Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gun, With Occasional Music By Jonathan Lethem

“Conrad Metcalf has problems. He has a monkey on his back, a rabbit in his waiting room, and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. (Maybe evolution therapy is not such a good idea.). He's been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an affluent Oakland urologist. Maybe falling in love with her a little at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, Metcalf finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor's Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of the Fickle Muse. Jonathan Lethem's first novel is a science fiction mystery. It's funny. It's not so funny.” -Taken from

Published in 1994, hardcover with a $14.99 cover price, 240 pages.

Having read Lethem's Amnesia Moon, which was an enjoyable surrealistic journey through the west coast, I was itching to read another of his novels for the past year. I have to admit that I chose Gun, With Occasional Music over some of his more recent work solely because the cover is fucking awesome. Anthropomorphic kangaroo with a black eye, smoldering expression, and a glass of scotch? Sign me up!

Lethem loosely crafted a (somewhat) dystopian future: a merit/demerit system utilizing “karma cards,” a  workforce consisting primarly of evolved animals, and government sanctioned drugs blended to an individual’s needs (one part addictol,  one part acceptol, two parts forgettol, etc).

Asking a person questions is  no longer accepted in this society, so only a person with an inquisitor’s license can do so without gaining the ire of the totalitarian police force known as The Office, which can adjust your karma levels and will cryogenically freeze you if you go into “karmic debt.” This world is reminiscent of the worlds created by a developing, but still paranoid, Phillip K. Dick.

The setting itself is intriguing on its own, but Lethem decides to go one further and insert a noir plot full of dry banter and surprising twists. Conrad Metcalfe, a “private inquisitor,” is single and drug addicted, an emotionally damaged Nick Charles  who won't think twice about slapping around the kangaroo that has been tailing him all night. The characters surrounding Metcalfe are written both thin and robust in turns, depending mostly on their treatment by the mercurial and stubborn protagonist. 

The pacing of Gun, With Occasional Music really sets a great tone, and it wears its sci-fi and noir tropes with pride. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of genre fiction, especially if you don't mind a bit of surrealism zest. For a more spoiler-filled synopsis, check out the wiki, because I won’t be ruining any of the mystery elements for you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sci-Fi Album Covers

I think I might be downloading these sweet looking albums tonight:

From Blastr's whimsical '57 Great Sci-fi and Fantasy-Themed Album Covers' list.

Pretty comprehensive, but somehow missed out on this timeless classic:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Marauders of Gor By John Norman

Thats not how you treat a lady on the first date
“Tarl Cabot's efforts to free himself from the directive of the mysterious priest-kings of Earth's orbital counterpart were confronted by frightening reality when horror from the northland finally struck directly at him.

Somewhere in the harsh lands of transplanted Norsemen was the first foothold of alien Others. Somewhere up there was one such who waited for Tarl. Somewhere up there was Tarl's confrontation with his real destiny- was he to remain a rich merchant-slaver of Port Kar or become again a defender of two worlds against cosmic enslavement.

Marauders of Gor is one of the truly great adventures of the Gorean saga. It brings in barbaric peoples, vivid adventure, fierce aliens, and the clash of male-female emotions stripped of civilized pretension that has made John Norman the bestselling writer of high fantasy adventure.” –The Back Cover

A Daw paperback, $1.50 cover price.

Gor is a planet in our solar system on the direct opposite side of the Sun from Earth. It is populated by a pantheon of alien species that have been abducted by the insectoid Priest-Kings, who act as bored conservationists and only interfere with Gor when one of the sentient races starts inventing stuff that could industrialize the planet. The Kurii are space bears that ruined their own planet through warfare and now have designs on Gor and Earth. The Kurii like to eat people, especially slave girls, which they consider a delicacy.

This all sounded pretty cut and dry before I mentioned slave girls, didnt it? Let's go down the rabbit hole into Marauders of Gor, although I hope you aren't an Earthwoman, as you might be collared and raped a few minutes into our journey. But don't fret! According to John Norman, you will enjoy being a sex slave.

Let's play 'spot the woman soon to be abducted'
I remember reading Tarnsman of Gor as an adolescent, and I distinctly remember the protagonist being disgusted by the rampant slavery on Gor, but I may be wrong and will have to do a re-read soon. Tarl Cabot has apparently had a change of heart in the last few books, because in Marauders of Gor, the ninth in the series, he is very 'into slavery'.

In the previous entry of the Gorean Saga, Tarl was poisoned in battle, paralyzing left side of his body, which is pretty frustrating when you’ve built a life out of being a great swordfighter. For thirty or so pages, Tarl is angrily sitting in his chair, reminiscing about the events of the last few books and bringing any non-perverts up to speed. Tarl finds out his old love was probably devoured by a space bear and, through sheer force of will, overcomes his paralysis, vowing to go to the north and avenge her. Oh yeah, I don't want to gloss over the part where he celebrates by enslaving his accountant and having her 'sent to his couches'. Yeah man.

So, Tarl sets out for the North, and on the way gains the trust of a group of Viking raiders with acts of heroism and one-liners. The Vikings from Torvaldsland ransack a temple of the Priest-Kings and take quite a bit of gold along with the choice women of the surrounding town. This is where the story gets really kinky for about 60 pages straight, during which Tarl takes a break from his quest to and enjoys a little erotic vacation in Torvaldsland, while we get to learn firsthand about breaking in slave girls.

Initially, I found Ivar the Forkbeard, Jarl of the Viking rogues, to be a pretty interesting character, up until he began whipping women and repeating mantras like “A brand improves a woman!” while laughing continuously. Then I felt like he was a psychopath, and not a 'funny ha ha' psychopath as you often see in pulp novels. Only a few days of indoctrination wholly transforms the slave girls into giddy sex maniacs, completely dedicated to the service of their master and any other free man around who has consent to bang them. Tarl takes quite a few girls “to the furs,” since there don't seem to be any couches around in the north. The slave girls end up thanking their captors for freeing them sexually (through rape), if you can imagine that. John Norman's intense attention to detail was a bit too much in this third of Marauders of Gor, and it ended up not being sexy whatsoever, just vile and ludicrous. 

The party is broken up by an invasion of Kurii, which leads to an action-packed and actually enjoyable final third of the book. Many a limb and head are severed by the berserkers of the north, and a fight to the death on a mountain peak between Tarl, Ivar and two Kurs is especially thrilling. Norman does visceral action really well, which made me wish he stuck to the sci-fi and fantasy elements throughout this book and focused less on the BDSM angle. (No offense meant to the BDSM community, as you at least involve willing adults and not slave girls that have been whisked away from their families.) The finale was fittingly epic and got my blood pumping, but failed to wash away my distaste for the middle.

Synopsis: While Marauders of Gor features a really fun, Beowulf-style action story, it unfortunately gets buried in the quagmire of kink and pages-long descriptions of Gorean culture. Essentially, there are two conflicting books inside Marauders of Gor, one of which a good editor should have whittled down a bit.  I bought five of these damn novels expecting a laugh, and now I am pretty much a feminist. Thanks John Norman, you have killed my manhood.

'How marvelously beautiful is a naked, collared woman' (p.89)

More of this please