Tag Archives: Non-SFF fiction

BOERENPSALM – Felix Timmermans (1935)

Boerenpsalm Felix Timmermans (Broucke Davidsfonds)As I’m reading a mammoth book at the moment – The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul: Learning and the Evolution of Consciousness by Simona Ginsburg & Eva Jablonka – I’m posting something I’ve written earlier in Dutch, to signal I’m not on a hiatus.

This post is about A Peasant’s Psalm, Felix Timmermans’ best novel. In it, a farmer recounts the story of his life: his connection to the soil which he works & his natural acceptance of his and his family’s fate. It is a life both of hardship and sorrow & of beauty and joy.

Boerenpsalm was translated in German, French, Spanish, Danish, Czech, Norwegian, Polish, Slovakian, Serbo-Croatian, Latvian, Sardinian and Afrikaans. Timmermans’ metaphors are unsurpassed, and lovers of vitalist literature could do worse hunting down a translation: the book is a triumph.

I hope to post that review on the consciousness book in about 2 or 3 weeks.


Felix Timmermans (1886-1947) was bij leven een erg populaire en veelgelezen schrijver. Toch is zijn oeuvre in de vergetelheid geraakt, en wellicht heeft dat met de kwaliteit ervan te maken.

Jeroen Overstijns herlas in 1997 het grootste deel van zijn werk, en weerhoudt enkel Boerenpsalm: “Pallieter blijft een historisch belangrijk curiosum en Boerenpsalm een groots boek.” Volgen Overstijns valt “er weinig moderniteit te ontdekken in het oeuvre van Timmermans, in tegenstelling tot de verzamelde werken van schrijvers als Gerard Walschap, Louis Paul Boon of Cyriel Buysse”.

Overstijns beschrijft in Ons Erfdeel ook Timmermans’ poëtica, “op essentiële punten negentiende-eeuws, of toch op zijn minst premodernistisch. Niet alleen door de preïndustriële setting, de benepen onderdanigheid en de vaak cyclische (agrarische) tijdsopbouw, maar vooral door de onverholen humaniteitsclaim (…) en het in wezen steeds harmonische, overzichtelijke wereldbeeld dat uit de werken spreekt, gevoed door een permanente idealistische onderstroom.”

Boerenpsalm was al jaren niet meer in druk, en door de ijver van Bart Van Loo is er in 2022 een nieuwe, populaire uitgave – inclusief voorwoord, illustraties van Koen Broucke en wat kleine teksten van Gaston Durnez. Het is een fraaie hardcover, en ik ben blij dat het boek opnieuw verkrijgbaar is, want het is inderdaad een groots, meeslepend boek.

Paul de Vree schreef het in 1936 al duidelijk in DWB: 

Geen hooge filosofie, geen verfijning, geen weekdoenerij, maar de openhartige, eenvoudige, onmiddellijke biecht van den eenzaat die een boer is in strijd met zijn zwakten, zijn have, zijn grond en God. Graag vertelde ik de vreugden en de bekommernissen van dezen Wortel (…) Maar dat alles vertelt ge niet met de kracht, de spanning en de beladenheid die van Timmermans’ woorden uitgaat. In langen tijd heb ik geen werk onder handen gehad dat zooveel klimaksen bereikte binnen het bestek van een paar honderd bladzijden.

Boerenpsalm is een genot om te lezen, omwille van Timmermans’ taal en het krachtige verhaal van boer Wortel.

Mijn enige voorbehoud is misschien het quasi afwezig zijn van politiek. Timmermans schiep met zijn boer Wortel een personage dat tegenslagen kent, geliefden ziet sterven en uitgebuit wordt door hoge heren, maar dat, ondanks periodes met veel negatieve gevoelens, uiteindelijk toch content is en blijft.

Is Timmermans daardoor schuldig aan collaboratie met de uitbuiters? Relativeert hij zo niet te sterk de structurele ongelijkheden en de onrechtvaardigheden door iemand te laten zien die simpelweg een content karakter heeft, iemand met een groot talent voor geluk? Het antwoord op die vraag is wellicht ja. Bouwt iemand die niet afbreekt immers wel echt op?

