Thomas S. Klise’s The Last Western (Book acquired, 3 Jan. 2018)

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So after maybe one tumbler of scotch too many, I finally broke down and just ordered a copy of Thomas S. Klise’s out-of-print cult novel The Last Western (1974) online. I’d been looking for it in used bookshops for awhile after reading it as a pirate ebook earlier this year. I’ll admit I’m a bit disappointed in the quality of this mass market paperback I paid fifteen U.S. dollars for, but it’s nice to have the novel to check against the ebook (like, if I ever get off my ass to really write about it). The Last Western is a prescient, zany, often sad political/religious thriller set in a kinda-sorta future—a dystopia just a shade off from our own current dystopia. The central figure, Willie, is a multiracial baseball phenom who eventually becomes the Pope. Despite its clean, lucid, straightforward prose style, Klise’s novel definitely has a heavy 70s vibe to it; fans of Vonnegut and Ishmael Reed would likely dig The Last Western. Its later cult fame seems to stem from its resonance with Infinite Jest, a novel that resembles it in several ways (although Wallace said he’d never heard of it). Anyway, I’ve said this before, but I think that some brave indie should reprint The Last Western so folks like me could buy nice new crisp well-bound copies.

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Notes on Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list

Did you see Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list? I saw it this morning, and on the whole it ain’t half bad, despite including way too many novels from the past 10 years. Lists are stupid and maybe we already live in a dystopia, but our dystopia could be way way worse and lists are stupid fun…so—my stupid thoughts on this stupid fun list. (They organized it chronologically, by the bye)—-

Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, 1726: Good starting place, although I’m sure you could reach farther back if you wanted—Revelations, Blake, Milton, etc.

The Last Man, Mary Shelley, 1826: Never read it. The listmakers seem to have skipped Voltaire’s Candide (1759).

Erewhon, Samuel Butler, 1872: Hey, did you know that Erewhon is actually Nowhere backwards? Ooooh…far out. I really don’t remember it but I read it in school. I’m sure I would’ve thrown it on the list.

The Time Machine, H.G. Wells, 1895: Great track. Some of the best required reading ever.

“The Machine Stops,” E.M. Forster, 1909: Never read it/never heard of it.

We, Yvegny Zamyatin, 1924: The list reminded me I need to reread this one—I read it twice—in my teens and in my twenties. Good stuff. (Also reminds me that I would’ve added something by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky to the list—like his collection Memories of the Future).

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932: This is the guy. I mean, I think Huxley got it right here, y’know? Not that a dystopian novel needs to predict, but…anyway. I actually had a student come by during office hours just to visit, and she asked for a novel recommendation, and I gave her BNW after she told me 1984 was the last great book she’d read. If I recall correctly, the Vulture list only has one duplicate author (Margaret Atwood), but I’d also add Huxley’s often-overlooked novel Ape and Essence.

It Can’t Happen Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis, 1935: I think this is one of those ones where I know the basic plot, themes, etc., but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it.

Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin, 1937: An entry that I’ll admit I’ve never heard of, the sort of thing that shows the value in stupid silly fun lists. I’ll search it out.

1984, George Orwell, 1949: I guess this one is the big dawg, but I never want to reread it (unlike Huxley’s stuff). Maybe I’m missing the humor in it. Maybe the most important novel of the 20th century, whatever that means. Continue reading “Notes on Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list”