Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Retroreads late 2007: Edinbureads, Vol. 1


After graduating from a literature degree where I'd done the minimal reading required to blag exams, I suddenly became a voracious reader. I reviewed a couple of books a week, among other things, to earn a modest unemployment income (so modest it didn't cover my low-budget lifestyle), and since I had nothing else going on, I read some more books in my free time. It's not that impressive, most of them were graphic novels.

Here is that, largely based on this.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Retroreads 2008–2010: Edinbureads, Vol. 2


Not books about Edinburgh; rather, the books I can remember reading while I lived there. Not counting the first few months, which was a ridiculously prolific period that needs its own entry to avoid breaking the page.

Library books, comic downloads and audiobooks soundtracking walks around town and mindless data entry. I didn't keep notes, so this incomplete list of transient tomes can never be comprehensive and I should stop worrying about it. I wish I could stop worrying about it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Retroreads 2010–2012: Travelreads


Back for another round of increasingly hazy, some would say worthless retrospectives covering the books I can remember reading or having read to me during the first two-and-a-bit years of this blog's timeline since I left the UK. Because this is vital information.

Alternating between audiobooks read on the go – forever associated with irrelevant visuals of national parks and exotic cities – and physical books chosen from a despairing selection on hostel shelves to keep me company on buses.

Surely this futile odyssey will end here and I won't attempt to recall all the stacks I borrowed from Edinburgh Central Library over the previous three years? (Is there somewhere I can access that information?)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Retroreads 2013–2014: Filling the Gaps


It's a bit strange to keep a compulsive checklist of everything you read, but even stranger to arbitrarily start doing that at 29 years old, so there are gaping gaps in bibliographies. ("I see you enjoyed that obscure C-tier Alan Moore spin-off slightly more than you expected to. Tell me, have you read 'Watchmen'?")

If I've done a book fair and square, and can remember it well enough to write a pithy comment for posterity, I can add it to the big list. Here are some books I read in the year or two before I started keeping track.

I could keep backtracking all the way to undocumented childhood favourites, but that would be insane. So I probably will.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Alrightreads: Bunch of Dicks

More Dicks to fill my holes. Written 1966–70, published randomly.


Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (a.k.a. Blade Runner)

1968 / Audiobook / 210 pages / USA

*****

I first read the book before I saw the film, which is the right way around to appreciate some of the unspoken context. I've never rated the core action story all that much, mainly loving for the film for its visuals and soundtrack and the book for all the psychological gadgetry that was too zany to adapt, from the Theatre of the Absurd domestic opening with the mood organ to the literally manufactured entertainment. Stone-cold sci-fi classic.


Philip K. Dick, Nick and the Glimmung

1966 (pub. 1988) / Audiobook / 141 pages / USA

***

Even by PKD standards, this is an odd one. A prequel to one of his strangest books, Galactic Pot-Healer, and more notably his only book for children, though initially buried and not exhumed until years after his death. A shame, as it's a successful experiment and I would have loved to have read his weird stuff as a kid. Maybe it somehow would have made a sort of sense back then.


Philip K. Dick, Ubik

1969 / Audiobook / 202 pages / USA

*****

Traditionally, realising you're in a simulation is the beginning of the triumphant ending. Other times you clock it much sooner, but that information doesn't prove to be of much practical use. Mysterious, spooky and characteristically kooky, this is my favourite PKD [so far].

I bought the book as a teenager, after being impressed by Androids and seeing this recommended as another of the greats, but I didn't get far before inexplicably deciding it wasn't for me and eBaying it. Especially bizarre, since the phrase "I'll consult my dead wife" appears as early as page 2! I didn't deserve it.


Philip K. Dick, A Maze of Death

1970 / Audiobook / 216 pages / USA

****

Like its similarly surreal predecessor Galactic Pot Healer, this is more LSD-inspired speculative spiritualism from what must be PKD's maddest era, even before the author started seeing visions from space that definitely weren't related to immersing himself in worlds of fortune-telling gelatinous cubes and other weird shit. Describing the mishmash of styles would make it sound unreadable, but it's held together by tension and the power of electric prayer.


