Weekend Bookchat

September 13, 2008

Robert Stone, one of America’s greatest living writers, reviews The Forever War, Dexter Filkins’ new book about his experiences on the front lines of what the Bushies would have us believe is a war on terror. Stone likens the book to Michael Herr’s Dispatches, which is high praise indeed.

It is not facetious to speak of work like that of Dexter Filkins as defining the “culture” of a war. The contrast of his eloquence and humanity with the shameless snake-oil salesmanship employed by the American government to get the thing started serves us well. You might call the work of enlightening and guiding a deliberately misguided public during its time of need a cultural necessity. The work Filkins accomplishes in “The Forever War” is one of the most effective antitoxins that the writing profession has produced to counter the administration’s fascinating contemporary public relations tactic. The political leadership’s method has been the dissemination of facts reversed 180 degrees toward the quadrant of lies, hitherto a magic bullet in their never-ending crusade to accomplish everything from stealing elections to starting ideological wars. Filkins uses the truth as observed firsthand to detail an arid, hopeless policy in an unpromising part of the world. His writing is one of the scant good things to come out of the war.

The clip above is from a speech Filkins gave late last year at the annual convention of the Association of National Advertisers — an ironic venue, given the way the Iraq war was packaged and sold to the public.

Incidentally, Robert Stone’s most recent book is Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties. He reads an excerpt from it in this clip:

Those looking for an introduction to Stone’s work might want to start with his second novel, Dog Soldiers, in which a small-time journalist gets in over his head trying to run drugs out of Vietnam, move on to A Flag for Sunrise, a tale of Americans drifting and conniving through a corrupt Central American country, then get ambitious with Damascus Gate, a dense and challenging novel about fanaticism and political treachery in the contested city of Jerusalem.

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A worldwide reading of the poetry of the late Mahmoud Darwish is set for Oct. 5.

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William Gibson, author of Spook Country, Pattern Recognition and Neuromancer, doesn’t consider himself a traditional science-fiction writer. As he explains in Mute:

For me, Science Fiction is always about the day in which it is written. If you look at Science Fiction historically, that’s the only way to get a handle on it. 1984 is always about 1948. When I wrote Neuromancer, I was conscious of writing about Reaganomics. I was writing about the outcome of that kind of political philosophy. One of those outcomes was that in Neuromancer, the United States is like Mexico City. But there didn’t seem to be much of that sort of thought going on among the Science Fiction audience the book initially reached.

So for me, these two most recent books are continuations of what I was actually doing before. It has just become more overt. I have the advantage now of not having to imagine the 21st century because we’re actually living in it. We are living in a 21st century that no Science Fiction publisher would have allowed me to depict in 1985. If I had gone in and said: ‘I have got a great idea for a Science Fiction novel, it’s a world where human technology has upset the global climate, and it’s getting warmer and people are starting to feel that, and the polar bears are dying’, they’d say: ‘Wow, that’s cool’, and I’d say: ‘And there is this sexually transmitted auto-immune disease.’ They’d say: ‘Well, okay.’ Then I’d say: ‘And terrorists from the Middle East have hijacked airliners and flown them into the tallest building in Manhattan, and then America invades the wrong country!’ Not only would they not give me a contract, but they would probably call security. So, for someone writing – whatever it is that I’m writing these days – the world just provides. In terms of material, it’s just a constant embarrassment of riches.

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The Great Orange Satan, author of the new book Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era, is interviewed in The Hill. Anthony Lewis reviews articles and a pair of books on how America got into the torture business. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the Pulitzer-winning novel by Junot Diaz, is a treasure trove of nerd lore and geekistry. Take this simple test to see if you can catch all the references.

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Late-breaking news: David Foster Wallace, author of Infinte Jest and numerous essays, has apparently committed suicide.

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