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Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Dear All,

I have written a review of Annalee Newitz’s book, Autonomous, for your perusal at Minor Literature[s]. minorliteratures.com/2018/01/29/autonomous-by-annalee-newitz-johannes-punkt/

In the review, I proffer opinions on things like capitalism, slavery, and cyberpunk.

Best,
Johannes

Real Reviews and Such

Reader, I am writing to say that for some reason I’m using Goodreads now and writing reviews of things I read there. The some reason is that I want to make sure I learn something from each book I read or something. Or at least each book I finish. Also, if you look at my reviews you’re not allowed to judge me for how few books I read or something like that. I’m a complicated maelstrom of soggy emotions and sometimes I don’t read books, okay. Right now I’m reading loads though.

UPDATE: As of July, 2018 I am no longer doing this. Instead I got a reading diary which is a hundred times more fun. Still like writing reviews, but not for goodreads.

www.goodreads.com/user/show/33168595-johannes-punkt

Here’s my latest review, of Alastair Reynolds’ Poseidon’s Wake. I’ve just copypasted the thing on Goodreads that says “blog this review” so I hope it looks nice. (I don’t actually believe in rating things with stars, but, y’know.) EDIT: Okay it didn’t look nice so I’m fixing it.

Poseidon's Wake (Poseidon's Children, #3)Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Man, what an anticlimax. I was looking up synonyms for “anticlimax” because the word didn’t contain all the nuances I wanted and I stumbled over “bathos” under ‘related words’, and well, bathos is also an appropriate word to use when talking about this book. It’s like the lack of awards and overwhelmingly positive hard-sci-fi reader responses fizzled out Reynolds’ enthusiasm for this series and left all the characters flat and bathic, the emotional scenes mostly off-key. Though they hit a few notes right, that feels more like a statistical certainty than an understanding of humanity and emotions. I don’t expect prose mastery from Reynolds and I get none. In this book’s defence, I guess, it is very easy to read the sentences. Because there is no weight behind them, nothing that can make me stop and contemplate. I just don’t believe the words.

And now you’re thinking, why read space opera if you’re looking for emotions and prose? Well, this is supposed to be Reynolds’ softer sci-fi, and space opera is based on character, and I was led to believe based on the first — amazing — book in this series, and based on what the book is clearly aspiring to do, that I should expect at least some of these things from this series. Instead I get another one of Reynolds’ signature moves: an ancient alien race has discovered an impending doom and it has far-reaching consequences for the future of humankind. This time, that race has buggered off or whatever. I wanted the arc of the Uplifting of elephants to be more satisfying, but it feels to me like it finished like someone ending my breakfast by putting out their cigarette in my orange juice. The first book ends with Geoffrey realizing he thought his Butler was an elephant-killer and that’s why the elephants killed him (long story but it has telepathy). The elephant arc ends with similar themes drawn from that moment: humans have endowed elephants with sin and free will and all those other things that burden us. But it feels wrong. It hits the wrong notes. An unsatisfying fugue dissolving in the evening. I can’t even bring myself to analyse it more than this. Goodbye.

View all my reviews

Review: Normal

In case you keep reading my counterfeit reviews of books thinking, damn I would like to read one of the books that this man describes, fear no more. I have written a real review of a book that actually exists, and the only thing I had to counterfeit in the process was my self.

The review is up at Minor Lit[s]; just click the following link: minorliteratures.com/2016/10/21/normal-by-warren-ellis-johannes-punkt/

FakeReview: The Boneyard Bedouin Epique by J. Steam Fronker

I know I said I would not write another review of a book that doesn’t exist, but this one just gripped me, readers. Right from the start it hooked me, with little barbs and flukes on the inside of the hardcover, like a psychopath had designed this book. This is the kind of book that would bleed you dry if you’d let it.

