Archives for category: Literature

Most of the reviews on Goodreads of Gore Vidal’s Myron miss the point. These reviews have apparently been written by leftists who do not understand that Vidal points most of his satire not rightward, in this novel, but at leftist sexual [tranny] tyranny. The title character of the previous book, Myra Breckinridge, rapes and castrates her way to cultural power on a Club of Rome de-population agenda, made quite explicit. This is not “sexual liberation” but sexual tyranny and . . . propaganda by the misdeed. But Vidal does croak out the last laugh at conservatives in the final pages. Myron, Myra’s alter ego (they share the same body), literally has no idea that the world has changed and that he has lost his battle of personal identity and identity politics with Myra, hung up as he has been on defending Nixon.

The clue to the interpretation is that leftists seek to emasculate America and rightists have no “powells” (Vidal’s term for testicles — it’s a long story: see below).

Vidal spins a Lewis Carroll-like fantasy to make a grisly point about left and right in America, and straight-left readers would be too clueless to suspect such a thing from the pen of socialist Gore Vidal.

It is a Menippean satire, perhaps. The caricatures that are Myra and Myron make an almost allegorical tapestry, but with no reverence or piety or patriotism whatsoever. This is as thoroughgoing satire as I’ve read from an American. It tops James Branch Cabell’s Hamlet Had an Uncle (if not Jurgen), anyway.

Vidal employed similar technique — that is, a satire based on fantasy and gloriously fabulisitic and ultra-silly sci-fi — in his later send-up of early Christianity, too, Live from Golgotha . . . the best thing about which were the two pages explaining the Cleansing of the Temple in terms of loose and tight monetary policy.

These usually ignored fictions by Vidal are, from what I can tell, the novelistic stand-in for satyr plays. I could perhaps write more persuasively about this literary diptych had I read Myra Breckinridge (1968) a few years ago, not, as is the case, a few decades ago: my memory is not reliable about the first book. I have just finished reading Myron (1974) today. But I can offer advice for those who choose to read Myron: read the first edition, where Vidal uses an amusing set of euphemisms for the traditional set of naughty words. In later edition he jettisoned this comic apparatus. Pity. It is indeed funny. Vidal explains, in his helpful prefatory note to the first edition, which I read:

I am going to be teasing my listeners and viewers with a thesis in a few videos and podcasts. The first is up:

And, after a few teasing mentions of the thesis, I will then defend it!

The thesis has to do with the importance of science fiction and fantasy for developing a more accurate picture of reality.

But I’m not in the mood to really get into it, so I am only dropping hints.

This latest video is also on Rumble:

I would greatly appreciate it if you could sign up for Rumble and subscribe to my channel (@wirkman) and “give a rumble,” too.

On Rumble is where my LocoFoco video channel resides, too.

I am recording a new podcast with David Ramsay Steele next week. So stay tuned. You won’t want to miss it.

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The epochs of science fiction production and readership:

  1. Iron Age: Lucian’s True History through all those utopias up till Mary Shelley.
  2. Industrial Age: Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus through The Coming Race and Erewhon and the ultra-popular Jules Verne oeuvre (and many obscurities, such as the short stories of Edward Page Mitchell) to The War of the Worlds and The Food of the Gods.
  3. Radium Age: From just prior to Great War to John W. Campbell’s hiring at Astounding in 1937, this period featured literary classics such as We and Brave New World, the pulp fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s extremely popular efforts and Gernsback’s considerably more obscure “scientifiction” crowd, and many breakthrough oddball efforts, like George S. Schuyler’s Black No More (1931).
  4. Golden Age: This period featured stiff competition among sf journals, the popularity of writers such as Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and Simak, and the rise of “sci-fi” fandom.
  5. Philippians and the New Wave: Though hints of a new approach to sf can be found in the works of Philip José Farmer and Philip K. Dick, it was in the late Sixties that writers and editors such as Judith Merrill, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Thomas M. Disch and others brought new literary sophistication to the genre. They called it “the New Wave,” and I am mainly familiar with the American wing of the movement, chiefly through Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology and its sequels.
  6. Cyberpunk & Cinema: In the Eighties, a strain evolved out of catching the curl of accelerated but ambiguous history, and inspired by the work of many past masters, focusing on progressive technology and decadent culture. This “cyberpunk” came to dominate literary sf trends, at least until the rebirth of space opera in a more sophisticated, Midcult form, while popular sf and its fandom were subsumed under the Masscult phenomena that congealed around the cinematic series Star Trek and Star Wars.

