If language is a drug, Sci-Fi is crack-cocaine

 

8th emotion

Peacock IV (2016), by Victoria Stothard – cover designer of new speculative fiction project, ‘The 8th Emotion’ 

“Science-fiction [is] the only genuine consciousness-expanding drug.”

            — Arthur C. Clarke, “Of Sand and Stars”, 1983

First off, apologies for the title. It’s a shameless piece of provocation. Obviously, crack destroys lives, and I wouldn’t want to equate it – in all seriousness – with an addiction to spaceships, lasers, and aliens. Nonetheless, the title sounded good, and it does get at what I want to discuss.

Sci-fi is not as narrow a set of parameters as perhaps many believe. It is not really just “lasers, spaceships, and aliens”, although I imagine this is what comes to most people’s minds when they hear the term.

Culture shock

Sci-fi, if anything, is about culture shock. It’s a form that implicitly dictates that something new be brought to the table, whether it’s a new world, a new species, a new technology, a new psychology… you get my drift. Some sort of breach with our everyday reality, our everyday culture, is required. Therefore, it is a form which, at its core, is built on the notion of a culture shock.

At this point, I’d like to make a distinction between the Arthur C. Clarke quote with which I began this article, and my own belief (although his wording is probably just a by-product of his time). I believe ‘speculative fiction’, though a tad clunky to say, is a better term to use when considering the most potent type of mind-altering fiction, encompassing as it does science-fiction, fantasy, and everything in-between. ‘Science-fiction’ – to me at least – has a degree of prescriptiveness: it’s exotic worlds, final frontiers, and advanced technology. ‘Speculative fiction’, as long as it’s a break from our current world, can be anything. It has a less restricted sense of what a story can be. And as the most drug-like, visionary fiction can come in a variety of guises, that seems like the safest term to use here.

So, to my original point, now amended – speculative fiction relies on culture shock. It can incorporate any genre within it (see the beautiful romantic plot thread in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, or the noir detective elements in the Blade Runner franchise) but it must always, even in a very watered-down form, contain this key ingredient.

blade-runner-2049

Speculative fiction can incorporate any genre within it – including the noir detective elements in the Blade Runner franchise. 

However, this isn’t quite the culture shock we get when we go on holiday and think, “oh, so here the steering wheel’s on the other side”, profound though that is. Culture shocks in the real world occur in a state of flux: we’re being bombarded with from all sides by ever-changing, multi-sensory stimuli; incessant distractions that diminish each other and compete for our attention. Prose is very different: it’s a very controlled reality, experienced moment by moment, word by word. With a painting, you can look around the canvas, your eye roving across the detail in whatever order it pleases; an order that is unlikely to be the same from one person to the next. Prose is the only truly linear experience of reality I can think of. As a writer, it lets you specify the exact stimulus for a brain at any given moment (through a word-form), and precisely how that flow of impressions should be arranged. It’s a very effective and finely-tuned means of interacting with another human consciousness.

“Prose is the only truly linear experience of reality […] it’s a very effective and finely-tuned means of interacting with another human consciousness.”

On a broader level, purely verbal communication is as close to telepathy as we’ve got. It’s mind communing with mind, the whole material world stripped away, leaving just information: the best rendering of our thoughts that we have. And in my opinion, the better the thoughts, the better their drug-like effect when expressed. Trite thoughts, captured in words, dull the mind. Numb your senses. High-grade thoughts can excite and elevate you, sharpen your mind, make you see the world in a whole different light. This is euphoria. And, at an extreme end, they can even produce physiological side-effects – but I’ll come to that in a second.

Really, it’s the thought, conveyed from one person to another, that is the drug. The language is just the necessary packaging; the means of transmission.

The power of language

There are two stand-out instances in my life that drove home how powerful language can be. The first was the most physiologically striking: it was after I’d been to see a live performance of Alan Moore’s spoken-word piece Unearthing, which was accompanied by music and a photographic slideshow. All these components worked in synchronicity, informing each other, vying for pole-position in your awareness, impossible to follow in their totality. I had to leave the event two-thirds of the way through, rushing to get my coach home. I remember sitting on it, staring at the passing traffic lights: they were glowing slightly but distinctively brighter than usual, like psychedelic blurs of luminosity. I felt stoned. And exactly like someone in that condition, I barely blinked for the first forty minutes of that trip.

(Later, when Unearthing was available to download, I listened to it again, this time the entire way through. Again, I felt stoned, unblinking, although here the effect lasted for more like three minutes. I imagine familiarity wore away some of its impact, as did the lack of a multi-sensory presentation.)

This is probably the peak version of language-as-drug: when it works in tandem with other art forms (like henchmen backing up a criminal mastermind) to overload your senses and mind.

The other stand-out instance utilised words alone. I was in a café, above a bookshop, in a busy central area of London. A long-term friend and I had been talking, for a couple of hours or so, about concepts like time and the quantum world. Then, in the space of a few seconds, reality got strange. I felt light-headed, trippy, as if I could happily stare at any part of the world; as if it was all full of fascinating detail. It also felt like I could sense the atoms that made up the table we were sat at, their energy; and consequently, I had the bizarre impression – while knowing it was false – that I should be able to pass my hand, ghost-like, through that solid block of wood. Between its atoms.

Like I say, this only took a moment to kick in. I asked my friend if he felt it, without specifying what ‘it’ was. He said he did. Switching back and forth, without – as far as I can recall – any leading comments, we described what we were feeling. It seemed to be identical; more than that, it had been induced synchronistically during our conversation.

Obviously, this may all sound crazy. And although, certainly on that latter occasion, it felt like I was in a heightened state, I’m not saying there was any objective validity in my sensations. But you can’t deny that’s pretty trippy.

(And no, smart-arse, I hadn’t taken any drugs that day, or even that week, and at neither event was I sat in a fug of second-hand marijuana smoke. Otherwise, these anecdotes would be rubbish).