We kunnen Timmermans zeker niet beschuldigen dat hij de miserie en het ongeluk dat de kleine man te beurt valt onder de mat veegt. Maar hij onderzoekt de machtsmechanismen amper, het blijft bij een enkele verwijzing naar de kasteelvrouw van wie hij zijn boerderij huurt, en één keer merkt Wortel op dat de wereld slecht verdeeld is: “Dat God de hazen en de fazanten alleen voor de kasteelheren geschapen heeft, gaat er bij mij niet in.”

Langs de andere kant zou je kunnen zeggen dat Timmermans louter een bepaald aspect van de werkelijkheid toont: er bestaan toch arme mensen die ondanks alles content zijn? Dat kan best zijn, maar dat gaat voorbij aan de kern van de zaak: als die tevreden arme mensen niet arm zouden zijn, en niet uitgebuit zouden worden, dan zouden ze nog contenter zijn, nog gelukkiger, met significant minder besognes & kopzorgen.

Bovendien: wat is content? Speelt er soms geen zelfbedrog: “Wat zou ik met een kasteel kunnen doen als er geen mesthoop vóór de deur ligt en de kiekens niet in huis floreren?” Het is in dat verband tekenend dat ook de blinde dochter zich duidelijk schikt in haar eigen lot: ze is liever blind dan doof of zonder reukzin, terwijl het overduidelijk is dat blind zijn een veel grotere beperking is dan niet kunnen ruiken of doof zijn. Op die manier laat Timmermans – al dan niet onbedoeld – toch een deel van een machtsmechanisme zien: mensen die zich schikken in hun lot.

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LAPVONA – Ottessa Moshfegh (2022)

Lapvona MoshfeghOttessa Moshfegh is well known for My Year of Rest and Relaxation – the book that topped most year-end lists in 2018. That book dealt with depression and solitude in contemporary New York, and this new one is quite a jump from that. Appealing to genre readers and literary fans alike, Lapvona has a few very small fantasy elements, and is set in a fictional fiefdom somewhere in medieval Europe.

One of the protagonists is Marek, a 13-year old disfigured boy who is abused by his father yet retains a strong faith amid the hardship of a shepherd’s life. To say much more would spoil the fun – although some readers might not think this book fun: Moshfegh incorporates scenes that boarder body horror, depictions of rape, humiliation and cannibalism. Lisa Allardice in The Guardian said it like this: “Her work takes dirty realism and makes it filthier.” Even though such filth might evoke some level of disgust, there is a clear playfulness and humor in the book too.

Not that is not serious stuff, or mere gore for the sake of gore. Let’s quote Publishers Weekly again:

Moshfegh’s picture of medieval cruelty includes unsparing accounts of torture, rape, cannibalism, and witchcraft, and as Marek grapples with the pervasive brutality and whether remaining pure of heart is worth the trouble—or is even possible—the narrative tosses readers through a series of dizzying reversals. Throughout, Moshfegh brings her trademark fascination with the grotesque to depictions of the pandemic, inequality, and governmental corruption, making them feel both uncanny and all too familiar.

Yes – this is fictional, even fantastic, but I have seldom come across a book that is so sharp and insightful about today’s world & our shared reality. Let’s dig a little deeper.

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MENUET – Louis Paul Boon (1955)

Menuet Louis Paul BoonA post in Dutch, about one of the key works of Louis Paul Boon, a Flemish author born in 1912. He died in 1979, days before he was to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.

Menuet Minuet in English is an existential work about just three characters: a doubting, socially awkward man, his wife, and their young, cynical maid. Boon embeds their story in a stream of authentic newspaper clippings about accidents, murder and the like.

It has been translated into English, French, German, Swedish, Hungarian, Polish, Danish and Italian. You could do worse than hunt down a translation: Menuet packs a lot of punch for its short length: only 101 pages, but it manages to confront its readers with their own outlook on life.

