I’m happy to announce that a story I wrote has been included in issue number 10 of Spolia. The concept was to write a story based on one of Henry James’ stories. In other words, it’s the literary equivalent of a Henry James covers album. The story I wrote, called “Trending,” is based on Henry James’ story, “The Papers.”
They say there are only so many stories to tell, just different ways to tell them. Take the classic ghost story about a spirit that cannot rest until something or other is resolved. I never realized how old that story was until I saw this.
Pliny the Younger was an elected official in ancient Rome. He and his uncle, Pliny the Elder, were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. The elder Pliny was killed during the eruption while attempting to rescue some friends by boat.
Pliny the Younger was also an author who wrote hundreds of letters that have survived to this day. His letters have enabled historians to learn much about ancient Rome. One of the earliest non-Biblical references to Christianity is in a letter from Pliny to the Greek Emperor Trajan, asking for advice on how to conduct trials for Christians (most likely for the crime of not bowing to statues of the Emperor).
Pliny does not necessarily present the ghost story as fiction. In his letter to a Roman Senator named Sura, Pliny writes, “I am extremely desirous to know whether you believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have real form . . . or only the visionary impression of terrified imagination.”
Pliny follows up his question with two stories. The first story is about a man who sees a vision of a beautiful woman who accurately predicts his death.
The second story begins:
There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, ruined their health, and brought on distempers, their terror grew upon them, and death ensued.
Naturally, no one wants to live in the house. No one, that is, until a philosopher named Athenodorus comes along and, being fully apprised of the fearful circumstances, decides to buy the house and live in it. The story ends when the philosopher sees the apparition one night and follows it:
The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him. The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground, was putrefied and mouldered away from the fetters. The bones being collected together were publicly buried, and thus after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.
You can read the entire letter, and all the letters of Pliny the Younger, here at Project Guttenberg. For the “ghost letter” scroll down to LXXXIII — To SURA.
Adventure Time might be the hippest cartoon on television. The art and animation are the stuff of dreams, the writing is witty (sometimes hilarious), but those two givens are only the beginning.
Amid the zany adventures are moments of adolescent angst and parental regret, and sublimely understated songs that display a talent for lyrics, melody, and musicianship. The duet between Marceline and Ice King in season five’s “I Remember You,” is more stunningly poignant than any Disney movie song I can think of. And check out where Marceline could have been strumming the guitar, but someone made the unusual decision to make it a subtle jazz bass riff.
The people behind Adventure Time also know a thing or two about the literary experiments of counterculture movements like The Beats, the jazz poets, and Hip Hop. In “Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe” (the thirteenth episode of the sixth season), Ice King and a band of misfit wizards take a road trip in a bus with the goal of creating their own secret society. The bus driver asserts that this trip will be “a destiny will guide us kind of thing.” That, and the wacky assortment of characters on the bus, made me think of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967), which, in turn, was inspired by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, whose mission in the mid-sixties was to drive across the United States in a multi-color, hand-painted bus, spreading peace, love, music, and psychedelic shenanigans wherever they went. Check out the three Nymphs, whose bodies seem to be made of flowing water. It is a beautifully trippy effect.
At one point, the bus stops and all the passengers engage in writing poetry on rolls of toilet paper, which I take as a reference the continuous scroll of paper that Jack Kerouac used to write On the Road so his words could flow like improvisational jazz. The character known as Abracadaniel says, “Let’s all write down arcane, cryptic words in unexpected new combinations and patterns.” Kerouac’s friend, William S. Burroughs, was known for recombining words with the “cut up” technique invented by Brion Gysin.
Notice that these wizard activities involve writing. Writer Alan Moore has said, “In all of magic, there is an incredibly large linguistic component.” When Peter Bebergal interviewed Moore for The Believer magazine, Moore said, “I don’t think there’s really any difference between art—or writing, or music—and magic. I particularly draw the link between magic and writing. I think that they are profoundly connected” and “The central art of enchantment is weaving a web of words around somebody.”
Several episodes on Adventure Time feature characters rapping, beatboxing, and dancing. Finn does a beatbox rhythm to keep the beat for a song sung by Marceline in It Cames From the Nightosphere (Season 2, Episode 1). In “Billy’s Bucket List” (from the fifth season) Finn and Rap Bear compete in an onstage “rap battle.” Even the shows that don’t include rap and beatboxing are informed by a kind of Hip Hop vibe. Characters say “That’s how we roll” and “let’s bust it” and various other slang terms like “I’ma,” meaning “I’m going to,” as when the Ice King is angry about not being invited to a party. He says, “They’re gonna do me like that? So I’ma do them like this!” (From “Princess Potluck,” the eighteenth episode in the fifth season).
I’m sure Adventure Time isn’t the only animated series that meets my description of “hip,” with its postmodern approach and heartfelt enthusiasm, but to me, its the best one.
Cool news from our friends at Wormwoodiana:
“Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the best ghost story and the best ghost story collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members.”
Movie producer George Pal with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis
Destination Moon produced by George Pal, is widely considered the first science fiction film to attempt a high level of accurate technical detail. Filmed in Technicolor, based on a book by Robert Heinlein, adapted for the screen by Alford Van Ronkel and James O’Hanlon, the film was released on June 27, 1950 in New York and on August 1, 1950 all over the United States. Background scenery and outer space scenes were created by Chesley Bonestell. Actually, the movie Rocketship X-M was released 25 days before Destination Moon. Because of the publicity buzz surrounding Destination Moon, with its budget of half a million dollars, Lippert Pictures saw an opportunity and rushed their relatively low budget ($94,000) Rocketship X-M into production, completing the entire film in only 18 days. These two movies were the start of something big.
I enjoyed this review of the film by Scott Ashlin on his web site 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting:
“This is another one of those big, important movies that dorks like me are always going on about at the slightest excuse. Destination Moon’s importance stems from its being the first of the vast numbers of science fiction films that were produced during the 1950’s. Those were years of unprecedented visibility for science and technology, and the time was surely ripe for an equally unprecedented spike in the popularity of science fiction, provided the writers and filmmakers could find the right approach to tap into the zeitgeist.”
Many thanks to Andrew Wenaus for his review of my novel, Tamper!
Tamper is like the Hardy Boys in that it is a kind of mystery novel in clear/concise language, and it is like (William S.) Burroughs in the sense that there is a presiding desire to break free of some kind of invisible system of control. Yet, the system of control in Ectric’s novel is not the oppressive and determinate force of language (as it is in Burroughs); instead, it is memory, nostalgia, and melancholia. “Tamper” is, in this sense, a coming-of-age novel that is unwilling to ascribe to the rigidity of the coming-of-age narrative. Whit, the central, character does mourn his lost past but continues to revolt against the loss of wonder, imagination, and the possibility that the strangeness of life is more nuanced than we are often enthusiastic to admit.
James Morrow is one of those writers whose books I buy without hesitation as soon as they are available. He never lets me down. Here’s a review by The Little Red Reviewer of Morrow’s latest book:
Originally posted on the Little Red Reviewer:
published in June 2014
where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tachyon!)
With a cover like this and promises of provocative satire, how could I not read it?
Kurt Jastrow has the best day job a science fiction writer could ask for. In the 1950s, at the peak of live television, he’s the lead writer for Brock Barton and his Rocket Rangers. A show every nine year old loves, Jastrow writes three shows a week (with Monday and Wednesday’s shows ending in cliffhangers, of course), and squeezes in a few minutes of actual science at the end of every episode. It’s not a glamorous life to be sure, but Kurt has plenty of time to polish his science fiction stories, harass his shellshocked editor, and try to convince fellow…
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