This month's titles come courtesy of transgressivefiction.info,
a great place to discover new and interesting authors.
THE EXIT MAN by Greg Levin
Saul was once a good Jewish boy, doing God's work suppressing break-away religious factions, until one day he joined one. But is that the real story? Read the exclusive details below.
Once upon a time a working class boy somehow cottoned on to amazing insights and abilities. He wandered across the land performing miracles and inspiring people with a message of spiritual enlightenment and freedom; a real Bodhisattva.
Religion (then as now) was big business, and this crazy guy was doing hippy shit like throwing moneychangers out of the temple. Not good for profits!
So the pharisees had him whacked.
But his message continued to spread and the powers-that-be soon hired the fanatic Saul to go forth and root out these subversive cells of Jesus followers.
He spent the rest of his days architecting the religion of "Christianity," inputting laws and interpretations antithetical to the simple direct message of Jesus.
In short, Paul was the anti-christ.
And the short-lived movement of Jesus, who like Buddha, told his followers to be like him, not worship him; who told his followers that they didn't have to kowtow to religious authority and the weight of its onerous laws; that holiness was already within each of them..... that movement died 2000 years ago. Not with a bang but with the soft whimper of money sliding into an offering tray.
The Gone–Away World by Nick Harkaway (twitter.com/Harkaway)
In it we follow an unnamed protagonist through childhood and college into a proxy “Un-War” in the Elective Theatre, formerly known as the prosperous and peaceful country of Addeh Katir. There he is reunited with his childhood best friend Gonzo. When the enemy launches a chemical attack, our side answers with “the most advanced weapon in the history of warfare,” The Go Away Bomb that disappears the enemy: “We are… feeling a bit superior and waiting for the order to do some more demonstrative world-editing, when our very own Green Sector vanishes from the map… like a sandcastle being washed away by the tide… The same thing is happening everywhere. Not just in the Elective Theatre.”
Predictably, the effects are unpredictable and uncontrollable; the tide that ebbs also flows, carrying back a recombinant and deadly genesis of the thoughts, forms, feelings, memories, dreams and nightmares of everything it supposedly erased. Most of humanity has been made “Gone-Away” and the survivors battle desperately: “this is not an attack. It’s an atmosphere.”
Protagonist, Gonzo and a ragtag group are rescued by Piper 90 (“love child of a bulldozer and a shopping mall”) which is laying “The Pipe” that contains the anti-stuff, called FOX, which makes the Gone-Away stuff go away, “making a strip of land which is safe to live in.” This is where the remnants of humanity begin to rebuild.
Fast forward a few years and this outfit of roughnecks is hired for a dangerous job of putting out a fire on The Pipe that looks like sabotage. Here the story takes a shocking turn that throws into question the protagonist’s entire history and future, and a horrible secret is found to underlie the system that keeps this strip of the old world, this “Livable Zone,” intact.
A rousing dystopian story with a terrific story arc that can be enjoyed on just those terms, The Gone-Away World is also a cautionary tale that confronts the endemic, species-defining stupidity and hidden moral equivocations of human life on Earth. Notwithstanding, Nick Harkaway is fundamentally an optimist, and quite funny; I will definitely be reading more of him. Highly recommended!
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My Catholic aunt (rabid fan of Elvis, who once gigglingly exclaimed, "He can park his shoes under my bed anytime") and her husband (soon-to-be transplants to Colorado Springs CO, birthplace of the 1992 anti-gay hate bill Amendment Two, of which they were staunch supporters- not that we knew that then of course) were shocked.
It was scandalous that a publisher and a mainstream bookstore in a mall in conservative Orange County, and Jody and I by our attention, together with some degenerate writer were forcing the "gay agenda" upon their delicate heteronormative sensibilities. Or so I assume it seemed to them.
Which anecdote I share with you because it's sadly absurd, but also apropos as introduction to this month's Censorable Ideas post about William S. Burroughs, Jody's minor connection to him, and some musings on queer and other "outsider" writers who influenced Jody and WSB.
Michael Stevens is a Burroughs scholar who recently contacted me about WSB's connection to Jody (he wrote a nice comment about I, Vampire when it first came out) for future editions of his book. The Road to Interzone: reading William S. Burroughs reading is "an index to the books known to have been read, blurbed, or cut up by the author of Naked Lunch," including any known commentary on that work or writer, and it is surprisingly revelatory as a portrait.
While this may not be the sort of titillating page-turner you read cover to cover, it is a fascinating treasure trove of insights, influences and previously unknown writers you'll want to dip into again and again with your laptop open to google and your favorite bookseller. Highly recommend.