Next post will be in English again – probably a review of Perhaps the Stars, the final book of the absolutely brilliant Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer.


Menuet wordt algemeen als een van de belangrijkste romans van Louis Paul Boon beschouwd, en hijzelf rekende het ook bij zijn beste werk. Niet slecht voor een boekje van 101 bladzijden dat naar eigen zeggen op 2 à 3 weken werd geschreven, in juni 1954.

Het boek gaat over een arbeider in een vrieskelder en de moeilijke verhouding tot zijn echtgenote en het jonge meisje dat bij hen mee het huishouden doet. Boon doet in 3 hoofdstukken hun relaas: eerst een hoofdstuk dat de man vertelt, daarna worden min of meer dezelfde gebeurtenissen verhaald door het meisje, en als laatste krijgen we het perspectief van de vrouw.

Boven de tekst – of eronder, in sommige drukken – is een strook van 8 regels opgenomen waarin allerlei krantenartikels worden samengevat. De artikels zijn volgens Boon authentiek – hij verzamelde ze gedurende een jaar – en berichten over ongelukken, moord en andere miserie. Een “modderstroom van faits-divers” zegt de achterflap, een stroom “die zich met de diepste ondertoon [van de romantekst mengt], zodat de subjectiviteit van de persoonlijke ellende [wordt opgenomen] in de algemene tragiek van de menselijke samenleving.” De roman zelf houdt het qua toon en proza trouwens heel wat luchtiger dan dat stukje flaptekst uit 1967.

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CAFÉ DE RAAF NOG STEEDS GESLOTEN – J.M.H. Berckmans (1990)

Café De Raaf nog steeds gesloten JMH BerckmansA post in Dutch, again about cult writer Jean-Marie Berckmans, who died in 2008 – after a lifelong struggle with manic-depression, anxiety and addiction. His books are OOP and hard to find. I’m slowly working my way through his oeuvre.

This review is about his 3rd book. The title translates as “The Raven Bar Is Still Closed”. The bar really existed and was situated in the Lange Lozannastraat in Antwerp, Belgium. A commemorative plaque was put on the building’s facade in 2018.

Next post will be in English again – probably on Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by PKD.


Ik heb reeds over Berckmans geschreven, en indien je niet vertrouwd bent met wie hij was kan je best eerst wat ik eerder schreef lezen – links vind je onderaan.

Café De Raaf nog steeds gesloten werd vrij snel na zijn 2e debuut Vergeet niet wat de zevenslaper zei gepubliceerd, en zowel vormelijk als thematisch sluit het naadloos aan bij die bundel. Een aantal van de verhalen in Café De Raaf dateren trouwens al van voor Zevenslaper, en heel de bundel was zo goed als klaar in het voorjaar van 1990. Alles wat ik over Zevenslaper schreef geldt dus eigenlijk ook voor dit werk, en ik vermoed ook dat het veelal zal gelden voor Rock & roll met Frieda Vindevogel uit 1991, waarvan een aantal verhalen ook al langer aan het rijpen waren.

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WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE – Shirley Jackson (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Jackson (first cover Paul Bacon)Harold Bloom – the literary guru that claimed literature and politics should have nothing to do with each other – challenged the idea that Shirley Jackson’s work should be included in the Western canon. Nevertheless, in 2001 he edited a volume of Jackson’s short stories. There he wrote that “Her art of narration [stays] on the surface, and could not depict individual identities. Even ‘The Lottery’ wounds you once, and once only.”

Bloom is dead, and in 20 years time his work likely will only be read by a few academics. I think there’s a fair chance Shirley Jackson will still be read widely 50 years from now.

I’m not trying to dis academia, but Bloom’s tale is stark warning for us meta-writers to not confuse talking taste with pontificating. I have not read The Lottery – I will – but based on We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I’d say that Bloom’s claim about Jackson’s “art of narration” is a bit off.

