Admist Mangled Translations, I Find Clues

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” From the fantastic delusional exacerbated rationalism, the most extravagant interpretations have added to camouflage the Tarot.”

From the Googenglish translation of a French page about the history of the Tarot. Too “extravagant” to not share. I have, in the last few hours, found a way to link three seemingly disparate thematic arcs of HEARTLAND together. One historical fellow in the 12th century is my nexus. WIN!

The Tarot “Reading”

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Jonathan Wood [aka thexmedic] has guest edited the latest issue of Behind The Wainscot. Entitled “The Reading”, it is a wild ride through the Tarot. Each of the eighteen authors gets one card (well, Barth Anderson, our resident Tarot expert, throws out two) and about 500 or so words to bake your brain, and the results are delightful. Wood has brought the magic out in all of us.

Ah, yes, “us.” I contributed “Death.” Here’s the full author list, just ’cause it’s a fine, fine group of kids to share a table of contents with.

Paul Abbamondi
Forrest Aguirre
Barth Anderson
Jacquelyn Benson
Hal Duncan
Berrien Henderson
Paul Jessup
Jay Lake
J. M. McDermott
Michelle Muenzler
Cat Rambo
Ekaterina Sedia
Rachel Swirsky
S. Boyd Taylor
“Who Let the Rabbit In?” Teppo
Catherynne M. Valente
Damien G. Walter
Erzebet Yellowboy

Barth does Borderlands

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One of my favorite writers, Mr. Barth Anderson [barthanderson], is going to be reading at one of my favorite bookstores, Borderlands (down in San Francisco).

Saturday, August 23rd @ 3pm
Borderlands
866 Valencia St

He’ll be reading from The Magician And The Fool, his recent urban fantasy/alternate history book. It’s a crackling good read that gets in your brain, unpacks itself, and starts re-wiring things. He’s also threatening to read something new, and if it is anything like the craziness I heard him read a few months ago, you are in for a treat.

So, if you’re spinning around SF this weekend, drop in and see the man do his magic. I am sad to not be closer to the fun.

Surreal Botany Day

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“The hauntvine has bloomed. It is comforting to hear its voice after nightfall, and I will occasionally sit nearby and engage it in conversation. It doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know, but it is nice to hear a voice speaking English after so long.

It is just a strange little plant, like nothing more than a pale squid buried halfway in the dirt. Though it is certainly not the strangest plant I have encountered over the last year. There are acres of singing grass surrounding this garden, though none of its vines dare breach the inner ring. In some of the natural pools, there are nightmare lotuses and clickweed, and I have been tempted by the tangle of Queen Victoria’s Bloomers that sway in the mud along the banks. I have even found what I believe to be a specimen of Atlantis Mandrake, and while I have considered experimenting with its fruit and the sap of the blackleaf, I am cognizant of the mortal dangers inherent in that mixture.

I am, after all, still such a child in comparison to those who have come to the garden before me. Still, what I have learned over this last year is more than I would have gained in a lifetime of working in a Western pharmacological laboratory. What I have seen while under the influence of the sap has shown me the path–the path I suspected, but barely understood. I must go back to the States soon, and begin the next phase of my journey.

I know it is just a plant, and I know that its speech is just an imitation of Mr. Gaultier, but I sense a sadness in its voice when I tell it I must go. In many ways, Mr. Gaultier’s corpse has been my only friend and companion these last ten months.”

– From Dr. Ehirllimbal’s private journal, entry dated September 12, 1955.

More information about the plants mentioned above can be found in the Field Guide to Surreal Botany, officially released today. You may order it directly, or various refined and discerning booksellers will be carrying it shortly.

Some context for Dr. Ehirllimbal’s journal can be teased out of The Potemkin Mosaic.

Recent Reads: McCullough’s WebMage books

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Kelly McCullough did me a nice favor recently, and I realized I wasn’t very familiar with his books, so while on vacation, I picked up WebMage, the first book in his Ravirn series. Devoured it in a day or so, and eagerly went back for the next two–Cybermancy and CodeSpell.

Now, from the titles you can probably surmise that these are kind of a techie urban fantasy, and at first glance, they certainly are. But McCullough revels in his knowledge of Classical mythology and IT-geekspeak. The result is a crackling series of fantasy books that marry 21st century technology to Grecian lore. Magic is an extension of technology (or is it the other way around?), and the tired tropes of urban fantasy are energized by McCullough’s clever re-imaging. Trolls are mainframes, goblins are laptops, pixies are PDAs. The Internet becomes the “mweb” (one of many of McCullough’s simple but effective transformations–turning something ubiquitous in our non-fantastic culture into the foundation of his “magical” realm; he doesn’t have to explain how it works because we just know by virtue of its antecedent), spells are actualized strings of binary code, “jacking in” is a bit of ritualized homeopathic magic, and Necessity is just one huge super-computer, squatting at the exact center of reality. (And there’s all manner of delightful texturing; for example: Eris, goddess of Discord, running her entire server farm on next-gen Macs–the most tightly controlled, ordered computer system available.)