I’d never heard of J. Steam Fronker — the anagrammatic pseudonym of a weird sex pharmacist who in the meatspace goes by Hannah Dee Arbucte — before I read these books, but she’s apparently something of a sensation in the online literary world. More accurately, she is a catalyst, the substance against whom everybody reacts. You have to have an opinion on the latest Fronker doolally. Apart from her uncle’s publishing house, she only communicates with the “Inside World,” as she calls the world outside her books, through her microblog on Regrettr. There, readers are treated to a cornucopia of strange terminology, only half of which is decipherable. She rarely responds to replies, but seems to welcome the attention.

Imagine if Chuck Tingle wrote Gormenghast. No, don’t imagine that. Forget that thought. Fuck. Let’s start over, from the other end.

Ghias Aljundi once said that “writing a poem can be as dangerous as carrying a gun.” Because any weapon has at least two edges, doesn’t it? He was talking about the horrible regime in Syria, specifically, which is known to murder poets to silence them. As such, it is a bit perverse of me to relay it here, relating it to this steampunk desert fantasy epic no-one has read, but that is what I’m doing. Perhaps I, like Fronker, believe I have something imporrtant to say and I hide it here, in a silly fishtank, where you won’t read it. Perhaps I don’t want to write you a poem. There is a double valence to danger: the danger can be to oneself or to others. Expand it a bit and it’s us or them. Often it is both. I believe J. Steam Fonker wishes to weaponise literature. She wants it to be equally as dangerous.

Just last week, she pleaded with world leaders (“kopfhats” in Fronkerese) to ban more books. It was a surprisingly coheroquent plea, and it turned out to be an old “Now York Toast” article pleading with President Obama to ban guns, which she had transformed with some search-and-replace magic. Hence all the paragraphs about how access to books leads to school shootings. Her followers had been arguing in circles with each other for a day until this was revealed, minithinkpieces bubbling forth, and then the bubble burst. I admit I may have got caught up in the dunderfrolic myself.

Consider the plot of the Boneyard Bedouin Epique (consisting of four books: The Word in the Stone, The Trunk in the Junk, The Gland of Arlulin, and The Sand in the Clothes). A young woman sets out to peel her own world apart like one continuous clementine spiral by singing herself out of it, her culture not having anything like literacy. This brings danger, long before she comes close to succeeding, but she eventually succeeds. This is perhaps the most unfair summary I’ve ever done of one of these series, but there is so much in it. How do I explain to you the ship of avarice? How do I tell you of the Dune pisstakeage of giant writhing cocks fucking the desert and how it is a comment on US foreign policy? Why would you believe me that that fits in with the rest of the book? I could tell you the whole story is of a dustmote falling to the floor, shaken loose from a rocking table, which is true. Or I could tell you about the calligraphy. The instructions for dancing with ink-tipped boots. The suicide pact the author makes with the reader. It all makes sense; none of it makes sense.

Virgil said that a good couplet should be enough to make a snake explode. Such is the power of words. Fronker longs for a time gone by, when her words would have a physical effect on her surroundings instead of being shielded by a humtracker and electricity. I don’t think she’s written herself out of this world just yet, but she might. When she does fall through, I wonder if we will all solipsistically blink out, or if we will stand there dumbfounded, mouthing “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Review: The Weight of Things

Dear readers, another real review of a real book that actually exists has been written by me. You can find it over here at Minor Lit[s]: minorliteratures.com/2015/08/24/the-weight-of-things-by-marianne-fritz-johannes-punkt/. I hope you enjoy it.

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austria

Picture by: me.

FakeReview: Under the Honey Moon by Goldiva Stetter

It is true that much of science fiction was founded on white guilt. First contact stories especially imagined a Columbus character but as a good guy, which is pretty wild. Of course, literature doesn’t exist anymore since the drubles annexed our planet, and Goldiva Stetter will be phloxed for writing this book, called Under the Honey Moon: A Retelling of the Invasion from their Side. I feel the need to write a review of her book, of which I have the antepenultimate copy printed before the baible-traz cummoxed the printing press. I feel like perhaps no-one will write a review of this book if I do not, and if no-one expresses their opinions in nuanced but easily swallowed ways, it is a bit like the book does not exist. I grabbed a copy still hot off the presses and ran for all my legs’ worth until I reached the safety of a burbium. Perhaps I own the only copy in existence. Perhaps I’m inviting my own phloxion if I publish this myself. Before you think that: know that I am against this kind of endeavour entirely and I aim to demolish the good reputation of this slanderous book.

