links descending a staircase.

Poster for Dario Argento's Suspiria, via Dansk Javlarna.

Poster for Dario Argento’s Suspiria, via Dansk Javlarna.

Hypocrisy, Race, and Literary Gentrification. The always eloquent Foz Meadows discusses the old phenomenon of literary writers dabbling in para-literary forms, but draws an analogy between the current process and the gentrification of cities. As a commenter says, numerous pieces of literary fiction end up more or less as badly written SF, as the gentrifying mainstream wanders happily into the neighborhoods of fictional tropes and themes it has no idea have been inhabited for decades.

Dawkins and Saul: Dudebros Under the Skin. Molecular biologist and SF writer Athena Andreadis takes on the Materialist Magus, Richard Dawkins, and severely dresses him down for his shoddy science, self promotion, and “patriarchal authority worship.”

The distal damage is that Dawkins’ selfish gene concept has been adopted wholesale and then shoehorned into every conceivable niche by all regressive groups that like to label themselves progressive and/or “edgy”: libertarians, transhumanists, evopsychos, MRAs, one-percenters, “creatively disruptive” MBAs, grittygrotty SFF writers. The core characteristic of these groups, protestations of visionary thinking notwithstanding, is that they’re actually obsessed with auto-perks for the “worthy” and with perfectibility narratives beloved by fundamentalist clerics.

Invisible Universe: A History of Blackness in Speculative Fiction. A trailer for a documentary by M. Asli Dukan I am very much looking forward to, which examines the history and contributions of African-Americans to speculative forms (SFFnal) in fiction, cinema, and more.

Sundial Press’ Supernatural Line. They have reprints of collections by William J. Wintle (author of the wonderful “Spectre Spiders”), R.H. Malden, Rosemary Timperly, A.N.L. Munby, etc. Richmal Crompton’s 1928 collection Mist is also forthcoming. At 17-ish pounds, these are relatively affordable within the dismally expensive field of small press horror. No gold-plated bullshit, signed-by-the-author’s-goldfish, leaf-foiled excuses for charging three hundred dollars like total dicks.

Forthcoming Titles from New York Review Books. If you didn’t know, NYRB is putting out great stuff, and not just literary work – though much of that stuff is exciting too – but also a lot of work in the realm of the fantastic and strange, situated on the boundaries of lit-fic and genre-fic. A collection by Silvina Ocampo will be out in 2015, but in the meantime they already have available Alan Garner’s time-travelling Red Shift and a collection of ghost stories edited and illustrated by Edward Gorey. And a reprint of a book I’ve lusted after for some time, William H. Gass’ In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. Speaking of him…

Roquentin – impressed by the complete pointlessness of letting go, of persisting, getting on, in Bouville to begin with – mudville- in the primeval slime which Beckett will later render so well in ‘How It Is’; the narrator – Roquentin – convinced of the absolute adventitiousness of every event, the speciousness of every value, the absurdity of the genital spasm, sperm like a billion midges, love an acid rain; the narrator – Roquentin – with such turns taken, feels a nausea which sickens the sidewalk, the shoes, the clothes, the soul, the cells, till the eyes vomit their perceptions, and the mind lies down in swill to thank an empty heaven, author of all – like Roquentin – a dotard, knockabout, another nil among nillions: narrator.

….

Roquentin wonders ‘what if something were to happen?’ What if chance were king, and a red rag were to change into a side of rotten meat, a pimple split like an opening eye in a painting by Magritte; or what if one’s clothing came alive, or one’s tongue turned into a centipede? New names will have to be invented for a spider’s jaw, or as, Borges has imagined, for transparent tigers and towers of blood. – William H. Gass, ‘Representation and the War for Reality.’ pp. 76, 78.

I’m reading his book of essays, Habitations of the Word, and the man knows how to seduce a sentence. His novel Omensetter’s Luck was quite good with that kind of lingual-libertinism, but the essays are something else.

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eileen gunn’s “stable strategies for middle management.”

Salvador Dali, The Ghost of Vermeer van Delft.

Salvador Dali, The Ghost of Vermeer van Delft.

Just read Eileen Gunn’s short story “Stable Strategies for Middle Management” (1988) in The Norton Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery. The various, dull inhumanities and cranial-scrubbing atmosphere of office work provide a strong template for science fiction’s capacity for what Darko Suvin calls “cognitive estrangement.” This estrangement could be characterized as a distancing from the particular political or economic moment’s construction of itself as natural or inevitable; it makes one see that things can be different, should be different, and that what is considered natural or inevitable is in fact highly unnatural and contingent. There is a gap between the reality of the text and actual, empirical reality, but a gap that nonetheless has a clear and logical connection (sleep is eradicated through technology, a cure for AIDS is synthesized, the US never dropped the atom bomb, etc.)

In Gunn’s short piece, one is allowed to see again the terror behind such banalities as “I see you [co-workers] more than I see my family.” In the astringent little world she has constructed, the dynamics of capitalism have set forth a process of literally altering the minds and bodies of its labor force for its own purposes. No longer content with emotional policing and affective demands, the corporate program under the capitalist operating system surgically and genetically transforms its workers to have animal qualities that make them “successful competitor(s) for a middle-management niche, with triggerable responses that can be useful in gaining entry to upper hierarchical levels.” Thus we get the literalization of the old cliche about apes in business suits, along with more unusual fauna such as butterflies and mosquitoes. Gregor Samsa works in marketing.

Reading the story, one is once more confronted with the fact of how much wage (and salaried) labor draw every other aspect of life into their orbit, and drain them of their greater potential and substance. As the narrator Margaret says, “Something that’s fun? I’ve invested all my time and most of my genetic material in this job. This is all the goddamn fun there is.” Even our fantasies about an existence outside our labor are rendered feeble by that labor. The nostalgia we spend our time waxing drips in a pathetic and degraded manner, and is invaded, like our dreams, by the labor we want to think away from. We live in a psychic landscape of sleepless, 24/7 availability, streaming archives of films we will never watch, phones that update curious authorities about where we are at any given moment, and escape that only comes in the form of more consumption – and all of us like to think we are the last real island of beauty.

Margaret again: “I used to be more patient, didn’t I? More appreciative of the diverse spectrum of human possibility. More interested in sex and television.”

At the end of the tale, Margaret has turned into an insect that appears to be a praying mantis. After being confronted by her “warm” and “caring” boss, she unhinges her jaws and bites his head off. He runs around his sad office, spurting blood idiotically, making inadvertent copulative motions like a male mantis post-coitus. Margaret sits and thinks for a minute, then telephones her boss’ secretary and advises that they call in Personnel and have the late Mr. Samson re-engineered. Glowing in the luke-warm heat-lamp of corporate power like a two dollar sausage at a gas station, Margaret realizes this might have been one of those “triggerable responses” she had heard about. Maybe she could just….be the boss. Just like that, so exciting. Exciting enough to go home and fuck the husband one more time. Maybe the last?

“Stable Strategies,” in its structure, reminds me of a piece of short fiction from the horror field, Thomas Ligotti’s “The Town Manager.” In both these tales individuals find themselves locked into and dominated by unjust and hilariously arbitrary systems, and at the close of the ratty page-curtain, adopt a “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude and become what they once hated. Eileen Gunn’s story is less brutal, less bitter, but also more incisive and specific. And yet this lack of brutality, this meager thimble of bitterness leads the story to become more or less harmless jestering. The kind of work that would elicit knowing chuckles from gym-toned middle-management tie-lickers if they were to read it, laughing “It’s funny because it’s true,” and then walking back to the meeting, thinking about successful competition, triggerable responses, and actionable items.