Dan Sandman

Archive for October, 2015|Monthly archive page

44: The Peripheral by William Gibson

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction on 30/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Peripheral by William GibsonThe picture on the back of this hardback book is of its author. I’m drawn to those intelligent blue eyes of his. He’s not looking straight at you, but peering just behind you. This is what his speculative fiction has been doing since he coined the term cyberspace back in 1982. It looks just behind you, peers into potential futures. The Peripheral (2014) is no exception.

William Gibson (1948 – ) has a remarkable knack for making the future believable. His slick novels thrust us into the lives of ordinary people, trying to live decent lives, despite the bullshit knocked out to them by criminals and corporations alike. Characters such as Flynne Fisher, who gets sucked into some weird future-London. All she wanted was to earn was a few quid, playing games with her brother Burton. Now she finds herself in some messed-up future dimension, whilst her whole family gets dragged into some serious shit.

There’s a quote from The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) at the start of this book. Something to do with time travel making you sick and confused. Taking this point on board, I wonder if reading a Gibson novel is somewhat like time travelling. When you first pick up one of his books, you’re thrust into an alien world. At first it feels weird, but you keep reading because you’re enjoying it. Despite feeling confused, you persevere; and eventually, all the dots start to connect.

Intersect behind peering blue eyes.

43: If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance, Spy on 23/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo CalvinoThis brilliant novel is about you. It involves your search for a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino (1923-1985). Frustratingly, your quest for the book keeps on leading to other books; and these new books keep on ending, just as you’re getting attached to them. And so, you embark on your own adventure. Along the way, you’ll find romance and meet a spy. All within the sinews of your imagination.

If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979) was first published in Italian and translated to English in 1981. During the sixties and seventies, literary theorists such as Roland Barthes (1915-1980) and Julia Kristeva (1941-) were busy inventing clever ways of talking about novels. As an approximation, 39% of what Roland and Julia wrote was nonsense. However, a lot of it was really cool inter-textual stuff that got writers joining dots indiscriminately. Story tellers could start weaving their threads in new post-modern ways, as Italo Calvino did in this remarkable novel.

Now for some twenty-first century linkage: if you like David Mitchell (1969-), you’ll like Italo Calvino. That’s because both writers are crafty, shifting from story to story. The clever word for this is post-modern, but you don’t need to know any clever words to enjoy Calvino. All you need to do is let your imagination run wild, and go with the proverbial. If you don’t like books, then you won’t like this book. If you do like books, you’ll enjoy at least 41% of this novel. I probably enjoyed about 78%-81% of it, but don’t always believe what you read on the internet. I suggest you start / finish the book yourself.

You’ll find it’s easier in a library.

42: Township Plays by Athold Fugard

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 16/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Township Plays by Athol FugardAthol Fugard (1932 – ) is South Africa’s foremost playwright. This book is a collection of five plays he wrote in collaboration with black actors from the townships. The plays were all performed during apartheid, and draw on the everyday experiences of ordinary people. In modern day South Africa, how relevant are these vital and angry plays?

In No-good Friday (1958), a man in his thirties called Willie makes a stand against a township gangster called Shark. Willie starts out studying for a BA, but cannot escape the violence on his doorstep. Throughout, the drama is nail-biting, and we are left riding on the edge of our seats. Nongogo (1959) is about a woman called Queeny, who runs a shebeen (drinking establishment). Queeny is offered a more honest life by the young salesman Johnny, but their plans are scuppered by her Iago-like friend Sam. The third play The Coat (1967), is an acting exercise involving a dead man’s over-garment. The last two plays, Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973), directly attack the actions of the government: the first on the issue of racially defined identity cards; the second on the detention of political prisoners on Robben Island.

This is an excellent book. It includes a brilliant introduction by Dennis Walder, and a brief preface by the playwright himself. But to restate the question I asked earlier, are these plays still important today? Yes, I believe so – and I think they will still be read into the twenty-second century. This is drama that will stand the test of time: thrilling, exciting, politically aware drama. The good sort of stuff that will get you thinking and talking when you come out of the playhouse. If you think that sounds like something you’d like to do, then read this book.

Or form a drama company.

41: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

In Books, Fiction, Short Stories on 09/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

Nine Stories by J.D SalingerFrom 1948 to 1953, J.D Salinger (1919-2010) published nine short stories. In the middle of this creative burst, he also wrote The Catcher in the Rye (1951). His bibliography is interesting because he barely publishes anything else. By 1965, the creative well seems to have dried up. Perhaps he was tired of the attention that surrounded fame and success. Maybe he just wanted to live his private life in private. I guess the royalties from one stupendously successful book can allow a writer to do just that.

So what does Nine Stories (1953) add to the ongoing conversation surrounding that famous American novel? Well, the answer is quite a lot. In particular, there is no Holden Caulfield to control the narrative. Instead, the narrator puts you in the room, sitting back and allowing characters to speak for themselves. The overall effect is a less opinionated narrative than in Salinger’s novel. In addition, readers are left to speculate, much like in the stories of Raymond Carver. We are given clues to what’s going, but we are encouraged to read the stories again.

In a short story, a writer only has so many words. This limitation encourages a precise and fastidious method. To be wholly satisfying, a short story needs to deliver on character and plot, without wastage. One method that Salinger applies is to have us eavesdrop on private phone conversations. This technique allows us to intone the relationship between two characters. Furthermore, it gives the characters themselves a chance to move the plot forward. These days, it would be interesting to apply this technique to instant messaging. And instead of being given access to personal letters, we could be granted permission to read characters’ email inbox’s.

Times change, techniques adapt.

40: The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Literature on 02/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Voyage Out by Virginia WoolfRachel Vinrace is twenty-four, but she has lived a sheltered existence and has no experience with men. On her father’s ship, she travels out to South America with a group of privileged English people. For Rachel, the voyage out will be a journey of self-discovery, bringing with it a new emotional awakening.

The Voyage Out (1915), Virginia Woolf’s first novel, was first published one hundred years ago. Modernist in its depiction of individual consciousness, it breaks away from the Victorian novel in two ways. Firstly, the focus is on the individual psychology of the heroin. Woolf is writing in a post-Freud world where characters are analysed in terms of their childhood experiences. Secondly, the novel presents a streamlined view of society. Woolf avoids making broad Dickensian statements about the whole of society. Instead, she uses her pen to attack members of her own social class and literary disposition.

This approach has been used against Woolf by her critics. In simple terms, The Voyage Out is just a well-written book about a bunch of posh people, on a very expensive trip abroad. I would argue against this narrow viewpoint, concentrating on the beautifully written prose. Although Woolf’s early prose will be too descriptive for some tastes, her elegant style shines through in every chapter.

There is a flowing sense of movement here, like a river of language.