Goldiva had found one of those humongous machines they used to print glossy-covered airport novels in, so this slim volume of sarcastic literature-that-shouldn’t-be feels like the ghost of a book. It’s been a decade since I read a new book, but I remember science fiction, and I think Goldiva Stetter does, too. There are all the classic elements of a good military space masturbation fantasy ball of yarn. There’s the excitement of discovering an alien species, there’s the intial misunderstanding, the weird sex scene, the war propaganda, the underlying sense of unease about defining yourself according to your species or defining yourself at all, the dazzling displays of the morally ambiguous achievements of science, there’s a quest, a good ending, and the unanswered question: are we the good guys?

No human speaks himut, of course, so this book is written in English. It tells the story of three imagined diplomats-turned war heroes: Pigeon, Rat, and Flea. In 87 short pages without paragraph breaks we are shown the moral struggle that Pigeon, Rat, and Flea must have felt when they murdered human civilians by the thousands with their pungytien and phloxoi. Their characterisation falls pretty much flat despite all the emotions they talk about having. In one scene near the end of the first act, Flea stops their phloxion and displays a human in exploded view and asks the question, “Are they not like us?” The answer is of course that we are. The human loses structural integrity and dies shortly after.

The Swiftian anger in this narrative is not escaping anyone, I hope. Jonathan Swift, for those of you who learned to read after the annexation, was a very angry man who objected to the drubles of his time, the British humans. He achieved fame, alright, but think of what he could have achieved if he had worked with them instead! At one point, Jonathan Swift poisoned six thousand babies so that when the British humans ate them, they would fall ill. A barbarous act. And Goldiva Stetter will scream her ire like that scene in Braveheart until they kill her for good, I bet. What a shame. Her incredible talent could be used for more productive things, such as galaschet, or moonfarming. Instead she chooses to waste it on writing, on stirring up feelings in the population, of writing coded messages about where the kimmolwoi meet to plan the revolution.

Stetter describes the druble anatomy and vichshen in mundane terms and only when necessary, but spends a disturbing amount of time explaining basic human physiology in an exotic manner. This only adds to the sarcasm which flows from the book so heavily despite its light form. Why on earth would a druble – the intended reader of this book is someone druble who speaks a human language, which is ridiculous as they do not need to communicate with us, but I digress – need to know about the alien concept of “pain”? It is not relevant to their frame of reference. I’m afraid that much like the druble empire I have run out of space and must award some stars now, as is traditional of a review. This book gets one star, no more, because that is the minimum of stars. This may have been the last book ever written. Our sun will shine for a billion long years more. Good riddance, literature.

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As you may be aware, my fake review The Cult of Numbers was recently published by Pamphlets for the Apocalypse! Unlike Under the Honey Moon, the book reviewed in there is an economy textbook. You will not be disappointed: you would love to read about a cult that sprung up around an economy textbook. I know you. You would wolf that shit down. Buy it here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/237006205/the-cult-of-numbers-johannes-punkt-with

On the Music of Language and All That: review of Le Ton Beau de Marot, by Douglas R. Hofstadter

I’m trying to write this review to sort out my thoughts on the leviathan and a half of a book that is Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. Here is one of my thoughts. Observe a new symbol make its way into language: it squiggles and squirms and then suddenly it’s everywhere, diluted, like you just stepped on a worm on the pavement. This is not a bad thing nor a good thing, except maybe for the integrity of the worm. It’s just how we process language, you know. A useful image comes into our possession and we paint it everywhere until it only means itself. Hofstadter would like it if I provided an example or two with my generalisation here, because that is the best way he knows to get information across. Very well.

