Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ian McEwan, Past and Present

THE new Ian McEwan novel, Solar, has just been reviewed in the New York Times, where Michiko Kakutani calls it both his funniest novel yet -- similar to the satire of David Lodge -- and a failure at the level of plot.

It makes me recall (chin-stroking music, please) the time I spent by with the shy and gracious British author in front of a fire at New York's Gramercy Hotel one drizzly spring day. We spoke about his then-new novella, Chesil Beach (slaughtered by the same NYT reviewer, by the way), England's grand tradition of literature about repression, the glories of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and his excitement at discovering American writers like Pynchon and Roth during a particularly dreary period for British and European fiction.

That interview is here. Looking forward to checking out Solar (which also happens to be the name of one of my favorite Miles Davis songs.)  I also spoke to McEwan about the film made from his novel Atonement and will post that one of these days.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Return of LA Noir

ONE of LA's greatest exports has always been dread, and our signature writer is still, three quarters of a century later, noir novelist Raymond Chandler. And now, thanks to a new anthology, all that murder, deception and unpleasantness is back.

A few years back, local mystery writer Denise Hamilton (The Last Embrace) and Brooklyn's Akashic Books put together a collection called Los Angeles Noir that looked at the inheritors of the private detective line of crime fiction.

A new anthology on Akashic looks, now, at the origins of that tradition. Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics begins with a Chandler story, "I'll Be Waiting," from the '30s, and includes work from Chester Himes and James M. Cain before moving into the postwar period with Ross Macdonald and, eventually, Walter Mosley and James Ellroy. (Science-fiction fans will be intrigued by a '40s story by sf writer Leigh Brackett, called "I Feel Bad Killing You.)

HERE is my interview with Denise about that first book. It begins: 'You won't find many trench coats, fedoras or Black Dahlias in "Los Angeles Noir," an about-to-be-published anthology of 17 new short stories set in various corners of the contemporary City of Angels.'

What follows is a new interview with Hamilton on LA Noir 2. She and other contributors -- including those behind the new, Gary Phillips-edited Orange County Noir -- will make a number of appearances around SoCal. Saturday Denise, Gary and others will be at Skylight Books; next Friday some of them will be at Vroman's. Here goes:

The first volume of Los Angeles Noir was well-received. What made the time seem right for another, slightly different volume?
Akashic’s noir series follows this pattern. The first volume is new stories, the second one is classics. This was thrilling to me, as I’ve been a classic noir reader for years, and had recently re-visited the classic short stories of noir that are set here when I began working on the first volume of L.A. Noir. In my attempts to cast a broad net, I also read many stories by literary authors such as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Didion (and also Nathanael West) set in Tinseldown. I wanted to steep myself in the genre and really think hard about the lineage from 1930s noir, through the hard boiled 40s and 50s and see how it influence and carried through into contemporary crime writing about Los Angeles. Because I do think there’s a continiuum, we are all dipping into the same well, the white blazing sunlight, the deep shadows cast by Hollywood, the greed, the artifice, the stunning beauty and the desperation.

Almost half of the stories here are from noir's classic period, the '30s and '40s. But some are more contemporary, including one freshly written and set on Terminal Island in 2007. What makes a story "classic."

My definition for ‘classic’ was rather loose. It couldn’t be contemporary, set in the 21st century. I also waffled greatly on whether stories set in the 1990s were ‘classic.’ But 1990 was 20 yeas ago – an entire generation has grown up since then. And certain L.A. neighborhoods have changed dramatically. In the end I opted to include several stories with a historic ‘feel.’ Jervey Tervalon’s story Reka, for instance, is set right before the L.A. Riots of 1992, when the crack and gang epidemic was in full swing. The LA Riots are certainly ‘historic’ today, and Jervey’s story, filled with bubbling anger, drugs, violence and an anguished family, captures the feel of that era. Likewise, Yxta Maya Murray’s story about ‘locas’ takes place in pre-gentrified Latino Echo Park and is a Polaroid snapshot back into history, before the area was studded with upscale eateries, galleries, cafes, clothing boutiques and petcare shops.

It seems like much of the rethinking of noir in the last decade or so has been about its racial and ethnic subtext -- looking at the black neighborhoods of cities, and their potential protagonists, or realizing that Japanese Americans weren't all gardeners.