It’s all been post-historical since then, a postmodern diversity.

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A Radium Age satirical novel I am reading, and Harlan Ellison’s celebrated anthology of 1967, which I devoured in the mid-70s.
Pikku taking her stand atop a bookcase in the midst of my most recent library reshuffle (ongoing).

Man vs. the Monsters

Murray Leinster’s The Forgotten Planet is as perfect an example of classic science fiction as one could hope to find. It’s a 1950s’ ”fix-up” novel of a few stories from the 1920s. In that sense, it is almost a century old.

On the surface it qualifies as pure adventure, and thankfully without the clunky sophomoric (as if teen-imagined) view of romance that used to dominate pulp sf. (You know: pulchritudinous blonde daughter of a bespectacled scientist thrown together with a teen athlete boy or a nerd.) But it is rigorously worked out from a simple premise, and is as “hard science” as this sort of thing can be.

It is, in fact, the best example of a fix-up that I can think of, for it is seamless in its construction. Well, not exactly, I guess: the prologue and epilogue are the most obvious fix-up parts, a tad more elegantly written than the crisply narrated body of the text. But that’s apt, too.

It really is impressive.

And it is an apparent inspiration for Brian Aldiss’s masterwork, Hothouse. Like it, we have non-civilized human being in the future in constant battle for survival on an alien planet. In this case, though, it’s not Earth. The planet is not named. After multiple seedings of life, the barren planet was forgotten by human interstellar civilization, and then a ship crashed on it, and the survivors had to fend for themselves, losing their culture in the process. The story features one young man who begins to develop an ability to think, and to dare to try new ways to survive. Against giant spiders and insects, mainly.

A very few typos in this edition. I have another, early Ace edition of this book, but cannot find it. When I find it I’ll sell one of them. Or both? I hate to get rid of books I may need to refer to again.

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The first story in Out of the Unknown (1970), is by A.E. Van Vogt, and might best be categorized as adventure-horror. Titled “The Sea Thing,” the eponymous creature, which we learn is “the god of sharks,” goes on land and takes human form to wreak vengeance upon the isolated fishermen of a remote island. Van Vogt begins, and for much of the story continues, by using this creature as the viewpoint character. This is the unique thing about “The Sea Thing” — otherwise it is very old-fashioned, a sea-based horror fantasy.

Despite that apparently damning judgment of “very old-fashioned,” I do not seek to dismiss this collection of tales. First, they were all originally published in Unknown, a short-lived pulp edited by the great John W. Campbell — hence the book’s title. Second, the authors of the stories are a husband-wife writing “team” who, despite their alleged status as a team, wrote each story in the book separately.

The penultimate tale of this collection, Lord Dunany’s “The Sack of Emeralds,” is simple and effective. It is so simple that one might blink and wonder why we should take any notice of it. Dunsany wrote many similar stories. But they are timeless, and flawless in their own way. This is a little longer, I think, than his best short shorts, like “Charon,” from Fifty-One Tales, and is nowhere near as moving. But it is a worthy inclusion.

This anthology also contains Ray Bradbury’s grand exercise in low-key bizarrerie, “The Jar.”

This paperback, with its unfortunate torn top-right corner, is of a slightly smaller size than what we think of as a normal-sized pocketbook paperback. It was published in 1963, during the period when this size was most popular.

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With the FBI’s move on Trump, I once again wonder to myself:

Are Democrats now so evil that they make themselves stupid, or so stupid they make themselves evil?

In America, the right wing doesn’t know what the left’s doing, and vice versa, and I expect it all to come to some sort of frothy head soon.


Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote a novel titled Not This August in which the communists conquer the United States — and the American people conquer the country right back.

It is supposed to be quite good, but I bet, in context, it’d be depressing, for it is Americans who are now pushing towards phase one of the conquest project.


The basic ”deal” of a two-party democratic republic is that the two sides do not attack each other using state power when they secure a unitary government. The idea is to let each other get away with the usual inelegances, self-dealings and crimes and not take advantage of a temporary impregnable position.

