The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Best Robot Fiction Ever!

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem is almost certainly the finest fictional book about robots. I don't like hyperbole, so let's keep a calm head while commenting on it. Surely it is one of the greatest collections of linked short stories ever written: it matches Calvino's The Complete Cosmicomics. Lem is a total genius, a writer of playful little fables that are also philosophically profound (and logically consistent). He has a beautiful style: he can make engineering terms sound poetic. His rigorously modern metaphors are as original as those of J.G. Ballard, but more varied and lyrical. For Lem, the Periodic Table is an unwritten poem. This book is the final and true ode of lyrical science, and each page is a fantastic, fabulous, incredible delight. I give this book 200,000,000 stars out of 10. And that's only because I'm not feeling so generous today. It probably deserves a googolplex of stars. At least.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Typical Cockney Names

Sometime in the future I plan to write a story set in London. The characters in my story will obviously need to have typical 'Cockney' names. I have racked my brains to produce a short list of suitable names that should help to give my proposed story the necessary sheen of authenticity. We should always remember that verisimilitude and authenticity are very important factors when writing make-believe stories set in the real world!

Here is my list. If anyone would like to suggest equally authentic 'Cockney'names I'll be more than happy to hear your suggestions.

* Alf Pieofeels
* Bertie Apples'n'Pears (and his wife Mrs Apples'n'Pears)
* Bobby OtherFruit
* Tommy Ol' China
* Jimmy Pie'n'Mash
* Lee V. Tout
* Mother Brown, née Sup
* Purr le King (a cat)
* Gor'blimey Guv'nor
* Reggie Dun Nuffing

I have also been toying with the idea of writing a story full of characters who are named after forms of transport. I have three names so far:

* John le Carré
* Joe le Taxi
* Jeff le 'Orse'n'Cart

Coincidentally, one of these characters is also a 'Cockney'. Can you guess which one?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Few of My Favourite Anti-Fascist Stories

The Beautiful Antonio by Vitaliano Brancatti, an Italian novelist who was actually a member of the Fascist Party in the 1930s before he "woke up" and changed his politics completely. This fine novel is a satire on the compulsory state of permanent virility that all good Italian Fascist males were supposed to endure!

Tadeusz Borowski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. One of the most terrifying, nihilistic and tragic books ever written, a collection of autobiographical stories by a concentration camp survivor that deal with the human mind at the limits of endurance. I bought this in Poland in 1999, forty eight years after the author committed suicide. The shocking theme of these tales is that to survive one has to become like one's tormentors and torment those even weaker than yourself...

Roberto Bolaño's bizarre, playful and devastating Nazi Literature in the Americas. This is a Borges-inspired or perhaps Lem-inspired spoof of biographical encyclopedias. It's a critique of the left as well as a satire on the right.

'Deutsches Requiem' by Jorge Luis Borges, a story based on the truly disturbing conceit that the Nazis actually won the war because what they stood for (violent force) was the thing that became necessary to destroy them. As the narrator of that story declares at one point, "What does it matter that Germany was the anvil and our enemies the hammer, just so long as there was an anvil and hammer..."

A short story by Italo Calvino entitled 'Beheading the Heads' (it can be found in his collection Numbers in the Dark). It proposes a political system which has an automatic inbuilt anti-dictatorial failsafe mechanism -- the execution of all politicians (including the good ones) every two years and their replacement with fresh volunteers...

Ernst Junger. He openly criticised Hitler and the Nazi Party in novels such as On the Marble Cliffs, a remarkably brave gesture considering that he was living in Germany at the time. But he criticised the Nazis from a right-wing militaristic standpoint, odd as that may sound -- he wasn't against war, force, the strength of will, elitism, etc, but he was against dishonour, cruelty and irrationality.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My 10 Best Stories

I have been writing almost without pause since December 1991. My total of short stories now stands at 559. My most recent is definitely one of my very best. So I asked myself which other stories would I include in a list of my best? I have selected a top ten. If I could only rescue 10 of my own tales from some unspecified disaster that threatened to obliterate my work, I would choose the following:

* The Impossible Inferno
* The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange
* The Quims of Itapetinga
* Eternal Horizon
* The Jam of Hypnos
* Jellydämmerung!
* The Hydrothermal Reich
* Southbound Satin
* Rommel Cobra's Swimming Carnival
* Thais Von Oort

Four of these tales have yet to be published.

The list is not in order. That would be too difficult. If I had to choose just one story to represent my ouevre I would pick 'The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange' or 'The Impossible Inferno'. I can't decide between those two!

I regret leaving out 'Lem's Last Book', 'Hell Toupée', 'The Concise Picaresque Adventures of the Wanderlust Bridge', 'The Swine Taster' and 'Depressurised Ghost Story'. These are probably in my top 15.