Excerpts of: William Burroughs, “The Western Lands”

The Western Lands    Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00020]

Today, instead of writing my own post, I’m sharing a post from Rudy Rucker’s blog, which begins:

Some notes on the book’s contents.
(1) The “Western Lands” of the book’s title come from Egyptian mythology about the afterlife. Supposedly, beyond the Land of the Dead, lies a heavenly Elysium: the Western Lands.
(2) Burroughs often goes off on these great riffs like you’d find at the start of a story or novel—such as a detective story, or a science fiction tale, or an exotic adventure novel about explorers in the jungle. He slips smoothly into the genre conventions, but then begins warping them, and ultimately he drops the riff once he’s gotten all the juice from it that he wants. He just about never bothers to really wrap up a sequence or bring it to a full conclusion. I especially noticed a lot of great science-fiction twists.

Source: Excerpts of: William Burroughs, “The Western Lands”     Read More



30 Years of Future: Essential Cyberpunk


Via iO9, Diana Biller writes:

It’s now been over three decades since cyberpunk first exploded, and in that time we’ve seen gorgeous movies, read fascinating books, and seen dozens of offshoots like steampunk (and my new favorite, deco punk) develop. Here are the 21 cyberpunk books you absolutely must read.

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Rudy Rucker’s Tranrealist Manifesto

Image from BoingBoing when Rudy Rucker was guest blogger. Rucker says, "My jeweler daughter, Isabel, made me a great “Swiss Writing Knife” with symbols of seven of the things I’m interested in: A Zhabotinsky scroll (for cellular automata), the Mandelbrot set (for fractals), a robot, A Square (for the fourth dimension), Infinity, a UFO, a Cone Shell (for diving, cellular automata, universal automatism, and SF). It’s gold-colored metal and the little “blades” swing in and out, with the icons in silver-colored metal riveted on."

Image from Boing Boing when Rudy Rucker was guest blogger. Rucker says, “My jeweler daughter, Isabel, made me a great “Swiss Writing Knife” with symbols of seven of the things I’m interested in: A Zhabotinsky scroll (for cellular automata), the Mandelbrot set (for fractals), a robot, A Square (for the fourth dimension), Infinity, a UFO, a Cone Shell (for diving, cellular automata, universal automatism, and SF). It’s gold-colored metal and the little “blades” swing in and out, with the icons in silver-colored metal riveted on.”

I first saw a link to this on John Shirley’s Facebook pageRudy Rucker’s “Transrealist Manifesto” struck a harmonious chord in my perception of the writing craft. I especially like his statement, “Although reading is linear, writing is not.”

Rucker goes on to explain why you don’t necessarily needs an outline:

A book with no readers is not a fully effective work of art. A successful novel of any sort should drag the reader through it. How is it possible to write such a book without an outline? The analogy is to the drawing of a maze. In drawing a maze, one has a start (characters and setting) and certain goals (key scenes). A good maze forces the tracer past all the goals in a coherent way. When you draw a maze, you start out with a certain path, but leave a lot a gaps where other paths can hook back in. In writing a coherent Transrealist novel, you include a number of unexplained happenings throughout the text. Things that you don’t know the reason for. Later you bend strands of the ramifying narrative back to hook into these nodes. If no node is available for a given strand-loop, you go back and write a node in (cf. erasing a piece of wall in the maze).

Not only is this a good writing tip, it also reminds me of William S. Burroughs notion that “cause and effect” is an illusion. In an article at 3 Quarks Daily, Burroughs says, “I must give up the attempt to explain, to seek any answer in terms of cause and effect and prediction, leave behind the entire structure of pragmatic, result seeking, use seeking, question asking Western thought.” Writers can create events for our fictional characters. Some would say that God, or some force, guides and maybe even predestines our experiences on Earth. This is either reality reflecting fiction or fiction reflecting reality. In The Mosaic of Juxtaposition , Micheal Sean Bolton quotes Burroughs as saying, “When I got interested in cats, I started seeing cats in Brion’s paintings. The notion that what goes on inside somebody can effect something outside goes against the dogma of scientific materialism . . . but that’s obviously not true. I’m thinking about New Mexico, and I come around the corner and there’s a New Mexico license plate. The land of enchantment. I didn’t put it there by thinking about it. But I was there at the same time.”

