“Watership Down” For Whales

Ben Loory, by Mars Sandoval

Ben Loory, by Mars Sandoval

That’s what he said. I am off my rocker right now. I received word today from none other than Ben Loory. If you don’t know who Ben Loory is, you better ask somebody. First and foremost, he’s a hell of a cool guy. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, and even worked alongside him once (at a Pravic event with David Gill, if you remember).

See for yourself...In writerly terms, Ben Loory is a keen fiction and screen writer on the American literary scene, having appeared in The New Yorker, as well as on multiple episodes of This American Life. His enchanting book of fables, Stories For Nighttime And Some For The Day contains many animal characters, just like Cetus Finalis. It garnered wide critical acclaim, and his next collection is due out from Penguin in 2017.

I sent Mr. Loory (rhymes with story) a copy of Cetus Finalis, hoping against hope for a reply, or that he may even read it. I mean, he’s a busy man, and we haven’t hung out a lot. And, well, today he knocked me off of my rocker. Not only did he write back, he described Cetus Finalis as “Watership Down for whales.” What a sweet thing to say.

Image by Lucie Hall (Linoleuim block print)

Watership Down for whales.” – Ben Loory

Of course, acting in my capacity as a shameless self-promoter, I immediately asked him if I could plaster that statement across the internet and the universe for all to see, he replied, “Sure! You can do that.”

What a guy.

So, you heard it here first: None other than the illustrious Ben Loory has described Cetus Finalis as “Watership Down for whales.” Get yourself a copy and see what the hubbub is about!

Posted in Authors and Writing, Book Reviews, Books, Poetry, Sociey and Culture, The Writing Profession | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Uncanny Valley Outakes: The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

spinradirondreamcoverHello readers! This is an obscure, previously unpublished session of the Science Fiction Summer Reading Group. We covered a novel a couple of summers back by a short story writer named Norman Spinrad. In some regards, Spinrad was in the same sci fi scene as Phil Dick. There’s a good reason you’ve probably never heard of this book. YET, despite not being very good, it has a mesmerizing thread running through it.

Imagine if Hitler had never risen through the political ranks, but instead moved to New York to be a failed artist, where he writes this fictional novel called The Iron Dream. The novel is couched in an afterword by the fictional scholar Homer Whipple which sets the entire satire into place like a keystone last-placed in a scaffolded arch.

No one liked the book, but that was part of the mesmerizing thread. No one is supposed to like the book: Hitler wrote it. (Albeit, while a starving artist in New York.) I liked it so little that it never became a blog post until now. So here are the minimal notes. We read this fascinating and mind-numbing entry in the annals of science fiction so you wouldn’t have to. But now that Trump is the incoming President, who knows? Thank you, Mr. Norman Spinrad, for making us think, no matter the cost!


GillconsidersIt says as much about Hitler as it does about that popular market of meathead pulp violent fascist storytelling. The aliens are the minorities. Any extra planetary life form is basically black people; the minorities of the time. Women being marginalized. Homosexuality. Different races draped in this exotic space opera garb.

What stamina. He really put in an effort to make this a full-fledged work. He could have made his point much shorter. By trade, Spinrad was a short story writer.

Order and organization, insistence on order. Deft commentary on fascism.

The “Homer Whipple” comments on the banality of that sterilized.

NikitaonpointStrange to think of the metafiction quality. It all leads up to the Afterword. It really makes you feel it, after coming out of the droning hum of pulp fascistalingo. You just have to shake your head at the overwhelming machismo and self-destructive sure sightedness. Strong headed, always correct, swinging his dick around, and everyone follows wherever it points. Go there, shoot that.

They all become irradiated at the end. All are mutated and sterilized, but they’re fine with it. They sacrifice themselves to make this race of clones. They become what they were trying to destroy.

Issue of mental health brought up, and homosexuality, has dated this novel and Spinrad. Implying that Hitler was gay was probably more insulting in 1972.

Spinrad destroys the field in which he works. He’s meticulously, consciously planed them there as Hitler’s own hangups. This makes Spinrad a kind of Maestro. Begs the question: Where is Spinrad on this? He’s just spinning and spinning.

Critique of science fiction by making this eventually abhorrent narrative fit and blend with all of the preconditions of the genre. He is a master of the genre but does not ever escape the genre’s conventions.