Philip K. Dick, Our Friends from Frolix 8

1970 / Audiobook / 189 pages / USA

**

This stratified dystopia's so generic by this point, it could be computer-generated. The characters are annoying rather than sympathetic and the customary casual sexism tips over into perviness. As a parable against tyranny, the happy ending has no practical application in real life.


Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

1974 / Audiobook / 231 pages / USA

****

Arrogant big-shot entertainer is mysteriously unpersoned and on the run in police-state America. I hadn't read this before, but I've more or less seen it adapted by every sci-fi show, including about half of the Twilight Zones beforehand, and I always enjoy the mystery.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Alrightreads: Psychonauts

Feed your head, but take care not to break it.


William Blake, Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion

1804-20 / Ebook / 100 pages / UK

**

Blake's final prophetic book is typically heavygoing and rambling as he lays out his strange, heavily symbolic, obsessively-detailed take on Biblical mythology. Like all his later works, he's got so much to say that there's little room for paintings any more, but he paints some vivid scenes with his words, between the interminable lists of people and places. I think I've read all the Blake now.


Philip K. Dick, Radio Free Albemuth (a.k.a. VALISystem A)

1976 (pub. 1985) / Audiobook / 214 pages / USA

***

The graverobbed first draft of what would become VALIS (reworked as a film-within-the-more-interesting-book), this is less a hidden gem and more a biographical curiosity to see Dick struggling to deal with his own visions/hallucinations in semi-fictionalised form.

Unlike the tongue-in-cheek split personalities of VALIS, here the author cautiously offloads the mystical shit onto a stand-in character so he can remain upstanding and explicitly/dishonestly drug-free, until the sci-fi comes along to excuse things.


Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising: Second Revised Edition

1983 (updated 1997) / Ebook / 284 pages / USA

*****

My previous experience with RAW was several attempts to get through a supposedly classic novel trilogy I turned out to be too square for, but this owner's manual for the brain is one of the most balanced and thought-provoking things I've read, even if his forecasts for the 21st century turned out to be a bit optimistic. Writing from outside all the various boxes, everyone's beliefs get insulted fair and square, with practical and impractical exercises encouraging us to temporarily abandon our own (obviously correct) philosophies and explore various opposing mindsets to realise how brainwashed we all are – and what we can do about it. Funny too.


Arch-Traitor Bluefluke, The Psychonaut Field Manual

2015 / Ebook / 44 pages / ?

****

Interesting pragmatic infographics aimed at agnostic sceptics, though that excuse breaks down pretty rapidly when we move on from basic meditation to Tarot, creating doppelgängers and setting fire to a voodoo doll of yourself. As someone whose faith only stretches as far as the placebo effect, any psychonautic voyages I make are doomed to be short ones, and there was a slight sense I was being groomed to open a door to madness. It was mainly interesting for clarifying how Kabbalah scholars, yogis and Alan Moore worshipping a sock puppet are all basically tapping into the exact same thing. I kind of get it.


Rizwan Virk, The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics Agree We Are in a Video Game

2019 / Audiobook / 387 pages / USA

***

All things you've probably heard before, recapped and juxtaposed to make a case that's as flimsy as it is statistically almost certain. The first half blinds with science before he brings in ancient and new age mysticism that coincidentally shares similar ideas. He's not the most charismatic science writer, but I've read all the Brian Greenes already and Carl Sagan's dead. Or reincarnated/respawned, whatever.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Alrightreads: Unsolved Mysteries

Avoid disappointing endings by seeking them out.


Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood

1870 / Audiobook / 142 pages / UK

***

Maybe I'll get into Dickens one day. I'd been meaning to read this one since reading Dan Simmons' pretend meta backstory Drood, and the recognition of names and parallel events still worked the wrong way around. It starts promisingly with an eloquent tour of opium dens, cloisters and graveyards, but then customarily fills up with characters and their tedious love quadrangles. The titular mystery is one of the least mysterious I've ever come across, so leaving it open-ended turned out to be more satisfying. RIP.


David Grann, The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon (a.k.a. A Tale of Deadly Obsession)

2009 / Audiobook / 304 pages / USA

***

I haven't read the original New Yorker article that was expanded to book length, but the padding's still clear. Grann's own Amazonian adventure is intermittently teased while he tells the stories of those whose footsteps he's foolishly following. It's about the journey, but the destination is surprisingly non-anticlimactic too, even if I found it hard to care about a few privileged missing-presumed-dead glory-hunters against the backdrop of colonial rape and genocide.


Count Zhoaren von Bvcegi, Making Sense of UFO: The Bvcegi Report

2016 / Ebook / 72 pages / ?

*

I haven't really kept up with the UFO world since I was about 12, so I trusted the Count to fill me in on what's been going on. There are a couple of contemporary photos of "pyramid"-shaped Mars rocks and Giza UFOs presented without comment, but he's more interested in giving his brief thoughts on the pages of website, forum and Yahoo! image search screenshots he includes without permission, covering old-hat topics primarily based on research from 100 years ago. Sometimes he copies the same text more than once to fill up more pages, sometimes they're too small and blurry to actually read, sometimes the page didn't actually load before he screenshat, but at least that's a respite from his own writing, which is made as difficult to read as possible in italicised, multicolour-highlighted, abnormally punctuated, randomly capitalised Comic Sans to weed out all but the troo loons.


Guy's too busy researching to proofread


Mark Frost, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

2017 / Audiobook / 160 pages / USA

**

A companion piece to the shaky 2017 revival, this mainly catches up on some of the dull backstory that the series or the cast couldn't be bothered to, then it gets more interesting when clarifying some of the stranger happenings. No explanations though; no need to ruin it.


Michelle McNamara, Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

2018 / Audiobook / 352 pages / USA

***

I don't normally read true crime – the world's bleak enough generally without making myself paranoid – but reading that the self-described obessed amateur sleuth died so close to the finish line was the extra context that nudged me (even if her death wasn't related to the case, because real life isn't as good as stories). It doesn't glamourise the prolific rotter as much as I imagine these things normally do, but it all gets a bit technical and boring after a while.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ranking the Devin Townsend albums


Churning out hundreds of samey album reviews over a few months to survive unemployment pretty much killed off my interest in Hevy music, but the more fun and interesting artists survived the purge. Some even put out the occasional mellow album to appeal to my new mature/boring taste.

Here are my The Top 25 Devin Townsend Albums across his various, sometimes unnecessarily differentiated projects. Ledge.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Tom and Jerry


After the silent comedy of Mr Bean, the live-action cartoon domestic violence of Bottom and all the vintage films I caught up on last year, revisiting this other childhood favourite felt like a natural leap. It's something to occupy the eyes while a boring grown-up audiobook drones on, at least.

I've never watched Tom and Jerry as a historical artefact before. It'll be interesting to see those mid-20th century American homes and old-fashioned values, or lack thereof. I didn't worry about ranking all 161 of them, this was supposed to be light-hearted fun. Before it became a compulsive catalogue of racism and homoerotic subtext.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Childishreads: Grim 80s Batman + Batfilms


I didn't care for conventional superhero comics as a child, nor most of their films, but Batman was an exception.

I doubt I'd actually seen Tim Burton's goth-noir reboot when I made my parents buy a Batcave, 'mobile, 'wing and various action figures for my fourth birthday, but I came to appreciate it belatedly as an adult. I eventually got around to reading a couple of the esteemed graphic novels from that era too, which turned out to be some of the best works in the medium. Why don't I enjoy myself more often?