Tag Archives: sci fi

October mixture

I hope that you and your loved ones emerged from Sandy unscathed, and that you’re not reading this while plugged in to the first working street lamp or dangling set of twinkly lights you encountered in midtown. (I’ve heard those are popular sources of power for my fellow New Yorkers as of late). I’ve been high and dry in Lunar Camel Co. Towers the whole time, baking bread and watching nature documentaries and whatnot. Friends from Evacuation Zone A have been coming and going and will continue to be welcomed, even my friend Jim, who graciously informed me in advance that he “only sleep[s] in the nude.” Anyone who can’t squeeze in on the sofa with Jim and has to stay downtown will soon be on the receiving end of as many warm chocolate chip cookies as can fit in the storage compartments of a Vespa.

I hope you’re having a happy Halloween too, or will have a happy one whenever you get around to celebrating it. My neighborhood, as you can see below, has been getting ready for some time now, but the storm complicated things. If you’re in need of an extremely last-minute costume for a postponed or fashionably late-night party, I posted a few ideas last year, and if you’re in need of some candy-eating music, I posted some good stuff on my food blog a few years back, along with a vegetarian, pumpkin-centric dinner recipe.

Harlem's bikers are ready for Halloween.

Madison Ave. near 120th St., Oct. 5th.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger lately and I’ve scarcely had time to feel bad about how shabby my rattletrap urls were looking — I’ve been alternating between working sixty-hour weeks and getting out of town. I’ve also been preoccupied with a few little projects, one of which I’ll tell you about very soon.

Deep River-20121006-02100

Applemania is coming soon on my food blog, though it’s not the little project I meant.

sweater scan

I’ve also taken up knitting html sweaters for my blogs,
but that’s not the little project I meant either.

I’ve been reading a lot too, though far more fitfully than is usual for me. I’m generally a one- or two-books-at-a-time woman but there are five or six I’m dipping into at the moment. Among them:

Love is a Pie cover

Love is a Pie by Maude Hutchins has been on my shelf for many years and I’m just getting around to it now. I’m not deeply engaged with it at the moment such that I have a lot to say about it yet, but I wanted to show you the cover, which I love. It’s the New Directions 1952 edition designed by Andy Warhol. (There’s a tiny bit more about his work for them here). I think I paid about $7 for it, partly because hardly anyone knows who Hutchins is, and partly because Warhol isn’t credited for the illustration anywhere in it. The NYRB blog describes Hutchins as the author of “peculiar psycho-sexual novels,” among other things, but Love is a Pie is a collection of short stories and plays, eminently suitable for reading a few pages at a time. My experience with it so far is that it is also peculiar and psycho-sexual. Five of the stories (“The Missing Papers of an Extra Man”) are narrated from the point of view of a bachelor, who wonders, at one point, whether “there [are] gastric juices in the brain?” There’s an interesting essay about Hutchins over at the LRB here, by Terry Castle, whose essay collection Boss Ladies, Watch Out! is also on my bed-side table. I was moved to buy it after reading her review of Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives — a biography of three obscure and under-rated lesbians — and I’m really digging it.

I’ve also been haphazardly delving into vintage sci-fi. Doubtlessly this is influenced by an ex-boyfriend who often reads at random. Or what appears to be at random, but in actuality reflects a practiced and discerning eye for strangeness. He used to teach critical reading, actually, but (or “and”?) many of his books are ones he found on the street or in the cardboard box at his gym. After close observation I decided this is a worthwhile manner of reading, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten the hang of it yet. I’m still a bit too purposeful. I picked up the two below because both feature R. A. Lafferty and he was recommended to me years ago. I’ve never been a sci-fi person in the slightest but I sort of like the idea of becoming one. I could definitely get into the illustrations, at least, whether they’re good, terrible, or merely really weird. Plus it seems like a good time, with Singularity & Co., for example, pointing the way towards some of the more interesting bits of the genre, and the rest of the internet readily coughing up oddities.