L.A.’s cultural diversity has always struck me – even back when I was an L.A. Times reporter – as an inspiring fount for modern noir. People come to this city from around to the world to leave the past behind, reinvent themselves. They’re filled with fear and desperation. The city and its beauty seduces them like a femme fatale. They have secrets they want to stay buried. It’s a fantastic literary canvass from which to paint. But when you look at the classic tales, they’re all written by straight white guys and pretty much set in the white community where people of color, if they exist at all, serve as exotic backdrops, maids, jazz musicians and whores. So yeah, it was the natural progression to ask why that was, and then go back into the literary record and search out the hole in the donut of noir, which was all the non-white males.

I was not interested in turning in an anthology of the ‘usual suspects’ we’ve already seen in so many (good) collections, because otherwise we’re just preaching to the choir. There were vibrant Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, Russian etc communities in LA that date back to the 1800s and I wanted to showcase some authors from those communities. So while I knew I’d include the big bad boys of noir – the masters Chandler, Cain, MacDonald – it was also time to let some air into that stale cigarette-smoke room. And by the way, it’s not only ethnic and racial subtext, it’s also gender. There were some fantastic women writing noir in the 1940s – Leigh Brackett, Dorothy B. Hughes, Margaret Millar, but noir was a sexist male genre and so the gals aren’t as well known, which is a darn shame. Gays also got short shrift. If they were depicted at all it was often as exotic denizens of strange nightclubs. But I found a lovely 1970s story by Joseph Hanson, who wrote an openly gay sleuth back when this was very uncommon.

Was it hard to get the rights for these stories by the old masters? Anything you tried to get but couldn't? I've have loved to see something by Cornell Woolrich, who was here in LA briefly.

Surprisingly, we got everything we asked for thanks to Akashic publisher Johnny Temple working his magic. We even got the rights to reprint the Raymond Chandler short story “I’ll Be Waiting.” But oddly, Chandler’s estate would not allow us to put his name on the cover. SoChandler’s story leads the collection, and he’s mentioned twice on the back cover, but not on the front. Go figure.
And ah, Cornell Woolrich. I looked and looked. He wrote very few short stories set in L.A. The several that I found were not his best, in my opinion. In one, the murderer is glaringly obvious. Another is very dated and somewhat racist, especially by our modern standards. I wanted to include a CW short story called “Hot Water” that begins in Beverly Hills, but it quickly veers off to a Tijuana gambling casino and leads readers on a rollicking ride of mistaken identity, a stolen gambling stake and a car chase ride through the Mexican desert on shot-out tires and a gas tank fueled with tequila. It’s crazy Cornell at his best, but it just wasn’t LA-centric enough to warrant inclusion.

Readers of The Misread City are particularly fond of Ross MacDonald -- Can you say something about his story here, or the one by his wife, Margaret Millar?

A quick hat tip to Macdonald biographer Tom Nolan, who helped me narrow down the oeuvre to a handful of stories that fit my parameters.  Macdonald’s short stories are elegant and well-plotted, and are written in great painterly strokes that really give readers the feel of Southern California in the post-war years. That said, some critics found his wife and lamentably lesser known writer Margaret Millar to be the better wordsmith. Millar’s stories can be very introspective and they focus on psychological dread and the dynamics of troubled families. That is certainly the case with her story in L.A. Noir 2, “The People Across the Canyon,” a hair-raising little tale.

Does the noir tradition still seem to be alive and well here in Southern California?

I read the papers and watch the news, and I see the ghosts of Chandler and Macdonald and James M. Cain and Dorothy B. Hughes everywhere. Except now it’s playing out on a global stage – the protagonists and antagonists aren’t just from Sioux City and Baton Rouge, but fromYerevan and San Salvador and Chiang Mai. I think some of the best L.A. writing today in the genre reflects this diversity, and some are even taking it to other levels, incorporating paranormal and urban fantasy into their noir stories. That also seems a natural fit for a city that much of the rest of the world seems to think is only a holographic figment of our collective unconsciousness anyway.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Philip K. Dick, Consolidated

THE great, idiosyncratic writer, whose esteem has surged in recent decades, died 28 years ago this month.

HERE is the new link on Hero Complex that gets you to all six parts of my look at the author's decade in Orange County.

My series considered Dick's life and work, and tried to get at what kind of impact a conservative suburban region would have on a man who had spent most of his life in Bay Area bohemia. How did having a relatively settled period of his life change the man and his output?

