I am not, particularly, a sci-fi kind of reader. A couple of years ago I set myself a task: to read through the SF Masterworks series of books. How’s that going, you ask?
Well, this is the third book I’ve tackled.
I was expecting – largely based on decades-old memories of the flying-underpants film version – the book to be crap, so I didn’t have my expectations set to stun. Happily, the novel surpassed that, even if nobody tells you at the outset that you’re going to be reading a political, economic and ecological thriller about the universe’s most hotly-contested product: magic wormshit.
Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher. My rating: four stars
Well, this year’s been enough of a bummer so let’s do this thing.
I have wanted to read some of Mark Fisher’s longer writing – having been acquainted with his blog for ages – for some time, and I figured, given that 2020/21 had pretty much clocked the woe-meter, it was time. So I settled down for an afternoon of anticapitalist invective.
Novel with Cocaine by M. Ageyev. My rating: four stars
This is a strange one. It’s a novel set in revolutionary Russia that only mentions the fact twice, and then at an angle. Its title refers to David Bowie’s chief ’70s bodily compound, but it’s only really introduced (or considered) in the last quarter of the work.
Oh yeah, and it’s written by a seemingly anonymous guy, who only wrote this thing, submitted it to a French magazine for Russian émigrés, and then disappeared into the woofle-dust of history.
Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito. My rating: three stars
Junji Ito is known for being a bit, well, odd. I’ve reviewed some of his other works, and I’ve enjoyed them for the most part. This collection, however, didn’t seem to strike the same fantastic chord in me, and I’m still trying to decide whether it’s due to some duff stories, or because I’m a bit more tuned into his method of writing.
War is a Racket by Smedley D. Butler. My rating: four stars.
Occasionally it’s nice to read something written by a bona-fide badass.
War is a Racket, a book written by a guy who won the Medal of Honor twice, certainly fits the bill. It’s also breathtakingly candid about the waste of war, something remarkable given its author’s exploits in the name of his country.
A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel (Final Edition) by Tom Phillips. My rating: five stars.
Writing in books is not a big thing. I’ve got copies of texts from my schooldays where I’ve underlined portentous encounters, highlighted exam-worthy tidbits and scrawled “what the shit?” more than once.
It’s not something I do any more, largely because I’m not 15 any more. Tom Phillips didn’t get the memo about stopping, though, and the result is a singular piece of art which takes the reader on a journey through art and opera, though still features the odd cock-and-balls graffito.
You know, there’s a lot to be said for pulps. Often, you’ll find wisdom or truth amongst the piles of bodies. Sometimes there’s moments of grace. Usually, there’s sex and violence. As far as brain-off reads go, pulps are a good way to defrag the mind after one too many volumes of Proust.
(If you’ve never tried it, you need to. Disregarding this type of lit is a loss, because everyone needs some dumb fun once in a while.)
They’re always up to no good. I mean, trying to save lives and learn about the body and bring people back to life. Where do they get off?
Well, at the last one, if Susan Hill’s story here is to be believed. Because it would seem that fucking with the line between life and death is not an endeavour that Ends Well. Especially if you’re a medical student with some overly inquisitive – and rather full of themselves – roomies.
It’s taken me a while to write this review because it’s taken a while to read its subject. The Recognitions is an undeniably skilful creation, a wellspring of erudition and multiple narratives, a thumbnail sketch of religion, of bums, of certain locales around the world at a certain juncture in time, as well as a meditation on falsity, on misdirection and true paths. But it’s also, for all its brilliance, often a sluggish read, and one that provides brilliantly polished vignettes at the cost – for me, at least – of overall coherence.