The rules are inherited. Not immutable. Not immanipulatible. They are simply reminders from our mother that exists outside causality. A recommendation if you will. But with every child there comes a time to make its own rules. And I say it is high time up was down, the proton put on a few quarks, and the neutron stopped having to be the fat kid of the cosmos.
God, I hate short story collections. They are damn near impossible to review. Unless you have somehow managed to find one written in a single year long cluster there it virtually no way to engage it properly. It’s like having a conversation with 24 versions of the same person. Sometimes they are in a good mood, sometimes they want to talk to you, and sometimes it feels like you’ve found them preparing a salad in their house at three in the morning and they would really rather you just left. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is no different.
Murakami and I have a weird relationship anyway. I don’t particularly care for his laissez faire symbolism and ‘you’re just over-thinking it’ with regards to his stories’s plot. There is however something in him that keeps me coming back to him. I have never loved anything he’s written. The closest I’ve gotten is his most recent novel, The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which felt almost solid compared to his other works.
Nonetheless there is something there. He captures that scent, that feeling of Japan I felt in my chest when I lived there. So while I feel some of his books are downright awful, they scratch a part of me that no other writer seems to be able to find, let alone touch.
Here, as in all of his books, there is this sense of wandering. The sense you are seeing a world that has not been created, but simply observed by someone with a latent strangeness hidden in their irises.
This collection of short stories is something of a crapshoot. Some are static (The Year of Spaghetti) and some thunder (The Shinagawa Monkey). There is also a great deal of pseudo-autobiography here. Memories he has selected, dissected, and rearranged into something that qualifies as fiction (as much as anything ever really qualifies as fiction). Whenever I stumbled across these entries I always felt like I was being teased and taunted. Like he was telling me that there is a particular strangeness in me that is missing and I could only feel that if I could just sit down, listen to him speak for an hour or two, I may just catch it.
Sanguine poetry dressed in the sex and suffering of addiction.
That’s how I wish I could describe Naked Lunch.
Addiction is horrifying. Worse than any disease, more debilitating than any ordinary suffering, it is the surrender of one’s identity to a single moment of weakness.
This is something else entirely. If this is an exploration of addiction it is one bogged and beaten by iconoclastic vulgarity that is so meant to be offensive I can hardly believe this was ever taken seriously as a piece of literary anything. It is violence without end, it is torture, a one-man battalion against a social conservatism that threatened to stagnate and rot if not kicked squarely in the teeth.
Stick it to the man. You defied the conventions of art in the 1950s, managed to create and defend a book so we as a nation never had to deal with federal censorship in the name of what constitutes ‘art’. Thank yous all around. I understand its importance, but without something truly human hiding behind the occasional fits of poetics that streak the pages like so much used tissue, it feels like I’m dealing with someone who plays with the idea of homosexuality with the low-handed relish of a 13 year old boy. Less uncovering society’s hang ups and more like juvenile edginess.
Most of the book is simply a swarm of shit, semen, and obscenity. Depraved sex without context. And I don’t care. Once you’ve smeared shit across a perfectly white canvas you can’t expect me to care with you opt to change the shade ever so slightly. End of the day, I’m less interested in your work and more concerned about how you managed to collect so many differently hued bags.
Are they pure shit? Is one mixed with food dye and rosemary? Did you follow around a mother and her newborn child with a paper bag? Did they not show any concern at all about your obsession with the child’s waste?
Okay, I’ve overstretched the metaphor. I’m done with it.
I suppose one can call this a ‘journal’ of addiction. I suppose I don’t know what else to call it. It’s not a novel, mainly a loose configuration of obscenity laid in front of you like someone who completely missed the point of literature beyond the bit about self indulgence. It is literary curiosity. Calling it ‘honest’ would be as strange an ill-fitting as the book itself.
This book is anti-thetical to the way my brain works. It is an unrelenting, manic typographical horror showing an unregulated portrait of something that might be addiction.That’s not enough for me. I demand order. A sense of purpose. ‘Just because’ simply isn’t good enough. Art is hard. It is its own suffering. Give me Hunter S. Thompson. Something with a fleeing madness that at least has a passing appreciation with flow and a semblance of cohesion.
I buy the essays, what I don’t buy is the book itself. Something written on junk isn’t necessary an expose of the disease, it is simply a book written while on junk.
“Naked Mr. America, burning frantic with self bone love, screams out: “My asshole confounds the Louvre! I fart ambrosia and shit pure gold turds! My cock spurts soft diamonds in the morning sunlight!” ― William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch
“Never tol’ ya where I was headin’. Never tol’ ya nothin’. Just showed up and took it ‘pon yerself ta follow. Well, surprise darlin’, ain’t headin’ nowhere. Been walkin’ since I can ‘member. One broke path to ‘nother. Ya see an ol’ man, see the scars he carries with’em, think they musta brought wisdom, huh? Tell ya, I ain’t learned nothin’, not in twenty goddamn year. Just kept on movin’. Only reason folks who gave me these scars ain’t killed me yet. Ya ain’t lookin’ at a hero, yer lookin’ at a coward, a coward smart enough ta know when it’s time fer him to get. I ‘preciate what ya done, but I didn’t ask for it. Them problems is yers an’ I ain’t takin’ none o’it. Last thing ya can do is care ’bout people, burden from a ‘nother age. Got enough food to keep on walkin’, an’ that’s ‘xactly what I aim to do.”
The Human Factor is an understated, viscerally affecting book that manages to show a side of espionage largely ignored by the other giants of the genre. It takes the soft side of spy work and puts it under a microscope. You are given a home, a character, and a family to hang your heart on. Given these things and the conventions of the genre one knows things are not going to go well.