As I mentioned, similar effects have happened to me at other times after some sort of intense interaction with language; but these are the two most pronounced cases. And what’s great when this state hits is, unlike with conventional drugs, you retain full cognitive and motor facilities. It feels like you can put the energy you have to much better use.

So if language operates exactly like, or at least has the capacity to be a drug, as these experiences have pretty firmly led me to believe, then there’s an immediate implication for prose. Seen as a psychedelic chemical compound, with words forming the atoms of the overall substance (work with me here) then the less extraneous words there are to dilute the compound, the purer and more intoxicating the final result will be. Think of it as an alcohol with a higher proof. This would fit in with the Hemingway school of writing, where you pare away every unnecessary word until the minimalism almost drives you mad (there is a daily holocaust of adverbs in his name).

Where this perspective cleaves away from that orthodoxy is in the potential of chemicals, mixed correctly, to trigger fizzing and spectacular reactions in each other. So while the spare approach of Hemingway may state that sentences should be short and sharp like a gun report, with all floridity excised, this drug metaphor would argue – and I’d agree – that words can have some of their most exciting effects when the unfamiliar collide. Three adjectives where one would do? Yes, cut that down. But three adjectives that you’ve never seen together before, which spark off one another in interesting ways, like James Joyce’s description of a woman’s body in his short story The Dead as “musical and strange and perfumed”? Keep it. That’s up there with the best of literature.

What this means is that the dictums ascribed to Hemingway and Orwell aren’t the be-all and end-all of prose style. There’s a wider palette of possibilities on offer.

However, what I’ve just said applies to all writing. And I know what you’re thinking: I began this essay in good faith expecting to learn about sci-fi and where I can get a fix of crack cocaine before midnight. Cut to the chase already!

Okay. Geez. I was just about to get there.

The other key thing that the conversation in the café above the bookshop implies is that, for language to get you into a trippy, altered mind-state, this comes easiest when you’re discussing big ideas. Ideas that feel bigger than your brain; like it can’t contain their magnitude. The concepts of time and the quantum world were the examples in that instance, but there are plenty of alternatives: space; the ancestral path and all the DNA matches that, after millennia, led to the creation of you; parallel universes; how different the universe would be if light only travelled at 30 mph; what the psychology of a deity would be; what the ramifications would have been, big and small, if that pivotal historical event had never happened/gone the other way.

All of these notions involve a large sense of scale regarding either time or space, so maybe that’s the key to spinning out your own mind with concepts alone. What they also have in common is that, though such ideas could appear in any genre, they are very much the province of speculative fiction, with them and their ilk having formed the basis for countless stories in that ideas-obsessed narrative field.

A genuine, mind-altering drug on the page

Speculative fiction is where such concepts are literalised, are given concrete form so that the reader can have – on an imaginary level – a visceral engagement with them. It is where such abstract, mind-altering notions are brought to life.

Although most speculative fiction may not reach the giddy, psyche-warping heights I’ve expounded upon here (perhaps a lack of finesse in the prose; perhaps a failure of sustained intensity of imagination) I believe this area of literature, more than any other, has the potential to do so. And the evidence is plentiful and wonderful.

There is the cosmic, puzzle-like world building of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, whose grandeur and intricacy dawns on you like a creeping madness; the fecund neologisms and innovative typography of China Miéville’s Embassytown; the screaming, horror-drenched, pioneering and unmistakable purple prose of Lovecraft; the magisterial and idiosyncratic visions of William Blake. And hopefully, in a hundred years, these authors will be seen as the mere vanguard of what was to come.

Speculative fiction is where you can unite the experimentalism of the modernists (form, language, story content, narratorial and character voices, imagery, setting, etc.) but justify it for narrative reasons, and tie it into a ripping yarn. It can be a genuine, mind-altering drug on the page.

It is, I believe, where the next level of literature lies.

About the author of this post

FullSizeRenderAttempting to practice what he preaches, Josh Spiller has written his own speculative fiction novel, entitled ‘The 8th Emotion’. He is currently trying to fund it through Kickstarter, and you can check it out – as well as get your own signed first edition – here.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘The 8th Emotion’ – An Extract

An extract from Josh Spiller’s forthcoming speculative fiction novel, ‘The 8th Emotion’…

 

In a tribdwell situated in Karthalia, but beyond the boundary of any tribe – like some exiled building – Pavneet worked frantically.

Night-time candles glowed on his desk, while a cooking fire burned in the corner of his tribdwell’s main room. The smell of acidic chemicals singed the warm air, emanating from the beaker of green liquid that sat on his desk.

Taking yet another sheet of paper, Pavneet scrawled more notes, his eyes – behind his brass-rimmed glasses – in a trance-like state. He wore a long, stained jacket which he used as a makeshift lab coat. Above his greying temples, his craggily-lined forehead was furrowed in intense concentration. His World had contracted to the sheet of paper that lay before him, so much so that he hadn’t noticed that Bastian, his sandy-coloured dog, was barking in agitation and fear.

Two strident door-knocks resounded through the room. Cowering, Bastian fell silent, before leaning forward and barking with even more aggression.

Pavneet, frozen still, stared over the rim of his glasses, at the front door that lay directly ahead of him. No one had knocked on that door in years. Cautiously, he rose from his wooden chair, and started to shuffle around his desk.

Then with frightening suddenness, something shattered loudly. Pavneet instinctively ducked, snapping his gaze in the direction of the noise. Any last dregs of his trance-state were gone. The real World had come roaring in, flooding his alert mind with intense, vivid impressions. From beneath Bastian’s deafening barking, he heard, with acute sensitivity, a dull and solid thud strike the floorboards somewhere nearby. Then he saw that the single window in the left-hand wall was smashed open. And framed within its new jags of glass, which were like a jaw of predatory, vitreous teeth, a balaclavaed face stared back at Pavneet.

