Monday, January 07, 2019



This extraordinary science fiction trilogy by CIXIN LIU, China's leading sf writer, is a mind-enlarging experience. For night after night over a period of a month I was in the grip of this gargantuan tale, swept along by Cixin's powerful imaginings. It is clear why people have drawn comparisons to the work of H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapleton and Arthur C. Clarke. Chinese sci-fi dates from 1898 but it wasn't until the 1990s that an SF renaissance, led by Cixin, emerged. The three volumes get chunkier as the scale of the story expands exponentially through space and time.

In a great piece in the London Review of Books by Nick Richardson entitled 'Even what doesn’t happen is epic' he perfectly sums up this masterwork as follows:
'The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens yet is that we’re the only species thick enough to reveal our own location in the universe). It is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too.'
 According to a story published by The Verge website:

'An adaptation of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body trilogy was filmed in 2015, only to sit on a shelf because of post-production structure and budgeting problems. And while there have been persistent reports that Amazon wants to adapt the series (for a mind-boggling $1 billion), Chinese studio YooZoo says it’s the only rights holder for any potential TV or film production.' 

The full story 'The Three-Book Problem: Why Chinese Sci Fi still Struggles' by Yin Yijun
[Jul 09, 2018] can be found on the Sixth Tone web site

The title story of Cixin's short story collection 'The Wandering Earth' has been turned into China's first big budget-science film directed by Guo Fan.


STANISLAW LEM intrigued me initially as the author of Solaris. Tarkovsky's movie of the book came out if I remember correctly just before or after 2001. The hardback of the book was published by Faber & Faber in 1971 but I read it first in this 1981 King Penguin edition along with two other titles. In 1982 came another one volume book of three tales.

In 2018, in the bookshop in St Pancras station, I needed to buy a fresh novel. Out of the overwhelming selection I chose Lem's last great novel Fiasco. An expedition has been sent to a distant planet to make contact with a new civilisation. Things are not as they imagined. Brilliant.

According to Simon Ings, in a tribute piece entitled 'The Man With The Future Inside Him' in the 60th Anniversary issue of New Scientist (19th Nov 2016), Lem had a 'pessimistic attitude to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It's not that alien intelligences aren't out there, Lem says, because they almost certainly are. But they won't be our sort of intelligences... extraterrestrial versions of reason and reasonableness may look very different to our own.'

His first novel 'Hospital of the Transfiguration' was followed by 17 others, among them Solaris, in his most prolific period from 1956 to 1968. By the time he died in 2006, he had sold close to 40 million books in more than 40 languages and was celebrated by the likes of Alvin Toffler, Carl Sagan and Daniel Dennett.

He had no time for most sf visions of the future. 'Meaningful prediction' he wrote, 'does not lie in serving up the present larded with startling improvements or revelations in lieu of the future'

Ings writes 'He wanted more: to grasp the human adventure in all its promise, tragedy and grandeur. He devised whole new chapters to the human story, not happy endings...'Twenty years before the term "virtual reality" appeared, Lem was already writing about its likely educational and cultural effects.'

He concludes: 'As far as I can tell, Lem got everything - everything - right'


ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, Chilean filmmaker and Tarot expert, set out to create the greatest mind and soul blower of a movie based on Frank Herbert's blockbuster sf book Dune. 

Working with two French producers who were raising the £15m to realise Jodorowsky's visions, he set out to recruit a stellar group of spiritual warriors.

Jodorowsky had a reputation for crazy films - El Topo and The Holy Mountain - so the producers suggested that, to build confidence with the studios. Jodorowsky should storyboard the whole film, with all the camera angles.

The project took him 2 1/2 years. His first recruit was Jean Giraud known most widely as Moebius, the great French comic artist who could draw as fast as Jodorowsky could speak.

He tried to tie up with sfx maestro Douglas Trumbull but they fell out. But he did get Dan O'Bannon sfx producer  who masterminded 'Dark Star.', directed by John Carpenter and Chris Fosse, leading sf spaceship designer and painter.

He hired David Carradine, persuaded Pink Floyd to do some music, tried to enlist Dali and his current muse Amanda Lear, got Giger to produce a set of drawings, found other actors at Warhol's Factory, and even sweet-talked Orson Welles into playing a part.

In the end, they were £5 million short and the project was cancelled in 1975. Some ten copies of the giant storyboarded film book were produced and it's clear that it had a big influence on a generation of projects - including of course the David Lynch film version which heavily borrowed or stole from it. Star Wars may have borrowed the light sabre idea the documentary suggests.  Scenes of the Holy Grail ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark' are compared with drawings from the big book.

Damn O' Bannon of course went on to concieve Alien and worked with Giger to create a major sf  classic. Giger's paintings for Jodorowsky are compared with scenes from Prometheus.

Jodorowsky and Moebius repurposed many of the ideas from their storyboard of Dune and built it into the three-volume Incal comic classic.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019


THE GENERALIST has written at some length already on Jeff Nuttall and his seminal book 'Bomb Culture'.

