Monday, 26 February 2007

I Eat Fog

Steve Aylett: Lint

One popular way of starting a review is to say something along the lines of "I approached this book/film/album/fruit with caution, scared that it would dissapoint/appal/enlarge my thumb etc". This review will start in the opposing manner: I was really looking forward to reading this. From the first moment of reading the back blurb (excitingly peppered with glowing quotes from Heroic God heads Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock) and finding out that it was Aylett's biography of "Cult-figure and pariah", sci-fi author Jeff Lint. The genius behind such classics as 'Jelly Result', 'The Stupid Conversation' and the strangest comic book ever created, 'The Caterer'.

The fact that Jeff Lint never existed and was, of course, the whimsical creation of Aylett himself just made the whole package even more irresistable. I'm a sucker for invented histories and hoaxes and this one, with it's overtones of psychedelic sci-fi, cult fiction and subcultural strangeitude, sounded so up my street that it could've been knocking on my door asking to borrow a teabag.

I've got a lot of time for Steve Aylett, not that I would call myself a particularly big fan of his books (although I enjoyed his millenial, Invisibles-style romp 'Shamanspace' a great deal), but rather because he has that un-fakeable air of one-of-us-ness about him. Someone who's record collection probably looks a bit like mine, likes the same books and whom I'd enjoy sharing a pint with.

My problem with Aylett is his writing style. For those that haven't read him it can be summed up very swiftly thus: Steve Aylett likes jokes. Really likes them. And it helps if you like them too as every book of his features great scads of the bloody things dripping off the page like jam off a baby's bib.

This is not a problem in itself of course, who doesn't like a joke? Misers and popes, that's who. None of who's company you'd want to be in during a lock-in. The problem with Aylett is that his delivery, which rivals that of a tennis server in terms of speed and accuracy, gets in the way of other aspects a good novel needs, namely characters, plot and empathy on the part of the reader.

This is especially true here. For the conceit to work you need to at least partly believe in the existence of his protagonist, Jeff Lint: loner author of 'Doomed and Confident', 'I Blame Ferns' and (my personal favourite) 'I Eat Fog'. However dear Jeff is never really spotted at all. He has no character to speak of and simply announces his presence through a series of escalatingly strange events, such as becoming obsessed with placing ramps everywhere, inventing the world's strangest cartoon: 'Catty and the Major' and writing a script for a Firbankian comedy of manners, 'Frightful Murder at Hampton Place', that later got sold to MGM, relocated to New York and filmed as 'Shaft'.

It is obvious that Aylett is a phenomenal ideas man, and the descriptions of Lint's published works are very tantalising indeed, making one wonder if Aylett has simply used Lint as a dumping ground for some of his more unworkable book ideas. Lint's proposed Star Trek script, in particular singles itself out as a minor masterpiece, and all the novels have that 'just believable' feel that a good spoof needs. Also here in abundance is Aylett's obvious love and respect for the genre he is sending up, essential for any good literary piss-take.

Of course the problem with reviewing a book like this is that any criticisms simply evaporate under the weight of the jokes, which are nearly all hilarious. The scene ends up something like this:

"Oh, I'm not sure he should be using so many...HA!...jokes. Maybe he should...HAHAHAHAHA!!!...try restraining himself a...SNORT!...bit. I'm not sure all the characters are that...HOHAHAHAHAHO!!!...believable"

Y'see? Silly, isn't it? I was up half the night reading exerts from this to my girlfriend, who was trying to get to sleep at the time and still found them funny. This is practically unheard of, so Aylett is definitely on to something here.

In the end sheer weight of ideas wins through (as, I suppose, it always should. Well, certainly if you're a science fiction fan anyway). There is simply no way I can think of that you will not enjoy this book. It's fast paced, hilarious and dosed to the eyeballs with comic invention. I just can't help but feel a little dissapointed that in the end, after 182 pages, I still didn't feel I knew anything about its strange protagonist. The biggest emptiness at the heart of Lint, it seems, is that of the titular character himself.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The margins, and they who walk there...

