| Dispatches From Smaragdine|
|A column by Jeff VanderMeer|
| February 2007 |
[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Dispatches From Smaragdine columns.]
In Smaragdine -- this far "suthron happie plaice" as the lay goes -- Steve Aylett is king. You cannot pass a bookstore, laundromat, grocery store, smekelmater or bageldorf without encountering his books. The covers of his books here are wild and bold and plentiful. Smaragdine ideas of copyright being what they are, you might find ten published editions of the same novel, often under different titles or containing insignificant textual changes. In this way, either Aylett or his multitudinous publishers "game the system," as under Smaragdine laws all of this is legal -- so long as each separate edition is in some small way unique.
I mention all of this because in late January, Smaragdine holds an Aylett Literary Parade. I have never seen anything quite like it.
Readers of his work create vast papier-mâché Aylett heads that they hoist over their own (with the help of rope and scaffolding) and lurch their way down the parade route, outriders in an insanely fetishistic display that, at times, borders on outright debauchery. Every detail of the celebration is Aylett oriented, from the "Lint for President" buttons to the flags embroidered with Slaughtermatic and Bigot Hall logos. Little girls and boys eat Aylett Moon Pies and lick Aylett-shaped popsicles. Interpretive dancers doing routines based on the more esoteric chapters of Shamanspace and Lint take up about a third of the parade, while the rest consists of floats depicting various scenes from Aylett's short stories. The smell of "magic" mushrooms and pot is heavily prevalent in the air. Some people appear to have entered a trance state. Those children who lick Aylett pops long enough will find an Aylett phrase printed on the stick, such as: "at first the warlock seemed to be a pillar of innards."
At the culmination of the parade, local officials hand a huge metal key dipped in honey to one of the Aylett Heads, after which everyone sits in the nearby bleachers and listens to a speech piped in over a rather rickety intercom system. This is always a pre-recorded message from the great man himself, Steve Aylett. Sometimes the message consists of a long rant about the state of Aylett's apartment. Sometimes, famously, it is a ten-minute repetition of a single word, such as "dangling" (1999), intoned with a slightly different emphasis each time. This year, Aylett sticks to a simple message of atonement and forgiveness, mixed with fervent pleas to "buy my books," then immediately contradicted with statements such as "my books aren't worth buying -- buy something else. Buy a damn dictionary for god's sake. Buy a juicer. Buy a ham sandwich if you must."
Oddly, Aylett has never visited Smaragdine, has expressed loathing for the idea, and yet still they worship him.
Anonymous, I pass between the shadow of the dangling Aylett heads and search for some sort of enlightenment.
I can read Gene Wolfe's New Sun stuff, and some of Moorcock's sword & sorcery (not Elric but the Bek stories), but I prefer Moorcock's Cornelius, Bastable and End of Time books. I've never got very far with Tolkien. Where magical-ish fantasy is concerned, I prefer stuff with more innovative, tricksterish individuals like Vance's Dying Earth characters -- people who aren't on rails -- and Fain the Sorcerer ended up a bit like that. In the sword-&-sorcery chapter of Lint ('My Goblin Hell') I talk about how oftentimes old codgers will claim to be wise by the mere fact of their age, while the 'wizard' under discussion in the chapter is in fact an appalling and dangerous old git who has only one lesson to teach: to tolerate him only so far and no further.
For years now, Steve Aylett has been producing surreal humor and satire that elicits laughter as much for the triumphantly bizarre juxtapositions of ideas and sentences as for what one might call situational chuckles. His recent Lint was a hilarious send-up and pastiche and just plain original look at pulpish writing through the vehicle of a biography of the writer Jeff Lint. Outrageous, bordering on genius, it was a very funny book.
Now Aylett has not one but two new books out: And Your Point Is?: Scorn and Meaning in Jeff Lint's Fiction (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and Fain the Sorcerer (PS Publishing).
And Your Point Is? is a series of essays and reviews about Jeff Lint's fiction. Some of them simply make no sense at all from any objective point of view, while sounding so close to sense that they nicely take the piss out of what I would call the "mimic reviewer": reviewers who deploy an advanced vocabulary to hide the fact they have no clue what they're talking about. Others are absurd to a fault, as in one analysis of a Lint story in which giant sentient swans take over the world. The description of the story is hilarious, even without the overlay of interpretation created by the reviewer or critic. Nonsense has never been as pointed or as fun as in And Your Point Is? It also provides a nice companion piece to Lint, without (oddly enough) just repeating what made that book appealing.
Fain the Sorcerer is a little less abstract, detailing as it does the exploits of Fain, who starts out as a gardener. Whether you're familiar with the swords-and-sorcery genre or not, this book is a delight. Each three- or four-page chapter features some absurd encounter between Fain and a strange person or creature. In one particularly funny chapter, Fain mistakes the sovereign of a distance land for some kind of lizard-horse and rides him into court, only to be arrested for his heinous crime.
In addition to being rip-roaring good fun, Fain the Sorcerer is a beautifully designed book, with one of the most striking covers I've seen in a long time. It also features an introduction by Alan Moore, who writes, "This is a stunning work of the imagination that is also very, very funny, from one of the most exciting and innovative creators to emerge along in years."
Moore is a wise man, and completely correct.
If you would like to send me things for review, or even complaints, hints, suggestions, or other feedback, please do so via email at email@example.com or via my U.S. snail mail address:
There will be a delay of about a month from receipt at the post office box to the arrival of your missive in Smaragdine, but to send direct would be folly as my stint at the hostel runs out at the end of the month and I don't know where I will be after that.
Jeff VanderMeer's reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The New York Review of SF, Bookslut.com, and many others. VanderMeer writes the graphic novel/comics summation for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press) and is a guest editor for Best American Fantasy. Monkey Brain Books published his non-fiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? in 2004.
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