I've kept thumbing through Barry Malzberg's Breakfast in the Ruins since yesterday's post. One of the most impressive essays is about a book that has since vanished, A Gypsy Good Time by Gustav Hasford.
Hasford was a Vietnam vet who wrote the story Full Metal Jacket was based on, but for Gypsy Good Time he decided to try his hand at a P.I. novel.
Malzberg is horrified at the results. I don't know the book, but I do know James Crumley's work, and for me Malzberg nails all the wrongheaded "literary" books written in the style of Hammett and Chandler:
…It was never the incoherence, but the promise of order which was the focusing matter of the P.I. novel, the indication that there was someone deep of soul, moving towards the center who would pound some meaning from all this. The writers, the great ones and the hacks alike, failed again and again in a thousand places in millions of words but still at the dead-center there was that sense of striving, of struggle, of the arc toward the light of knowledge. It is this which chased Hammett and Chandler and when they could no longer see the light perhaps then it was why they gave up, but is not this with chases Hasford (or, I think, Crumley); for them it is the darkness and the dank corridors which the genre as inviting. But those quarters were exit ramps and cul-de-sacs and taking them caused Hammett and Chandler to give it up; A Gypsy Good Time for all of its skill (because of all of its skill) simply is not the way to go. Back then, back towards the ascendant light. If the genre cannot struggle toward illumination, then it is not a symptom, it is the disease.
I like that a lot, the idea the genre work struggles toward illumination.
There's turmoil at the moment in the SF world due to a really strange ballot at the Hugos this year. Read Charlie Jane Anders for more.
Also, read Anders's charming SF story "As Good as New," which takes a familiar trope out for a new dance. Genre work struggles toward illumination.
My re-up of DTM's April Fools' Joke about James Bond created a predictable amount of confusion. Anyway, one of the upshots was Kevin Sun sending me a massive collection of essays about all the Bond movies by Film Crit Hulk Smash, "Hulk Vs. James Bond: Staring Into the Id of a Boner Incarnate."
Hulk reminds me of Philip Sandifer, who I link to about Doctor Who. Hulk's all-caps style is a bit much; referring to yourself in third person is not my favorite, either. Still, it's fair to say I devoured these essays. Great points throughout.
Like Sandifer, Hulk does a very through examination of politics. It's mostly pretty bad in Bond, of course. Interesting to think about the "roles" played by Bond girls. (I mean, not that interesting, but interesting enough when Hulk is decoding it.)
And also, sadly, in the same way I've looked at way too much Who because of Sandifer: Thanks to Hulk, I looked at a bit of On Her Majesty's Secret Service last night, and confirmed it just isn't for me.
Hulk and Sandifer are into comics. Charlie Jane Anders is into comics. Hell, even Ta-Nehisi Coates is into comics.
Everything is comics now.
I'm usually sort of sad that everything is comics now, but maybe the upside is simply this: politics. When the narrative is so light on verbiage, each move has impact. It can be addressed in an obvious way. There's less official social scaffolding you need to hang a narrative on. It's easier to be inclusive.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: "The Broad, Inclusive Canvas of Comics."
Circling back to a genre I actually have expertise in, recently I started re-reading all the Inspector Morse books by Colin Dexter in order. The first chapter of Last Bus to Woodstock is simply marvelous, establishing time and place and literary excellence. However, the book's plot is politically problematic. Dexter is just gaga over high school girls and their sex life. At one point one character says to another, "Can a young girl be raped?"
It's pretty awful, and then the second Morse Last Seen Wearing has more or less the same plot! I'll keep reading the series, I adore Dexter's voice, but I'll have my eye on this topic now.
As far as I can remember, I haven't really read Dexter since getting online. Kudos to writers like Anders, Coates, Hulk, and Sandifer for teaching me how to look at my entertainment more seriously.