Some Book Candy

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You can pick up a paper book copy here. Available for Kindle here.

More versions coming later…yes, really! I’ve delayed publication while in queue for reviews (see right side of photo above).

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Published in: on May 9, 2018 at 3:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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“A wonderfully surrealist, genre-bending #novel that uses themes from classical philosophy, literature & mythology to engage with #postmodern problems” – A #Review of LAMP EYES, LOOK OUT!

Here’s a preview of a review of my book. Blue Ink will soon publish it. There are some mild spoilers here, but since the book engages with Fate, I think it’s fine.

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You can pick up a paper book copy here. Available for Kindle here.

More versions coming later.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

“The perfect story for our times. Democracy is a fragile ideal, at best, & human nature oftentimes wars against it, much to its own peril.” 1st #book #review of a #novel that “helps us think deeply about our time” LAMP EYES, LOOK OUT!

Quote…

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Here you can pick up a paper book version of LAMP EYES, LOOK OUT!

It’s available on Kindle here.

Further paper and ebook versions will arrive soon.

Published in: on February 2, 2018 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Oblique Angles in Nathaniel #Hawthorne’s BLITHEDALE ROMANCE and Holbein’s “The Ambassadors”

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Why does Nathaniel Hawthorne’s BLITHEDALE ROMANCE, (1852), ostensibly about a socialist utopian community, visit and revisit the social phenomena of spiritualist “veiled ladies”? Compare this fume of gossamer, psychology and humbug to the quantity and price chart of hardware and seeds in Thoreau’s “Economy”, the longest chapter in Walden (1854), his solitary attempt at intentional living.

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Hawthorne’s preface to THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (1851) claims a definition of Romance as a veiled form of literature. It’s an artistic legend where the author asserts a “latitude” away from realism, but is wise to “mingle the marvelous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor.” Mid-novel, BLITHEDALE’s character Zenobia tells the tale of the Veiled Lady using similar words:  “the silvery veil covering her from head to foot; so impalpable, so ethereal, so without substance, as the texture seemed, yet hiding her every outline in an impenetrability…”

There’s textual evidence in BLITHEDALE to support Hawthorne’s awareness of spiritualism as pseudoscience, and that a woman’s veil has resonances with women’s rights. However, Hawthorne is more interested in the veil than any map toward progress. There is little if any reference to the plan of the Blithedale community, other than acknowledgment that it requires agrarian and domestic work. Indeed, the labor required is the easiest secured part of the dream. Miles Coverdale, the first person narrator, thrives under the regime of manual labor, as do the other men. In terms of work, the community is readily ideal. The communities’ problems lie elsewhere, within the faces behind the veil…

Hans Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” (1533) is a double portrait with still-life objects of worldly accomplishments. And yet… it includes a troubling, strange shape. which may be hard for an uninitiated viewer to understand.

 

Hawthorne’s “Custom House” introduction to THE SCARLET LETTER (1850) describes:

Thus, therefore, the floor of our familiar room has become a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other. Ghosts might enter here, without affrighting us.

As Hawthorne’s self-defined genre of Romance thrums the liminal barriers between actual and imaginary, Holbein’s strange shape in “The Ambassadors” suggests another realm of understanding to the realistic portrait. The shape is a distorted projection perspective of a skull. The skull undermines everything that the painting seems to celebrate. I don’t know if everyone agrees that this disturbing element lifts it in interest and meaning, but it unquestionably adds a moral and spiritual dimension.

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The Brook Farm experiment which inspired BLITHDALE lasted from 1844-1847. If the Blithedale phalanx is where the Actual and Imaginary met, the novel does not reveals an authorial definition of progress. What Hawthorne does instead is lift the secret of the Veiled Lady. This has its effect on the course of the novel, but what about progress? At the end of the novel, the narrator Coverdale muses years later…

 

As regards human progress (in spite of my irrepressible yearnings over the Blithedale reminiscences), let them believe in it who can, and aid in it who choose. If I could earnestly do either, it might be all the better for my comfort. As Hollingsworth once told me, I lack a purpose. How strange! He was ruined, morally, by an overplus of the very same ingredient, the want of which, I occasionally suspect, has rendered my own life all an emptiness.

 

There is a shape hidden at the foot of the Blithedale urge toward progress, a distorted projection of emptiness that lurks, skull-like. What is it that veiled lady mediums do? They speak with the dead…

 

I by no means wish to die. Yet, were there any cause, in this whole chaos of human struggle, worth a sane man’s dying for, and which my death would benefit, then—provided, however, the effort did not involve an unreasonable amount of trouble—methinks I might be bold to offer up my life. If Kossuth, for example, would pitch the battlefield of Hungarian rights within an easy ride of my abode, and choose a mild, sunny morning, after breakfast, for the conflict, Miles Coverdale would gladly be his man, for one brave rush upon the levelled bayonets. Further than that, I should be loath to pledge myself.

 

Does a veil guarantee a substance beneath it? Probably Hawthorne intends more than one meaning when Coverdale admits, “Further than that, I should be loath to pledge myself.” It is not only a wise statement, but also self-condemnation, for he had just admitted the emptiness of his life. It is only in the last sentence of the novel that Coverdale unveils a secret about himself–an effort he did not make perhaps because of “unreasonable amount of trouble”–that suggests another perspective on his departure from Blithedale and the dire events that followed. The narration itself is a distorted projection.

