Red Hour Orgy
Before I rip into the short story/essay collection written by John Barnes, let me give the man some thanks.
The reason why there is a Majic12 is partly because of John Barnes. Let me explain. Several years ago, I heard that he was coming to a local science fiction event in Pittsburgh. Recently, he had been a local at the University of Pittsburgh and right around the time of his visit he had just put out "Kaleidoscope Century", a very disturbing novel about a psychotic who inhabits and then creates a number of quantum worlds that he exists in. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, I read three of his books, interviewed him and held out the false hope that he might be able to read about the story by the time he arrived. Unfortunately, the piece was published some eons after he left. Not only that, Im pretty sure he wanted a copywhat modestly self-esteemed writer wouldtbut I was so pissed off that I couldnt get anybody to run the piece, well...
That wasnt the only reason by the way. I could tell you the story about the editor who didnt know what the word "Grok" meant and who didnt want me to publish an online only review of comics and science fictionin order to gauge popularity to see if the idea warranted some paper spacebecause, and I quote, "there wasnt enough space". But it certainly angered me that nobody in this town thought science fiction important enough to publish my story in a timely manner.
To me, we live in science fictional times and this is the only genre that deals with accelerated change. This is the fiction meant to prevent Future Shock, we should encourage and nurture it. We should also encourage and cajole the very talented people who create this kind of work because, as Chris Carter puts it, there are a million ways to fail.
So, here we are now. Ive found out that theres plenty of space out here and Im going to use it.
And as permanent apology, Ill try to review as many John Barnes books as I can. I figure its good Karma.
Apostrophes and Apocalyses
To be frank, I wouldnt rank this with "Deathbird Stories" or "Dangerous Visions" or even "Welcome to the Monkey House" as anthologies go, but I did find John Barnes collection of stories and essays in A & A (Im too lazy to keep typing that out) to be entertaining, and even at times surprisingly vulgar and profanewhich Ive always liked. In fact, two of the stories would be very good candidates for the Last Dangerous Visions, if it ever comes out.
As for the stories, I guess I enjoyed "Under the Covenant Of Stars" the most. It was his take on what would happen in the country if the right wing Ralph Reed types ever got real political power. If you've ever suspected that there's something evil about religious fundamentalism, then, hey, this story is for you. There's the insane hatred of the Other--in this case, Canadians (Don't ask)--the profane silliness of allowing religious leaders say over the practice of science, the petty fascist Religious atmosphere, the fact, the true fact, that religion only thrives when other ideas are squelched and the other true fact: Religion, while affording those needed Joe Campbell Bliss Stations, keeps people stupid out of both necessity and design.
But don't go by me, read the story. Find out how we lose the space race because the religious leaders who run the country won't allow the "heathen" science of a Canadian to affect their flight plans. A United Europe goes to the stars. Not an entirely implausible future if the Republican Right ever attains real power, with their silly jihads against evolution and lady rock fairs.
The other cool story had to do with a far future where animals were sentient. Barnes said he got the most hate mail from this story which he says features "gay wolf sex". Here's a riddle: What's more taboo in the future: interspecies sex or animal bigotry? Read and learn.
The other surprise for me was "Empty Sky", which, was as far I could tell, is Barnes' impersonation of Clive Barker's urban fantasy. It's full of elves and goblins and mages. Unfortunately, this is where the writer's stylelessness--which he's proud of, more on that later--sort of fails him. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine story. But Clive Barker's work is just a joy to read. I don't think I've read an unpoetic Barker line, maybe its that Brit thing. To me, fantasy demands a lyrical touch, writers like Tanith Lee or an Ursula Le Guin ooze grace and poetry.. And John Barnes, you are no Tanith Lee or Ursula Le Guin.
Quite frankly, he's pretty proud of that. He thinks that lyricism gets in the way of telling a story. There are several essays where he spells out his literary philosophy. If you've ever read him, then you know that he is firmly in the Phil Dick/Fred Pohl school where never a poetic line is written. It's all about the story. Barnes also has the strength of those writers, Dick and Pohl, as well. Everything else about his stories work. Characterization, pacing, plots.
Bottom line, Barnes is clearly a writer of ideas. You won't find yourself stopping the reading because you're exhausted by the beauty of his language, but you will find world building simulations, cars that pilot themselves, sentient sexy wolves, heightened virtual reality and just a stew of other interesting notions. If you're a fan of Heinlein and the short stories of Frederick Pohl or Phil Dick, I recommend this collection to you.
Veils, DC Hardcover, $20 bucks or so
I can't say that Veils is great art, but it is great in the way "Birth Of a Nation" is great, namely its a breakthrough in terms of state of the art. By the way, I abhor the racist messages of "Birth". I'm just looking at it strictly as a work of art.
As someone who does a lot of playing around with Photoshop like programs, I 've always wondered if you could create comics using these techniques. Turns out that the answer is yes. You can make comics and you can make them pretty damn good. True, Dave McKean has been doing this stuff for awhile and probably better, but he's one of the best artists ever whose work deservedly gets shown in galleries.
Veils looks like something that I could do. The story, set during the latter days of the Victorian empire, is interesting enough. I suppose it strives for an air of mystery and sexuality, but I didn't find it mysterious or sexy. I guess I was looking for something in the Anais Nin league, but it just wasn't there.
But I still recommend buying Veils. It's proof that you can take some of these photo tools and create great comic art.