Take sexting, that utterly ridiculous word. Sometime a few years ago some American news channels got their collective breaths caught in their throats by another in their ritualistic series of tantrums about teenagers having sex lives, or preambles thereto. Apparently, teenagers were sending each other erotic messages via cell-phones. Possibly even, and look away now for a while, nude pictures, colloquially known as “nudes.” Texts about sex. Sexts. This word took the US by storm, and when something takes the US by storm, the US takes to the Internet. Especially Twitter. It became a thing to preface your tweets with “sext:” and then say something longing, something horny, or something plain weird (the humour mostly coming from trying to imagine things like “sext: I stuffed your refrigerator with crystals” as a serious mating call). Patricia Lockwood deserves a mention here because her sext poems are amazing, though we have come to expect sexts from her now, so we don’t get them anymore. Her other poetry is equally amazing.

Anyway, likely, people have not actually changed their erotic messaging habits because of this word, but the word has become a thing. What you are referring to now when you preface a statement with “sext:” is this weird tradition, not any actual attempt at passing your statement off as a human version of that bellowing sounds that moose make when they’re in heat. Or, should I say, that’s what I do. Sometimes I pass through the tradition and come out on the moose-noise side too, though.

Hofstadter’s book is full of translations of one particular French poem. Some of them are pretty good and get the message across very smoothly. But somewhere along the line, he just looses it. The translations start to be based on new challenges on top of the translation challenge, because the translators (most of them being Hofstadter himself) feel like they have mastered the art of translating this one particular poem from French into English. How many enjambments can we stuff into the poem? Can we change the genders expressed? Can we change the rhythm? Hofstadter has very rigid ideas but demonstrates and admits that he doesn’t know quite where his stiffness comes from. I could see where it was going, though, when a translation that reads “… Has some bug / Laid you up? / Made you up- / chuck a lot? / Knuckle not / Under, but …” shows up somewhere in the middle of the tome. (That is also the sequence of lines quoted in the only other review of this book I’ve read, and I feel bad about that, but oh well. Take it as a sign that this particular line was particularly egregious.) That is not a good translation of the Marot poem, but he is very proud of it. I will get back to that. Essentially, there comes a point in the book where the only way to appreciate the poems he shows us is by having read all the other poems, and had the French original explained to us in painfully clear language. At the end of this particular trainwreck of thought is a lipogrammatic explanation of John Searle’s Chinese Room Experiment written in the format of the original Marot poem, and Hofstadter has the audacity to call it a translation. Gasp.

A Cubical Kubrickal Rubrical

The structure of the book is this: I’m at this family gathering. I am fourteen years old, I would perhaps rather be out talking to my older, cooler cousins, but I’m listening to my uncle talk and he never shuts up. I don’t know which side of the family he’s from. Maybe he just barged in here. He talks about anything, everything, occasionally says incredibly racist things without realizing it. (At one point, he compares the Israeli government to the Nazi regime, not based on things they do that are actually genocidal but based on their fucking attitude to language, which is shared by the Academie Française and countless other institutions, but he doesn’t find the symmetry of comparing the French or the Icelandic to Nazis funny so he doesn’t mention those. At another point, he recounts an anecdote about a tribesman asking questions of an anthropologist, and because he’s a tribesman, Hofstadter calls him naïve and laughs at him, even though what he did in the unsourced anecdote sounds more like sarcasm (to me). But I digress. Hofstadter deplores racism where he can see it.) Mostly he comes back to two topics: his dead wife and the translation of poetry. And he gets drunker and drunker, avuncularer and avuncularer. The bits about his wife are very touching, and she sounds like she was a wonderful person, and I am sorry for his loss. I wish he would shut up about the translation of poetry, though. I’ve structured this review like it’s a bit of his book, because, well, why not. Nothing has meaning, it just repeats until it can reference itself. And then it does that until there are two factions: those who are smug about it, and those who are smug about having fun. No-one has fun.