Alpha 3 cover   Alpha 3 table of contents

Alpha Three (ed. Robert Silverberg, Ballantine Books 1972).
Click on either image to enlarge.
I don’t always buy books with no idea whether I’ll like them or not, but when they’re cheap and have interesting covers, sometimes I do.

if sci fi cover 1961   if table of contents

if Science Fiction (ed. H. L. Gold, Digest Productions, Jan. 1961),
with its table of contents apparently signed by Phyllis Gotlieb. And apparently she ranked all the other stories in order of . . . quality? Or suggested reading order?

Semi-relatedly, a selection of some of the titles I’ve seen on that ex-boyfriend’s shelves / floor / desk:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. I idly flipped through this one morning but there wasn’t much that held my attention. A few weeks later I happened to read a fascinating article in the Independent about a supposedly-elusive mafia tradition whereby two men in the same crime family will promise not to snitch on each other by sharing a passionate kiss. I asked D. whether this was covered in the Guide and he said yes of course, there is an entire chapter on it. So there you have it: Some of those idiotic-looking idiot guides are well-researched and worthwhile reads.

mafia kiss

a mafia-style kiss from the Independent, June 10, 2011

How to Draw Dynamic Hands. Actually I borrowed this one and now it’s sitting on my floor. I keep meaning to scan a few pages from it for a draft blog post that doesn’t really have anything to do with hands but needs some imagery. I’m hoping to learn something from it too because my drawing skills are not what anyone would call “dynamic.”

The Stain Bible. I remember we were both disappointed that this does not explain how to remove stains from that green kombucha that looks like pond scum. It’s one of the best flavors but also one of the most explosive, and its stains are not the same as grass stains.

Hide Your Assets and Disappear: A Step-by-Step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace. I realize that for some people, seeing this in a man’s bookcase might be a red flag. But aren’t you curious to read it too now that you know it exists? I should maybe point out that it was surrounded by some really good stuff, like Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

• Menander’s Dyskolos. Wikipedia tells me that this title is translated from Ancient Greek “as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous.” It’s a comedy, though.

Anyhow. Now that the storm has left us it’s a fine time for music from a wonky magic carpet, don’t you think? Here’s Manolo Sanlucar, “Diálogos.”

Michele Redolfi is perhaps more grounded: he’s been performing underwater concerts for years. Specifically, he composes, manipulates, and records experimental music and sounds under water, in pools and natural settings. The immersed participants listen through their bones, as explained by a knowledgable commenter over at Lunar Atrium. I was reminded of him recently when Connie Hockaday posted her underwater wrestling video. Here’s his “Grand Nocturne de Musique Subaquatique” at Grenoble in 2008.

In terms of everyday listening, I’m still pretty into wan and melancholic French synth pop / electro-yéyé. Long-time readers will remember that I was enthusing about Elli et Jacno in my very first post at Lunar Camel Co., and I still love them. (These days I only love them for about twenty minutes every three weeks or so, but still, it’s serious).

Main dans la main

Elli et Jacno “Main dans la main” single

Not related, but seasonally appropriate: the Mo-dettes cover of “Paint it Black”:

While we are on the subject of music, you should try to get to the Metropolitan Opera to see Thomas Adès’s adaptation of “The Tempest.” I’m basically poor people, but I know someone who knows someone and I managed to get in to a dress rehearsal. It was pretty spectacular! I used to go to the opera more often than I do now and it was lovely just to go again, but I came away thinking this was one of the more effective productions I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who made sure to get herself to that Peter Greenaway one about Vermeer with actual rain and live cows in it. I do love a spectacle, but “The Tempest” was compelling in a character-driven way as well, and the music possessed more subtleties than I could ever hope to intelligently discuss after a single performance. It’s gotten very mixed reviews (WQXR said “eh”, while the Times gave it at least two very positive write-ups), but I say you should go if you can.


Another recommendation, this one straight out of my superstorm playlists: The birds of Papua New Guinea are sublime. The mating dances they do are too bonkers for words, and there’s one that can make a sort of satellite dish with the feathers on his head and neck to pick up chicks, a satellite of bird love. Here, this short film from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some terrific-looking birds in it.