“Shut that dog up!” the balaclavaed man hissed. Then, with menacing slowness, he raised a lit candle into view. “Or we’ll blaze this place to the ground.”

In a state of shock, Pavneet whispered: “Sh-shush boy. Shush.” Bastian fell silent.

“Good,” the balaclavaed man said, and Pavneet could practically hear the smirk in his voice. “Now – open the door.”

An enormous fear gripped Pavneet, rattling his heart in its gigantic grip. Please, he thought. Oh please, don’t let them hurt me…

With a trembling hand, he unlocked the door, and pulled it toward him.

Two imposing men, balaclavaed like the one at the window, stood before him. One held a knife, its sharp point only an inch away from Pavneet’s gut.

“Get inside,” the man with the blade said. Within the holes of the man’s balaclava, Pavneet saw tiny, gloating, and vicious eyes. Silently, just enough to prod the flesh without cutting it, the man jabbed the knife into Pavneet’s stomach.

“W-what do you want?” Pavneet mumbled, fearfully stepping backwards toward his desk. He couldn’t believe a stranger was attacking him. Such a thing had been known to happen in other lands, in other times, but never in Karthalia. It was a peaceful place. “P-please. I’ll give you anything.”

“We already know that,” the man carrying the blade said, speaking with a twisted and gleeful sense of power.

He forced Pavneet back into the chair by the desk. Half-collapsing into it, Pavneet rubbed Bastian’s neck with trembling hands, as if he were trying to soothe his beloved companion, when it must have been obvious that it was simply a nervous expression of his own terror. Bastian growled, baring his teeth.

“E-easy, boy” Pavneet whispered. “Shhh.”

The other two intruders seemed subservient to the man with the blade. Both were now searching Pavneet’s tribdwell, one rifling through the sheafs of pamphlets and notepaper which Pavneet, to get them out of his way, had piled up around the edges of the room; the other, taller one standing nearby, inspecting the notes in the drawers of Pavneet’s desk. It was obvious that neither was finding what they were looking for.

The man carrying the blade spoke, still holding the knife just in front of Pavneet’s chest: “You’re not a liar, are you Pavneet?”

“N-no.”

“So this is true?” ‘Blade’ withdrew from his pocket a scrunched-up piece of paper. He flattened it out on the top of the desk, before showing it to Pavneet. With a gut-wrenching sense of horror, Pavneet recognised it at once. The page had been ripped out from the last scientific pamphlet he’d written, published only a week ago.

The chain of reasoning Pavneet had expounded in the pamphlet flashed into his mind, fierce and white-hot like burning magnesium:

  1. Single-celled organisms don’t experience emotions, or if they do, they experience very little.
  2. Humans evolved from single-celled organisms.
  3. Humans experience emotions.
  4. Thus, humans must have evolved emotions.

Then came the main part of Pavneet’s article. He’d claimed that he knew how to unlock humanity’s next emotion, so that it could become a permanent part of anyone who wanted it. What’s more, he’d said that when everyone possessed it, it would end all human conflict, equalising everyone profoundly, and ushering in a true paradise.

For now, though – he’d ended his article – he needed to do more testing, to check that what he’d discovered was safe. But in the next pamphlet he released, he would explain how people could tap into this emotion for themselves.

This memory of what he’d written hit Pavneet with the force of a tempest, and then, following close behind, realisation stabbed through him: these men were searching for proof that he really could unlock this next emotion. Why? He had no idea. But if they found it, he knew they’d have no reason to keep him alive.

“I lied,” Pavneet blurted. “I just did it to sell the next issue. I’m alone, my income, it’s all through trading these pamph—”

Out of nowhere, Blade’s knife-gripping fist smashed into Pavneet’s cheek, knocking him into his desk and rattling the container of chemicals that sat on top of it. Bastian barked ferociously, but Pavneet retained his terrified, white-knuckled grip on the dog’s collar. As he gasped from the blow, Pavneet could almost feel ‘Blade’ grinning at him sadistically from behind his balaclava.

“Give me a reason to do that again,” ‘Blade’ said.

Then one of the other men came over to ‘Blade’, pointing at something on a piece of paper.

They’ve got it, Pavneet thought, a cold thrill of terror running though him, shifting the hyper-real present into even sharper focus. He felt upon his back the heat from the cooking fire in the corner. Saw the fire’s light gleaming upon the knife, as if the blade shone with its own golden, vicious soul. An inchoate, instinctual plan was forming in his mind.

With regret, he remembered how – on the day of his breakthrough – he had told himself that he would never again inflict any type of injury on another human being. A sort of premonitory sympathy pain shot through him: he understood the agony these men might be about to suffer. And there was something still worse…

He looked at Bastian with sorrow.

‘Blade’ stared at the piece of paper, his eyes widening in a look of quiet awe. All humour had dropped out of his voice: “So you really can do it.”

And with that, Pavneet’s decision was made.

With his right hand, he shoved Bastian forward and released the dog’s collar. “Go!” he shouted, and Bastian leapt upon ‘Blade’, slobbering fangs barking and snapping. Spinning round, Pavneet snatched up the container of chemicals and threw it at the cooking fire. A blaze exploded upwards, blasting a wave of searing heat over Pavneet’s face. Everything became confusion and clamour. Fire-tongues gobbled ravenously at floorboards and terracotta walls, vomiting black smoke. Pavneet bolted across the room, past the indistinct shapes of his attackers, through a haze of barking, swearing, and shouts. Leaping, he hauled himself up to the smashed-in window, his adrenaline making him oblivious to the jags of glass that were slicing open his forearms.

Then, through the whirlwind of smoke and shouts, there cut a sharp, canine yelp. For a moment, Pavneet froze. Tears brimmed in his eyes. Blood poured out of his arms. He wanted to look back, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Struggling over the knives of glass that jutted up below him, he toppled out the window’s other side, landing with a thump on the soil and vegetables below.