Tous grêlent le nuage incandescent

One of Hofstadter’s main rigidities is that he doesn’t think poetry is poetry unless it’s the very metrical and rhyming things that you can imagine wouldn’t trouble a troubadour. He respects form very much. He doesn’t understand that with the millions of young men who marched right into death in the First World War, the authority of the old form completely disappeared. He doesn’t realize that the war poets faltered the more they were shot at, lost the grip on rhyme schemes the more they died. Near the end of his life – he could not know but he suspected his luck was running out – Wilfred Owen wrote a poem rhyming with consonant clusters more than the fullness preferred by, say, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Here’s the first stanza:

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

– Wilfred Owen, from “Arms and the Boy” (1918)

I mean, that’s just one poem. He kept trying to rhyme until the end, for certain. His sonnets were breaking down. He kept being ordered to shoot. Hofstadter doesn’t know this. Hofstadter thinks poetry should be beautiful, should concern only love or grief or scenery, more or less. To him it shouldn’t be about cruelty, shouldn’t be rooted in its time but rather you should easily be able to shovel it up and move it elsewhere, like a factory of bonsai gardens.

Another rigidity of Hofstadter’s is that only native speakers can translate poetry. As evidence for this, he at one point offers up his graceless “Knuckle not / under but”let in the middle of one translation, saying he has a hard time imagining a non-native speaker wielding language so skillfully as he has done right there. Take it in. Don’t take too much of it in, though, for your own good. That’s graceless gunk right there, honestly. Hofstadter also translates a poem into French at one point, probably because he contains multitudes or some shit.

私はGoogle翻訳に「Googleの翻訳」と「日本の「ヒット型付け

Another thing Hofstadter talks a lot about is artificial intelligence, especially the machines’ use of language. This book has taught me why the Chinese Room Experiment is silly. For which, thanks, I guess. I already knew it was silly, but now I can dismiss it with reason. The thing about machine translation that Hofstadter brings up but doesn’t really explore is that it all rests on the immense weight carried by the human translators that came before. That metaphor was inconsistent on purpose. I see no way that machine translation as it exists today or in the next hundred years can learn to do more than repeat things that old translators have said before. Perhaps this is a failure of imagination on my part, similar to the failure which Hofstadter accuses John Searle of imagining, but still.

As a tangent, Google Translate – what seems to be the best thing out there – still uses English as an intermediary language between other languages, almost as if they are deliberately making machine translation seem unappealing. I think you have to teach machines to think before you can teach them to speak, and teach them to speak before you can teach them to write, and then to translate. I don’t think anyone is really trying to teach machines to think. I doubt you can teach the bloody things to dream before you can teach them to sleep.

En underrubrik på svenska. De betyder ingenting ändå

What also becomes clear from reading the book is that Hofstadter considers translation to be an equally creative endeavour as is writing at all. Sometimes translation requires even more ingenuity, he almost says.

The combination of the last of his rigidities up there, that you can only translate into your native language, and the thing he traipses around but wants to say here, that translation is extremely creative, is this: Hofstadter thinks that you can’t write poetry in a language you did not grow up speaking. This is not a bad book, but don’t take it as an authority on anything except maybe artificial intelligence, the things that Hofstadter has actually worked on.

I like form. I write rhyming poetry when the mood strikes me. I attempt grace. Hofstadter makes me want to write ugly poetry.

   Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
   is not art.

– Issa (trans. Robert Hass)

FakeReview: Zero Dark Ennui by Gaston Glencastle

There’s something mythic and fragmentary about the ouevre of Gaston Glencastle, and I am not just referring to how his they found most of it, damp and nigh-unreadable in unorganized piles in the bottom of a disused well. Though that, too, deserves mention and is quite mythic and fragmentary on its own. No, I am referring to the conceits, the symbolism and the imagery that run through his stories like the artifical clouds that criss-cross the sky in his Liaison of Leaves and Lives. Glencastle’s stories are told in ways that suggest that the narrator is telling you something you already know. Like the texts are something we’ve already read before, like they’re a grandfather stuttering on his last reel of tape. The aggressively anti-Jungian and almost Markovian links of reasoning suggest to the open-minded a vast machine of logic half-buried in the desert.