The Western canon seems a bit of an outdated concept, or, at least, it is outdated as an apolitical idea: the reasons why something becomes a “classic” surely ain’t devoid of politcs. Either way, there is no doubt about the fact that Shirley Jackson belongs at least in the canon of speculative fiction – that peculiar subset of literature.

It turns out that We Have Always Lived in the Castle doesn’t contain any speculative or supernatural elements, yet it evokes an uncanny atmosphere that will delight many readers looking for Otherness. However strange it may be, Jackson manages to stay close to the human experience, and as a result she has written a book that will keep on resonating with generations to come.

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THE WALL – Marlen Haushofer (1963)

The Wall HaushoferI don’t know why, but it seems I am drawn to books about singular women that have a heightened contact with nature. I’ve just read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, about a female wizard that grew up in isolation, surrounded by fantastic beasts. I also have fond memories of Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by the Polish Olga Tokarczuk – who won the 2018 Nobel Prize. And don’t get me started on The Door by the Hungarian Magda Szabó: while my review of that 1987 book was just short, it is one of my favorite reads ever – if you haven’t read it, I urge you to give it a try.

25 years older than The Door and 46 years younger than Drive Your Plow…, The Wall also has a central European origin: Austria. Marlen Haushofer wrote it in German, and Die Wand was translated in English in 1990 by Shaun Whiteside.

The story has a clear speculative premise: the female protagonist gets trapped in the Austrian mountains, as a suddenly appearing giant transparent wall closes her in, encircling the hunting lodge and the surrounding landscape – mountains, woods, an alm, a valley. It seems all animal life outside the wall is dead, and the woman is left to her own devices to survive – together with a cow, a dog, and a cat.

Those expecting a full-fledged sci-fi romp will be disappointed if they can’t appreciate anything outside genre. The origin of the wall is never explained, nor explored. It is something of a paradox that the story’s only speculative element is at the same time very dominant, yet hardly present. Haushofer’s choices make for a novel that hasn’t dated at all.

The Wall takes the form of a first-person account of the woman, who writes about her ordeals to keep madness at bay. The book has no chapters, and its 224 pages are one long sequence describing chronologically what happened, with the occasional foreshadowing rumination. The story’s focus is rather monomaniacal, and what happens is more or less predictable: she turns to a farming life, one that might offer her better chances of self-realization than her old life.

In a way, it is a miracle Haushofer managed to write an utterly compelling novel, rather than a drab, boring tale about someone planting potatoes again and again. The Wall sucked me in after 30 pages, and if I could, I would have finished it in one sitting. Continue reading

VERGEET NIET WAT DE ZEVENSLAPER ZEI – J.M.H. Berckmans (1989)

A post in Dutch, about Antwerp author Jean-Marie Berckmans, who died in 2008 – after a lifelong struggle with manic-depression, anxiety and addiction. I’m slowly working my way through his oeuvre.

This review is about his 2nd debut – he disappeared for years from the literary stage after his 1977 debut. The title is a Dutch translation of “Remember what the dormouse said”.

Next post will be in English again – on the excellent Perihelion Summer, a 2019 title by Hard SF giant Greg Egan.


Voor een introductie in J.M.H. Berckmans: zie de linkjes onderaan.

De zevenslaper is een relmuis: relmuizen slapen 7 maanden per jaar. Het is meer bepaald de relmuis uit het nummer White Rabbit van Jefferson Airplane – waarin Grace Slick er ons op het einde aan herinnert dat die muis “feed your head” zei. Jean-Marie Berckmans was verslingerd aan muziek, maar in zijn 2e debuut uit 1989 is het veelal toch wat minder swingend & free dan in zijn latere werk.

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BEWILDERMENT – Richard Powers (2021)

BewildermentEvery intelligent, well-informed human that trusts the global scientific community and that recently became a parent undoubtedly will have had the same question staring him or her in the face: why did I knowingly bring a child into this world, a planet on the brink of catastrophic climate change, during the onset of the 6th mass extinction?

Richard Powers, 64, having no children, also felt the need to write a book related to that 21st century existential parental question. On the back cover it is posed like this: “At the heart of Bewilderment lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperilled planet?”

