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Fear and Loathing in elementary school: Ralph Steadman’s ‘Little Red Computer’
06.11.2014
07:31 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Ralph Steadman
Children's books


 
Illustrator and cartoonist Ralph Steadman is synonymous with Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo antics and books, yet he has a huge body of work that has nothing at all to do with HST.  Most of the books he illustrated (and, in some cases, wrote) in the ‘60s and pre-HST ‘70s are long out of print and, thanks to his collectibility as one of the greatest contemporary British artists, fairly expensive.
 
redcomputergraduation
 
One of his first published books, after years of doing cartoons and drawings for publications like Punch and Private Eye, was a children’s book, The Little Red Computer, published in 1969 by Dobson in the U.K. (and McGraw-Hill in the U.S.), which may just be the first children’s book in literary history to feature a computer as a character. Steadman’s choice of a computer as a character was visionary, since personal computers would not be an easily recognizable common possession for over a decade. Not surprisingly, his sympathy lies with the bullied underdog, in this case a computer that doesn’t understand numbers and consequently flunks out of computer school. He is discarded in an empty field to rust, but soon the field is chosen to be the site of a rocket launch.

Kirkus Review’s brief blurb about the plot is:
 

He can’t add 2 and 2, but, spluttering directions to “where stars are born” and “where Knowledge can be found,” the little red computer leads the first expedition into outer space. Propelled by the little red engine.

 
A first edition in decent condition goes for up to $600.  It was reprinted as a limited edition by Steam Press in 2004, along with the follow-up to the story, Flowers for the Moon, originally only published in German in 1974.
 
steadmanmoon
 
With the mandated anti-bullying programs in American public schools, why not reprint Ralph’s book and make it required reading? Educational art from a master and a worthy message in one colorful, charming book.

More Little Red Computer illustrations can be found here.

The art of Ralph Steadman: a savage satirist:
 

 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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John Fante: The renegade writer Bukowski called ‘God’
06.04.2014
01:20 pm

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Charles Bukowski
John Fante


 
Charles Bukowski described the writer and novelist John Fante as his God—the one man who deeply influenced his own literary career.

Bukowski first discovered Fante’s work while looking for something to read at the Los Angeles Public Library.
 

“I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer… It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture… one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was…

“The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me. I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante.”

 

 
Fante was born into a poor, working-class Italian immigrant family in Denver, Colorado, in 1909. The relentless poverty of his childhood, and the family background of a hard-drinking father and devout Catholic mother, were to influence his writing, in particular his autobiographical alter ego, Arturo Bandini. The young Fante was bookish and smart, and enrolled at the University of Colorado, but he dropped out to concentrate on writing. His first success came with the publication of a short story “Altar Boy” in H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury in 1932. From there on, Fante gave his life over to writing short stories, novels and screenplays. He worked for the Hollywood studios, collaborated with Orson Welles, and produced his classic novels Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938) and the book Bukowski described as the best novel ever written, Ask the Dust (1939). When not writing, Fante spent his time drinking and gambling, taking a similar route to the one Bukowski would follow years later.

A Sad Flower in the Sand (2001) was the first major documentary made on John Fante “the renegade author whose highly autobiographical novels illustrate his deep-rooted love of Los Angeles and his struggles working through poverty and prejudice.” Hailed as “an absorbing, film noir portrait,” this film explores Fante’s life, his influences, and his struggle to have his brilliant literary talents recognized. The documentary includes interviews with writer and director Robert Towne, publisher John Martin, biographer Stephen Cooper, and Fante’s wife Joyce and sons, Jim and Dan.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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On fandom, collecting and Saint Etienne: A Q&A with Bob Stanley
05.29.2014
12:55 pm

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
Bob Stanley
Saint Etienne


 
First Third Books, the London-based book publisher who put out that excellent coffee table monograph about the life of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Sheila Rock’s Punk+ book are back with a new volume tracing the nearly 25 year history of Saint Etienne. The book contains over 150 images of the band annotated by Sarah Cracknell, Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley.