If you’ve got more time to devote to bird-viewing, seek out “Nature: Birds of the Gods.” It’s about the same birds but it’s with David Attenborough and it’s about an hour long.

moon mania

Have you seen the new-ish restored and hand-colored print of George Méliès’s Le Voyage dans la lune yet? I’m doing something stern with my eyebrows at the thought that you might be shaking your head no. When it played here recently (at Lincoln Center in February), my friend and I bought our tickets on the internet well in advance because we were thinking “what sort of foolish fools would not want to go to this?” There turned out to be about eight people in the theater. I suspect that all other screenings but for the one I attended were crowded to the bursting point with delighted New Yorkers sitting on each other’s laps three deep, such that everyone who wanted to see the film on the big screen had a chance to. If you live elsewhere you may have a chance yet because it’s still making the rounds of a handful of U.S. cities: It’s showing in L.A. right now, Minneapolis next, then D.C., and so forth. The schedule is here and you should definitely go if you can. The restoration’s terrific, the color makes my lo-fi-DIY parts tingle, and there’s a new soundtrack by Air, who in my opinion were the perfect guys for the job. Here’s a clip:

The color print was discovered in 1993 but it was such a crumbly, brittle mess that it couldn’t be fed into even the fanciest high-tech mechanisms used to restore shabby old films at that time. Look here, you can see what a crumbly mess it was. All sorts of things were tried — including a risky chemical bath, followed by a time-out in what sounds like a deluxe humidor, where the film might unstick its stuck parts from itself — but the restoration couldn’t be completed until 2010, when the right technology made its way into the hands of the right people. Specifically, the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, and Lobster Films. If you have a chance to see the film in a theater you’ll learn more about all this because it’s shown with a documentary about the restoration. One interesting tidbit I can show you in the meantime: The restoration resulted in such a pristine and complete version of the film that for a few seconds of it we can now see something no one had noticed before, a key hanging on the wall at the very edge of the frame, in the scene in which the projectile is launched. Méliès’s studio was in his garden and this is believed to be the key to it.

Le voyage key

I can’t remember when I first saw the film but it definitely would have been before 2002, when a print complete with the long-lost ending was discovered in a barn in France: instead of a murky, moody splashdown in the ocean, it now ends with a parade for the moon-goers and the unveiling of a statue of their leader. During these festivities the adventurers wear big paper moons around their necks, Flava Flav-style.

Le voyage moon medals

You know what my favorite part of the film is? Surprisingly it is not the part with the mushrooms.

Le voyage shrooms

No, my favorite part is just before the capsule lands in the moon’s eye. There’s so much emotion in it, far more emotion than anyone has since expected of the moon. How lonely he must be, to look as thrilled as he does when he first notices visitors approaching. How strangely moving it is when he’s struck, becomes weepy, and blubbers something to himself. To see a human face emerge in place of an assortment of fuzzy craters and transform an entire set of disparate feelings into something almost knowable to others in the space of just a few frames is as magical as anything else we might hope to see in a film, then or now.

Le voyage moon not yet a face

Le voyage moon just now a face

Le voyage moon smiling face

Le voyage moon weird smile

Le voyage moon face rocket in eye

Does the film represent some of the best or some of the worst aspects of science and exploration? People have noted, over the years, that the things Méliès’s heroes find on their 1902 moon are more enchanting than the rocks and other dusty inscrutables that we know to be knocking about our present moon. They’ve noted, too, that the green guys inhabiting Méliès’s moon aren’t treated well by their visitors, who see them as a nuisance to be conquered. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to view the film as poking at least as much fun at the conquerors as it does at the moon-natives. When they land on the moon, for example, the very first thing they do is stretch out their blankies and take a nap, as cozy in their obliviousness as any French colonials wandering around Djibouti in search of a decent vigneron.

Le voyage yawning

Le voyage blankies

Le voyage nap time

They’re celebrated when they return home, but we the audience know that they were chased off the moon in slightly-less-than-glorious circumstances.

Le voyage angry green guys

Related reading and listening: There’s a nice interview with Air in The Quietus about the film, their album, French colonialism, Jules Verne, Jean Claude Vannier, and what kind of guys from the future they like best. You can and should listen to the soundtrack album here. Thoughtful scene-by-scene commentary on the film and lots of promising links to additional info on Spectacular Attractions here.