Gasping for breath, he hauled himself to his feet, and ran, trampling vegetables, fruit, and grass, sprinting alongside the winding River Menignus. The reek of sulphur burned in his nostrils, beneath a clear, starry sky.

Who were those men? Why were they after him? He didn’t know. And that meant he couldn’t trust anyone.

Still running, he tried to ignore his screaming desire to go back, even as tears ran down his cheeks. Bastian… it was Pavneet’s fault. And it was too late for him to do anything about it.

And as he ran, Pavneet also imagined that gang of men, amongst the fiery confusion, enduring an emotion they’d never felt before… enduring Oceanos, as the flames ate through the scientific specimens stored in his bedroom, and released their psychotropic vapours into the air.

 

 

You can read more about ‘The 8th Emotion’ – and order your own signed first-edition copy of the novel – here

The 8th Emotion

8th emotion

A new speculative fiction project, ‘The 8th Emotion’, has launched on Kickstarter. Set in a utopian future, the story is about how humanity unlocks a new emotion, thereby gaining a radically different way of perceiving the world. This in turn precipitates a civil war.

The Kickstarter is aiming to fund the design and printing of this novel, and at the time of writing, is already 70% of the way there.

The novel features a post-civilisation society where, centuries after the collapse of the world’s economies, money has been replaced by a sophisticated, bartering tribal network; its prose is unusually textured, incorporating elements of French, Armenian, and Lebanese Arabic into its dialogue; the book itself will include beautiful maps of its fictional world; and the novel’s cover will also be experimental, containing a significant Easter Egg that will only be apparent once you’ve read the final chapter.

If you help realise this project, there are lots of awesome rewards available, such as: having your name printed in the final book; receiving a unique signed and annotated edition; and getting Kickstarter-exclusive artwork from the stunningly talented Niamh Keenan and Alan Ashworth Muñoz.

Speaking about the launch of the Kickstarter project, Nothing in the Rulebook’s very own Professor Wu said:

“More than ever, it’s important that we have access to new and exciting literary works that encourage us to see the world differently. We live in impossibly turbulent times, and we need art, and books in particular, to illuminate some of the possible paths that lie ahead. Yet we increasingly live in a world in which it is becoming harder and harder to read books that aren’t copies or imitations of previously commercially successful books.”

“Josh Spiller’s The 8th Emotion promises to break that trend, in delivering a piece of writing that is different to anything you’ve ever read before. While the old traditional models of publishing continue to follow the money, we need to collectively band together to support such artistic endeavours. So get involved and make a pledge to help make this book become a reality.”

You can read an exciting extract of the novel here

And you can see the Kickstarter in full, including a video and all the wonderful rewards on offer, here.

Bad Sex in Fiction: extracts from the 2017 shortlist

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Have you noticed it in the air? Perhaps it’s something etched onto the faces of passers-by, or the fuzzy feeling in your stomach that lifts you up and puts a smile on your face. That’s right – it’s that time of year again – the literary period that brings one of the greatest gifts of all to so many people around the world. In case you haven’t guessed by now, it’s time for the annual Bad Sex in Fiction award, which has just released its shortlist of nominated entries, even as further nominations continue to pour in.

If you’re a fan of spasming muscles, shooting blobs of “lo-cal genetics”, sighs, moans, groans and general limb-flying raunchy madness, then you’re in for a treat.

All eyes are now on the judges at The Literary Review, which founded the award, to see who will be crowned this year’s winner – and whose name will be added to our long-running connoisseur’s compendium.

We’ve listed the full set of shortlisted authors below, along with their literary extracts. Enjoy!

The Seventh Function of Language – Laurent Binet – “fuck me like a machine”

“He tips her back and lays her on the dissecting table. She takes off her skirt, spreads her legs and tells him: ‘Fuck me like a machine.’ And while her breasts spill out, Simon begins to flow into her assemblage. His tongue-machine slides inside her like a coin in the slot, and Bianca’s mouth, which also has multiple uses, expels air like a bellows, a powerful, rhythmic breathing whose echo – ‘Si! Si!’ – reverberates in the pulsing blood in Simon’s cock. Bianca moans, Simon gets hard, Simon licks Bianca, Bianca touches her breasts, the flayed men get hard, Gallienus starts to wank under his robe, and Hippocrates under his toga. ‘Si! Si!’ Bianca grabs Simon’s dick, which is hot and hard as if it’s just come out of a steel forge, and connects it to her mouth-machine. Simon declaims as if to himself, quoting Artaud in an oddly detached voice: ‘The body under the skin is an overheated factory.’ The Bianca Factory automatically lubricates her devenir-sexe. Their mingled moans ring out through the deserted Anatomical Theatre.”

The Destroyers – Christopher Bollen – “the billiard rack of my penis and testicles”

“Do me a favor,” she says as she turns. She covers her breasts with her swimsuit. The rest of her remains so delectably exposed. The skin along her arms and shoulders are different shades of tan like water stains in a bathtub. Her face and vagina are competing for my attention, so I glance down at the billiard rack of my penis and testicles. “Let’s not tell Charlie and Sonny about us. Let’s leave them out of it. You know how this kind of thing can become a telenovela for everyone else.”

Mother of Darkness – Venetia Welby – “diabolical torso”

“They lie beneath molten sunrise, head nestled in inner elbow, mould of muscle mingling flesh with flesh, one body, soul within soul. The green grass curls around Tera’s left breast as she curves her sleek physique around Matty’s diabolical torso like a vine. Paralysed, complete, the marble statue of the lovers allows itself to be painted by the dawn’s lurid orange spillage. Shards of innocence, they lie in the sweet, sweaty chill of the morning light. Darkened by the sun and dust, Yang curls round s-curved Yin, a perfect fit.”