The Saint Etienne book comes individually numbered in a run of 2,000 copies. There’s a special edition of 300 copies with a different coloured linen binding signed by the trio that includes a 7” single of two unreleased songs, but that has already sold out.

Over email, I asked Bob Stanley a few questions about the new book, collecting collectibles and fandom. This is probably as good a place as any to mention that I’m a huge Saint Etienne fan myself and that there is a pressed flower Sarah Cracknell knelt down and handed to me after the group’s concert at Limelight in New York in one of the books on the shelves behind me as a type this…

Saint Etienne will be premiering their soundtrack to Paul Kelly’s film The Way We Live live at the close of this year’s Sheffield Doc Fest on June 12th. (I’m going to be at the Fest, sadly we’re leaving that very morning…)

Dangerous Minds: Obviously this is a volume for the Saint Etienne superfan. How did you approach the curation of the group’s history with an eye towards turning it into a product that a superfan like yourself would want to own?

Bob Stanley: We had the nod over which pictures to include, but Fabrice and Lora at First Third did most of the work on the book. The Felt book they put out was off the scale, really beautiful, so we knew they’d do a good job. Our input was really to give them a couple of new songs for a limited edition 7”. I like the idea of rarities - I’m a collector, and tracking down first pressing of albums, obscure singles and first edition books is the rather pathetic hunter and collector instinct in me. I’d be happier saying that, stranded in a forest, I could build a wood cabin with my bare hands. Instead, I can only say I have a recording Walkman that belonged to Florian Schneider.

Music, as a commodity, isn’t consumed so much anymore in its corporeal form by that many young people. The “object”—be it an album or CD—has always been the foundational fetish item of pop music fandom. A rare record is like a hunter’s trophy as far as collectors are concerned. What replaces that in the future? Is it books like this one? I guess what I mean to ask is, don’t people need something to hold in their hands, or to display on their coffee table or bookshelf for true “fandom” to germinate? People our age worship records. They make them feel closer to the creators. A digital file provides no such satisfaction. What replaces that with younger fans?

Bob Stanley: There are two things at work here, I think. One is the celebration of music - having something to hold, the ritual of dropping the needle on the record, or the satisfying click of closing the door on a Walkman. I think this helps the music to envelop you; at least it makes you concentrate. On the other hand, there are still objects that a fan can buy to feel close to their heroes. When I was growing up, that meant buying records. You can buy a lifesize cardboard cutout of Katy Perry, but you can’t buy her records on vinyl. Quite possibly a Katy Perry superfan would rather have the lifesize cardboard cutout - I mean, that makes more sense than having a round piece of plastic with her name written on it. I happen to love the look and feel of records, they’re like art pieces to me. But I don’t think younger music fans are any less devoted if they don’t collect vinyl. It’s pop. It should be ephemeral. If you’re the kind of person who wants to devote his life to it and glory in its history, that’s fine too.

What sort of relationship do you have with your own fans? I have an image of you as someone who might find that your fans are people you’d hang out with—crazed record collectors who might even be able to turn you on to things you don’t know about. Am I right?

Bob Stanley: I’m sure they’re not all crazed record collectors, but there’s definitely a kinship. That makes sense to me - you’re sensibilities are bound to come out if you write or make music. I love social history, so I always find I want to dig deeper, whether it’s picking up a great Roy Orbison b-side, reading about the history of Basildon new town in Essex county archives, or discovering that Hendon FC once played in front of 100,000 people at Wembley. Some of our fans are similarly intrigued by London history, for instance - hauntology, psychogeography or whatever; our relationship with time and place. I know a few of our fans are non-league football fans as well, because I bump into them at matches. But I don’t know how many are interested in the 1946 Town Planning Act. That might just be me.

After the long hiatus Saint Etienne went through until Words and Music by Saint Etienne was released in 2012, the band came back sounding totally invigorated creatively and bringing brand new elements into the music. What have you been listening to lately that you just can’t get enough of and are you working on new Saint Etienne material at the moment?