LeGuins Review

LeGuin’s Review

A well-written review of the novel, by Ursula K. LeGuin


Gill: It’s very snake-devouring-its-own-tail

Reminiscent of the Vonnegut story about the American spy working inside a German radio station. White Night, I think it was called. He thought he was leaking troop movements to the Allies, but he was also spewing so much effective Nazi Propaganda to cover his ass that the Nazis let him stay on the radio even after they’d found him out because of the benefit he was having on the public morale of the war effort. It was worth it for them to let him give away coded troop movements. Creepfest.

“To get the audience to think a bit about the implications of the fantasies they’re embracing.”


He wrote this while Vietnam was happening.

Starship Troopers is like this, but without being satire. Heh, nice.

Gill: The American Nazi party put this book on its recommended reading list. That is why Spinrad added the Homer Whipple Afterword.

He’s making fun of what he’s doing, and he’s doing it!

A book by Spinrad, written since 9/11, called Osama The Gun. He was only able to get it published in French.

I’d like to know if he was inspired by Man In The High Castle.

Reflecting the fervor that average people were swept into. The rising fascism, celebrating strength, illusion of racial purity and ethnic security.

he does live up to science fiction as a vehicle for social criticism.

Gill: A strong implication that Hitler’s fanaticism,

this novel makes it seem like all these notions of racial purity and contamination anxiety are latent in Hitler even if he doesn’t end up the leader of Germany.



Thank you for reading! Reading rules!

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Book Review: Beyond The Veil Of Stars by Robert Reed

beyondtheveilbyreedThis 1994 science fiction book from Robert Reed deals with a first contact with extraterrestrials. Like Contact, and Arrival, it integrates the interstellar contact closely into a personal vehicle. You follow the story of a quack scientist researching alien encounters and abductions, because his own wife was abducted by aliens during their son’s childhood. The boy grows up and helps his dad doggedly amass data, until something actually happens.

And when it does happen, some big ideas come into play, and it is good fun. Of course, as usual and even necessary for stories like this, the alien beings remain elusive, shrouded in mystery. Despite giving clear signs, they merely facilitate the human characters’ journeys of discovery. For example, the fictional technology in this Reed’s book is a transport system that will convey an earthling to a planet in another star system. But the mechanism doesn’t transport the earthling body, it manifests the traveller into a body which fits into that planet’s ecological evolution. So the alien beings are not a species so much as a collection of ideas, moving from species to species and star system to star system. And that’s just one of the ideas.

And the interior journeys are very gratifying also. The book couches the cosmic ideas in very personal themes, like the protagonist’s search for the truth about his mother’s alien abduction, and his relinquishing of self-defensive anger in favor of intimacy and love. I enjoyed this book.

Find yourself a copy of Robert Reed’s Beyond The Veil Of Stars

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Goodnight, Moon!

By far, my favorite outing of the last year was an October camping trip to the apron of the Mojave desert, some ways out of Barstow, California.


With our intrepid guide, Ramy, and the trusty Jayco "J"!

With our intrepid guide, Ramy, and the trusty Jayco “J”!

I do love California, I must say it again. Not just because of Prop. 64, not just because of John Steinbeck, not just because of the Black Panthers, but because of the gorgeous and brilliant countryside which serves as an inspiration to us all. No matter which region of the ecosystem you visit, California offers inspirational beauty at nearly every turn.

The Duke abides.

The Duke abides.


We drove about 20 miles off of the highway. Far enough out to give us a good view of the Milky Way. We chose a derelict stone fire ring late at dusk, and set up camp in the dark, aided by the glare of the truck’s headlamps. With the car off and a lantern lit, we drank in starlight. The valley we selected was ringed with a rocky desert ridge. The temperature dropped and wind picked up. We dug out the fire pit, laid a few more stones in the ring, and lit our campfire. All around us scrub and sagebrush scratched at the sky.

20161018_09362820161018_09364920161018_123502before the fire

It was early night yet, and the moon had not yet risen. Before moonrise, we’d forgotten it was full. The brilliant autumn supermoon cleared the ridge in a few brief moments, reminding me how fast the earth turns, and blazed like a blue sun. Everything was illuminated. We walked hundreds of yards away from the fire and could see everything. We could read by it. Every branch and twig of brush stood out against the silvery blue glowing sand. Starbursting Joshua trees dotted the valley. We gaped at the Milky Way.


We stayed two nights, hiking the rocky outcroppings by day, exploring the desert, cooking and reveling in the sky by night, filled with gratitude. I returned to San Francisco with a renewed appreciation for life, mine and everything else’s.


Hail the Jayco "J"!

Hail the Jayco “J”!

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!


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