Saturday, April 11, 2009

Crit List 8: The Parade Of Sleaze Continues -- Alligator Alley and Dr. Adder

Come on, just look at that cover.

Alligator Alley

Well, I may not know for sure, but I get the impression that this is a collaboration between underground cartoonist Tim Ferret and underappreciated novelist K.W. Jeter. The book itself -- a particularly delicious example of the Book-As-Object -- claims that it's written by the two main characters.

Allow me to quote:

In a nutshell, it was over before it began. The first guy ate a long, rectangular trash can and promptly laid down to 'sleep.' The second, apparently experiencing some last minute trepidation, tried to pull away from me. "What's your hurry, pal?" I locked my hand around his throat and lifted him up into my face, the red coals of my eye holes reflecting back to me from within his own. He went for his piece, but I folded his arm back around him until it snapped and, much to my amazement, came off! Upon finding himself 'disarmed,' he obliged me by proceeding to eat the sink and several other restroom accessories. I forget which ones exactly, as I was checking his wallet at the time.

If you can say no to that I will happily beat you to death with a nail-studded two-by-four... Nah, not really. The two-by-four fits uncomfortably in the hand. You know what I really like? A kid-sized baseball bat, one of those little ones. Enough mass to give a substantial wallop but not so much as to slow a guy down.

Maybe weight the end with a little lead -- drill a hole in the tip and fill it with melted sinkers. Sweet.

Anyway, the book is pretty fucked up; no real story and a bit of tedium here and there. I do not care. I love this book. If you think of H.S.T. as the conduit through which the spirit of Gonzo flowed, this work is the one piece of science fiction moved by that same great spirit.

Plus, there are great illustrations. Like I said, book as object.


Dr. Adder

Those in the know tend to credit John Shirley's City Come A Walkin' as the Patient Zero of cyberpunk. For me, it's this book, which was finished in 1972. If Shirley is the Ramones, this is the Velvet Underground. Not exactly the thang but it has all the markings -- and it has the specific vibe of the sixties turning into the seventies, of moral decay really setting in. Of the Hustler/Penthouse era that made my flesh crawl when I was a child. The pervasive feel of urban scum in this one is just awesome.

You've got high-tech lowlifes, perverse sex (genetically manipulated intelligent giant chicken fucking is how the book starts out), lethal prosthetics, and Philip K. Dick references.

It's a SF novel written, to a great extent, about decadent Seventies pornography and the spiritual toll it exacted. Hey, folks, we live in an even more porn-saturated culture now. The plot of this novel centers on the personal and political conflict between a porno-doc who performs elective surgery on women to turn them into uber-whores and the degraded TV preacher that he done wrong. I read this in the Reagan years and Jeter was right! (rings bell, waves placard) Jeter was right!

The edition I have is the Bluejay Books version, with excellent interior illustrations by Matt (Was I just talking about the gonzo?) Howarth. If I included comics in this list, his Those Annoying Post Bros. would be near the top.



robp said...

Sean - that baseball bat you described - you may have come up with a team sport we'd be good at.

I haven't read Jeter but yet but now I will have to. Love that excerpt.

As to the beginnings of cyberpunk it reminds me of your post about the Guardian's list of "great" Science Fiction & Fantasy novels: a lot of it comes down to the definition of terms. Who are the cyberpunks and who are their precursors? At some point if you want to use those terms you have to draw a line and say "this is garage rock that led to punk but it's not what I mean by punk; this is science fiction, this is fantasy, this is cyberpunk." And to some degree where that line gets drawn depends on whether there is a movement of writers doing something similar either at the same time or shortly afterward.

It would be easy to widen the definition of cyberpunk to include WS Burroughs, but for most purposes his work seems to be considered an influence on cyberpunk rather than a part of the genre. But is that because of the writing itself or just that there was not a group of writers doing something similar at the time? Hell, Burroughs hung out with the Beats, but his writing had almost nothing to do with them.

And yeah, PK Dick references: where does sf end and cyberpunk begin? I don't object to the arbitrariness, and I don't know the subject well enough to suggest a different arbitrary place to draw the line. Also, it's not like the writers I'm mentioning aren't acclaimed enough. I much prefer the mention I've writers I haven't read, and I really am not going to go through the history of sf and cyberpunk to determine who did what, so thank you very much for the recommendation.

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