Take the main character of Liaison, for instance, whose history shifts with her memory and the perceptions of others. Recall the famous scene where Antoniev asks if she were a dancer in a previous life and she becomes a dancer in a previous life. She becomes someone who has once been, long-before. Think of the worlds where the future is set in stone and the past is mutable as putty. I am saying this because I have been very impressed with the excavated works of outsider art that this well-dwelling man produced. In the latest work that Glencastle’s brother has been able to piece together, Zero Dark Ennui (and given how a chronology of his work would be an impossible task for anybody, as Émil points out, this work is composed of things that make sense together and where the handwriting suggests they were written around the same time, we can simply consider this a loose sequel to Liaison or Dusk in New Orleans) we are once again asked to accept an entirely new series of unarchetypes, a new tome of creation myths, and a new well of desires and human instincts.

Some people accuse Philip K. Dick of writing all his myths from the same trauma, that of his twin sister dying in the womb. With this, the third book of the Glencastle mythiad, I am beginning to see what I once thought was separate scars connect. It is all adding up to one disjointed picture, and the effect is somewhat ruined. In essence, my complaint is this: It is hard to believe, as Glencastle seems to write from beyond the grave, through his brothers ghostly and descolatory fingers, that all human longing and loneliness stems from that one time that Gaston Glencastle got separated from his favourite cuddly toy in a supermarket. It was still there when he got back. You should really be over this by the time you are old enough to write such stunning descriptions of deep forests and suppressions of empathy as can be found in Zero Dark Ennui.

Take the operation scene in the moon colony where we are treated to the glorious image of a person entirely disembodied, almost abatomed. Why does he feel the need to spend two paragraphs on the similarity between a spleen and a well-loved toy rabbit. This is the spleen that Raschcha loses in the beginning of the book, mind. The monoliths of capitalism stand tall around her until the moon colony scene, where she is reunited, though by this point the spleen has been in no less than three bodies, that just keep dying. Are we really supposed to believe that the spleen engineers its reuiniting with its real owner? Why are we supposed to believe this? I am disillusioned.

It turns out that what I mistook for the shadows that great thoughts cast in words was just dark crayons on pavement.

FakeReview: Sexual Future – A Memoir by Florinn Danderhall

Normally here at Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost Book Circle we don’t review more “racy,” “sexually explicit,” “orgiastic,” “Dionysian,” “explicitly mentioning vagina-feelings” books, but I had to make an exception for Florinn Danderhall’s latest memoir (2014). Yes, we agree, it is strange for one person to have written seven memoirs all purportedly of her own life in as many years. But there is something to it – this literary suicide and rebirth that mirrors not a phoenix, nor the turning of the seasons, but the way communist leaders continually edit their own reputation – that we simply must, if not record accurately then observe. Observe with all our lusting eyeballs’ might. This time, as in her third memoir “The Land of Broken Toys,” she tells us the tale of a sex life in turmoil. This time she tells us the future.

Using the rather crude devise of a “crystal ball” (her late husband’s “right family jewel, if memory serves”) Danderhall names her next seven lovers and then her own shuffling off this mortal coil. This is, she stresses, only one version of the future and the layman understanding of time travel suggests that telling the future changes it, but Danderhall sees in herself a Cassandra. As evidence, she names a few sex moves that will be heavy in use by 2018. They all have too ridiculous names to even contemplate or investigate: “the door-to-door salesman,” “the lecture on biochemistry,” “the rumption gumption”. This is ludicrous and not sexy, in this reviewer’s opinion.

There is dispute among scholars over exactly how many times a person dies. Jean Rhys wrote that there are two deaths, the real one and then the one everyone knows about, but that’s a conservative amount. Popular wisdom suggests three (when your heart stops, when they put your body in the ground, and the last time someone says your name). Other mysticalists say seven, or seventeen, or another large prime number, but according to our preliminary research no-one has stated it so boldly and largely as Danderhall before:

“I have one hundred and twenty one deaths left and I intend to make them count.”