When Trump, during the 2016 debates, threatened to put Hillary Clinton in jail for her many crimes (and she was and is deeply, deeply corrupt), this alarmed the establishment. The Administrative State (both Deep and Wide) depends upon bipartisan corruption to thrive, using both parties to keep their confidence game going. Trump was ‘reckless’ in promising to take Hillary down. And so the insiders in the CIA and FBI went on the attack against Trump, and with the help of a partisan propagandistic media, got Democratic voters to think they were right to do so — the boobs of the booboisie can always be counted on to get it wrong politically.

But notice: Trump did nothing. The Hillary-bashing was a mere empty threat. While Democrats and major media newsreaders/talking heads relentlessly portrayed Trump as a tyrant, he acted in a fairly normal-American manner for three years, and then was blindsided by the China-Fauci Team and their pet project, COVID-19.

Now Democrats are in power and they are on the warpath. They are so afraid of a second Trump run that they are breaking the basic “deal.” The FBI’s raid on the Trump compound in Florida is quite a coup, you might say — not a coup d’etat, but along those lines. It was a breakdown in the fundamental truce that makes a republic work.

It’s another step to civil war, as I see it, and Democrat voters just fall in line. I said it years ago: it is the Democratic Party that‘s the Stupid Party now. It is indeed very funny, because “the smart ones” daily prove their folly and cluelessness.

It is kind of breathtaking to watch.

But since it solidifies all my old fugitive opinions, my ultra-marginal notions about how power really works — not the standard civics text fairy tales — I guess I shouldn’t complain. Thanks, Democrats, for proving how awful your ideas always have been, and how slim-to-nonexistent your commitment to “democracy” really is.


Isn’t it odd how President Herbert Hoover was scorned and excoriated for the encampments of “Hoovervilles” during the Great Depression but no politician receives any brunt of the blame for the vast encampments of the homeless in Seattle, Portland, and California’s most woke cities?


Nicknames for the union:

I’ve long liked Gore Vidal’s: The United States of Amnesia.

I’ve often used this one: These Benighted States.

But how about this: The Self-Satirizing States of America. SSSA!

Drunkard’s Walk (1960), by Frederik Pohl.

Spoilers & speculation:

A mathematics teacher keeps trying to kill himself in this somewhat satirical novel set in 2166 A.D. Why? The big reveal comes in the final chapters, where we learn that telepathic immortals are behind his suicides, because he and his kind are too close to them genetically. They fear competition. Being found out. So fearful are they that they unleash a worldwide plague to kill off much of humanity.

October 1969 edition, p. 138.

So I wonder: when our civilization develops truly successful life-extension methods, the political ramifications will necessarily become enormous. To fend off demographics-based chaos, the new immortals will seek to severely cut down the size of the global population, probably with a series of plagues . . . and rigged inoculations.

How will we know when the big advances in longevity research had’ve been achieved? When we witness a series of designer diseases with designer drugs developed in tandem.

Has the crucial advance in longevity research been achieved? Yes: it has already happened. SARS-CoV-2.

The novel lacks something, though it is very well-written, the first half reading more like a satire of academic life than an sf novel. But one reads science fiction at least partially to make one think. A thumb’s up.

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While Eye in the Sky is often hailed as Philip K. Dick’s first successful original novel to be published in his lifetime, I find it a bit clunky, a little rough around the edges — a contrivance.

I’m reading, again — after four decades! — his The Man Who Japed, written the same year, 1955. And this is much better constructed, not “clunky” at all. It is an original work, from the title to the imagined future to the plot to the characterizations. Arguably this is his first real success among those published during his waking, breathing life.

I’ve hedged here, twice mentioning the books of Dick’s published while he was alive — and for good reason: early on, he was trying to succeed as a non-genre novelist, but his “realistic fiction” was completely orthogonal to the warp and woof of the age, and all of his “mainstream” novels were rejected until he proved himself a success in science fiction. And then the only one of these early works to be published before he died, Confessions of a Crap Artist, saw print in 1975. I read it in the mid-80s and disliked it, but another of these early novels, Puttering About in a Small Land, came out a few years after his death, and I read it and thought it first-rate at the time. Alas, I now have no memory of it.

The Man Who Japed was one of the very first of PKD’s novels I read, soon after Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and The Man in the High Castle (1962). I knew nothing about it going in; I just liked the title.

In his first two decades of writing, Dick wrote to keep the wolf from the door. He took amphetamines to enable him to achieve a 60-pages-per-day output. As a consequence, his writing is very uneven, prose and character and plotting. The Man Who Japed stands out among those early works, and shows a writer finding his way.