I just finished rereading The Man in the High Castle, the author's first hit and sole Hugo Award winner -- a novel that looks at an alternate America in which the Axis powers win World War II, with the Nazis and the Japanese dividing most of the country between them.

I was struck by a) how well it stands up, b) how rigorous the history behind it is, c) how many different character's point of view the novel is told from, in contrast to Dick's later work.

Will be continuing to go back through the many novels and stories of this singular figure.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Taxi Driver It Is

THOUGH I am a Raging Bull man myself, happy to see Taxi Driver take the win in my Favorite Scorsese Film poll.

At least one voter was frustrated he could not vote for The Last Waltz, the director's swan song for The Band and a whole generation of rock, blues and folk musicians. I love that film as well -- in fact the complaining voter took me to see it when I was 10 years old at the Brattle theater -- but realized if we included that one, we'd have to include Scorsese's wonderful documentary on Dylan, No Direction Home, as well as his homage to Italian neo-realism and others. Some of these docs will show up on future polls.

Back to Taxi Driver, a film which captures the '70s better than any movie I know: Surprised to say that Goodfellas nearly won -- for most of the last few days it was leading.

Take a bow, Travis Bickle!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saving SoCal's Libraries

THIS blog is dedicated, of course, to West Coast culture, from classical music to science fiction, and I tend to stay away from politics here. But an issue crucial to the survival and access to West Coast culture is breaking now: the closing of libraries and especially school libraries in Southern California. This has been brought about by the recession and bad political judgement.

Pasadena Unified and LAUSD have plans to fire all of their school librarians, with the closing of those libraries likely. It feels like they are fulfilling the very East Coast stereotype of Southern California as shallow and anti-intellectual that I have spent much of my time in LA combatting. Who needs Bradbury's "firemen" from Fahrenheit 451, torching books, when locals decide to dismantle access to books and ideas on the basis of "fiscal responsibility"?

It's coming at a time when the economic climate has caused use of libraries nationwide to surge, and when the need for students to be information literate had made school librarians more crucial than ever.

HERE is the Op-Ed piece from today's LA Times. The piece concentrates on the way the Internet -- that great blessing and curse -- has made the work of school libraries more complicated and more important. Information flows so freely that young people can't separate the good from the bad. As school librarian Sara Scribner writes:

And to most kids, whatever they read on the Internet is "all good." I've been told, quite emphatically, that the Apollo moonwalk never happened, the Holocaust was a hoax and George W. Bush orchestrated 9/11 -- all based on text, photos or videos found online.

I should add here that Sara, a former LATimes and LA Weekly music writer who reviewed major records by Beck, Wilco and Sleater-Kinney before beginning  a new career as a teacher a decade ago, is also my wife. If she, along with these other school librarians who've been pink-slipped, loses her job, your favorite culture blog will be broadcasting from Portland or Austin, or not at all. (Because the LA Times decided that I was expendable, the two of us and our young son depend on her health insurance.)

Politically, we're seeing a combination of short-sightedness by the school districts and a lack of courage by Gov. Schwarzennegger to properly fund the schools and the rest of the state's infrastructure with tiny taxes on the wealthy. Gov. Reagan had the political guts to raise taxes for the sake of building the state; this supposed macho man has shown nothing but cowardice and confusion in dealing with the financial crisis.

So if you care about West Coast culture, or about The Misread City, please tell your friends in Pasadena and LA to make some noise. Interested parties can check out this site dedicated to saving Pasadena's schools through a Yes vote on Measure CC... To be -- I hope -- continued.

Addendum: Sara and others were on NPR's To the Point with Warren Olney, for a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation about these issues and more -- here is a link.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Sound of Southern California: The Radar Brothers

AMONG Los Angeles' most intriguing -- and quietest -- bands are The Radar Brothers, an Eastside group dedicated to a blend of mellowness and tension. They were once associated with fellow "slowcore" or "psychedelic depression" bands Acetone and Spain.

The Bros.' new albumThe Illustrated Garden, comes out on Merge next week. (I especially like the song "For the Birds.") They're currently in Austin, at South by Southwest; on Friday (March 26) they play Spaceland in LA. I'm a longtime fan, but was surprised at how strong their live show, at Largo, was last year, opening for Lambchop: They seemed powered by a new energy.

We spoke to head Bro, Jim Putnam.