Read Rudy Rucker’s entire Transrealist Manifesto here

Voltaire and Aylett: Two Peas in an Alien Pod

It’s a good thing Steve Aylett writes “little books,” as The Complete Review  calls them. Aylett’s books are so dense with information and ideas, if they were any bigger they would sink like slabs of gold into our gray tributaries. This is one of the reasons I enjoy them. In fact, I deliberately chose gold over lead as the metaphor here, because lead implies sluggishness, and these books are anything but. They move briskly and shine off the page. Rudy Rucker defines cyberpunk as “fast and dense… a lot of information . . . will try to reach a high level of information-theoretic complexity.” Rucker says that the visual representations of “punk” (spiked hair, safety-pinned britches, etc) will gradually fade with fashion, but the essence of punk, and by extension, the essence of cyberpunk, will remain.

It took a few pages to acclimate my senses to the Aylett style, but it’s no different than the transition from, say, J. K. Rowling to Mary Shelley, or from Hunter S. Thompson to Thomas De Quincey. After a few pages you’re fine.

I definitely recommend reading the four Accomplice books in the order they were written. I unwittingly started with Karloff’s Circus and it was like arriving in the middle of the night. It was a wild and memorable visit, but you will appreciate Accomplice more if you read Only An Alligator, The Velocity Gospel, and Dummyland first. Your best bet is to get the Complete Accomplice, four books in one.

I even used the trading cards! You don’t have to, but it’s fun. I laid the cards out beside me while reading and referred to them often until I could see the characters clearly in my mind. For those who don’t normally associate these kinds of illustrations with quality literature, I should point out that some award-winning graphic novels have emerged in recent times to assist in the reproduction and transmission of literary DNA into the universal text of tomorrow.  

Speaking of the future, it has just come to my attention that Voltaire probably wrote the first science fiction story. I became interested in Voltaire when Steve Aylett named him as a major influence. Known mainly as the author of Candide, Voltaire also wrote a philosophical close encounter story called Micromegas. Thanks to The Wondersmith, a.k.a. Blake Linton Wilfong, we can read Micromegas and other selecteions free online here!

Satire, Cyberpunk, and Synesthesia

"This was preferable to Sweeney in a good mood as he had a spiral smile which operated like a Chinese finger trap, inescapable up to your shoulder." - from Book 1 of The Complete Accomplice: Only An Alligator, by Steve Aylett

Preliminary notes on my Steve Aylett thesis. 

I used to called Aylett’s work a combination of cyberpunk, satire, and psychedelia. But “psychedelia” is too limited, too narrow. 

Aylett’s work is characterized by three things: Cyberpunk settings, classic satire, and a visual image orientation. 

I. Cyberpunk

a. Rudy Rucker’s definition of cyberpunk: “Fast and dense. It has a lot of information . . . will try to reach a high level of information-theoretic complexity.”

Rucker says that the visual representations of “punk” (spiked hair, safety-pinned britches, etc) will gradually fade with fashion, but the essence of punk, and by extension, the essence of cyberpunk, will remain.

b. Michael Moorcock says, in his review of  The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, in the Guardian.co.uk:

Cyberpunks were what the likes of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson called themselves when first signaling their break with conventional SF. What identified cyberpunk was a sophisticated interest in current events, a guess that the Pacific Rim might soon become the centre of world politics, a keen curiosity about the possibilities of post-PC international culture and a love of noir detective fiction. Characteristically, cyberpunk revived the noir thriller and might as easily be considered a development of the mystery as of science fiction.  