Bob Stanley: Thank you. We’ve been working on some new ideas. I find I’m being drawn back to late nineties electronica - people I’d forgotten whose records I bought at the time, like Osaka and Isan. There’s an Iranian bloke at the moment who goes under the name of The Waterfront - he’s made a lovely Durutti Column-influenced atmospheric album. It’s quite random, discovering new things. I was in Bergen a couple of months and saw a girl called Vilde Tuv who I thought was phenomenal. Originality is hard to come by, but she’s great, just guitar and bass drum, very intense. Female vocal jazz from the fifties… I really love Jeri Southern at the moment, her album The Southern Style. And I listen out for things I might want to reissue on my Croydon Municipal label - all public domain recordings. Me and Jonny Trunk are in a race to find things and release them. It’s a friendly race, of course.

Below, the video for 2012’s “I’ve Got Your Music”—I find this song utterly breathtaking. Pure pop perfection, I could listen to this on repeat all day long.

 
Covering Michel Polnareff’s “La Poupee Qui Fait Non (No, No, No, No, No)” on Later… with Jools Holland. If you don’t like this… you don’t like pop music:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘I’m Your Man’: Biographer Sylvie Simmons on the life of Leonard Cohen
05.20.2014
08:47 am

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
Leonard Cohen
Sylvie Simmons

nehocdranoel
 
Our scene opens on the teenage Leonard Cohen attempting to hypnotize the family maid. Here’s Cohen, growing tall and lanky, losing the puppy fat, smiling, precocious, inquisitive, intense, with a zest for life.

Cohen has bought and studied 25 Lessons in Hypnotism How to Become an Expert Operator, a book that promises much—mind reading, animal magnetism and clairvoyant hypnosis—which the youngster hopes will deliver. As Sylvie Simmons explains in her biography on the singer I’m Your Man, the enthusiastic and earnest Cohen worked hard to master these powerful arts, and soon discovered he was a natural mesmerist.

Finding instant success with domestic animals, he moved on to the domestic staff, recruiting as his first human subject the family maid. At his direction, the young woman sat on the chesterfield sofa. Leonard drew a chair alongside and, as the book instructed, told her in a slow gentle voice to relax her muscles and look into his eyes. Picking up a pencil, he moved it slowly back and forth, and succeeded in putting her into a trance. Disregarding (or depending on one’s interpretation, following) the author’s directive that his teachings [on hypnotism] should be used only for educational purposes, Leonard instructed the maid to undress.

Simmons goes on to describe how Cohen must have felt at this “successful fusion of arcane wisdom and sexual longing.”

To sit beside a naked woman, in his own home, convinced that he made this happen, simply by talent, study, mastery of an art and imposition of his will. When he found it difficult to awaken her, Leonard started to panic.

Let’s freeze the frame on this “young man’s fantasy,” as there’s something not quite right, as neither Simmons or the young Cohen, appear to have considered the possibility that the maid was only feigning her trance, and had willingly taken off her clothes. This would turn everything on its head.

Cohen will later fictionalize the incident in his novel The Favorite Game, where the maid is also a ukulele player (the instrument Cohen first taught himself to play before the guitar), which his alter ego mistakes for a lute, and the maid for an angel. As Simmons puts it “naked angels possess portals to the divine.”

Simmons suggests this slim book on hypnotism had a greater affect on Leonard Cohen than just convincing the maid to take-off her clothes. The book was possibly a primer for Cohen:

Chapter 2 of the hypnotism manual might have been written as career advice to the singer and performer Leonard would become. It cautioned against any appearance of levity and instructed, ‘Your features should be set, firm and stern. Be quiet in all your actions. Let your voice grow lower, lower, till just above a whisper. Pause a moment or two. You will if you try to hurry.’

Scientific research has pointed out that some women are attracted to men with deep, low voices. While a touch of “breathiness” suggests a “lower level of aggression.” 