So it’s an all-new Radar Bros.? What happened, and how has it changed the band and its sound?
 we finished an album called "auditorium" in 2007(?) and the other members of the band decided to call it quits. i considered starting a whole new project, band whatever, but i thought the radar brothers should keep going as a new incarnation, atleast to support that record. things went very well with new members be hussey and stevie treichel, so we cranked out a new record, and here it is!
You’re often described as being a slow band. Is this fair, and it is part of your vision for the group?

no. it might be fair, but it's not part of any vision. we've been described as slow, same tempo etc., for years. i hear other bands doing the same thing, but not getting as much flak for it. i think if we were from butte montana, none of that would exist...

You went to Cal Arts in the ‘80s – wondering if there are any other art forms, whether painting, architecture, the short story, etc, that have a meaning for you as a musician?

yes!!! i paint and draw all the time. our new record's artwork was a concept i had where i wanted it to look like a mentally challenged high school student made it.
i love oil paint! can't use it, though. my house is full of dogs and cats and a turtle, wouldn't want to expose them to the toxicities...

To what extent does Southern California or LA shape what you play, how you hear and see the world?

very much. i grew up here, and there's a lot of certain subtleties about this place. it's unpredictable. suddenly there will be a new pho restaurant where the sushi restaurant was, next to the thai place that used to be a taco bell.
drive 100 miles in any direction, and you will be in a stunning place. perhaps the beach, or the desert, or the mountains or farmland.
or just hang out in your own backyard, and you will be visited by many different types of birds...
i always thought this place was normal, until my parents took me on a trip out to the east coast. i thought the east coast was strange. eventually i realized that l.a. was strange...

You’re very serious about the production of your records and have a locally famous production studio. What do you try for when you’re producing your own band, or others like, say, Let’s Go Sailing?

i just try to make it sound good, and interesting. expensive studios can sound bland. my studio sounds interesting, i think.

For people who haven’t seen you play in a few years, should they expect the upcoming Spaceland show to be different than Radar Bros. shows of yore?

it's an all new band(except for me), so it will sound different. i really like the way we sound now. it's pretty full and complex, i think.

See you at Spaceland.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

California Poetry and Robinson Jeffers

WHEN I put together a blog poll on Best California Poet, I was certain Charles Bukowski was going to barge in, whiskey bottle in hand, and run away with it.

So I’m pleased to report that a far more significant poet ended up winning – and by a landslide. Take a bow, Robinson Jeffers!! He not only presided over the best turned-out vote in the history of The Misread City, he won by nearly as large a margin as Jimi Hendrix did in my Favorite Guitarist poll.

Of course, in most circles, the great poet of Carmel and Big Sur is still largely unknown – as is the runner up, Weldon Kees, who drew nearly double the votes Barfly garnered.

Jeffers – a classically flavored poet of wide-open spaces and the expanses of the Pacific -- and Kees – a jazz-loving hipster who (probably) threw himself off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1955 – could not be more different. But I’m quite honored to have both of them championed by readers of The Misread City.

“No major poet has been treated worse by posterity than Robinson Jeffers,” Dana Gioia wrote in his essay “Strong Counsel,” going on to describe his embrace by environmentalists and general readers and his neglect by literary scholars.

“More than any other American Modernist Jeffers wrote about ideas – not teasing epistemologies, learned allusions, or fictive paradoxes – but big, naked, howling ideas that no reader can miss.”

Dana and I disagree on a number of things, but Jeffers is one place where our tastes come together, and we both love Tor House, the poet’s domicile in Carmel.

U.S. Poet laureate and poetic minimalist Kay Ryan also drew a good number of votes, while Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti did less well.

This poll, like all of them, drew protests for who was not included. As I sometimes say, running a poll with too many choices is like throwing a party in a house with too many rooms – you need some compression so people will come together. Still, I wish I’d put Gary Snyder in here instead of Ferlinghetti – Snyder’s career has continued to evolve and deepen, and he will probably be part of my next literary poll.

As for Buk, I have nothing against the guy, and like some of the work okay. No doubt he would be more fun to hang out with than Jeffers, who was often cranky and very austere in his tastes. But much of the cult of Bukowski, I think, turns on the American romanticism of alcoholism. All of the other poets on the list have earned their reputations from something more substantial. Here's to them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Many Moods of Keith Jarrett

As a longtime fan of idiosyncratic jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, I would have been disappointed if I'd seen him perform without reaming out at least one audience member. And I was not disappointed.