As a God Might Be – Neil Griffiths – “getting to bed would be awkward”

“The kiss was an order and a disguise. She pushed her hand into his jeans and felt for his cock. She was experienced enough to prepare for disappointment. Her tongue sought out his tongue and whipped around it, teasing it out. There was the taste of whisky, the fresh basil from the salad. Both knew that from where they were standing, getting to the bed would be awkward; he still had his boots on.”

The Future Won’t Be Long – Jarett Kobek – “hypercharged by orgones”

“We made love and we had sex and we had sex and we made love. But reader, again, I implore. Mistake me not. I am not your Pollyanna, I am not your sweet princess. We fucked, we fucked, we fucked, we fucked, we fucked, we fucked. We fucked in the effluvia of our bodies, we fucked in the scent of it, in the sheer stench of it, in the garden of our human flowering. Stained sheets, stained clothes, stained souls, stained towels. Fucked until my pussy ran dry and was rubbed raw, fucked until the Captain yowled outside my door, his gray paws smacking against the wood, fucked until Jon’s daily erections withered into nothingness, unable to support a third or fourth condom, fucked until the arrival of my period, pausing only until the heavy flow ceased, then fucking as Jon’s penis turned cartoon red with my discharge, fucked until celestial bodies rotated on their axes and reversed course in the Heavens, until the bed broke, until the building itself became hypercharged by orgones. Our fucking was a pulsing wave, a holy burst of scared geometry, a congress of wonder.”

War Cry – Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill) – “like Dr Livingstone and Mr Stanley exploring Africa”

“‘Yes…’ he said, taking the robe off her, without the slightest resistance on her part, and laying her down on the bed. ‘I want to explore you, like Dr Livingstone and Mr Stanley exploring Africa…’ He gave her a little kiss on the lips, but then his head moved down her body, following his right hand as it ran down her breastbone and then around each of her breasts in turn. They were not large, but they were pretty and in proportion to the sleekness of the rest of her; the long, flowing lines of a body that was naturally athletic, gifted with speed and strength but still entirely feminine.

Her nipples were a delicate shade of coral pink and they were standing up for him as proudly as little guardsmen on parade. ‘Here for example,’ he whispered, taking her left nipple between his finger and thumb, squeezing it slowly, gently, just to the point where she gave a little gasp and arched her back, and then he ran the palm of one hand over that same nipple touching it as faintly, delicately as he possibly could while his other hand squeezed her right nipple so that she was engulfed by two totally different feelings at one and the same time. Then, still working her right breast with his hand, he lowered his head over her left breast and started playing with it with his lips and tongue and teeth: sometimes kissing her skin, sometimes flicking the nipple with his tongue, then very gently biting it, taking infinite care to apply just the right amount of pressure. Her hands were running through his hair and then stroking his back and then, as he brought his head over to her other breast, she moaned and shuddered with pleasure, her fingernails tore at his skin and her buttocks began to writhe as the need for him took hold.”

Here Comes Trouble – Simon Wroe – “he remembered his parents were in prison”

The details of what happened in that bed, while engrossing, have no business in this report. Nor is it certain that, put into words, they would survive the imprisonment. But it is worth noting that when people shed their clothes they lose certain trappings and conventions. A clothed body is always human or human-like, a naked body always animal or animal-like. Only at close quarters is the full extent of a body’s wildness revealed, like when a bird gets trapped inside a house. One is moved to not entirely human thinking then. One goes towards its animalness.

[…]

Sometimes during he would think about where he was and feel a start of fright at doing this in his father’s place of work – until he remembered his parents were in prison and couldn’t catch him and this would fill him with relief.

 

So, what do you think? Which of these writers deserves to join Morrissey and co on the full list of winners since 1993?

For more information about the award, visit the Literary Review website.

Nominations are in for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2017

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Nominations continue to come in as the Literary Review prepares to announce the winner of the notorious ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ prize, which aims to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.

Books nominated so far include The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent BinetThe Destroyers by Christopher Bollen, Mother of Darkness by Venetia WelbyAs a God Might Be by Neil GriffithsThe Future Won’t Be Long by Jarett KobekWar Cry by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill), and Here Comes Trouble by Simon Wroe.

Read extracts of the passages that earned this year’s nominated authors a place on the Bad Sex Award shortlist here

The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature. Monique Roffey’s The Tryst, despite being heavily nominated, is therefore not eligible, even though it is full of the sort of lines that tend to be picked up by the judges, such as ‘He lightly kissed my breasts, his beard all grassy, like a great sea sponge.’

Many people also nominated Vince Cable’s novel Open Arms for consideration. However, Open Arms does not qualify simply because its author is a Member of Parliament.

“Fuck me like a machine”

Among the choice passages chosen in this year’s shortlist is the following extract Laurent Binet’sThe Seventh Function of Language: 

“He tips her back and lays her on the dissecting table. She takes off her skirt, spreads her legs and tells him: ‘Fuck me like a machine.’ And while her breasts spill out, Simon begins to flow into her assemblage. His tongue-machine slides inside her like a coin in the slot, and Bianca’s mouth, which also has multiple uses, expels air like a bellows, a powerful, rhythmic breathing whose echo – ‘Si! Si!’ – reverberates in the pulsing blood in Simon’s cock. Bianca moans, Simon gets hard, Simon licks Bianca, Bianca touches her breasts, the flayed men get hard, Gallienus starts to wank under his robe, and Hippocrates under his toga. ‘Si! Si!’ Bianca grabs Simon’s dick, which is hot and hard as if it’s just come out of a steel forge, and connects it to her mouth-machine. Simon declaims as if to himself, quoting Artaud in an oddly detached voice: ‘The body under the skin is an overheated factory.’ The Bianca Factory automatically lubricates her devenir-sexe. Their mingled moans ring out through the deserted Anatomical Theatre.”

The winner of this year’s award will be announced on Thursday 30 November. They will join a long line of illustrious authors – or not so illustrious, in the case of 2015’s winner, Morrissey – to have picked up the booby prize (pun intended, of course), which stretches back to 1993.

