We don’t have cable television. As a result I get almost 100% of my news from online sources, primarily Google news. However sometimes I stay at hotels, as I did last weekend in Charleston, SC. While I was there I happened to catch a good half hour of CNN, Fox news, etc. This was during the peak of the Malaysia Airlines disappearance hype. It was amazing to see how the anchors on all three of the major 24-hour news channels were able to receive no new information, yet continually act as though there was something exciting and important happening. They were making it up as they went along. It was terrible, hilarious and more than a bit sad.
It’s not news that our media is broken. The real “news” would be some useful approaches to fixing it.
Alain De Botton has recently come out with a new book called The News: a User’s Manual. I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy yet, but in the meantime I’ve watched this great little talk he gave as part of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermon series. In it he discusses several disconcerting trends that have taken over mainstream news in the last couple of decades. He also offers up simple philosophical approaches to remedying the situation – both for those of us who digest the news, and those out there who make a living cooking it up.
Over the course of thirty minutes, De Botton makes the case that the news has become fundamentally broken. Central to the problem is that “real news” the important stuff that used to be at the front of the newspaper, has become confused with fun or interesting items that used to be found near the back. Media today has thrown the items in a blender. The result being that twerking and celebrity divorces are getting equal coverage with war, famine and disaster. What’s worse, so much of the information we receive is being delivered free of any context. We’re not sure what we’re supposed to do with this information, why it’s being told to us, how we’re supposed to feel. This lack of commentary has made everything simultaneously an emergency and completely devoid of any real meaning at all.
Another issue De Botton takes a crack at is fear-mongering. The amount of news in the world – that is the amount of genuinely newsworthy occurrences – has not increased. But what has increased is the amount of media flooding our consciousness. As a result, the news tends to generate a state of hysteria where the world appears much more frightening, dangerous and strange than a it really is. This is a problem that has been commented on in the past by writers such as Barry Glassner in his classic book on news and hysteria Culture of Fear. The fact of the matter is, the items that are reported by newspapers and cable TV are exceedingly rare. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be news. I believe this is a message that needs to be disseminated more widely. Fear has become one of the driving forces in our society – whether it’s our approach to raising our children or our approach to foreign policy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with people who are confessed 24 hour news junkies and realized we are living on two different planets. There’s being infinitely more dramatic than mine. This is planet filled with terrorists, kidnappers, murderers and and bath salt riddles psychotics. Of course the reality is that by all measures, our world is more peaceful and more safe than ever. But you’d never know it after finding out about the many many things that are out to kill you on the six o’clock news.
Obviously news is important. From watergate to apartheid to the NSA, the news has opened our eyes and been a powerful agent of social change. Hopefully, by applying a bit of thought to how digest it, the news can stay a force of good in our lives.
Edgar Rice Burroughs is remarkable, not just for the breadth of his imagination or the impact he had on the world of science fiction and fantasy, but because along with being a fantastic author, he was also a businessman. In some quarters a mixture of business and art is frowned upon. In fact there’s a name for it: exploitation. And it’s usually derided as something to be automatically regarded less seriously than pure art, which, in the imaginations of critics at least, has no obligation to commerce. But whatever.
At thirty-seven Burroughs had been through several unsuccessful businesses. After reading some stories in a pulp magazine, he figured he could do better. Thus he began his most successful business venture: being a writer. He had success right out of the gate with A Princess of Mars, the first of many stories he would publish featuring the character John Carter and his adventures on Mars aka Barsoom. The story was accepted to be published as a serial in All-Story magazine, but later went on to be published as an expanded stand-alone edition.
As the first book in a multi-volume series, A Princess of Mars does a great job of introducing us to John Carter and telling us exactly how he came to be on the red planet of Barsoom.
The first thing you read when you open the book is a note by Burroughs himself, talking about Carter as though he were a real person, a distant relative in fact. He presents the story itself as a diary he found among Carter’s possessions after his death. This lends the whole book an air of authenticity I don’t think it would have otherwise had.
The majority of the book is a first-person narrative belonging to John Carter. Without mincing words, Carter is a bit of a show-off. He talks a lot about what a badass he is. About how brave he is. About how he can kill martians with a single punch and doesn’t hesitate even for a moment to do it. In fact, Carter is painted as such an uber-hero that you never really feel like he’s in much danger.
It’s a real tribute to Burroughs’ skill as storyteller then, that despite Carter’s penchant for bragging and violence, you still end up getting sucked into his story. Even if the story is a bit all over the place. A Princess of Mars is a standard rescue the princess tale, but it’s laid-out less like saturday afternoon matinee fare, and more like a travelogue. And Carter seems to meet new characters and arrive at new destinations without rhyme or reason or consideration of pacing.