Here are two early passages. The first helps explain the title, the second builds the social world a century hence, a world Dick explicitly drew to dissuade critics and fans and enemies from thinking he was a leftist — for he based the “highly moral” future America on the totalitarian social controls of pre-Cultural Revolutionary Red China.

Dick was an instinctive individualist. His political thought was thoroughly anti-totalitarian, as can be seen over and over again in his best work, not least being the great paranoiac novel Radio Free Albemuth (1976; 1985). In The Man Who Japed, a contractor-propagandist beheads and defaces the statue of the fascist leader of the future, and does not know why — for he suffers from a kind of amnesia. A blockage of memory. His discovery of his own motive is the reader’s discovery of a key to liberation: mocking the trite and destructive memes of oppression.

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Iris Murdoch published 26 novels during her life. In my late teens, based on a notice in a Britannica yearbook, I read Bruno’s Dream. I was very impressed, and went on to read book after book of hers, including several of her works of philosophy. I would have been more impressed with her work had her politics leaned less left, but her novels were great nevertheless. She became my favorite comic novelist/novelist of ideas, though she denied writing the latter — despite her status as a moral philosopher in the Weil/Anscombe tradition. Her goal was to provide “something for everyone” in her literary efforts. She certainly provided a lot for me.

I have read 19 of her novels, and a few — such as A Word Child, Time of the Angels, and A Severed Head — I’ve read multiple times.

Her mature work, from Bruno’s Dream (1969) onward, falls into two categories: first-person novels with unreliable — or merely overwhelmed — narrators, and vast third-person novels featuring multiple characters.

The early works of hers that I recommend most are Under the Net (1954), The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), and, most of all, the breezy The Nice and the Good (1968).

Of the third-person monsters, I most urgently advise reading An Accidental Man (1971) and The Green Knight (1987).

The first-person novels are the most challenging, and perhaps most rewarding.

The Black Prince (1973) is her refraction of Vladimir Nabokov’s brilliant and controversial Lolita (1955). Her narrator is a pretentious loser, but his actions are so extreme that one must follow him. At least he falls in love not with a prepubescent girl (as did Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert) but an older teenager. His inamorata is not a happenstance stranger, either; instead, she is the daughter of his best friend, who is also his literary rival whom he envies deeply. A great and vexing novel.

If one determines love of a book by how many times one reads it, then A Word Child (1975) is my favorite Murdoch book: I may have read it four times, once per decade. The narrator cannot make good decisions. His compulsion to repeat his biggest personal tragedy is riveting and quite funny. It is time for a fifth and more careful reading.

The Sea, The Sea (a prizewinner from 1978) may be her best work. It tells the tale of an old actor who retires to live by the sea only to discover that his great lost love lives in a nearby village. So of course he kidnaps her! Comedy and tragedy ensue. And a sea monster. This one packs a wallop.

I am not even aware of Iris Murdoch writing any short stories — I have not read any. Her philosophical work is a mixed bag. I read and enjoyed her The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists (1977) soon after it first came out, and I have also read a number of her most important essays. But I do not fall into her camp of theorizing about ethics — I am closer to Spencer and Santayana. Nevertheless, her philosophical work is both historically and dialectically important. Like Anscombe and Weill, she opposed the meta-ethical turn of British moral philosophy, and her criticisms of that tradition are mostly on point, except to the extent that she misses the point. The meta-ethicians of the emotivist-prescriptivist school were trying to confront the reality of the origins of ethics in utility; their grave errors were in not drawing all the vital connections from this relativistic foundation to a full and substantive ethical understanding.

Alas, she may be most well-known for suffering from Alzheimer’s at the end of her life. There was a movie. It’s good, but nothing like her novels, really.

If I live long enough, I will read the seven novels of hers I have so far neglected. I will probably start with The Message to the Planet (1989), which I may have avoided because I suspected it could not possibly live up to its science-fictional title.

I believe that Murdoch is the writer who took George Meredith’s method and made it high art. Her books are better than Meredith’s, for the most part, mainly by controlling her need to “riff” off of the action and characters. She let her characters have independence from her control and her personal perspectives. She did not “editorialize.”