Italian novelist Erri De Luca scooped the 2016 award for his book, The Day Before Happiness.

You can read extracts from all the Bad Sex in Fiction Award-winning books in our connoisseur’s compendium.

For more information about the award, visit the Literary Review website.

Nothing in the Rulebook will continue to monitor all updates relating to the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards with (possibly too much) interest.

20 of the sexiest haiku you’ll read today

 

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After reviewing Nick Brooks’s excellent book, Sexy Haiku, we’ve been reading and re-reading this extraordinarily erotic collection over and over, picking out the haiku that just stay with you, leaving you turning them over in your head throughout the day.

Indeed, we’ve become a little obsessed with just how good this book is. In turns moving, funny, profound, filthy, erotic and – yes – sexy, this is the collection of erotic haiku that just keeps giving over and over (like an exceptional lover).

While we can’t recommend you pick up a copy of Brooks’s book highly enough from the exquisite publisher’s Freight Books, we thought we’d whet your appetites further with some of the sexiest haiku we’ve picked out from the collection.

Enjoy with a friend, the one you love, or read alone while crying into a bowl of milk watching yourself in the mirror – it’s your call. But enjoy you will…

1.

She holds up an

overripe avocado

winks coyly at me    licks her lips

2.

Looking at her body

in the mirror    its imperfections

make her beautiful

 3. 

Our mouths meet

Teeth bash intimate flavours

Our tongues grappling

 4. 

Surprise surprise

you climb on top    put me in

tight    easing it    rocking

 5. 

Do I look good?

semen bubbling on your lips

cheeks flushed red  

6.  

My semen spreads its

Loose vines inside you    searching

For nooks    for purchase

7.  

Zara’s pussy incredibly

wet and juicy    soaking everything

in its own pleasure

 8.  

Shall we make love

in the shower tonight    or

would you rather fuck in the bath?

 9. 

I put it in from behind

fuck you   hard     fast      deep

then ease back a little 

 10.

I wait for you to plead

Like that yes    oh   yes   please

Don’t torment me any longer! 

 11.

I thrust in go deep

her hands hold my hips in check

as I nudge her cervix

 12. 

Your brain is

the sexiest part of your body    I say

staring at her arse

 13. 

Your cock is so

beautiful    maybe it can live

inside me forever?

14. 

I place my fingers

over yours    on the fretboard

place them on the right notes

 15.

Peeling your panties

your spreading legs     soft down

It’s still the Seventies, you say

 16.

She always laughs

when she comes

still slick with juices    making tea

 17. 

We spend the entire day

in bed    fuck  til we’re both raw

gnaw holes in each other

 18. 

You show me your

breasts as we talk on Skype

tell me you don’t like the word ‘tits’

 19. 

I want you to fuck me

from behind then come over

my face     smear it with your cock

 20.

We come at the same time

both our faces raw     tangled

if it could always be like this   

Purchase Sexy Haiku from Freight Books here:  https://www.freightbooks.co.uk/product/sexy-haiku/  

Book Review: Sexy Haiku by Nick Brooks

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Making all haiku in Paris that little bit sexier. Photo credit: Jennifer Taylor

When the Nothing in the Rulebook team were asked to review Nick Brooks’s Sexy Haiku – a collection of haiku that follow one man’s relationships – we did the only sensible thing and carried the book with us on a romantic trip to Paris. After all, nothing quite says ‘city of love’, as reading haikus that range from the intimately descriptive –

I ease in     sideways

Between a shifted thong

And the flesh of your thigh.

To the tragically relatable emptiness of meaningless sex –

It doesn’t matter

How long you try       I can’t come

Unless I feel loved.

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Sexy meringue, anyone? Or just more sexy haiku?

Indeed, what perhaps really resonates throughout the entire book is this almost tragic feeling that exceptional moments in love are so rare, that when they occur, one cannot fully appreciate them – since they will inevitably end, perhaps never to be repeated; and yet, having occurred, will always lead those involved to compare and contrast all future experiences with said moment. Consider, for instance, the following:

We come at the same time

Both our faces raw     tangled

If it could always be like this.

In these haiku, there carries a sense of loss for moments of perfection; and through this a sadness of never being able to truly live in the moment or experience present pleasure – where moments that are good are soured by the thought that they will not always be as good. In this way, Brooks delivers a sense of in-the-moment-nostalgia, where lovers have a premonition or foresight of themselves looking back at certain moments from the future, longing to re-live them and yet knowing they perhaps never will.

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The Moulin Rouge ain’t seen no haiku as sexy as this.

If there is to be a criticism of this book, it is that there is perhaps not a clear enough perception of the female perspective of love and sex. Instead, we are presented with haiku that have a distinctively masculine tone and voice.

Of course, masculinity is no bad thing and having spent so many years with men generally taught to suppress their emotions and repress urges to reflect on their sexual encounters and their experiences of love, it is refreshing in many ways to finally have a book that allows us to explore how men experience these things in the sort of raw, true and ‘real’ manner that only poetry and writing really allows. Yet one cannot help but think this book perhaps requires a partner – an equal in form and style; but from the female perspective. Sex, after all, is something that necessitates partnership. And so, without this, Sexy Haiku feels once again only part of a whole – which in turn adds to the sense of loss and incompleteness that is carried in the undertones of its pages.

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Sexy haiku can be enjoyed by men, women, and giraffes alike.

What this book does very well is capture the absurdity of both sex and love. We witness the complications of negotiating a threesome; the politics of semi-open relationships; the trepidation of setting out into unknown sexual waters of BDSM, or even trying “a new position, beyond the three recommended”; and, of course, those moments that somehow just happen, even though nobody really knows how they happen or why they occur, except that those who experience them know they feel somehow right and logical at the time – for instance, take the following:

She holds up an

overripe avocado

winks coyly at me    licks her lips.