Along his journey he meets a wild cast of characters and races including Tars-Tarkas, a brutal warrior among the green martians known as the Tharks. The scenes between Carter and Tarkas are too short, but in many ways prove to be the most affecting in the book as they show the ways in which shared philosophies can bridge cultural chasms, no matter how wide.
In the end, A Princess of Mars is a weird and brutal entry into the early pulp cannon and an essential read for anyone who ants a grasp of science fiction in the early twentieth century.
Of all the covers Spacemen 3 did (Sun Ra, Red Krayola arguably Lou Reed) the 13th Floor Elevators’ Rollercoaster is my favorite.This isn’t the 17 minute version from Perfect Prescription. But I might like this recording better.
I’ve talked about the Elric series here before, but I can’t really convey just how fun it really is. Elric is a Melnibonean – a cruel and formal people who share some distant genes with the dragons they command who lay asleep beneath their city.
Early in the series Elric leaves his throne and decides to wander the weird lands that surround him in search of adventure and fortune. His main traveling companion is Stormbringer, a demon that has manifested in this world in the shape of a black sword. With each person Stormbringer shears in half, Elric absorbs their energy – creating a strangely dependent relationship.
These two books belong to the Chronicles of Corum – an Eternal Champion series featuring Moorcock’s Corum character, which I think falls outside the narrative presented in the Swords Trilogy I wrote about in Part 1.
The Time Dweller is a series of surreal short stories that Moorcock published in New Worlds during the sixties when he was also editing the magazine. A lot of the stories deal with notions of time and the nature of reality. Very trippy.
The Land Leviathan is a sequel to Warlord of the Air which I posted in Part One. Like that book, the story covers an alternate history that weaves in a lot of imagery you would probably call Steampunk.
The Sundered Worlds is the first book where Moorcock introduces the notion of his Multiverse – the hundreds of dimensions of reality from which his characters are drawn.
It takes us to fantastic version of Mars populated by wild creatures, magnificent cities, and of course, lots of Adventure. As you can see from the cover of this book, this series was originally published under the name Edward P. Bradbury and, in fact, Moorcock uses much the same technique as Burroughs in telling the story, making Bradbury merely a reported who tells of how he met the hero Michael Kane and came to learn all about his adventures.
This is An Alien Heat, the first book in Michael moorcock’s excellent Dancers at the End of Time series. most of the story happens in a version of what’s probably Earth somewhere in the far far future where the universe is on it’s very last legs. the story combines Steampunk, time travel, fantasy and violence in a psychedelic soup of somewhat mind melting fun.
I’m posting it because I recently checked out a library sale consisting of nothing but Sci-fi paperbacks, most of them from the sixties and seventies. Apparently the donor was moving out of state and didn’t want to take his collection with him. Why he decided to let the library sell off his treasure trove of novels at ONE DOLLAR EACH I’ll never understand, but there you have it.
Moorcock is one of my favorite science-fiction and fantasy authors ever. His output is prolific to the point of being absurd. I once found a post on his message board where he said that at the peak of his writing he would generate upwards of 15,000 words a day. Considering most of his novels are between 40,000 and 60,000 that means he was cranking out something like a novel a week.
If you’re not familiar with his fiction, it’s far out in the best sense of the word: lucid yet wonderfully psychedelic. All while weaving a dense web of internal mythology dealing with the “Eternal Champion” and an ongoing war between Law and Chaos.
I’ll be posting a number of other finds over the coming week but here are my scores from the multiverse of Moorcock (Part one):
From it’s description The Black Corridor sounds like straight up nail-biting sci-fi. Mostly I’m excited about the incredible cover art that looks like something you’d find hanging in the waiting room of a particularly strange psychotherapy office.
From the sole review I found on Amazon This sounds like kind of like a Faustian story. Again, I mostly picked this one up for the freaky cover art which, I’ll be honest, is somewhat nightmare inducing.
As the subtitle says these are both part of the Castle Brass Series which itself is part of a much bigger universe of books Moorcock created dealing with the Eternal Champion. These books stretch across different universes, dimensions and worlds each dealing with a different iteration of the same character who gets into adventures and usually has some larger destiny involving balancing the forces and gods of Law and Chaos.
Both of these books are part of the Eternal Champion Corum series which is great, weird and exceeding violent. The entire series has also been collected in an omnibus edition which I highly recommend as the books are hard to digest separately.
This book is part of the Nomad of the Time Streams series (which is again, available as an omnibus) which has a steampunk/alternate history bent.