I will end this review with my own answer to these questions – being a father of two toddlers. Before that, there are 3000 words about Powers’ attempt – ultimately a failed and defeatist answer, in a novel that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I’ll try to judge the book by the ambition that Powers’ expressed himself in various interviews.

But first, the question of genre: Bewilderment should appeal to most science fiction fans, at least on paper.

The father-protagonist is Theo Byrne, an astrobiologist who theorizes about life on exoplanets. Aside some talk about his actual research models, spread throughout the 278-page novel are about 25 short chapters that speculate about possible alien worlds.

The book is set in a slightly alternate today – not in a near-future, as I have seen claimed elsewhere. The novel’s story takes about one year, and Earth’s population is said to be 7.66 billion, so that would be somewhere in 2018. It’s basically our own time, but there are a few alternate events concerning a thinly veiled president Trump, and some existing technology that is used in a bit of a different manner as today. There are only three instances of such technological futurism, two of which are just details and perfectly possible already. The third however is central to the story, and while the technology does also already exist today – decoded neurofeedback (DecNef) – its described effects are totally speculative, even within the boundaries of the story itself, and as such it gives Bewilderment also a sparse magical-realist vibe.

Aside from the speculative content – I’d say this is slipstream rather than full blown sci-fi – Powers also incorporates references to science fiction, most importantly to the 1959 classic Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Theo Byrne is vocally proud of his collection of 2,000 science fiction books, Stapledon‘s Star Maker was “the bible of my youth”, and also the Fermi paradox is one of Bewilderment‘s themes – yet another staple of science fiction.

What’s not to like, fandom?

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DE VOORSTAD GROEIT – Louis Paul Boon (1943)

De Voorstad Groeit (LP Boon) 9e druk 2000This time a post in Dutch, about the debut of Louis Paul Boon, a Flemish author, born in 1912. In 1979 he was invited to the Swedish embassy sometime before the Nobel Prize was awarded, likely to be informed of him winning it, but since he died the day before, he never got it, as Nobel Prizes are only awarded to the living. De Voorstad Groeit translates as The Suburb Grows, and deals with themes of urbanization, poverty and the lives of factory workers somewhere in the first half of the 20th century.

An early French translation by Marcel Defosse was never published, and no other translations exist as far as I know. A shame, because this book remains as powerful and relevant as when it was written. It has been compared to the work of Jon Dos Passos.

Next post will be in English again – probably a review of Bewilderment by Richard Powers.



Hoewel Boon een van onze grootste schrijvers is, en misschien zelfs de grootste romancier, is het grootste deel van zijn omvangrijke oeuvre enkel tweedehands verkrijgbaar. Van dit debuut werden in de loop der jaren ongeveer 82 000 exemplaren verkocht, omnibusuitgaven incluis. Ik las de 9e druk, de zogenaamde wetenschappelijke ‘Werkuitgave’, in 2000 door Querido uitgegeven op vijftienhonderd exemplaren, met achteraan een 40-tal erg interessante bladzijden publicatiehistoriek, receptiegeschiedenis en tekstverantwoording.

Die publicatiehistoriek is opmerkelijk omdat dit boek tijdens de oorlog is uitgegeven, nadat het in 1942 de Leo L. Krynprijs had gekregen – een literaire prijs met o.a. Willem Elsschot in de jury. Dat toont eens te meer ons – of toch op z’n minst mijn – gebrekkig historisch besef aan. Ik had niet gedacht dat tijdens de Duitse bezetting literaire prijzen werden uitgeschreven, of dat Angèle Manteau 3000 expemplaren van dit boek had kunnen of zelfs willen uitgeven – winkelprijs 35 Belgische Frank. Het is zelfs besproken door heel wat (Duitsgezinde) recensenten.