The obvious interpretation of this statement, which opens the book, is that it’s a periphatic way of mentioning her orgasms, and indeed if you count them in the book they add up to 120. However, 120 orgasms is a very sad amount of orgasms to have left in you. The other way of reading it, which truly opens the book, is as a continuation of what I mentioned above: the way her books keep rewriting her history. Is Danderhall planning an oeuvre that spans over a hundred books? It’s not unbelievable. Sure, this eccentric author tries to distract us with “delicious sexuffration” and “dead leaves and the wet slippery unbearableness of an autumn storm all over Sylvia Plath’s face,” there is a cry for help in these pages. And I am not referring to the literal cry for help on page 152.

But like that cry, it’s easy to miss among all the sex. I strongly believe that there is a kernel of truth inside even the most beat-up and weird and mendacious autobiography. I believe a pattern is emerging, and I cannot see all the implications of it yet. But if you read this book, don’t just take the load at face value, so to speak. Swallow it, ruminate. There is a person in pain behind these words.

To end with something positive, this reviewer thought it rather lovely how the book was dedicated to Sanel Seton, the inventor of sextropy, sexual entropy.

FakeReview: Instruction Manual for Murdering the Nobel Committee for Literature, by Ursula Perquith

Taking a page out of M. John. Harrison’s book, er, blog, here: ambientehotel.wordpress.com/imaginary-reviews/

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First of all, I should like to say that if you are not familiar with the terrific work of Ursula Perquith you are sorely missing out. Her third book well lives up to the expectations. It was slightly delayed due to a fight with her publisher, but she has since changed publisher to someone who dares publish the daring work that she is writing. Her first book, for those unaware, was called World Awareness Day, and it cannot be summed up. The main conceit is about a sudden wave of awareness spreading through humans like viruses, and, well, just read it. You will understand. Her second book – more controversial than the first – was called Ursula Perquith. It details her life but it is not an autobiography, as she makes clear in the text, and she will actually stab you with a pen if you try to call it that. Now, her third book is a masterpiece and even harder to summarise than her two other books.

The book starts off innocently with a woman stepping out of a train as it halts at a station, and she then goes on to kill a person, using scissors and piano wire. Onlookers look on, but no-one does anything. She then goes on to book a hotel room, and we find out that it is the great Nordic capital of Stockholm that she is murdering in, and what’s more – we find out that this is actually a sequel to her second book, starring the same main character.

Throughout the book, she commits more and more murders. They are all very thought out and performable, except for the first one which is almost ritualistic in how willing the victim is. At the third murder, the reader – if they have not looked at the list of names and addresses in the back of the book – finds out the names of those who have been killed so far. Curiously, they all share names, addresses, and appearances with people on the Nobel Committee for Literature. As she kills them, she explains that this is fiction, and that we are sympathising with her, and that it is okay. This word “okay” repeats itself through the book like a corruption of data; at one point a whole page is just the word “okay” again and again and again until the plot resumes as if we hadn’t missed what was behind that wall of “okay”s.

One element that tantalises about this book especially is how the police handle the murders. They do not have an investigation running, but once they stop the main character when she was speeding. She explains that she thought she was on the Autobahn, and the police officer kindly explains that she is in Sweden where there are no Autobahnen. She is fined heavily. The police officer does not remark on the bloodstained dress or the almost-corpse in the back-seat, and we the reader feel this absence like a loss.

The fight that Ms. Perquith had with her publisher, as you might have guessed, was about that list of names and addresses at the back of the book. And the maps. And, I presume, though I was not privy to the conversations, the many smiley-faces after this list. And the coupons for knives that are included in the back, too.

This absolutely riveting book is of course not an “instruction manual for murdering the Nobel Committee for Literature” because they have not yet given Ursula Perquith the prize she so richly deserves. That would be ludicrous. Rather, it is an instruction manual for thinking more deeply about things, and taking action, and feeling alive. I have never felt more alive than I did when I was engrossed in this book. I did not mention her many published short stories before, but I will mention them now. She has a book coming out next year which is a collection of her best short work, entitled “Night Shits Beauty”.