"So, Savage, why did you stop doing your blog?"

Tricky one. When I first started doing a blog (over a year ago now) I got carried away with the pressure to diarise it: to fill it with the minutae of what was, at the time, a fairly uninteresting life. Like a lot of people, I started it without any real idea of what I wanted to say, and without a corner to fight from. This time it's going to be a bit different.

This blog has a purpose.

First I'm going to tell you what this blog is not.

It is not a music blog.

Don't get me wrong, I am a music FANATIC. I write about it, listen to it, play it, eat, sleep...yadda, yadda, so forth and so on, however there are many other people doing fantastic work in that area (and may I take time out at this point to recommend 20 Jazz Funk Greats, which I occasionally write for, as the best of the bunch) and I'm not sure I would have much to add. Also, I find reviewing albums really boring and would rather avoid it.

Having said all that, I will talk about music here when it's relevant. Because I can, and there isn't much point in making your own rules if you can't crap on them occasionally.

What this blog is, or what I intend it to be, is a little flagship principlity representing what I think are the ignored, ignobled and misunderstood outposts of (un)popular culture. The forgotten and the lost: from banned books to obscure art movements; solitary visionaries to mass panics; mind control to minds on fire.

In practice I will talk about books, poetry, films, computer games, art and all the little cracks that these disparate practices snuggle and bleed into, with no thought for 'high' or 'low', 'worthy' or 'unworthy'. I'm sure you know that there is a rich heritage of forgotten and ignored culture out there, a lot of which is becoming accesible to anyone with a credit card and a willingness to look into the margins: this is the kind of stuff (RAW MATTER) that I'll be poking about in.

Now, before we begin proper, a little disclaimer. A lot of the material I will be bringing to the table will be of a, shall we say, contentious bent. It will deal in the extreme and the misanthropic, the pornographic and the plain offensive, it will NOT be 'shock-for-shock's-sake' ambulance chasing. I will not deal with serial killers (fucking grow up), Nazi atrocitys, pointless Thelemic feuds, conspiracy theories or many of the other staples of 'Apocalypse Culture' (God, that phrase is Sooo 1990s).

A little history: when I was a young man, my interest in Burroughs, and so on recently stirred by exposure to Sonic Youth, I came across a book in my local Virgin Megastore. The book was called Rapid Eye and was edited by a redoubtable guy called Simon Dwyer. It is one of the few works of art that I can honestly say changed my life. In it were articles on Burroughs and Derek Jarman, the tantra and piercings, Genesis P. Orridge, hallucinogens, situationism, Crowley et al. However, it was not just the subjects that stirred my imagination, but the deeply humanistic way in which the subjects were treated, with none of the ghoulish fascination so inherent in the approach of many 'transgressive' publications. The approach was that of an open-minded skepticism: an acceptance that, yes, there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy, but that doesn't mean I have to believe in Aztaroth and his unholy host, or lose the powers of sympathy and understanding.

Extremes in culture are necessary. They remind us of our limits: what it takes to scare and confuse us; that we are not really as safe as we think we are; that we are only one headache away from having our minds utterly swamped by the sight of a dog-turd balancing on a bike wheel (they are also a sure sign of an at least semi-functioning democracy, more on that later).

However, these extremes have to be approached responsibly: with bullshit detector high and a willingness to sift through a ton of shit before you get to the gold (that's my job, I suppose). There are a lot of people on the peripheries (I'm not naming any names. Yet.) who seem to think that simply prancing plum-nelly in Nazi uniforms constitutes a radical assault on the status quo, this is, quite obviously, bollocks. What we're looking for is a consistent, intellectualised approach to extremity: thought out and unsensationalist. Born with a purpose. Scopes to port, people.

It with this humanistic approach in mind that I start this diary of the peripheries.

Look forward to:

Surrealist pornography!

Existential computer gaming!

Self-destructive comic books!

Ossified thunderbolts!

Hallucinogenic science-fiction!

And more pointless buzz phrases than you can waggle a church spire at!

More soon.