Last night Jarrett made one of his rare appearances at LA's Disney Hall, and this show was devoted to solo improvisation -- pure Keith, unalloyed. He began the performance with a strange, gentle kind of sweeping his hands along the extremes of the keyboard -- my friend said he was coaxing ghosts from the piano. And many ghosts there were -- in the course of the show, he would summon French impressionist Erik Satie, soul-jazz pioneer Horace Silver and everything in between.

Because Jarrett's fame rests in part on extended workouts (freakouts?) on albums like the best-selling The Koln Concert, I was surprised his pieces were relatively short -- mostly ballads and blues which involves improvisatory fights or grooves, but were brought to a fairly crisp conclusion. From first track to last, I was knocked out. HERE is the review, just up, by the LATimes' Chris Barton.

But let's get back to the guy's quirks. He's known for standing up and down while he played, as well as moaning/humming in a vaguely Monk/Gould kinda way. The fact that three of the greatest pianists in modern history do this makes me think there's something to it: He seemed truly possessed.

Jarrett's anger and intolerance toward audience noise is a bit harder to take -- he's passed out cough drops at winter concerts and famously berated paying customers for coughing. But you know, there was way too much coughing last night. "There's some kind of duel going on out there," he said of the coughers.

And when a woman walked away from her seat, in high heels, between songs, he paused, and offered,
" Was that a horse?" There were also a few Luddite rants about the importance of things that don't change -- the piano for instance.

But you've not lived until you've seen Jarrett stand up and single out a man in the fourth row for using a flash -- "you've screwed up other people's experience!" he scolded -- and then sit down and play a tender version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Weirdly, in the audience a few rows in front of me was a Jarrett fan I consider one of the most dangerous men in America -- Kenny G. Was I tempted to run by him, pull out my corkscrew and end this frizzy-haired imp's reign of terror? Of course.

But I was so stunned to think that our tastes -- fairly disparate, I'll guess -- come together in the music of this difficult and astounding musician that all I could summon was a strange sense of awe.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Return of The Blue Moods of Spain

How often you arrive at a club and kick yourself for having missed the opening band? Not bloody often I'll bet. But when I got to Spaceland on Saturday to find I'd arrived too late to see a rare (and barely announced) show by LA indie kings Spain, my heart sunk into the kind of melancholy the group conjures so well in song.

Spain, which is led by Josh Haden (son of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden, bro of Haden triplets) made two of the most ethereal, melodic, and -- here's a word I try not to overuse -- haunting LPs ever in the 1990s. Their second record, She Haunts My Dreams, may be my favorite breakup record (a genre in which I specialize.) Johnny Cash covered Haden "Spiritual" on Unchained, one of his American records.

But after one more LP and a best-of record, the band broke up, sort of, and has been dormant for a while. While I missed their spot opening for the Clientele, I was able to briefly meet Josh and the band's keyboardist, and to buy a two-song single -- "I'm Still Free" and "Hang Your Head Down Low" -- which is damned fine. The first song is especially affecting, and the second a bit too slow for me but packs one of their best-ever understated guitar solos.

I guess what I like most about the band, besides the genius of the songwriting, and the strong playing, the combination of tension and intimacy that led to their being described as a "slowcore" band back in the day, is its use of the Haden family's Missouri hill-country roots. That is, this is indie music with a twang that doesn't sound much like alt-country. (Ghost of a twang?) It's abstracted and oddly folky at the same time. (In this way, it resembles the early Ornette Coleman records Charlie played on, though it sounds nothing like them.)

Here is Josh Haden's blog, which includes Spain news as well as his thoughts on music, politics, and so on.

And here is the new Spain website. Keep your eyes on these if you don't want to make the same mistake I did. And watch The Misread City for more news on this heavenly band.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Twyla Tharp and Sinatra

Legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp is back in the news for her upcoming show on the songs of Frank Sinatra. This strikes me as at least one step up from, say, Billy Joel, whose work she adapted in 2002. (We here at The Misread City really dig Capitol-era Sinatra, despite his audacity at not growing up on the West Coast.)

A few years back I spent some time with Tharp as she led a group of USC arts students through a kind of highbrow Gong Show. You could smell these kids sweating.