Die Duitsgezinde heren zijn het haast allemaal roerend eens dat De Voorstad Groeit vormelijk en qua taal een ijzersterk boek is en Boon een groot nieuw talent. Enkel over de inhoud twijfelt men: het boek zou te ‘miserabilistisch’ zijn, en daarom als het ware voorbijgestreefd. De Nieuwe Orde kwam er immers aan, en na de oorlog zouden alle problemen van de arbeiders en het volk toch als sneeuw voor de zon verdwijnen?

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BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS – Kurt Vonnegut (1973)

Breakfast of Champions VonnegutBreakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday is a pivotal book in Vonnegut’s career as an author. It’s his 7th novel, and the one published after his masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Published when he was 53, it took him years to write, with a lengthy pause due to chronic depression. In a way, it is his farewell to fiction, intending to abandon the fictional form and the novel as ways to change the world or get to the truth. He returned to novels quickly however, publishing seven more.

I think the book was difficult to write because Slaughterhouse-Five was so good, and Vonnegut knew it would be hard to top. Despite the long gestation period, he wasn’t happy with the result and “gave it a C grade on a report card of his published work.” The critics were critical too, yet it remains one of his best known works – maybe in the wake of SH5‘s success?

Every artist has to deal with repetition, and Vonnegut tried to tackle it in this book by trying out two new things, but it are not much more than formal attempts, hardly changing the tone and the voice of his writing. The result is that Breakfast of Champions never rises above being generic Vonnegut. A quick dissection after the jump.

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BRIEF AAN EEN MEISJE IN HOBOKEN — GESCHIEDENIS VAN DE REVOLUTIE – J.M.H. Berckmans (1977/1994)

This post is in Dutch, as I’m slowly working my way through the oeuvre of the Flemish cult writer J.M.H. Berckmans. The novel I review is a 1994 reissue of his 1977 debut, albeit with a different title.


Brief aan een meisje in HobokenBrief aan een meisje in Hoboken / Geschiedenis van de Revolutie neemt een wat aparte plaats in in het oeuvre van Jean-Marie Berckmans.

Zijn debuut verscheen ruim elf jaar voor Vergeet niet wat de zevenslaper zei uit 1989, de eerste van wat in totaal 14 verhalenbundels zouden worden. Geschiedenis van de Revolutie is zijn enige werk dat geboekstaafd staat als een “roman”.

Het manuscript was al af in september 1974, iets voor Jean-Maries 21ste verjaardag. Hij begon het boek na zijn eerste kandidatuur Germaanse, en het kan daarom als een jeugdwerk worden beschouwd.

Toch zou het fout zijn deze korte roman van 160 pagina’s af te doen als een minder werk van een nog wat onvolwassen JMH. Continue reading

DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD – Olga Tokarczuk (2009)

Drive your plow over the bones of the deadThis book came to my attention a year ago, when Polish author Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 Nobel Prize for literature – which was awarded in 2019, simultaneously with that of Peter Handke. One of four books of Tokarczuk available in English, the translation of Antonia Lloyd-Jones was published in 2018.

I was instantly intrigued by its title – I guess I still am a teenage metalhead first and foremost, and it’s hard to think of another title that captures the awe and worldview expressed in extreme metal more than this partial quote of English Romantic poet William Blake. His Proverbs from Hell – from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – start with these lines:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

I’ll tell you a bit more on the excess & the wisdom in the novel after the jump.

This also struck me as a cousin of The Door by Hungarian author Magda Szabó – an absolute masterpiece that also deals with an eccentric old female protagonist that’s something of a housekeeper, and similarly has a vibe that gently flirts with fairy tales & the mythic. The Door is one of my favorite books ever, so I had to check out this one too.

While Szabó’s book is superior, I had a great time reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Continue reading

THE SUNKEN LAND BEGINS TO RISE AGAIN – M. John Harrison (2020)

The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again“Hard to know if it’s a neurosis or a survival characteristic.”