Cohen’s voice is instantly recognizable. He is aware of its power to mesmerize an audience: when he played at Napa State mental hospital in 1970, he jumped down from the stage and sang amongst the inmates, where anyone who could move “followed him around the room and back and forward and over the stage.” At the Isle of Wight concert, he was the only act not to have bottles thrown at him. Kris Kristofferson was booed off during his set, while a flare was thrown onto the stage during Jimi Hendrix’s performance, setting it on fire. Cohen was unfazed by such antics, he was mellowed out on Mandrax, and before he began:

...Leonard sang to the hundreds of thousands of people he could not see as if they were sitting together in a small, dark room. He told them—slowly, calmly—a story that sounded like a parable, worked like hypnotism, and at the same time tested the temperature of the crowd. He described how his father would take him to the circus as a child. Leonard didn’t like circuses much, but he enjoyed it when a man stood up and asked everyone to light a match so they could locate each other. “Can I ask each of you to light a match,” said Cohen, “so I can see where you all are?” There were a few at the beginning, but as the show went on he could see flames flickering through the misty rain.

As Simmons recounts the episode, Cohen “mesmerized” the audience, with just the power of his voice. Or, as Cohen described his talent himself in “Tower Of Song”:

I was born like this
I had no choice
I was born with the gift
of a golden voice.

 

 
More of Sylvie Simmons and Leonard Cohen, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Earliest known Aleister Crowley manuscript surfaces
05.19.2014
08:28 pm

Topics:
Books
Occult
Queer

Tags:
Aleister Crowley
poetry


 
In 1898, heartbroken Cambridge student Aleister Crowley’s love affair with Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt had ended and he looked to his poetry for comfort. A small notebook of these lovelorn poems will be exhibited at the Olympia antiquarian book fair in London later this week.

Rare book dealer Neil Pearson, who discovered the manuscript during a hunt for early gay literature says:

“The verse is rather broken-backed, and vulgar where he is trying to be honest. But it was written at a time when he was feeling heartbroken and vulnerable and it does somehow humanise him – and God knows Aleister Crowley, more than most people, needs humanising.”

Pollitt was a female impersonator who went by the stage name “Diane de Rougy,” the future Great Beast 666 was just 22 when they met in 1897. Pollitt was four years his senior, a friend of both Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, had been painted by James McNeill Whistler and was the president of the university’s Footlights Dramatic Club. “I lived with Pollitt as his wife for some six months and he made a poet out of me” is how Crowley described their relationship.

Crowley later wrote of his lover:

“Pollitt was rather plain than otherwise. His face was made tragic by the terrible hunger of the eyes and the bitter sadness of the mouth. He possessed one physical beauty - his hair ... its colour was pale gold, like spring sunshine, and its texture of the finest gossamer. The relation between us was that ideal intimacy which the Greeks considered the greatest glory of manhood and the most precious prize of life.”

 

 
According to bookdealer Pearson it is the earliest known Crowley manuscript, a collection of eight sonnets, composed in pencil in a small notebook. Only two of the homoerotic poems have ever been published. Crowley destroyed much of his earliest poetry, but chose to keep this volume, which includes titles like “He, who seduced me first” and “I, who am dying for thy kiss.”

“He destroyed the poetry because he was the priest, the master, the leader, and it didn’t suit his image to be seen as weak and vulnerable. But he kept this little book all his life, so the poems obviously meant a great deal to him.”

The so-called “Amsterdam Notebook of Aleister Crowley” is priced at £12,500 and can be viewed starting Thursday at the Olympia . Here’s one of the poems.

The Red Lips of the Octopus

The red lips of the octopus
Are more than myriad stars of night.
The great beast writhes in fiercer form than thirsty stallions amorous
I would they clung to me and stung. I would they quenched me with delight.
The red lips of the octopus.
They reek with poison of the sea
Scarlet and hot and languorous
My skin drinks in their slaver warm, my sweats his wrapt embrace excite
The heavy sea rolls languishly o’er the ensanguined kiss of us.
We strain and strive, we die for love. We linger in the lusty fight
We agonize; our club becomes more cruel and more murderous.
My passion splashes out at last. Ah! with what ecstasy I bite
The red lips of the octopus.

Crowley’s bisexuality and libertine ways led to his expulsion from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1899, clearing the way for Crowley to develop his own magical order.
 