While Brooks clearly has a fine eye for the intricacies of language and syntax, the haiku that stand out are these moments that are so relatable. Not everyone of course has the specific experience of using avocados sexually – although, in the age of the hipster, and with John Lewis reporting sales of avocado products up over 100% year-on-year, perhaps more people than you’d think actually do have similar experiences. Yet in reading these haiku, readers will inevitably be drawn to – and re-live – their own absurd-but-not-absurd-at-the-time sexual memories (avocado-based or not).

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What these haiku do very well is capture the absurdity of both sex and love.

In turns moving, funny, grotesque, romantic, filthy, and, yes, sexy, Sexy Haiku delivers on its essential promise of providing readers with a poetically erotic journey through the nuances of love. This is not to say that every haiku in the collection will be to each and every reader’s tastes; but that, when looked at together and taken as a whole, each fits together with the others in a way that complements them and brings new and added meaning. In this way, this is a book that can be read and re-read over and over – because it is that rarity in books these days in that every time you return to its pages you uncover new meaning, and find something new to enjoy and appreciate. This makes Sexy Haiku the perfect addition to any bookshelf.

“What do you like?” the first haiku in this collection asks us.

“This,” we might reply. “This is very good.”

 

Purchase Sexy Haiku from Freight Books here:  https://www.freightbooks.co.uk/product/sexy-haiku/  

Humble pie – Donald Trump poetry

I think I am, actually humble.

I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.

I do not have tiny hands.

That is where I draw a line in the sand.

Look at these hands.

Are they small hands?

I’m honoured to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.

 

I have to start by saying I’m a big fan.

I’m a very compassionate person.

We will make America great again.

Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?

A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a ten

I understand why you would leave your wife for another man.

 

I’m like a magnet

With that fat, ugly face

I had some beautiful pictures taken

I looked like a very nice person,

Which in theory I am;

No – I’m not into anal,

I don’t even consider myself ambitious

My Twitter is so powerful

I say give them the old Trump bullshit.

~ Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘Thank you for listening’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

16 of the finest NaNoWriMo writing tips from Paul M.M. Cooper

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“Part of being able to write at all is giving yourself permission to write badly, to put down that first layer and not hate it.”

If you’ve always suspected there’s a novel in you, one writing project could help you get it on to paper in just 30 days.

Founded in 1999, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month), is an internet hub built for budding writers. Participants agree to start and complete a novel of 50,000 words or more during the month of November. To “win,” all you have to do is meet that goal.

If writing 1667 words a day, every day, for an entire month while balancing studies, work, socialising and general life admin sounds like a challenge, that’s because it is. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it – success stories include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (now also a feature film); and in total over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been published.

Above all else, NaNoWriMo fosters the habit of writing every single day – which, if you read among all the various writing tips from writers – is probably the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. And it also enables many writers to practice another core tenement of writing: the act of rewriting and revision. 50,000 words written in a month will, almost inevitably, need to be rewritten.

NaNoWriMo writing tips from Paul M.M. Cooper

Paul Cooper

Paul M.M. Cooper 

It is a project endorsed by countless writers – both aspiring and established. Included in their number is Paul M.M. Cooper, author of the rather brilliant ‘River of Ink’.

Of his writing process, Cooper has explained: “Just getting words onto the page is important. I heard someone describe this recently as ‘piling sand into the sandbox to build things out of it later’ – this is usually how my first drafts work. I write a lot, fill scenes with everything I can, and then winnow things down later so it is light and strong in the final draft.”

NaNoWriMo, in this way, offers the perfect opportunity for writers to start filling their own writing sandboxes. And for those just setting out on their own NaNoWriMo journeys, Cooper has also set out his own list of NaNoWriMo writing tips. They are:

  1. It’s a cliché, but you can’t edit a blank page. Think of the phrase “Don’t get it right, get it written!”
  2. The hardest part about writing a first draft is getting through the self-loathing of writing something of poor quality.
  3. I always comfort myself by thinking about oil painters – how they put down a base layer first, and then return for shading and detail.
  4. Part of being able to write at all is giving yourself permission to write badly, to put down that first layer and not hate it.
  5. Remember that inspiration comes during work, not before it. If you’re stuck, just write something, anything! You’ll get unstuck.
  6. If you’re stuck, a good idea is to ‘have coffee with your characters’. Write a conversation you’d have with them, or a monologue.
  7. Often when you let a character speak, they come to life and tell you what’s going to happen next. They’re strange that way.
  8. You don’t always have to plan ahead too much, but it’s good to have some fixed points to work to. Scenes you can’t wait for
  9. Don’t skip ahead and write you favourite scene – your excitement about getting to it will give you urgency to the preceding scenes.
  10. Do think about the values of your story: truth, justice, friendship, etc. Every scene should turn on a value, either up or down.
  11. The criminal commits a crime (justice down), the detective finds a clue (justice up), the first setback occurs (justice down).
  12. Give yourself permission to delete work, to give up on story strands, to give up on the whole novel. Nothing is really wasted.
  13. The only truly scarce resource is your own excitement. Protect it in every way you can, and top it up at every opportunity.
  14. Even if you’re completely blocked, write something. Write one sentence, or half a sentence. That’s the only thing you should force.
  15. The most important thing isn’t winning, but setting up writing as a habit for the future. Don’t accept negativity if you lose.
  16. Just by trying #NaNoWriMo, you’re doing something very brave. It’ll change you whether you complete it or not. So good luck and stay strong!

 

 

The writer’s paradox: can you retain your creative freedom if someone pays you to write?

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We live in an age where author’s incomes are collapsing to abject levels; when we are forced to work ever harder for lower pay, often holding down multiple jobs to supplement our creative endeavours.