Two writers that were unknown to me are Jack Black
and the POET LOUISE BOGAN.
influence on Burroughs’ writing . From his first novel to his final memoirs he
was making references to its characters and philosophy. He incorporated the
hobo jungles, the criminal code, cat burglars, safe crackers, robbers
and rodriders into his mythology and virtual worlds. WSB’s appreciation
of the nobility of the criminal and the underground lifestyle found its inception here. Many readers are not even aware that the Johnson family and Salt Chunk Mary are not Burroughs’ creations, but key players in Black’s work. Burroughs first read the book when he was fifteen and it had a profound effect, not only on his literary life but his personal life as well. His reading of You Can’t Win was his earliest exposure to the criminal lifestyle that he attempted to recreate in his life and his fiction from that moment on." (Interzone)
It's worthwhile asking here why artists are attracted to the forbidden and the outlaw. The great American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson explains it this way: "Society is a joint-stock company which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs."
To violate these customs is to invite society's punishment, be it ostracism in the schoolyard, mass incarceration of black folk, or coercive economic duress.... What artists, writers, and outlaws have in common is an instinctual rage against this. ("Society represented law and order, discipline, punishment. Society was a machine geared to grind me to pieces." -You Can't Win)
In the case of the criminal, this manifest as self-destructive sociopathy; in the case of Burroughs, Jody Scott, et al it gives us great art and literature, music and philosophy- all that counterbalances the oppressive side of society and makes of it (sometimes) a civilization.
For your pleasure and scholarly edification, here are excerpts from Genet, Burroughs and Scott:
-Jody Scott, Kiss the Whip
― Jean Genet, Thief's Journal
―William S. Burroughs, Queer
Yes, Bogan is indeed a “minor” poet, but that does not mean she isn't worth reading. As the Poetry Foundation website puts it, “her poetry is modern and emotive without being sentimental, and her language is immediate and contemporary.”
A woman born in 1897 insisting upon her right to live her life her way (something hardly acceptable for women today, revolutionary then) definitely qualifies as a societal “outlier.” In a letter to Theodore Roethke she writes, “I, too, have been imprisoned by a family, who held out the bait of a nice hot cup of tea and a nice clean bed. . . the only way to get away is to get away: pack up and go. Anywhere. I had a child, from the age of 20, remember that, to hold me back, but I got up and went just the same, and I was, God help us, a woman.”
"Burroughs may have been familiar with her work as a youth, but didn’t make reference to this poem until The Western Lands,” writes Stevens in Interzone. The poem that caught his eye was SEVERAL VOICES OUT OF A CLOUD and it seems a fitting note to end on:
Receive the laurel, given, though late, on merit, to who
and wherever deserved.
Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue,
Get the hell out of the way of the laurel. It is Deathless
And it isn’t for you.
* * *
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Philip K. Dick
If you've seen the Amazon adaptation, there is little resemblance. Character names are the same but the plot is very different; the subversive video of the series is, in the novel, a novel. Germany controls Europe, the eastern U.S., is expanding into the solar system and has attempted a"final solution" on the entire continent of Africa. From The Home Islands Japan controls South America, Asia and the west coast. A nominal U.S. neutral zone separates Nazi and Nippon territories.
The setting is San Francisco and the neutral zone, the reader learns of life in Nazi territory only from secondhand reporting.
The IChing or "oracle", the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, features importantly for all the main characters, and is in a way, another character through which Dick explores the themes of fatalism and enduring in a world in which there is no shining light on the hill, no safe refuges left to flee to- or take hope from. All is authoritarianism- of the brutish Nazi stripe or the more civilized Japanese variety.
Into this reality of despair is dropped the surprisingly bestselling novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternate fiction in which the allies won the war, defeating Germany and Japan. A fiction unimaginable for some, a revelation of Truth for others.
As one would expect, the novel is contemplative, internal, philosophical, and the ending ambiguous (perhaps a disappointment to readers weaned on flattering sales pitches and attention-eroding tech gadgetry who find their way to the novel from the Amazon series), but Dick's The Man in the High Castle sheds insightful, unsettling light onto life under totalitarianism. A light very much needed these days. Highly recommended!
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SOUTHBOUND by Joseph Ferguson
The protagonist of Southbound has assuredly never read Emerson but he knows whereof Emerson speaks. Cruising the literary highway of counterculture anti-heroes, Basement Man, transplant from Alabama, pulls up to a bar in New Jersey and we hitch a ride for this episodic portrait of his lifelong, booze-fueled rebellion.
From the tragicomic death of his friend on the docks of Hoboken to beaches a little less respectable for his presence ("Avast ye scurvy lubbers!") to a retirement home, Basement Man is aware but not resigned (to paraphrase Edna Millay). I've heard it said that 'your integrity to yourself is more important than your immediate life,' and that's a sentiment Basement Man would drink to: "Better a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy, spider!"
Southbound by Joseph Ferguson makes us look around and perceive the poetry in life. And that is a very good thing.
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