Quote #17 – Albert Londres, reporter

I’ve recently discovered Albert Londres (1884-1932), a globe-trotting French journalist who seems a bit like a real-world, earlier, more principled Tintin:

Misery is like any other State. Only those who live in it know it. Others don’t even think about it. And when sometimes they do talk about it, they do so as of a country they’ve never seen, that is to say that they only talk a lot of nonsense. 

This is from Les Chemins de Buenos Aires (the extract’s translation is mine), a book-length report on the apparently flourishing sex trafficking at the time (1927) between France and Argentina. In this often quite funny first-person account, Londres follows French pimps from Paris to Buenos Aires, tells of how they seduce or trick women into following them, how they cross the ocean and avoid the authorities, how they set them up in Argentina. It’s quite extraordinary to be transported to such a time and place (and milieu), to hear early 20th century pimps in their own words.

Other works of his that I plan on reading include Au bagne (on the French penal colony in Guyana), Chez les fous (an investigation of mistreatments in psychiatric institutions) as well as works on different subjects set in colonial Africa.

His books are translated in English, but I’m not sure how easily one could get his hands on one. But I’d recommend trying! Or if by any chance you read French, a good few of his works are available for free (Public Domain) on Wikisource.

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Quote #16 – Walter M. Miller

There were several dead refugees, one dead horse, and the dying cavalry officer who was pinned under the horse. At intervals the cavalryman awoke and faintly screamed. Now he screamed for Mother, and again he screamed for a priest. At times he awoke to scream for his horse. His screaming disquieted the buzzards and farther disgruntled the Poet, who was feeling peevish anyhow. He was a very dispirited Poet. He had never expected the world to act in a courteous, seemly, or even sensible manner, and the world had seldom done so; often he had taken heart in the consistency of its rudeness and stupidity. But never before had the world shot the poet in the abdomen with a musket. This he found not heartening at all.

from  A Canticle for Leibowitz,  by Walter M. Miller

 

A Canticle for LeibowitzAfficher l'image d'origine

 

Quote#15 – Ballard interview

Before starting High-Rise, I was staying one summer in a beach high-rise at Rosas on the Costa Brava, not far from Dalí’s home at Port Lligat, and I noticed that one of the French ground-floor tenants, driven to a fury by cigarette butts thrown down from the upper floors, began to patrol the beach and photograph the offenders with a zoom lens. He then pinned the photos to a notice board in the foyer of the block. A very curious exhibition, which I took to be another green light to my imagination. 

 

-J.G Ballard, interviewed in The Paris Review

Quote #14 Hallucinated Ballard

 

Excited by my own sex, I felt light-headed and generous. All sense of hunger had left me. I decided to startle the placid town with my sex, but not by copulating with these suburbanites still asleep in their bedrooms. I would mount the town itself, transform Shepperton into an instant paradise more exotic than all the television travelogues that presided over their lives.

 

-from The Unlimited Dream Company, by JG Ballard

 

TheUnlimitedDreamCompany(1stEd).jpgL'allegra compagnia del sognoThe Unlimited Dream Company

(You can find an interview with Ballard in The Paris Review, where he says, among other things that the title of this novel was a mistake, as it sounded “like a jeans emporium”.

Quote #13: Philip K. Dick’s kipple

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”

“I see.” The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.

“There’s the First law of Kipple,” he said. “‘Kipple drives out nonkipple.’ Like gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.”

“So it has taken over completely,” the girl finished. She nodded. “Now I understand.”

“Your place here,” he said, “this apartment you’ve picked – it’s too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apts. But-” He broke off.

“But what?”

Isidore said, “We can’t win.”

 

Do androids dream of electric sheep, Philip K. Dick

 

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A mad ride of a short story + Quote #12

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A Window or a Small Box

I’ve just read this brilliant story by Jedediah Berry, first published in Tor.com, and reprinted in The Year’s Best Science-Fiction & Fantasy 2014 (Prime Books). It’s – well, I have no idea what it is, but it’s great. It’s described as “a charming and weird contemporary novelette of magic realism“, so, there.

What it certainly is is confident; the tone and voice of the piece really impressed me, and Berry manages to take [this] reader along on quite a long stretch of surreal / non-sensical landscape. It’s the kind of story that leaves me amazed that it works at all. I mean – what – uh? – oh, wow! It’s a great act of juggling (with 5th dimension burning knives).

It’s also the kind of story that makes me revise everything I write or plan on writing, because it’s shouting at me through a giant megaphone: THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN’T DO THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS LIMITS YOU MAD OMNIPOTENT PEN-WIELDING LITTLE MAN!

So, really, you should read the whole thing for yourself, really, seeing as it is free and all on the interweb, but here’s a little extract, just in case:

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

“Please,” she said to the goon now. “Please just tell me where we’re going.”

“Going? Darling, we’re already here. This is it.”

“This is what?”

“This is what happens when we catch you. We drive around together, and you say interesting things for as long as you can.”

The other goons were chuckling. There were more of them than could possibly fit inside that car: dozens, maybe. They could have filled a small theater.

“Keep it interesting, though. Because as soon as we get bored . . .”

More chuckling, and Laura’s instinct was to fight—to kick and punch and claw her way out of there—but she’d heard the doors lock, and she knew what had happened to Jim when he tried to fight them. So she swallowed that back and said, “What do you want me to talk about?”

“Snacks,” one of the goons said.

“Dinner,” another said.

“Talk about the constellations,” said a third.

“Zip it,” said the chief goon. “I want to hear about the wedding plans. I always find your wedding plans so interesting.”

“You hate it when I talk about my wedding plans,” Laura said.

“You’re right,” the chief goon said. “That was a trap.”

“I’m going to tell you a story,” Laura said, and then goons were hushing other goons, and one of them switched off the radio, and for a moment all she could hear was the noise of the car’s engine, which came as though from deep in the earth.

“The story is called ‘A Window or a Small Box,’ and it’s about some stones at the bottom of a stream—”

“Boring,” said one of the goons.

“Some stones,” she said, “that dreamed they were turtles.”

The same goon said, “Oooh,” and Laura could hear the slopping sound of him as he settled back into his seat.

“They dreamed that they were turtles, and the turtles swam in the waters of the stream, up above the rocks that dreamed them . . .”

from A Window or a Small Box, Jedediah Berry

Quote #11: Nick Hornby

American lives seem, from this distance at least, very different from European lives. Look at this: Sean Wilsey’s mother was the daughter of an itinerant preacher. She ran away to Dallas to be a model, an escape funded initially by the nickels from her uncle’s jukeboxes and peanut machines. She was dragged off to California by her angry family, and while waitressing there she met a US Air Force major who married her on a live national radio programme called The Bride and Groom. She split from the major, dated Frank Sinatra for a while, married a couple of other guys – one marriage lasted six months; the other, to the trial lawyer who defended Jack Ruby, lasted three weeks. She got a TV job and she had a fan club. and then she married Sean’s dad. We don’t do any of that here. We don’t have itinerant preachers, or peanut machines, or Sinatra. We are born in, for example, Basingstoke, and then we either stay there, or we move to London. That’s probably why we don’t write many memoirs. 

Nick Hornby, ‘The Complete Polysyllabic Spree’

[Great little collection of Hornby’s columns about his reading life in The Believer magazine. A lot of funny bits, interesting takes on books (whether they’re books you’d be interested in or not) writing, reading and the literary world.]