The Four

I read several books this weekend, one of them The Four by Scott Galloway. Scott Galloway is a professor at NYU Stern Business School, and also makes entertaining videos on Youtube where he explains the world of Silicon Valley through the medium of wearing a wig and miming to Adele. No, really. That’s how I first came to know of him, prompted to look at a dissection of Apple/Google/Amazon/Facebook by a colleague.
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Bad Science

At the airport bookshop yesterday, I bought a copy of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, which I then devoured between Singapore and Vietnam, pausing to have dinner, and then finishing in the early hours of this morning when sleep wouldn’t come.

Ben Goldacre is a doctor who also wrote extensively for The Guardian, debunking various examples of quackery and also focussing on things like the MMR hoax. The book starts off with some fun, lighthearted stuff about detox remedies and footbaths that appear to soak bad things out of your feet, but don’t really do anything at all, and gradually becomes more serious as he examines homeopathy, bad medical trials, and culminating in utterly depressing things like the South African government’s opposition to retrovirals (which led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, because somebody thought orange juice would cure AIDS).
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The Black Legion

Perhaps out of nostalgia, (because I can’t think of any better reason) I downloaded a Games Workshop novel about Space Marines. It’s a few hundred pages of eight foot tall, genetically modified supersoldiers murdering one anorher, but with huge amounts of baroque detail about civil wars, cursed planets and demons everywhere. Continue reading “The Black Legion”

Lovecraft Country

This week I read Lovecraft Country, a book with a Lovecraftian bent, although it was more the Lovecraft of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, crossed with the Horror at Red Hook, than The Call Of Cthulhu or The Colour Out Of Space. I picked it up at random from the “fresh returns” section at the National Library, having heard good things about it, and only later realised that the author, Matt Ruff, had also penned Bad Monkeys, a book I really wasn’t impressed by.

Lovecraft wrote his books from the viewpoint of an upper class white guy, WASPish, terrified of the nations of dark skinned people who were going to destroy civilisation. The overarching metaphor of his fiction, of humans being a tiny bright spot surrounded by uncaring darkness, had unfortunate parallels with the thought that white people were surrounded by terrible, insensate dark people. And the trouble is, once you subtract the racist subtext, there’s not much apart from the words “squamous” and “rugose” left to get excited about. If you’re not reading Lovecraft for the prose, what did you come for?

In recent times, people have written Lovecraftian stories with a non-white protagonist. The Ballad Of Black Tom is The Horror At Red Hook from the perspective of the mysterious black manservant. Ruff tries something similar, but different: a shift from the 1920s to the 1950s, and a cast of black protagonists arrayed against a range of much more powerful white people.

It’s not a novel so much as a series of connected stories, and the very episodic nature is one strike against it. Further, the good guys always win; none of them are maimed, killed or driven mad, which really isn’t authentically Lovecraftian. Then again, perhaps it is authentic; Lovecraft would doubtless have seen a plot where white people get their comeuppance and black people survive to be a terrible outcome. However, The Ballad Of Black Tom feels more correct (nobody gets out alive!) rather than Ruff’s nearly happy ending for everyone (if you want to talk problematic, what about the black woman who keeps a fridge full of a magic potion so she can turn herself white – are we in happy ending territory at all?)

There’s no squamous or rugoseness. There’s no purple prose. There’s one bit of irony Ruff allows, when there’s talk of the improvement that will come when a Republican replaces a Democrat (because they used to be the good guys, geddit?!) but it’s pretty plodding prose throughout, and the Enochian language and pentagrams feel like a bad rewrite of Charles Stross’ Laundry computational demonology (itself a riff on Lovecraft). So a bad facsimile of a pastiche.

I didn’t hate Lovecraft Country like I did Bad Monkeys, but it wasn’t much cop. Maybe I should have just read Black Tom twice…

The Delirium Brief

Last night I started reading The Delirium Brief, the 8th novel in the Laundry series, and after a hundred pages I couldn’t put it down until 4 this morning, when I got to the end and could go to sleep.

Things are starting to get apocalyptic in this story of Lovecraftian doom, not-even-thinly-veiled Freudian terror, and public-private finance initiatives.
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George V. Higgins – The Life And Writings

I don’t think I’ve read any cheerful biographies this year, tthoughat least this one didn’t make me weep. On my way to Bangkok today, I finished reading the biography of George V. Higgins, the "Balzac of Boston"; a man who died early, after a frustrating life filled with self-sabotage. Rather, I thought, like B.S. Johnson, whose 2004 biography, Like A Fiery Elephant, also made the case for early success damning an author to an ignominious end. Continue reading “George V. Higgins – The Life And Writings”

The Ballad Of Black Tom

I finished The Ballad Of Black Tom this evening, after putting the kids to bed. It’s a rare Lovecraftian story that has a happy ending, and the most positive we can say of this one is that the protagonist defenestrates himself, rather than having his mind eaten by eldritch horrors. Continue reading “The Ballad Of Black Tom”