter on Colin Ward. The very title of the book evokes imagery of Ward.  Rather than a dry Cliff Notes paragraph on all the covers, I’ll just say Goodway’s is a tribute worthy of someone who was—along with James Scott and Elinor Ostrom—the most legitimate heir of Kropotkin. Like Kropotkin, Ward was a communist anarchist—and like Kropotkin, someone for whom that or any other label was wholly inadequate. As Kropotkin did with the High Medieval towns, Ward took the English building societies, sick benefit societies, libertarian schools, and what can only be called “favelas” in neighborhoods like Pittsea and Laindon, as models for a self-organized society based on mutual aid, voluntary cooperation, and conviviality—a society of ingenuity and experimentation, little platoons, and all sorts of free nooks and crannies beyond the imagining of central planners in ministry buildings or corporate headquarters.

Ward, like Kropotkin, was too big to be encompassed by any hypenated “anarcho-” label, and belongs to the common heritage not only of communist anarchists but of individualists, mutualists, municipalists and every other damned kind of -ist under the sun who desires a world fit for human beings to live in. For all of us who long for “a season of rest,” a day when “this earth divided we will make whole,” when “all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,” Kropotkin and Ward are patron saints. In his account of a man I already revered, Goodway has given me new reasons for reverence.

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The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow in San Francisco Book Review

by Wendy Iraheta
San Francisco Book Review
January 04, 2012

Featuring Terry Bisson’s candid interview with Doctorow about plotting a story and how the website Boing Boing is better than a writer’s notebook, his “Creativity vs. Copyright” talk on digital rights management at the World Science Fiction Convention in 2010, and the title novella, this collection offers readers an essential introduction to Doctorow’s work. Jimmy Yensid is a transhuman adolescent engineered to age at an unusually slow pace. Forced to leave his father and hometown of Detroit after a full scale attack by the monstrous creatures called wumpuses, Jimmy goes east and joins a community of wireheads.

In a scant one hundred pages, Doctorow infuses our imagination with engaging characters, a tightly woven narrative, and carefully woven themes of isolation, family, and genetic engineering into Jimmy’s journey through the American wasteland. Doctorow eloquently marks the differences between change and progress as one of Jimmy’s preoccupations. When comparing his immortality to his father’s Jimmy says, “With me, it was all about the germ plasm . . . a native of the transhuman condition. And no one knew what that meant, really. Including me.” Doctorow’s prose is precise and perceptive. His vision of the future, although gritty, is an entertaining and thought provoking reflection of our present.

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