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Ian R Macleod

What I'm Reading

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American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Okay, okay. I know this is old news. But I’m firmly of the belief that reading widely doesn’t just mean reading “the latest thing,” and that reading the big whatever of a decade ago is often an inherently more illuminating experience. Anyway, America Psycho, for all its late-80s sheen, comes across as a surprisingly, indeed alarmingly, timeless piece. What’s most impressive and disturbing is the sheer authority of the writing, and the way the move from social comedy to horrific slaughter is achieved without the slightest change in pace. It's still the darkest possible commentary on an empty society.

 
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The Best of Sci-Fi 12 edited by Judith Merrill

What a sadly elevating experience reading this book is. In 1966/7 when most of these pieces were written, SF was on the breaking wave of cutting edge literature. You only have to look at the names included in this anthology — William Burroughs, John Updike, J G Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Samuel R. Delany — to see how badly SF has fared since. Every story is different, and all of them push at one or another boundary, as do Merrill’s fragmented links. Sure, not all of it has stood the test of time, but there’s some fine work here, especially by the British writers. What a shame that so much of what appears probably wouldn’t even be thought of as “SF” — or the sad, narrow hybrid of so-called “hard science” (which is nothing of the sort) and “adventure” (ditto) which the genre’s become — nowadays.

 
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The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye by Jonathan Lethem

Lethem's one of those (very few) writers who writes SF, yet is able to get away with swimming at the edge of the mainstream. His style is crisp and sure, yet his approach to such matters as alien invasion and various strangenesses is so often so oblique that you're left feeling unsure about what you've just read. At times, his writing can be frustratingly detached, but he's always interesting, and sometimes, as in the Kafkaesque Hardened Criminals, he can be brilliant. At his best, he reminds me of Steely Dan's lyrics - and I can't think of any greater praise. If you care about fresh, edgy writing and haven't investigated Lethem, do so. Now.

 
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Flicker by Theodore Roszak

I'm grateful to Rog Peyton for recommending this big, paranoid thriller about the movies, which attempts (and, in large part, succeeds) in being both gripping and intelligent. Flicker dips into some of the same territory as The Da Vinci Code, but, although it did so ten years earlier, there's nothing particularly new in that. What is impressive, and what, ultimately, sticks in the mind, is Roszak's love and knowledge of the movies, and the power they still possess.

 

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