"Your mischievous remedies have smashed us all!"
- Alger Lattimore
Oh, god, where do I begin? Way back in my first review, I mentioned a conversation I had with my friend Greg. Greg and I had a gym class together about once a day, and in this class, we talked books with each other a lot (as well as other things, but this blog isn't about those, so screw 'em). He got me into Terry Goodkind, I got him into Dune, and so on and so forth. At the time, I had just discovered the "bizarro" literary movement and was making my way through a couple of severely strange books I couldn't get through interlibrary loan. The one title I could get my hands on was Steve Aylett's Lint. For back then, I couldn't believe that a book so audacious could ever make it to print, though I figured it being small press had something to do with that. And within about two or three days of laughing uncontrollably and trying to quote passages to my friends and loved ones, it was love.
So naturally, I handed my ILL copy to Greg. He finished it by that Friday and we had the conversation I mentioned earlier, where he asked me "How the hell can you recommend this to someone? How can you hand someone a book going 'I know you're going to want to punch me for making me read this, but...'" Still, he liked the book, so it wasn't all bad. And now I finally know how I can possibly recommend it to someone: It's freaking brilliant for what it is. Steve Aylett has crafted in Lint an insane book with an equally-insane title character, an absurdist satire of biographies, cult authors, and indeed most science fiction. If you don't find something even amusing about the book, I am shocked and surprised by this. The book is absurd but never forcibly so, and the quotes I have wrung from it stay with me to this day, in the form of things like the "Great crowd tonight, release the tigers" mantra, the phrase "That's not a scarecrow, it's a crucifix in a hat!", or other choice bits. It's memorable, light, relentlessly funny, and most of all, it's fun.
Lint is the biography of Jeff (possibly Jack) Lint, a science fiction author who started with the pulps in the 1940s under the pen name "Isaac Asimov". He would continue to inflict his quite nuts and absolutely unpublishable work on the general populace through a series of books, short stories, TV and film scripts, and a failed children's series, all while mingling with the elite and the lowest alike. The book (written, as it says on the cover, by Steve Aylett) follows this luminary from the moment of birth to his eventual death of a cerebral hemorrhage in the mid-90s, giving us an insight into how this tall, gangly whack job captivated the hearts and minds of thousands. But there's something not quite right. Occasionally, the absurdity gives way, showing something darker waiting just outside of the capering, brightly-colored satire. A world of freakish details and possible parallel worlds, where a man "pushed his face so far into the book that it was unable to be removed", until someone has to cut away most of his face and skull. A world where a children's cartoon that didn't last more than four episodes invaded the minds and dreams of the people who watched it. Where the impressive figure in the book might not be all he appears to be, nor the world he inhabits all that stable.
First and foremost, I love this book for the sheer balls-out way it commits to its premise. On the back cover, you won't find quotes talking about the fictitious nature of the work, but instead praising Steve Aylett and talking about how they discovered Jeff Lint's work-- most notably from Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock, two acclaimed British authors. Lint is laid out in chapters, an index, and even quotes from Lint's work and interviews, all sourced to books. The tone never once winks at the audience, but lays its absurd premise out in the most serious way it can. If its stated premise was to get us to laugh, we'd be on guard for it every second we spent reading it, but it doesn't, so we're caught off guard by the naturally funny syntax.
The syntax, too, is especially funny. While silly, it resembles actual quotes from cult figures. It's merely the frantic mumblings of a Burroughs or a Thompson, or even Philip K. Dick, but taken to their logical extremes. Aylett is exceptionally vivid, but in a fairly restrained way. He's not above going for a vivid and surrealistic scene or six, but keeps it framed within the work-- this is, after all, a biography, not a run-of-the-mill novel. He has to keep some level of seriousness in presentation and tone. This also makes for a nice contrast when Lint utters such phrases as "When the abyss gazes into you, bill it.", or submits his manuscripts in drag. Or when his agent enters a "catatonic insectile state" and spends the rest of the book decomposing.
Which brings me to the world. Lint purports to set itself in modern day, but a ridiculously bent version, mostly due to the influence of the Lint character. Lint is the center of things, after all, and gives the book a very skewed focal point. He is given friends both historical and real, a pretentious nemesis in the form of literary critic Cameo Herzog (who inadverdently sets the mob on our protagonist), fans, and disciples. It's very clear from the scenes involved and the way everything from decomposing literary agents to taxi-driver suicides (due to Lint's theory of space) is treated as commonplace that this is definitely not our world. Either way, Aylett has the utmost control over his setting, and draws us in quickly by making it seem like it's our own before yanking the rug (and indeed the house) out from under our feet and plunging headlong into the account of a madman writing fiction.
And this brings us to that dark side. No, the book isn't outright a horror novel. It presents itself as a very pleasant satire. It's only when you read passages such as the recording of The Energy Draining Church Bazaar, or the fact that Lint used a cipher based on a torture manual to write a chapter of his magnum opus, or the account of Lint's failed TV series Catty and the Major that you get the sense that something is wrong. And not just sort of wrong, either-- very, very wrong. This feeling won't engage you directly, of course. It lets you think about what you've read, and then in some quiet moment springs upon you and makes you go "Oh, god". I haven't ever had a book do this to me before...they either wear their horror on their sleeve, or reveal it quickly and decide to leave the horror obvious, or continue on their merry way after pouncing on you with it. This, among the other things, makes Lint very, very unique.
But it isn't for everyone. More than one person will find it trying or stupid. The gimmick of the book is welcome but not quite needed, and the sections on Lint's religious experiences and philosophy tend to wane. The bit about "shallow vanishing" is interesting, but doesn't completely fit in with some of the other work. But overall, the book should carry through, and it's more a matter of what one thinks of the book than how the book is.
In the end, it's a book I finally had to break down and buy this summer so it could be put into the private collection. It's hilarious, a little frightening, and hits all the targets it wants to hit. While passages may drag, and the bit about the progressive rock group stands out as mildly incoherent, it's a fun read, will take you less than a week to get through, and multiple readings might allow one better insight into the dark mysteries surrounding Jeff Lint and the "Lint is dead" rumors, which persisted long after his actual death. If you can find it, give it a read. It's worth a look-through, and the low price should be enticing enough. It'll give you a few good laughs, maybe an uneasy feeling or two, and more than that, it'll stay with you long after you've closed it up.
Next week: In an attempt to get back to coherent works, we return to Tim Powers with Expiration Date, a novel about people snorting ghosts. It's more coherent and less crazy. I swear.