Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, July 28, 2017

American War (2017) by Omar El Akkad

Image result for american war akkad map
The United States circa 2075 from American War by Omar El Akkad

Book Review
American War (2017)
by Omar El Akkad

  American War was published in April.  I read a positive review in the New York Times and decided to buy a copy since it was serious dystopian literature.  I maintain a positive interest in the literature of dystopia, specifically in regards to the border between literature and genre fiction (mostly science fiction/speculative fiction).   Dystopia isn't just an interest of mine, it is perhaps the dominant genre in the non-serious Young Adult market.  The Hunger Games is of course a billion dollar multi-media world-wide empire and it's success has spawned, essentially it's own sub genre of young adult dystopian fiction, and we are right in the middle of that cultural moment.

  You can add on top of that the overlap with Zombie fiction, which has also flirted with literary status while maintaining a solidly genre profile over-all.  What makes American War such a sparkling literary (as supposed to genre) achievement is his ability to right a genuinely moving character into the center of the book, Sarat Chestnut.  Akkad, with his background in global conflicts of the past decade, compellingly paints a near future, post-global warming catastrophe, where the core Southern states of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are engaged in protracted, low level conflict over a decades old ban of fossil fuel usage that bears a striking similarity to current conflicts in Middle East locales like Syria and Iraq.

  The details of his near-future are closer to Orwell and Aldous Huxley than Phillip K. Dick and other genre antecedents of dystopia- more literary, in other words.  For example, in the world of American War, the bedraggled citizens gather in an unused museum atrium to watch Uffcy- a decayed version of UFC fighting.   It's impossible to really get at what makes American War such a worth while read without spoiling important plot details, but generally speaking, his ability to case the southern states of the old Confederacy as being morally similar to the oppressed citizens of places like Syria and Iraq is key.  In the end, American War isn't really speculative fiction at all, it's comprised entirely out of present day facts, projected into the future.   Reality, it turns out, is scary enough.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stone Junction (1990) by Jim Dodge

Book Review
Stone Junction (1990)
by Jim Dodge

   There aren't many books that come with a foreword from Thomas Pynchon, but Stone Junction, "an alchemical potboiler" is one such book.  The endorsement is clearly stated and makes perfect sense, since Stone Junction and Pynchon's library contain a shared themes of conspiracy, underground cabals and 1960's era hippie counter-culture.  Regerttablly, Dodge was a one hit wonder- or rather- a one book author- with only some books of poetry to stand alongside Stone Junction.

   Stone Junction is basically a counter-culture spy novel/coming-of-age story.  Stone Junction is less elaborately plotted than Pynchon's stuff, the material actually resembled later day Pynchon books like Inherent Vice.   It was a pleasure to read, but it's sad that it stands alone.  I was concerned that I'd never heard of Jim Dodge before the 1001 Books introduction.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991) by Louis de Bernières

Book Review
Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991)
 by Louis de Bernières

    Louis de Bernières is an English author.  His most famous book is Captain Corelli's Mandolin, forever tainted by its association with walking human meme Nicolas Cage.  Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord is the second book in his "Latin American" trilogy, apparently based on his love for the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his stint teaching English in Columbia.  His take on magic realism is firmly grounded in the politics of "now," circa 1991.

  Señor Vivo is a philosophy professor, the son of a General, who takes a public stand against narco-business in a local newspaper.  He draws the wrath of the Coca Lord.  Magical realist flourishes aside, the violence and corruption depicted by de Bernières are very much real, or at least the reality that we are familiar with from television.

  I'm not sure it really stands up as a classic.  It's basically still within the 25 year quarentine zone that hovers around new releases and personally, I find it a tiny bit offensive that an English author feels so comfortable writing about Latin America in a magically realistic style, I mean who is he to judge?

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