This is a tough nut to crack. You could say that I’m a Harrison fan – his latest short fiction collection You Should Come With Me Know was one of my favorite reads in 2017, and I liked the strange 2002 science fiction novel Light a lot. But aside the 15 pages of Doe Lea, I haven’t read anything else by him. The seminal Viriconium is on my TBR, as are the final 2 installments in the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy began with Light. I also found a second hand copy of his 1971 debut The Committed Men – a new wave post-apocalyptic story set in the UK, and a copy of The Centauri Device, an “anti-space opera” that influenced Banks & Reynolds. I plan to read all of those, but at my current rate it will take me years. Anyhow, if you are a bit familiar with the titles I listed, you’ll notice Harrison has an impressive range – I know few speculative writers who have such a varied output.

It is 2020 today, and it is clear M. John Harrison has covered a lot of millage as a writer in the 50 years he’s been writing publicly. His first novel since 2012, The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again is published by Gollancz – which has published only science fiction and fantasy since its ownership changed in 1998. It’s maybe fitting Harrison’s new novel reconnects it to the company’s origin as a publisher of “high quality literature” too. The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again is not science fiction. Speculative fiction could do, maybe, but I’d hesitate to use that moniker. Aside from a label that determines a potential reader’s expectations, the question of genre might not be important, were it not that Harrison seems to try and subvert every genre he writes in. A “failed allegory” perhaps?

This novel is a portrait of a lonely man and a lonely woman, both in some kind of anxious midlife crisis, both experiencing “a triumph of disconnection”, laterally entangled in some vague, batshit conspiracy, firmly embedded in London & Shropshire landscapes, sprinkled with a few weird, wrenched elements – but rest assured: those elements never dominate the story.

Harrison – undoubtly “a high-functioning romantic” like Victoria – mentions quite a few painters, paintings or prints. Aside from capriccios by Felix Kelly, and prints from John Atkinson Grimshaw and Eric Ravilious, he explicitly names The Red Rook (1948) by Gertrude Abercrombie, Sea Idyll (1887) by Arnold Böcklin, The Colossi of Memmon, Thebes, One (1872) by Carl Friedrich Heinrich Werner and Solar Eclipse in Venice, 6 July 1842 by Ippolito Cafi. Continue reading

RADIANCE – Carter Scholz (2002)

Radiance Scholz

Carter Scholz isn’t a prolific writer. He published a grim, realistic novella about an interstellar spaceship, Gypsy, in 2015 – one of my favorite SF reads. There’s a handful of other short fiction, and only 2 novels: 1984’s Palimpsests and this one, Radiance – an overlooked masterpiece.

Scholz doesn’t write to earn the butter on his bread, and that shows. Unlike so many authors who just churn out stuff that needs to please fandom and sales figures, he does what he wants. That results in singular fiction, and Radiance is a remarkable, brilliant, demanding novel.

Not science fiction in the speculative sense, it is a novel about science. Also the ‘fiction’ in ‘science fiction’ needs a caveat: important parts of Radiance are based in reality. It is a roman à clef set in a government lab in California, a veiled ,

centering on two nuclear physicists entangled in corruption, mid-life crises, institutional incentives, technological inevitability, the end of the Cold War & start of the Dotcom Bubble, nuclear bombs & Star Wars missile defense program, existential risks, accelerationism, and the great scientific project of mankind. (quoted from Gwern’s impressive site on Radiance, that includes a free, annotated e-book edition)

I don’t normally do this, but I want to start with 2 pictures of the blurbs, because I feel they are not just the usual hyperbole taken out of context by the publisher, but really do the book justice, and, taken together, capture its spirit.

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REMBRANDT SELF-PORTRAITS (2019) – JELLYFISH (Williams, 2020) – BLACK SWAN GREEN (Mitchell, 2006)

This post is a collection of 3 shorter reviews of 3 very different books. For starters a new, lush Taschen collection of all known Rembrandt’s painted, etched & drawn self-portraits, in which I also offer a quick guide one what Rembrandt book you need to buy. Then there’s a recent, rare non-fiction book on jellyfish, and also here I’ll offer some pointers to other jellyfish books. To end, a short, but incomplete appraisal of Black Swan Green, David Mitchell’s semi-autobiographical account of his year as a 13-year-old, stammering teenager.

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