You can read BLITHEDALE ROMANCE here for free.

You can listen to BLITHEDALE ROMANCE here for free.

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Published in: on January 4, 2018 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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More Wickedness Than Men Can Make Right. #Sciencefiction by Alice Bradley Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.)

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Chaucer’s Wife of Bath anticipates that women’s literature would express an inconsolable anger of women toward men.

693       By God, if wommen hadde writen stories,
                By God, if women had written stories,
694       As clerkes han withinne hire oratories,
                As clerks have within their studies,
695       They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse
                They would have written of men more wickedness
696       Than al the mark of Adam may redresse.
                Than all the male sex could set right.

James Tiptree Jr. is the most common pen-name for Mary Bradley Sheldon (1915-1987). She is a recognized master of popular science fiction storytelling. I haven’t yet read all of her work. At least a handful of her stories explore gender conflict in dire ways. The best treatments are, in my opinion, the astonishing ones that share a low opinion of men. The others are worthy entertainments that share a low opinion of men. Can you find the common theme? It’s not pleasant for me to share group punishment, but I like these stories. This essay will examine two of her novellas. One describes an Earth without Men. The other describes an Earth without Women. Both are at least sometimes uncomfortable reads, but worth it.

Problem! It’s difficult to discuss The Screwfly Solution and Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and offer full analytic treatment without spoilers. I will restrain myself here with more limitation against spoilers of the better story.

The strongest of the two stories is The Screwfly Solution. It first appeared in Analog magazine, which reached my mailbox as a teenager. It doesn’t just touch the mostly highly sensitive and upsetting problem of gender conflict, male violence against women. Rather, it embraces that violence for larger effect on the reader. The story arms the very idea of “male violence against women” with explosive metaphorical power. For that reason, it is reasonable to join it to the horror genre, as well as science fiction. Its protagonists ask what is causing the disease that weakens the barrier between male desire and male violence? I don’t want to spoil it because the answer is a shocker. The path of the narration toward that conclusion shocks all the way to a world without women. A horror story, horrible also in a common sense, and a powerful story.

If you can grant yourself 55-minutes to listen, this radio play leads to a world without men. The novella “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” not at Tiptree/Sheldon’s highest level of work. However, it is fun and free to hear as a radio play (link below). Its postulate is a little like Planet of the Apes: Wayward male astronauts return to a changed Earth of women and trans women-to-men. Planet of #TheFutureIsFemale! Some of the sexist things two of the male characters say about the women seem dated, but some do not.

This is important: I’m unable to conclude the authorial intent here… is there something self-consciously sinister in the way the women treat the men? Or does the narrative fabric consider the men to deserve it? There is a scene of sexualized violence, but the women have the power. Arguably, but without full clarity, the women rape one of the men for conspiratorial reasons, although he doesn’t know it. It’s sinister.

Returning to my fundamental unease with the narrative opinion, near the end the women assess the role of men, evolution and civilization in a way that doesn’t bode well for men. Assuming procreation is not a problem, does the human species need men to continue be human? The women of Tiptree/Sheldon’s planet without men have no doubt: Maybe humanity needed men tens of thousands of years ago, but not anymore. And men aren’t worth with risk to preserve. Does the narrative mind consider this sentiment evil, or is it progress, as the women of the future assert? That’s what intrigues me most…

 

Here (below) is the trailer for the merely adequate televised version of Tiptree/Sheldon’s  novella, The Screwfly Solution. It’s an episode of a TV series called Masters of Horror. Again, Sheldon does not shy away from upsetting ideas. I suppose the written version might be less disturbing than to see them on screen. While I don’t want censorship, I myself sometimes walk out of the room during any kind of murder scene on TV, then rush back. This is no exception, but nonetheless, the story’s weaponizing metaphors of gender conflict are so precise and so chilling.

In The Screwfly Solution, the future is male. In contrast to Houston, Houston, Do You Read? a male-only future unambiguously leads to human extinction.

Both Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Screwfly Solution reserve an aggressively misogynist roles for male preachers which sometimes sound like a selectively worst sample of the religious right.

In sum, women’s fear and resentment of men, sometimes rising to hatred, can be more than just a social movement or social media post. It can be the force behind bad, fine, good, even great art, just as any disturbing aesthetic or set of ideas can. In addition to their value as stories, these two Tiptree/Sheldon novellas provide anthropological data points of women’s rising expectations. Revolutions happen when social conditions start to improve. Whether or not revolutions succeed in building a better world is another question. Is gender conflict a zero-sum game? Tiptree/Sheldon’s stories suggest that it is. This could be the author’s opinion, or it could be a way to tighten the conflict. Unlike social movements, it’s not the duty of storytelling to provide solutions. Tellingly, neither of these two Tiptree/Sheldon novellas foresees a solution to gender conflict other than emphatic androcide. If men by their nature can’t make it right, as the Wife of Bath claimed, is it truly even the fault of men?

The wikipedia links below include a couple more descriptions of Tiptree/Sheldon’s science fiction treatment of gender conflict:

The Women Men Don’t See

The Girl Who Was Plugged In

Published in: on December 12, 2017 at 11:53 am  Comments (1)