Jeff was one of he first artists I ever met back in 1969 when he came to Worthing Art college and read from his novel 'Pig'. Back in the 1980s I interviewed him at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Links to Previous Posts:

Celebrating Jeff Nutall

Jeff Nuttall 2: Bomb Culture


Jeff Nutall: Bomb Culture and Beyond

Happily Strange Attractor Press have recently republished 'Bomb Culture' on its 50th anniversary, using the artwork that was used in the original hardback edition published by MacGibbon & Kee in 1968. [See below].

'Bomb Culture' was published in paperback in 1970 by Paladin, a highly rated imprint that published many seminal works including books by Timothy Leary, Richard Neville and John Michell amongst many others.

The new edition is really worth getting hold of. The original text was rather sloppily edited and had no proper references for the multitude of quotes Nutall used in this powerful polemical broadside of a book.

The two updaters/editors are Douglas Field and Jay Jeff Jones who've done a terrific job at correcting and sourcing everything and have provided a valuable introduction about the ins and outs of the book's publishing history. and a glossary full of useful biographical information on numerous underground figures who are not well documented these days.

 Iain Sinclair stylish and inciteful opening foreword entitled Knees Up Among The Ruins wets the palate for the main event. Maria Fusco's sharp short end piece entitled 'Almost But Not Quite Unreadable' finishes things on just the right note

Once again Strange Attractor have produced a high quality edition.

To create 'Bomb Culture' Nuttall mashed together material from his previously published short run mimeographed 'My Own Mag'. He shifts style and subject in fast-paced prose  which dramatically captures the spirit of those days. If you want to get a real feel of the edginess of those times this is one of the great acts of  reportage mixed in with rants that are punchy and poetic, brassy and bold, shouty and politically incorrect. Wake up. They're exploding nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. The anti-nuclear movement in Britain, fronted by CND, was culturally hugely important during those times; at present, that movement seem to have almost completely disappeared.

This book has energy and urgency to spare. We would do well to pay attention to its coverage and analysis of the Underground as it is was then, to provide valuable creative tips for the next wave of outsider, indie, alternative activists that are starting to make their voices heard.

A small Bomb Culture exhibition in the Flat Time House in South London, the former home of artist John Latham, [See:] ran for a short period at the end of last year. The Generalist Archive was pleased to be able to lend an original CND Aldermaston song book and a set of additional lyrics for display there. My interview with Jeff was also available for visitors to listen to.


THE GENERALIST has been taking much-needed R&R leave to get body and mind back in some sort of good shape, clearing the mind to a sheet of white paper, taking time to listen to Satie, allowing oneself space for deep consideration  and contemplation of one's past pathway in life leading to this point. Walking round the town with an open mind, arms spread to welcome fresh ideas. Looking for clues as to where life might lead next.

Drawn to cross the HIgh Street to scan the small second-hand book tables outside Bow Windows bookshop in Lewes. Many unexpected treasures have been discovered here over the years. A column of paperbacks, spine upwards. 'Gabriel's Law' - the title of one modest volume caught my eye and I was hooked straight off when I read the cover pitch: A Quest For The Ordering Principle At The Heart of All Things'. It was only £1 despite being in mint condition and published in 2018. Bingo.

I sat down to read it straight away that afternoon and evening. It's satisfying and thought provoking and just the very thing that I needed to read. The title has the ring of 'Foucault's Pendulum' and attracts me for the same reasons- something arcane about hidden secrets.

The book takes an unsual form. First an excellent intro by Max Brown, the book's editor who also runs Joseph Johnston Publisher, named after the legendary namesake and publisher of the past. Joseph Johnson (1738-1809) was responsible for promoting the work of several prominent writers whose works were considered to be too radical for conventional publication at the time, including Joseph Priestley, Erasmus Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine.

The book's author Benedict Rattigan presents his hunt for the 'ordering principle' in the form of journal entries that document, in short bursts, his long and tangled journey over many years, attempting to try and to understand and uncover this elusive goal and write a book about it. It's an intriguing and well-written read.

The book's second section takes the form of a court hearing to look at the evidence for allowing humans the opportunity of sharing higher thoughts with the gods. Gabriel is the advocate for the motion, who  calls to the stand a a sequence of distinguished speakers from many cultures and different periods of past time, to back up his arguments, The alternative arguments are made by Azrael with a Judge mediating the proceedings.

My senses were further stimulated when I examined the physical book I had bought for £1, in more detail. For a start, I discovered that the title page was autographed in pen by both the author and editor.

Even more unexpected were the hand-written pencil inscriptions on the inside back cover. At the bottom it reads:  'This is the first copy of the first edition' At the top, in capitals, is written the word  OPHIUCUS  which I discovered has been called the "13th sign of the zodiac". However, this confuses sign with constellation says Wikipedia which reports that it is 'a large constellation straddling the celestial equator. Its name is from the Greek Ὀφιοῦχος Ophioukhos; "serpent-bearer", and it is commonly represented as a man grasping a snake'. 

Rightly or wrongly, I felt that the universe was sending me a message.