II. Satire

A. From Well Read Bear:

Roy Christopher: From this angle, your work is very slippery. Actually from every angle. What is it that you are you trying to do?

Steve Aylett: Most of my writing is satire, and most of that satire talks about manipulations, lies, and evasions, mainly in regard to power manipulations. But I go on about other stuff as well . . . I do old-time satire in the Voltaire/Swift tradition. Real satire, by taking people’s arguments (or evasions or justifications) to their logical extremes, snaps people back to the reality of the situation — i.e., that their evasions and justifications are cowardly bullshit. Of course it only works if there’s a scrap of honesty in the reader to begin with, so it doesn’t always work, and the way things are going socially, it’ll work less and less. There’ll be no honesty to appeal to, and no concept of that. There’ll be no admission that there are facts and nobody will even remember the original motive for that evasion — that to deny that there’s such a thing as a fact, means you can do anything to anyone without feeling bad about it. If you tell yourself they didn’t feel what you did to them, they didn’t feel it. To deny you did it means you didn’t do it. Welcome to the swamp.

  III. Visual

a. Synesthesia – (also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia, plural synesthesiae or synaesthesiae)—from the Ancient Greek σύν (syn), “together,” and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), “sensation“—is a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.

 b. From the Rick Klaw interview on Fantastic Metropolis:

Rick Klaw: Many of your projects feature your own artwork. Are you a frustrated artist who became a writer or are you a writer who dabbles in art? Do you enjoy producing the art that accompanies your writing?

Steve Aylett: I’m a writer but I like drawing, music and stuff like that. In art I like extreme color, as I’m synaesthetic and get really interesting stuff from colors. There are reversed-acidic colors you can get with Photoshop artwork that’s difficult to get by painting unless you’re using metal flake. I did a lot of fun stuff for the LINT project, and I’ve just done a cartoony cover and title page for the US edition of The Inflatable Volunteer (Wildside Press)—though they inevitably chose the less colorful of the cover options I sent them. I get music from color and color from music, so I also do music projects like the music/textures/shrieking bloody vortexes I do with The Wesley Kern Gun, of which there’s a CD coming out soon from Humbug in Norway, who specialise in weird music. I’m also doing a project with Stephen O’Malley of the subsonic guitar band SunnO))). And it’s fun doing mindlessly stupid comedy like Lord Pin too, which is just mumbled stand-up.

Rick Klaw: When did you first use your own art in conjunction with your writing?

Steve Aylett: I remember writing a version of Jason and the Argonauts when I was about five or something, with illustrations of the monsters. But the sailors would always run away when they saw the monsters or the seven skeletons—Jason would shout “Get back to the ship” and they would sail away from the island. They never had a fight. That’s me: lack of appropriate conflict, too much conflict in areas that aren’t meant to be disputed.

c. Alan Moore 

D. Harlan Wilson talks to Aylett about Alan Moore

This is only the beginning.

Three for “T” (Norris, Mcneill, & Agnelli on “V” Author Thomas Pynchon)

           Photo of Lauren Agnelli by Chion Wolf

I’m reading my first Thomas Pynchon novel, V.  and wondering if Pynchon created the urban legend about baby alligators being flushed down toilets and growing into big alligators in the sewers of New York, or did he simply take a pre-existing rumor and expand upon it. For that matter, is it only a myth, or is it true? 

Sometimes I think Pynchon is like Jack Kerouac with the added luxury of sleep, leisure time, and a global outlook. Other times, Pynchon reminds me of William Burroughs, with the hallucinatory traces of intrigue and skullduggery but without the homoerotic obsession. Then again, the humor is more Vonnegut. Of course, the rollicking debauchery of V.’s  “Whole Sick Gang” might evoke Bukowski, and/or circle back again to Kerouac’s crew of desolate angel outcasts.