This is, of course, not necessarily unique to the writers of the neoliberal era – where profit and money are prioritised ahead of new creative ideas. Indeed, the image of the artist struggling against adversity in order to placate their muse’s inspiration is one that has been with us perhaps as long as art has (and this itself may have something to do with the fact that artists and writers love to paint a picture of themselves within this romanticised idyll of artistic struggle).

The artist as a sell-out

Nonetheless, the question of where one’s next meal is coming from remains a pressing issue for countless aspiring creatives. And while it is therefore only natural for writers to pursue a means of actually accruing funds to purchase said meal, this itself is something often brushed over by creatives, perhaps due to some unspoken taboo about making money from one’s art. The term ‘sell-out’ still carries enough weight of negative connotations to deter artists from speaking about the ways they earn their daily bread, unless of course they do so through ‘acceptable’ means (these being somewhere along the lines of working a dozen hours a day, seven days a week in some back-breaking or soul-crushing job – preferably shovelling sewage or else shifting several tonnes of letters and parcels at the local post office).

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To those creatives who may be deemed to have ‘sold out’, such accusations against them are usually dismissed (by themselves, of course).

Accepting an Academy award in 1972, writer, director and actor Charlie Chaplin said: “I went into the business for money and the art grew out of it. If people are disillusioned by that remark, I can’t help it. It’s the truth”.

Other artists have dealt with accusations in other creatively dismissive ways. When roots-music producer and civil rights activist John Hammond claimed Jazz hero Duke Ellington had sold out to the man, Ellington claimed Hammond was acting in “his role an ‘ardent propagandist’ with connections to the Communist Party.”

Ellington’s response set the tone for further op-eds as to the problem with the ‘sell-out’ label. While Thatcher and Reagan reigned supreme in the 1980s, Harpers Magazine described it as being “an old Stalinist term”.

Fighting for creative freedom

getpaidorstarveartist-300x401Yet it is clear that a reader or fan – or a peer or a critic – can claim an artist has sacrificed some of their originality and flair as a result of being paid to create art, and for that person not to be a raging communist. Indeed, writers can feel it within themselves: as Shakespeare writes in Sonnet 10, “Alas! ’tis true, I have gone here and there/ And made myself a motley to the view/ Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear.”

This personal torment of artists faced with trying to retain their creative freedom whilst meeting the needs of patrons or ‘bosses’ is captured in a stunning letter from the poet William Blake. Having been commissioned by a priest, John Trusler, to write a new piece for him, Blake found the task impossible, for it required what the poet saw as disobeying the muse. In a letter to Tusler, Blake explains:

“[I] cannot previously describe in words what I mean to design, for fear I should evaporate the spirit of my invention… And tho’ I call them mine, I know that they are not mine, being of the same opinion with Milton when he says that the Muse visits his slumbers and awakes and governs his song when morn purples the East, and being also in the predicament of that prophet who says: “I cannot go beyond the command of the Lord, to speak good or bad.”

Such a paradox has also been described by the composer Illich Tchaikovsky, who, in a letter to his patron in 1877, wrote:

“Of course it is not a degradation for an artist to accept money for his trouble; but, besides labour, a work such as you now wish me to undertake demands a certain degree of what is called inspiration, and at the present moment this is not at my disposal. I should be guilty of artistic dishonesty were I to abuse my technical skill and give you false coin in exchange for true only with a view to improving my pecuniary situation.”

Writing and modern capitalism

All aspiring creatives will uncover their own ethical dilemmas during their lives, both personal and professional. Everyone, of course, has different desires and needs; but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. In writing for money, it is inevitable we will eventually find ourselves in situations similar to Blake and Tchaikovsky; as we will all inevitably be asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about – whether that means cutting a character we cared about from our novel or writing as a trilogy what was only ever intended to be a short novella.

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Of course, choosing how we respond to these situations is what will define us as artists and writers. Yet even if we stay ‘true’ to ourselves and our muses, it may no longer be possible – if it ever was – to avoid ‘selling out’ in some way shape or form. We live in a world of artificiality and commercialism; where that which is successful begets further success, and shapes the market in order to maximise profit for shareholders. This is why we see copies of novels that are copies of other successful novels; why we are given sequels and prequels instead of new books by new authors; why every movie is now a re-boot or part of a never-ending franchise; why every song is auto-tuned and sounds the same as every other piece of music we have heard that year.

You can use what happened to the so-called punk movement as a case study here. In the excellent book ‘Gatekeepers: The Emergence of World Literature in the 1960s’, the author William Marling notes how the great American poet Charles Bukowski was able to maintain his authenticity; “remaining completely himself: ugly, drunk, and interested in sex” – and in doing so, “made headlines”, with numerous Punk magazines, including Liberation remarking how great the poet was because of this. Indeed, in a curious further paradox, Bukowski became more successful, and more famous, the more he tried not to be.

A similar fate often awaits those artists who attempt to defy the mainstream or live outside of it. The late, great writer Mark Fisher writes in ‘Capitalist Realism’ how the new world of capitalism has affected original thought and creativity in profound and impossibly stifling ways. Using the example of Kurt Cobain and ‘Alternative’ music, he notes:

“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to have give wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realising it is a cliché. The impasse that paralysed Cobain in precisely the one that Fredric Jameson described: like postmodern culture in general, Cobain found himself in ‘a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, where all that is left is to imitate dead styles in the imaginary museum’.”

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It may always be that we find it easier to love artists and writers who are young, poor, and idealistic than those who dictate their latest novel to an assistant typist as they sip cocktails on the edge of a swimming pool. It may also be that even if we attempt to fight to retain our creative freedom and independence, that we will still find ourselves caught up by the marketplace, writing for cold-hearted bosses. Yet of course, to define ourselves in relation to money or the wider workings of the economy is to limit who we are, and accept the confining principles of the world as it is. This, if anything, is something writers and creatives should always resist; instead looking at ways to expand the reference points against which we measure ourselves.

As David Foster Wallace notes:

The only thing that’s capital-T-True is that you get to decide how you’re going to see something. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”