The Cultural Gutter

the cult in your pop culture

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Watership Vortex

Some books just grab a hold of you and never let go. The subject matter could be almost anything, from a big fat fantasy to, say, building a cathedral. Or rabbits! On the short list of absolute classics, Watership Down by Richard Adams, a story of rabbit life in pastoral England, takes pride of place […]

Infectious Enthusiasm

Sci-fi author Rudy Rucker has been busy, with four books that have come out in the last year or so. I’ve just finished reading his autobiography, Nested Scrolls, and it’s hilarious, insightful, and just about as science-fictional as his novels. You really can’t go wrong with Rucker’s books.

Same Tools, Different Project

With killer robots, underground societies, international con artists (one a man, one a genetically engineered dog), and a very dangerous far future Moscow, what could possibly go wrong?

The Hyper-Advanced Weapon-like Entity on the Mantle

Foreshadowing is tough: too subtle and the author’s effort is wasted, too obvious and the readers will figure out the setup way too early. Patrick Lee’s The Breach is a master-class in taking the obvious setup and blasting your face off with the thing you thought you were expecting.

A Glorious Mess

I like a clean, focused narrative as much as the next person, but there’s an undeniable entertainment value in the messy and sprawling kind too. Science fiction has a long history of welcoming the second kind of book, and David’s Brin’s Earth, an ecology epic from 1990, is a fun example of this type.

Murder in the (Fantastical) Big City

Let’s smash some genres together! Today it’s urban fantasy meets the murder mystery, and, at first glance, it’s a meeting of true minds.

Worthwhile Canadian Trilogy

Two great scifi writers, Robert J. Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson, just published concluding volumes in their respective trilogies. Other similarities: both are Canadian, both have won Hugos, and their latest books are quite intriguing.

Unsatisfactory

Call me an online oddity: I ran out of steam, years ago, on doing the whole harsh-criticism thing in my review work. For a couple of reasons, summarized as “enthused librarian who points elsewhere for sad talk.”

Future Self, Meet Past Self… Now Fight!

I just finished re-reading A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s first volume in his (currently very hot) fantasy series, and I quite enjoyed it. Looking back on my notes from my first read-through ten years ago, I was startled to discover that I found it ho-hum and/or offensive! What gives?

Ruled by the Subconscious

A confession: I’m having trouble making my way through Stephen King’s Under the Dome. I must also confess I’m a bit puzzled by this. I’m definitely a fan of King’s work. And from what I’ve read so far, this book sticks pretty closely to high points of his career. What gives?

See You Later (Scifi) Suckers!

Lately I’ve noticed a few examples of a trend: authors who got their start writing science fiction have switched to writing fantasy. Why might this be? Probably because it’s become a bigger market!  

Conquer the Galaxy and/or the Mysterious Mind

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An iconic character in the earliest pulp novels and the latest multiplex blockbusters: the heroic space explorer, striding manfully forward, saving the natives, grabbing the treasure and the babes, and so on. What’s going on inside his head?

The Hierarchy of Contempt, Reality TV Edition

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Since April is our wacky month, I decided to venture far afield, basically into the scariest minefield of cultural contempt that I can think of: reality TV.

A Decade Later (Repost)

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Ever had one of those crazy months? I’m reposting an old article for that reason, with a few extra comments at the end… The dinosaur craze seems to be over, sorry to say. One last hurrah: Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, the latest entry in the Dinotopia series, is out now. James Gurney wrote and illustrated […]

Mishmash: McKillip’s Fate, Undersea Rapture, and Millennium Movies

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What do a riddlemaster on a quest, an undersea utopia gone wrong, and sexual perversion in Sweden have in common? The answer: nothing! But I don’t have a big thing to talk about this month, so I’ll have to make do with a mishmash.

The Galactic Forecast Calls for Some Sweet, Sweet Lovin’

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The most fertile opening-book-in-a-series is not necessarily the most tight, coherent book, writing-wise. Doing any one thing well is difficult, and takes up tons of narrative energy – a series needs interesting places to go next, and some loose ends to follow later. Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro’s first Skolian book (of many), is a good […]

Thing One and Thing Two

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The Thing is coming for you! But you don’t know which one of your friends is The Thing! Paranoia… gore… body horror… and all of the above recently retold from The Thing’s point of view.

How Low Can You Go?

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Scifi movies are usually the realm of big-budget blockbusters – think of Avatar, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But can you make a credible/entertaining science fiction movie on a low budget?

A Gift

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A new Ted Chiang story always feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is available both as a fancy book/art object and as a free online version!

Keeping the Customer Satisfied

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Piers Anthony has been writing his popular Xanth series for a long time, and I’m fascinated by the fact that he has never walked away in an artistic snit. Thirty plus books later, he still works hard to keep the faithful readers happy.

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  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Tin House has published an edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness illustrated by Matt Kish, an interesting follow-up to Kish’s project, Moby-Dick In Pictures; One Drawing For Every Page. See more of Kish’s work here.

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    At Salon, Matt Ashby and Brendan Carroll write about irony and cynicism, sincerity and honesty in art: “At one time, irony served to challenge the establishment; now it is the establishment. The art of irony has turned into ironic art. Irony for irony’s sake. A smart aleck making bomb noises in front of a city in ruins. But irony without a purpose enables cynicism. It stops at disavowal and destruction, fearing strong conviction is a mark of simplicity and delusion.

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    Eastern Kicks has an interview–and a gallery of photos of–director Park Joon-hung.

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    Get ready for a new season of Mad Men with this collection of Absurdist Mad Men promotions, which the Cultural Gutter participates in and even encourages. Duck Phillips rules an undersea advertizing empire and “Pete feels slighted.”

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    Some interesting thoughts on South Korean cinema with “A Dish Best Served Bloody: Revenge In South Korean Cinema” and this Cannes program piece on Arirang (1926) and the history of Korean film.

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    Al-Jazeera America profiles John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, a documentary about Cambodian rock’n’roll and musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge. “Until 1975, music thrived in Phnom Penh, with clubs full night after night, crowds gathering in the streets around transistor radios to hear the latest releases, and the biggest stars being feted by the king. Enter the Khmer Rouge, communism and the war on intellectuals. Between 1975 and 1979, about 2 million Cambodians, roughly a third of the population, were rounded up and either were killed or died of starvation. Artists were particularly disliked by the Khmer Rouge, which saw creativity as decadence: Almost all of the biggest names perished during that era.”

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