I refer to these other writers because it’s an easy way to describe my initial reactions to V., which I am enjoying immensely. I get the impression from Pynchon fans that the comparisons should be reversed.

In a book review of Gravity’s Rainbow, on Amazon.com, William P. Mcneill says, “Read V.  first… Pynchon’s V.  is shorter and more accessible than Gravity’s Rainbow, but addresses the same themes in a similar style. If you enjoyed V. , you will have built up a reserve of goodwill for Pynchon that will carry you through the initial rough patches of Gravity’s Rainbow. This advice was given to me years ago, and I’m glad I took it.”

Michael Norris and I got into a side-discussion about Pynchon on one of Jamelah Earle’s Ulysses threads, then “stepped outside” the virtual room to continue our conversation by email:

BILL: Lately I’ve been reading (a Rudy Rucker essay) about the relative denseness of information in various novels. Someone suggested that I read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I get the general feeling that Rainbow is similar to Ulysses in it’s layers of reference and meaning. Would anyone here agree with that? Comment by Bill Ectric June 27th, 2008 12:07 pm

MIKE:   Bill, you *must* read Gravity’s Rainbow. It is quite accessible compared to Ulysses, but yes the denseness of reference is there. To read Pynchon, you need to be versed in History, Literature, and Drugs. And have a sense of humor. Comment by Michael Norris – June 27th, 2008 2:57 pm

BILL: You’ve convinced me. I’m going to read Gravity’s Rainbow. Now, let me ask you this. Someone said it would be better to read “V” first. Have you read
V?  – email from billectric

MIKE: Yes, read V first. This will get you used to Pynchon’s style. Also, V is set
in a more contemporary period, whereas Gravity’s Rainbow takes place during
WWII. Also, some of the characters in V repeat in Gravity’s Rainbow. – email from Michael Norris

For some background on Thomas Pynchon, here’s a LitKicks article written by singer/musician/writer Lauren Agnelli. I once had the pleasure of seeing Lauren perform with the Washington Squares in New York City at the Bowery Poetry Club, a memory I will always cherish.

Is What Cyberpunk?


I can give you a vague definition of cyberpunk with terms like “noir future” and “distopia,” but Rudy Rucker says it better and really whets my appetite to know more. Here’s an excerpt from What Is Cyberpunk:

 Proximately, “cyberpunk” is a word coined by Gardner Dozois to describe the fiction of William Gibson. Gibson’s novel Neuromancer won the Science Fiction equivalent of the Triple Crown in 1985: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Phil Dick award. Obviously, a lot of SF writers would like to be doing whatever Gibson is doing right. At the 1985 National SF Convention in Austin there was a panel called “Cyberpunk.” From left to right, the panelists were me, John Shirley, Bruce Sterling, a nameless “moderator,” Lew Shiner, Pat Cadigan, and Greg Bear. Gibson couldn’t make it; he was camping in Canada, and the audience was a bit disappointed to have to settle for pretenders to his crown. Sterling, author of the excellent Schismatrix, got a good laugh by announcing, “Gibson couldn’t make it today, he’s in Switzerland getting his blood changed.” Talking about cyberpunk without Gibson there made us all a little uncomfortable, and I thought of a passage in Gravity’s Rainbow, the quintessential cyberpunk masterpiece:

On Slothrop’s table is an old newspaper that appears to be in Spanish. It is open to a peculiar political cartoon of a line of middle-aged men wearing dresses and wigs, inside the police station where a cop is holding a loaf of white . . . no it’s a baby, with a label on its diaper sez LA REVOLUCION . . . oh, they’re all claiming the infant revolution as their own, all these politicians bickering like a bunch of putative mothers . . .

On the objective level, a cyberpunk work will often talk about computers, software, chips, information, etc. And on the higher level which I was talking about above, a cyberpunk work will try to reach a high level of information-theoretic complexity. High complexity does not, I should point out, mean hard to read.

 Read the entire article