Friday, September 04, 2015

Little Free Libraries on the Wrong Side of the Law

(This was back in February, but I felt like posting it anyway)
Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country's biggest problems: small community libraries where residents can share books.
Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, La., have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they're in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections.
In Los Angeles, Peter Cook, who acts under the name Peter Mackenzie, and his wife, writer Lili Flanders, were told by a city investigator that their curbside library was an obstruction. They were given a week to remove it, or else face fines from the city. This came after an anonymous note from "a neighbor who hates you and your kids" was left on their library, ordering them to "Take it down or the city will."
The couple is declining to remove or relocate the library, with Cook telling the Times that he'll refuse to obey "the blinded Cyclops of L.A. city — wildly swinging its cudgel to destroy something that has made the city and this neighborhood a better place."
A spokesman for City Councilman Paul Koretz said there's a chance the library could remain if the owners got a permit, which could be paid for by city arts funds.
It's a similar situation to the one in Shreveport, where the city sent a cease and desist letter to the owners of a Little Free Library. Ricky and Teresa Edgerton were told they could file an appeal to let the library remain, but it would cost $500.
Residents of the Louisiana city were not amused. An artist named Kathryn Usher constructed a makeshift lending library outside her home, and told The (Shreveport) Times, "I did it in solidarity with Ricky. I'm basically telling the [Metropolitan Planning Commission] to go sod off." Another Shreveport resident, Chris Redford, did the same thing, saying, "I just put my books out there to show that I support the Little Free Libraries in every community and what they stand for."
The Edgertons might get a reprieve, however: a Shreveport city councilman told the newspaper that "a resolution is being drafted to waive existing Little Free Libraries" from zoning laws.
It remains to be seen how both situations will be resolved, and what other cities might join Los Angeles and Shreveport in addressing the growing problem of people sharing books they love with their neighbors.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Happy Birthday Robert Heinlein!

1907 -- Robert A. Heinlein lives (1907-1988). Prolific American 
writer, grand master of science fiction. His first stories 
appeared in action-adventure pulp magazine "Astounding Science 
Fiction" in 1939.

     "There is Lovecraft...[Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Tolkien]... who constantly sing the praises of bourgeois virtues & whose villains are thinly disguised working class agitators — fear of the Mob permeates their rural romances.

     To all these & more the working class is a mindless beast which must be controlled or it will savage the world (i.e. bourgeois security)..."

          — Michael Moorcock, "Starship Stormtroopers,"
          an essay on SciFi Fascists,

From Wikipedia:

Robert Anson Heinlein (/ˈhnln/;[1][2][3] July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers",[4] he was an influential and controversial author of the genre in his time.
He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered to be the "Big Three" of science fiction authors.[5][6]
A notable writer of science fiction short stories, Heinlein was one of a group of writers who came to prominence under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Jr. in his Astounding Science Fiction magazine—though Heinlein denied that Campbell influenced his writing to any great degree.
Within the framework of his science fiction stories, Heinlein repeatedly addressed certain social themes: the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress nonconformist thought. He also speculated on the influence of space travel on human cultural practices.
Heinlein was named the first Science Fiction Writers Grand Master in 1974.[7] He won Hugo Awards for four of his novels; in addition, fifty years after publication, three of his works were awarded "Retro Hugos"—awards given retrospectively for works that were published before the Hugo Awards came into existence.[8] In his fiction, Heinlein coined terms that have become part of the English language, including "grok" and "waldo", and speculative fiction, as well as popularizing the terms like "TANSTAAFL", "pay it forward", and space marine. He also described a modern version of a waterbed in his novel The Door Into Summer,[9] though he never patented or built one. In the first chapter of the novel "Space Cadet" he anticipated the cell phone, 35 years before the technology was invented by Motorola.[10] Several of Heinlein's works have been adapted for film and television.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker, Reviewed by Charlie Jack Joseph Kruger

There is a run of authors that I see as the sorta 'big 4' of modern horror. Stephen King, Peter Straub, Thomas Harris, and Clive Barker. Of these four, Clive Barker has always been the dangerous one. Stephen King, even at his most sickly and cruel never touched the vicious profanity and sacrilege that Barker bathes his writing in. Peter Straub moves with focus and precision, keeping his horrors tight, and in short controlled bursts, ever ascending to the dizzying bacchanal of Barker's flirtations with anthemic depravity. And Thomas Harris, a supreme master of terror and function, makes every move with such baffling conviction and contemplation that his 'Hannibal' trilogy is unrelenting without ever embracing the moist sadosexuality of Barker's best demons. Clive Barker has always aimed for the carnal. With 'Cabal', 'Hellbound Heart', 'Damnation Game' and the varied 'Books of Blood', he wrote from behind a veneer of hyper-sexuality and knuckle-breaking disregard for tact. His characters have been invasive, exploitative, and most of all, cruel.

For the past few books, Barker has seemingly pulled himself away from the carnal death-dreams of his earlier work, and set himself in both young adult, and mild-fantasy novels. Even the character of Harry D'Amore found himself utilized in stories less guttural and viscous, and more charming and even tongue in cheek. With 'The Scarlet Gospels' both of these modes of storytelling, the profane and the winking self-aware, collide. And they collide well. The classic Barker-esque descriptions and situations paired themselves well with the more mature, more flavored prose and dialogue of his later career.

Set as a sequel to Harry's stories, and to 'The Hellbound Heart', peppered with references and moments to 'Coldheart Canyon', 'The Great and Secret Show' and others, this book seems like a last will and testament. As I read through the intoxicating novel, I felt like I was in a graveyard, watching stories, characters, ideas, fragments of Barker himself, being put to rest. Being given endings, traumatic or serene, that are permanent. The climactic swelling of the novel begins almost as soon as the book is opened, and it is sustained skillfully by Barker.

It would have been easy for him to extend this story, make this another massive swollen novel of 600-800 pages plumped with tirades, trails, side-stories, and fragments of other books brought into clearer light... but thankfully Barker instead chose brevity. The most horrifying moments of Barker's career have been found in his shorter fiction. The novellas 'Cabal', and 'The Hellbound Heart' and again, the 'Books of Blood' hold his strongest punches. And so almost as if knowing that, Barker doesnt let this book roll on too long. He keeps it focused, concentrated, condensed. He keeps it pure. And that purity is ghastly.

Another massive strength of this novel is the iconic authority of the Hell Priest (the unlovingly named 'Pinhead') and how Barker plays with it. For example, the novel never explicitly states it, or makes it clear between the two covers, wether it is a sequel to 'The Hellbound Heart', the movies 'Hellraiser' or 'Hellbound: Hellraiser 2', or some amalgam of them both. It simply exists in another time, with our spiked demon at the helm once more. And because through 9 films (yeah, there are a lot of debates to be had about that number, and i'll have them, but this isnt the place) and countless pop culture appropriations and effigies the Hell Priest has become a social power all unto himself. As a result, he needs no introduction, no description no details, and no explanation. He is as much an assumed character as Satan himself is. And any reader of Barker's is already familiar with Harry D'Amore, so again, no introduction is needed. Because there is no need for table-setting or preparation, this book is effective in being a full on 360 page climax. A final action set after a 30 year initial incident.

While the book's ending is surprisingly neat and tidy, I was left wanting more. Not because the story is incomplete, or that the writing is lacking, but because by the end of the novel, our familiar (and new) faces have become weathered and honed. They become, in effect, new characters. Characters I want to explore more heavily. Characters that Barker should be proud of.

This is a phenomenal return of one of my favorite contemporary authors. This is a must-read book for 2015.