One of the main themes in her work is the problem of predatory and domineering egoism. (Meredith explains his take on egoism in his famous and worthwhile 1877 An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit and in the preface to his 1879 novel The Egoist.) This antagonism to egoism puts her in fascinating contrast to Ayn Rand, a novelist more popular with my friends. Rand infamously celebrated a kind of “a new concept of egoism.” Years ago, after reading Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand (1987) and while reading the opening pages of Nathaniel Branden’s Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand (1989), it became clear to me that Rand herself was a figure out of a Murdoch comedy — an enchanter figure — as was the much-younger Nathaniel, whom she made her lover. Indeed, I do not think the whole “egoism” thing of Rand’s “Objectivism” can be fully understood until one recasts the whole silly drama as if from the mind of Iris Murdoch.

I have known enchanter-egoists. But then I have known enchanter altruists, too. The worst sort of people on the planet are enchanter-egoists who pretend to be savior-altruists, but that is not, alas, a theme that Murdoch explored seriously. Rand could have, had she not been broken in spirit by Nathaniel Branden.

But I read Rand too late in my life — after reading Murdoch, actually — so I had been immunized against the kind of traps set by the worst sorts of enchanters.

I mention all this not merely to round out my reading notes, but also to indicate, if clumsily, that one can indeed learn important truths from literature. Moral lessons. You just cannot stop thinking. You have to read between the lines and think between the books. And figure out that both egoism and altruism can be poisonous to the virtuous life . . . to what Murdoch expressed no hesitancy in calling The Good.

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The pristine date-of-publication order that I try to establish in my library here obviously failed.

I don’t think John Carter is a bad movie. Some people do. Aspects of it are ingenious — its adaptation from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original seems quite clever to me. Even the frame story was brilliantly handled, and that almost never happens.

But the movie was perhaps too long.

Now, the original novel was . . . a bit of a mess. Not dramatically written. Filled with invention, it nevertheless somehow sags. Worse than the movie, in my opinion. I read it not too long ago, and gave it high marks at the time, but the unevenness of the novel lingers in memory more strongly than its high points.

Anyway, I hear it’s the tenth anniversary of the John Carter box-office flop. So we get the memorials, such as an interesting one in The Wrap, and an enthusiastic discussion on Gizmodo of the never-made sequel.

Of the original Burroughsiana, the best I’ve read are the Pellucidar novels. I just read At the Earth’s Core a few days ago, and am re-reading Pellucidar, the second in the series, right now (I first read it when I was about 13, I think): solid adventures that would be much easier to adapt for the film.

The interesting thing about reading Burroughs as a very old adult is that these are boys’ adventures, filled with aggression, fights, escape, slavery, escape, wandering, discovery, conflict, escape, etc etc. And I am not a boy. Still, the action keeps one going — that and the invention. I am more interested in the invention. The characterization is rudimentary.

The best thing about them is the thing most people regard as the worst thing: a strange hint of racism. Though Burroughs was a white supremacist — this is clearest in the Tarzan books — he gave other races their due. I mean, the ones he created, like the Tharks. The ruling race in At the Earth’s Core, though, are mini-pterodactyl-like creatures, the Mahars. They are genuinely creepy: a race consisting entirely of telepathic females who have engineered a breeding program to exclude males. This is a first-rate science-fictional concept, and our hero’s grisly dealings with this race makes the first book in the Pellucidar series interesting.

I didn’t find anything in A Princess of Mars nearly as interesting.

The problem with the title John Carter of Mars (which is what the movie was titled while in production) is that Mars movies tend to fail. It’s like a jinx: apparently the word in the title is a jinx. So Disney dropped the offending word and went with the witless title of John Carter, which gives prospective viewers no hint of the nature of the movie.

Could no one think of a better title? The movie was based on the 1912 novel, A Princess of Mars. Why not A Princess of the Red Planet? Too old-fashioned? If Mars had to be avoided at all cost, what else? A Princess of Barsoom, based on the Martians’ own name for their planet, is ridiculous, I admit. The MacGuffin of the movie adaptation, the “nine rays,” suggests a title: A Princess of the Ninth Ray, which, while not making perfect sense, is better than we have any right to expect. But, right as the princess in the movie discovers the truth about her ninth ray (skip ahead to 1:11), she also discovers the truth about the man she loves, and immediately proceeds to grant the movie the best title I can think of, from her own lips: John Carter of Earth.

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