 
Via The Guardian

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Happy Birthday Ralph Steadman: Hunter S. Thompson collaborator turns 78 today


 
The great British illustrator Ralph Steadman turns 78 today, May 15, 2014. From his beginnings as a brutally unforgiving satirist and caricaturist, through the work of his most enduring fame in the 1970s with Hunter S. Thompson and Rolling Stone magazine, to his present day work painting extinct birds and designing beer labels for Flying Dog Brewery, Steadman has produced some of the most distinctive and ferocious art ever to break through to mass culture.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Obviously there are thousands of brilliant Steadman images I could link, but as that’s not practical, I defer to the VAST portfolio and in-depth bio that can be found at cartoons.ac.uk, and, naturally, his own site. The comprehensive documentary, For No Good Reason, is finally going to be catchable in the US very soon. It was seen in the BFI London Film Festival in 2012 and the Toronto Independent Film Festival in 2013, and has had a few American screenings, most recently at SXSW. It’s already playing in NYC, and more screening dates can be found here.

The BBC doc below, 1978’s Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision, follows Steadman and Thompson on a trip through the USA. (It can also be found under the title “Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood” as a bonus feature on the Criterion edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if you’re just dying to own it.)
 

 
More fear and loathing after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Today is ‘The Day of the Triffids’
05.08.2014
08:22 am

Topics:
Books
Movies

Tags:
Triffids
John Wyndham
Science-Fiction

sdiffirt.jpg
 
Bill Masen knew there was something seriously wrong from the moment he awoke in his hospital bed that fateful spring morning. He listened and heard only an eerie, disturbing quiet, occasionally infused with an unsteady shuffling. Last night the skies had been afire with comets burning-up in beautiful, Day-Glo colors. Masen had missed this spectacle, his eyes bandaged, temporarily blinded after a near fatal accident with a Triffid plant. Today his bandages were supposed to come-off, but when he rang for a nurse, no one came; when he called for help, no one answered; the only response was a soft searching of movement somewhere outside in the corridor. He knew it was a Wednesday, but it felt, sounded, more like a Sunday. It may have been mid-week, but this day, May the 8th, became known as the day the world ended, for this was the day of the Triffids!

(Cue dramatic music. Shaggy and Scooby say ‘Zoiks!’)

So begins John Wyndham‘s classic science-fiction novel The Day of the Triffids, which is one of the best known and and most influential sci-fi books of the twentieth century. Published in 1951, Wyndham’s tale of a world made blind after a strange comet shower and the giant, mobile and highly venomous plants that slowly dominate the planet, has inspired small libraries of books, films, TV episodes and series, all based around stories of nature gone awry and the ensuing world devastation. The zombie genre in particular owes much to Wyndham’s book, where zombies are interchangeable for Triffids—take for example Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic zombie movie 28 Days Later, which is almost a direct lift of Wyndham’s story.

That’s not to say Wyndham’s book was wholly original, by his own admission the author had been inspired by H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which set the bar for apocalyptic fiction. Rather than killer extraterrestrials from Mars, Wyndham offered an enemy taken from a more worldly source, the Russian biologist and agronomist, Trofim Lysenko. In a bid to feed the Soviet population, Lysenko developed a form of “agrobiology,” which mixed genetic modification with graft hybridization to produce new species capable of producing unlimited food supplies. Under Stalin there was a lot of this dubious state sponsored science, including the notorious attempt to breed humans with apes to create a “humanzee” army. Wyndham picked-up on Lysenko’s theories and applied them to a fictional hybrid plant. Or, as Wyndham puts it in his book:

Russia, who shared with the rest of the world the problem of increasing food supplies, was known to have been intensively concerned with attempts to reclaim desert, steppe, and the northern tundra. In the days when information was still exchanged she had reported some successes. Later, however, under a cleavage of methods and views caused biology there, under a man called Lysenko, to take a different course. It, too, then succumbed to the endemic secrecy. The lines it had taken were unknown, and thought to be unsound—but it was anybody’s guess whether very successful, very silly, or very queer things were happening there—if not all three at once.