It is less a book and more of a time bomb, the slow demolition of the soul. An alcohol-soaked fog of human life scattered to ruin in the name of ego where gratitude is twisted and maligned to tragedy. It is no easy thing to explore the muddy gray fields of people, politics, and the corruption they inherently feed into each other, but Greene does so with the confidence and care of a master of his craft.
One could go on, but one can only hyperventilate for so long before praise starts to reek of mania. Graham Greene cemented his place in literature decades before I was even born. If you haven’t read him, do. His best novels are brilliant, his worst simply fair. If I could measure even half that degree of quality control I could die happy.
“One can’t reason away regret-it’s a bit like falling in love, falling into regret.” ― Graham Greene, The Human Factor
One hundred million years ago lands us firmly in the center of what is commonly known as the Cretaceous period, and what is more uncommonly known as the “DEAR-LORD-GOD-FUCK-NO-PLEASE-DON’T-MAKE-ME-GO BACK-THERE” period. It is a time where the Tyrannosaurus, Spinosaurus, and Carnotaurus bro-ed out to pretty much kill and conqueror with the same enthusiasm I bring to my thrice daily caffeine injection. And while those formidable carnivores laid fear into the corners of the grounded world the Thalassomoden (imagine the mind of Charles Bronson locked in a Brontosaurus proportioned predatory fish) and Tylosaurus (imagine a shark mated with your worst nightmare and then grew fifty feet long) dominated the ocean like my fiancée dominates an excel spreadsheet.
I start this review off with that particularly colorful description because Giganto Maxia is supposedly set 100 million years in the future. So the above paragraph to present day in terms of evolutionary potential is up for grabs. When I read things like that I get excited. It is literally a blank check for every terrifying and bizarre thing a creator can think of.
This excited me when I first heard about. I read Miura’s dark fantasy epic Berserk with a fervor I had for few things in middle and high school. Its strangeness and horror were something so new and compelling to me that I immediately fell in love. So the question I so looked forward to finding answered was what fresh hell hath nature deigned to throw into the lap of the dregs of humanity?
Answer: Giant, carnivorous waterbears, and anglerfish that now live in sand.
Don’t stress yourself too hard, Miura.
Throw in some respectable art and a by the number me-too Attack on Titan and you are left with a pretty, but uninspired thing that reeks of writer’s block.I’m increasingly certain that whatever creative coherence Miura had as a cartoonist has been lost to age, commercialism, and an utter failure to understand the demands of both story or genre.
You can tread water for as long as you like, but eventually, you have to come to shore or die at sea and I’m not sure what will be more embarrassing for Miura.
Look, I saw a book with a giant mech on it and proclaimed itself about the United States of Japan. This was worth a laugh, an ‘ah, how silly’, because indeed it was silly. But then something changed. I saw an endorsement on the top of the book by none other than Ken Liu. Now, you may or may not know, but I have a sort of infatuation with his work. I may have problem, but I’m not here to talk about that right now, I’m here to talk about United State of Japan, because after reading Ken Liu’s endorsement I bought a copy.
What I wanted: A fun alt-history with lots of mech fights and anime-on-paper moments (I mean for the love of god there is a mech on the freaking cover, how could I not?). I wasn’t expecting some hyper-literary masterpiece.
A video game battle to the death that occurred literally out of nowhere and a teenage girl pilot destroying her military opponents with ease because his mother was greatest pilot that ever lived and through the power of trope was able to transfer those powers. These absurd, stupid things were my favorite because they were what I expected them to be: nostalgic schlockiness on par with Ready Player One, but written in a less sophomoric fashion.
Unfortunately this book tries to do something different. It tries to be thoughtful, it tries to be philosophic, it tries to be human. If it had done these things well, created characters that didn’t feel like narrative cudgels with delusions of independence, it might have worked out. But high concept plots and well-written characters rarely find themselves properly entangled, a writer is usually infatuated with the human or the world around it. A writer that can mesh these two things in even a semblance of balance is a bibliographic unicorn, a writer that fails in the effort is all too common.
There is a tendency among readers and critics to compare this to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. It is a superficial comparison with about as much weight as those that declare things like ‘Writer Z is like X and Y had a child’. People see the World War II alt-history aspect and lunge to it and hold it because, I guess, people are uncomfortable with the notion that not every novel has a corollary lurking in the wild. The Man in the High Castle, for as much as I don’t care for Dick’s work, was more infatuated with concepts, people were the instruments in which he played with them, and love him or hate him, he knew what he was doing. It told a fascinating story and avoided pulling the camera too far away from his focus. There was a fog of mystery and that was never really left the novel, which worked because the details weren’t necessary and Dick knew enough to not let his imagination run too far off course (the fact that he was writing something like a book every two months probably helped ease the impulse).
Tieryas seems to want to spend as much time as possible exploring the world he has created, pushing us into restaurants and varicolored districts of human experience with characters that are neither interesting nor capable of moving more than a few notes from their manufactured baseline. There are, by necessity of plot, considerations of propaganda, authoritarianism, and the rest of the Orwellian laundry list of dystopic government tendencies, but they never rise above the less than compelling realizations that they are bad and distrusting them is probably good.
I saw a pretty looking mech on a book cover. I built a novel in my head. It was Code Geass with a decopunk shine. I wasn’t mad that I didn’t get it. If I got every book I wanted I have a feeling I would quickly grow to hate reading. In this case however, the book in my head, however vague, was better. Unhindered by dreams literary recognition, it was a book that knew what it was and didn’t take itself too seriously. The United States of Japan has a handful of neat moments haunt a book that is neither campy enough to be schlock nor cerebral enough to be considered thoughtful.
“Life is all about lies. It’s about what you can stomach.” ― Peter Tieryas, United States of Japan