The series follows the exploits of Ravirn, a well-intentioned code hacker who, like many of us boys, is much better at reading code than he is people. The lad has a gift, and his earnest nobility and cluelessness get him into endless amounts of trouble. The relationship between Ravirn and his familiar, Melchior, is classic buddy film stuff: all manner of biting wit and grousing about having to save the other one, while slowly revealing a deep and heartfelt care for each other. As Ravirn extricates himself from one situation to the next, his relationship with the ladies goes from bad to worse to complicated. And along the way, McCullough infuses the staid, time-worn definitions of Greek mythological characters with a great deal of energy, emotional gravitas, and not a little bit of sex appeal.

They’re popcorn books, sure, but McCullough never treats his source material with anything less than reverence, and he never settles for a cheap Piers Anthony style pun. This is smart and tight world-building that constantly put a smile on my lips with both its breezy irreverence and its attentive integration of tech and myth. The fourth book is titled MythOS and it will be out some time next year. From the title along, I think McCullough is just starting to hit his stride with this series, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’s got planned. (MythOS. I giggle like a tech nerd with an empty shopping cart at Fry’s every time I see that title.)

Besides, his Furies rock. Both as expressions of chaotic energy and as carefully nuanced characters. McCullough has a deft touch in bringing out the humanity in the mythological.

Where is the 21st Century Gonzo Pulp?

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Just across the Montana-Idaho border on I-90, you’ll see a billboard for a bookstore in Alberton, MT. Alberton is pretty typical of the roadside town that dot this stretch of highway—a stretch of houses, one street, a post office, maybe a pair of gas stations, a “museum” filled with bits of local history, and a couple of bars. Alberton, though, also has a bookstore. One that advertises with thirty-foot tall billboards: “100,000 books!”

Naturally, we stopped and checked it out. And, like the sort of bookstore you’d suspect to find at the side of the highway in an area barely populated by squirrels much less people, it catered to a lot of the forgettable and the mundane. Though, in a rickety bookshelf against the wall of the narrow steps down into the basement, was a shelf of pulps. We were on our way out when I found it, and I only had time to grab one book, but what a book it was.

London Bloody London by Michael Avallone. An Ed Noon adventure.

From the back cover: “When Ed Noon groggily opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was Christine. That was all he had to see. Christine was a prime example of a beautiful British bird, every luscious naked inch of her. When she saw Ed awake, she liked her lips. Noon didn’t have to try the door to know it was locked. He didn’t have to ask Christine what she wanted. Ed Noon had become a sexual toy, and if his battery ran down, he’d be broken to bits and thrown away . . . ”

A Google search nets me ’Welcome to Nooniverse!’, a summary of Avallone’s Noon books, and they apparently get very strange as they go on. Avallone also wrote a great many of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novels.

From the inside page: “Grand Tour of Big Trouble. To the casual eye, Ed Noon might have looked like a typical American tourist, wandering through London with his eyes wide open, peering in all directions. But the sights Noon wanted to see didn’t include Big Ben, Carnaby Street, or the swinging sin-spots of Soho. Noon was hunting an aging master scientist, a wizard child prodigy, a queer little man named Malvolio, a sinister secret agent named O’Connell, a super sex-bomb named Christine, a few other assorted lads and lasses with wanton wiles and lethal ways. And if Ed Noon didn’t succeed in this mission, the only souvenir he would wind up with would be a great big tombstone for the entire world . . . ”

The cast of characters is listed “according to their favorite London sights” (with the postscript that “some of them become sights themselves.”

And it is every bit as pulpy and delicious as it suggests. It certainly seems like there was a period (1968-1973 or so) where the pulps became tinged with SFnal elements and a little whiff of the surreal. So, while I missed out on the fun when it happened (focusing, as I was, on some of the more basic skills: crawling, drooling, shitting my pants), I wonder what is its equivalent today? Where is the 21st century Gonzo Pulp? (Comic books, notwithstanding. You can argue that they are the equivalent, and I’ll agree with you, but I’m looking for books here.)

And if no one is writing it, then who wants to start an imprint? If I can’t read it, I’ll write it.

Flash Fiction on the Weekend

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Call this the “Bittercon Edition.”

Matt Staggs of the inestimable Enter The Octopus has started an “open mic weekend” over at his site. Matt’s Bookosphere’s genre round-ups are a great summation of the Day in Weird Word, but on the weekend, he turns it over to other folk.

Like me. A few weeks ago, it was “The Two of Harvesters”, a wee bit from The Blackleaf Tarot, and this weekend it is “The Author’s Nightmare”, a Burroughsian bit sliced out of PSYCHOBABEL for your enjoyment.