It turns out, the Russians have created Triffids, which are capable of producing vegetable oil of such quality, it makes the “best fish-oils look like grease-box fillers.” Whether these plants are the product of genetic engineering or have come from outer space is never clear. Whatever their origin, a man called Umberto Christoforo Palanguez, an entrepreneurial crook-cum-businessman, steals a box of Triffid seeds from their heavily guarded nursery in the outer reaches of Siberia. The plane in which he absconds is shot down by the Russians leaving behind “something which looked at first like a white vapor.”

It was not a vapor. It was a cloud of seeds, floating, so infinitely light they were, even in the rarefied air. Millions of gossamer-slung Triffid seeds, free now to drift wherever the winds of the world should take them…

Soon, these plant grow and multiply like Star Trek‘s “Tribbles” or the monsters in Stephen King’s The Mist to gradually inhabit and take over the Earth’s surface.
 
wyndhamjtriffids.jpg
 
But there’s a problem: Triffids are as dangerous as they are mobile, moving on three legs (like a man on crutches), and carry a deadly poison dispensed through a long “stinger” which is used to lash out at their victims. They are flesh-eaters and can also communicate with each other by tapping out a tattoo through small twigs on their lower trunk. They also respond to sound, moving towards any source of noise or vibration. At first the Triffids are secured by having their “stingers” docked, and are kept tethered to stakes in factory farms and parklands. This all would have been fine if the Triffids had not been set free the night the sky erupted in color with a comet storm that rendered all humans and animals who witnessed this beautiful event blind.

Bill Masen escaped the fate of billions of others by sheer accident. Temporarily blinded after an incident with a Triffid, Masen missed the night show and was spared complete blindness. Along with hundreds of others, he has to begin a new and brutal stage in human history.

Masen is a bit of a plank, rather pompous, po-faced and often unable to see things that are apparently obvious to everyone else. He is incredulous when a colleague, Walter Lucknor suggests that Triffids have “intelligence,” are able to communicate with each other, and may prove to be a deadly threat to humanity, as Lucknor explains:

‘Of the fact that [Triffids] know what is the surest way to put a man out of action—in other words, they know what they’re doing. Look at it this way. Granted that they do have intelligence; then that would leave us with only one important superiority—sight. We can see, and they can’t. Take away our vision, and the superiority is gone. Worse than that—our position becomes inferior to theirs because they are adapted to a sightless existence, and we are not.’

Of course. Masen’s naivety is a narrative device to filter information to the reader, but there are several instances within the book when this naivety is quite unbelievable. For example, when the child Susan points out that the Triffids respond to sound to locate prey.

Wyndham was probably influenced by the devastation caused during the Second World War, and the recurrent theme of food and its provision relates to impoverishment of food supplies, and the level of food rationing that continued in Britain after the war (this is something also reflected in George Orwell’s 1984, a book Anthony Burgess argued was actually a re-imaging of Britain in 1948). Wyndham’s descriptions of a post-apocalyptic London and rural England reflect how easily human existence can descend to chaos.

My father once told me that before Hitler’s war he used to go around London with his eyes more widely open than ever before, seeing the beauties of buildings that he had never noticed before—saying goodbye to them. And now I had a similar feeling. But this was something far worse. Much more than anyone could have hoped for had survived that war—but this was an enemy they would not survive. It was not wanton smashing and willful burning that they had waited for this time: it was simply the long, slow, inevitable course of decay and collapse.

Standing there, and at that time, my heart still resisted what my head was telling me. Even yet I had the feeling that it was all something too big, too unnatural really to happen. Yet I knew that it was by no means the first time that it had happened. The corpses of other great cities are lying buried in deserts, and obliterated by the jungles of Asia. Some of them fell so long ago that even their names have gone with them. But to those who lived there their dissolution can have seemed no more probable or possible than the necrosis of a great modern city seemed to me…

The Day of the Triffids was one of those set texts for UK schools during the sixties, seventies and early eighties, and that’s when I first read it. Though thrilling and thought-provoking, I found Masen lacked dynamism and appeared to have no natural inquisitiveness to his surroundings, or his engagement with others. He talks about how humans will have to evolve and think differently after the night of comet, but Masen himself hardly changes in his character (well, apart from falling in love) from first page to last. That said, I’d still recommend it.