HERE is my profile of the very intense, super smart Ms. Tharp, who is a daughter of the Southland: She grew up in San Bernardino, the daughter of a couple who ran the drive-in movie theater near Rt. 66. She later came up with what one dancer called a combination of Fred Astaire, Balanchine and street cool, and the ability to blend intellect with passion and physicality.

As intimidating and brusque as she is, I came out of my interview really liking the choreographer.

And here is Sunday's NYT piece on Tharp's new Sinata show, Come Fly Away.

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Editor at Paris Review

I've been hearing about the legendary Lorin Stein -- a hip young editor at Farrar Straus and Giroux, probably the coolest of the major houses -- for years now. So I wasn't alone in cheering when he was appointed the new editor of the storied Paris Review.

Stein -- who has edited novels by Denis Johnson, the press's translations of Bolano's Savage Detectives and 2666, and three of the five National Book Award finalists from 2008 and, more recently, Sam Lipsyte's The Ask and Elif Batuman's The Possessed -- takes over the job held for decades by George Plimpton and most recently by Philip Gourevitch.

(I recall meeting Plimpton at the LATimes Festival of Books a few years ago -- it was the most starstruck I have ever seen my then-girlfriend/now-wife.)

I've corresponded with Stein a few times and been struck by both his serious commitment to literature -- he is a burning advocate of the twisted poet Frederick Seidel -- and his highly developed Gen X irony. (Will the next Paris Review offer long interviews with Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, Lois and poet David Berman? The Misread City would not object.)

I spoke to Stein in '07 for THIS story in response to Granta's '07Best Young Author's issue, which included many foreign born authors. (The piece also includes interviews with then-Granta editor Ian Jack and critic Laura Miller.)

He talked about the days, as recently as the mid-'90s, when a literary review's author list could still enrage people:

"I'm not going to be able to walk into a party, or a bar, and get into that fight now," he said. "Because that discussion is over. The readership has fractured, and reads less, and spends more time e-mailing. And it makes less sense to talk about novelists now -- the really creative writing is being done in other genres" such as the personal essay, reportage and criticism.

"The novel has become like landscape painting," he said. "It's the 'top' genre, but not, in real life, the main one."

Here's looking forward to where Lorin Stein takes the Paris Review.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Beginning -- and the End -- of The Clientele

Followers of the UK indie scene have been aware or the chimey, reverb-drenched Clientele for several years now. The band's current tour, which brings them to LA’s Spaceland on Friday and Saturday night, could likely be their last.

Here is my LA Times piece on the band, which goes up Friday. I spoke to lead singer/guitarist Al MacLean about his early schooling in classical guitar, his fondness for LA bands like the Byrds and Love -- and his sense that The Clientele may have reached the limits of his vision for them.

The Clientele are more proof that the West Coast sound of the 1960s is often best mined by English and Scottish groups.

He sees several possibilities for the group, but adds: “What I don’t think we can do is a record like the five we’ve already done."

Weirdly, the collapse of the band could happen after one of their best records -- the hypnotic Bonfires on the Heath -- and their most serious tour. Either way, I'll be at Spaceland Friday. I caught them at the Knitting Factory the last time around, and MacLean's encore with the guitarist for Great Lakes was like seeing a jam session between Johnny Marr and Chuck Berry. Don't miss them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Overpopulation and Robert Silverberg

This week sees the reissue of The World Inside, a long-obscure science-fiction novel that could become a miniseries on HBO.

Of course, it's delicious to think of this hyper-urbanized future world -- in which people live in 800-story apartment complexes and have sex whenever they want -- serving as the setting for the next Deadwood or The Wire.

The novel's author, Robert Silverberg, is a veteran sf writer who really his his stride in the early '70s, around the time he moved to Oakland, where he still lives.

He's aways been a bit of a contrarian, and during the field's late '60s/early '70s period, much of sf was especially left wing. Silverberg has framed himself in contrast as a Burkean conservative with a respect for tradition, allegiances to traditional "high" culture and libertarian leanings.

With books like The Population Bomb and other expressions of Malthusian dread appearing in this period, Silverberg released a novel in which people have adapted to overpopulation and live with it more or less happily.

Here is my piece on The World Inside for io9, which includes a brief interview with Silverberg. And here an earlier (and broader) LA Times profile of the author, tied to the reissue of another "lost" early '70s classic, Dying Inside.