The Day of the Triffids has been made into several below par TV series, and one enjoyable film, which depicted the Triffids as extraterrestrials, having drifted through space, land on Earth to colonize the planet. The film also suggests the comet show was part of the Triffids’ invasion plan, rather than a possible satellite accident as mentioned in the book. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the whole thing below. Or, better still give someone the book to read but not the badly edited Kindle version!

Happy Day of the Triffids!
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Kurt Vonnegut interviewed by Jon Stewart in one of his last major TV appearances
05.06.2014
03:15 pm

Topics:
Books
Literature
Television

Tags:
Kurt Vonnegut
Jon Stewart


 
Over the weekend, I re-read Loree Rackstraw’s tender memoir Love as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him. I’ve mentioned the book on this blog a few times, it’s an absolutely charming read and certainly a book that will be seen, in time, to be one of the most important works that has been, or will ever be written about the great novelist. The reason for this is simple: None of the rest of Vonnegut’s biographers have slept with him and none of them knew the man for 40 years

For now though, the book is unfairly unknown except by the most hardcore Vonnegut fans (you can buy it for a penny on Amazon). Rackstraw met Vonnegut in 1965. She was a divorced single mother and second year student and he was a married writer teaching at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop MFA program. Slaughterhouse-Five was still a few years away from publication, although his star had been rising for some time. They had an affair that turned into a lifelong friendship and Rackstraw’s book contains significant excerpts from Vonnegut’s deeply tender (and funny) letters covering the four decades of their relationship. “I realized I possessed quite a remarkable chronological story of his life,” Rackstraw said. “We were very close. It was a friendship unlike any I’ve had with anyone.”

Seriously, if you’re at all interested in what Kurt Vonnegut was like as a person, Love as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him is a book you’ll want to pick up. I’m happy to plug it on DM again.

But as I got to the book’s final pages, I noticed something interesting and that was a mention of one of Vonnegut’s last major television appearances, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2005. Vonnegut was then 82 and promoting his then recent book, A Man Without a Country. Although the effects of advancing age are apparent on his body as he walks slowly to his chair, his mind was still quite sharp as he sits down to offer his wisdom on the topic of evolution. The great writer then proceeds to give George Bush a rather spectacular back-handed compliment…

Wunderbar stuff, but with these two meeting face to face, what else could it have been? After Vonnegut absolutely excoriates Donald Rumsfeld, Stewart quips “I’m very sorry to see you’ve lost your edge.”
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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What, no ‘atomic tangerine’? The Pantone Color Guide of the year 1692
05.06.2014
08:02 am

Topics:
Art
Books
History

Tags:
painting
colors
A. Boogert

Boogert
 
A doff of the feathered hat to medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel working at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Last week he posted images on his blog pertaining to a most unusual book he had recently stumbled upon. It dates from 1692 and is credited to one “A. Boogert,” and it has to count among one of the most exhaustive explorations of color ever produced by the human mind. The book’s title is Klaer lightende Spiegel der Verfkonst…Tot Delft, gedaen en beschreeven dour A. Boogert or Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau [Treatise of colors used in watercolor painting].

In the book, which has more than 700 pages, Boogert executed a staggeringly impressive series of color samples; there must be several thousand different colors elucidated here. In the bulk of the book, Boogert used the left-hand side of each spread to explain the ratios of pigment and “one, two or three portions of water” to achieve the colors depicted on the right-hand page, usually five colors that are closely related (see picture at bottom for a typical example). The entire book was written entirely by hand, and only one copy of the book is known to be in existence. It’s likely that Klaer lightende Spiegel der Verfkonst, even if relatively few painters ever saw it, represented the most comprehensive account of colors ever achieved up to that juncture.

The natural reference point here, for contemporary graphic designers, is the Pantone Color Guide, which first saw print in 1963. I find myself wondering to what hell Glidden would have consigned this author, had they only had the chance.

You can see the entire book here.
 
Boogert
 
Boogert
 
Boogert
 
via Colossal

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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