Plenty of long-reads in this week’s edition. It’s cold out. Stay with me, warm and cosy, snuggled up with a dense chunk of fun stuff to amble through.
Today: Minecraft! Milli Vanilli! Balkan Cosmology! And a magnificent sandwich! What more could you ask for?
Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.
Rob is reading…
Twisted, a 1962 horror anthology edited by the magnificently named Groff Conklin. A nice mix of classics from the likes of Ambrose Bierce and Guy de Maupassant to chillers from Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Bradbury. Come on, just look at that cover!
Rob is watching…
Wednesday on Netflix. I believe this excellent show has nailed the old-school inky, gloomy Addams Family look and feel. The casting is spot on and the whole show is a delight. Of course, getting Tim Burton on board for the first four episodes helped matters no end. If only it didn’t have to be a high school mystery. Did we learn nothing from Sabrina?
Rob is listening…
To Tito Puente. Bouncy Havaniana party music. Snag a mojito and a partner and shake ya tail feathers. ¡Muy caliente!
Rob is eating…
A toasted sourdough sandwich filled with thickly cut corned beef, a strong cheddar and Hawkshead Relish Company’s Chili-liili. I call it a Triple C. Just the sort of bright colourful flavour you want around this time of year. If you was feeling greedy, you could pair the toastie with a mug of tomato soup. Actually, I think I’m feeling greedy.
There is a story at the end of Minecraft. This was a surprise to me. I thought the game was one of those open-ended deals where you go in and dig around and build stuff. As my only experience with Minecraft has been watching my young nephew play while I pretended to understand what was going on, it’s probably not surprising I have no clue about the finer details. But there is a story, which is unskippable and sweetly recontextualises the whole experience of the game. And the story has a story of its own, about friendship and ownership and ultimately, giving the thing you loved away.
Controversies are rumbling over AI-generated stills for movies which never existed. I guess it all started with the interest in the greatest movie never made—Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abandoned 12-hour version of Dune. Funding collapsed, but the art and supplemental materials used to visualize the movie were gorgeous and fascinating. Now, with tools like Stable Diffusion, interested parties are using the technology to imagine what that film and others the Cuban visionary didn’t make might look like.
Are people fooled? Well, it’s an easy trap to fall into at a quick glance at the stills. And it’s not just Jodorowsky who’s getting the AI treatment. Following Steampunk Star Wars and others, David Cronenburg’s 1985 sci-fi epic Galaxy Of Flesh is getting fresh attention. Of course, that one is the product of fevered imagination and blokes (yes, of course it’s all blokes) with too much time on their hands. Hilariously, commenters are now calling fake on stillsets of films which do exist, like Roger Corman’s wild Alien rip-off Forbidden World.
My opinion? Well, AI art is already running into massive issues in terms of copyright and appropriation, and a lot of the images do have a certain prog-rock album cover air to them. That’s mostly down to the interests and prompts of the people prompting the machines. The genie is, however, out of the bottle. It’s down to us as to how we use the technology—hopefully as something inspirational, leading down new and unexpected roads rather than retreading the same old paths.
End rant. We live in a world where lipsynching has become a well-loved performance art. That wasn’t always the case. The controversy behind musical pariahs Milli Vanilli shows how much the musical landscape has changed, and why it’s not a good idea to make Grammy judges look like chumps…
Seems like you can get scented candles in any flavour you want—and many you don’t. I remember McDonald’s releasing a set which, burned together, offer up the aroma of a Quarter Pounder. Table top gamers don’t need to miss out. The folks behind bleak future war adventure Warhammer 40,000 have a collection to give your next game night the authentic atmosphere of bone-crunching combat. I’ve linked to my favourite. There are others.
Last week I shared cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson’s first story. This time, here’s the latest from one of his contemporaries and co-author of steam-punk ur-text The Difference Engine, Bruce Sterling. Balkan Cosmology is a wild, picaresque ride which includes the ghost of Nikolai Tesla and a weapon which could destroy the universe with a thought. It’s as dense and nutty as an ice-cold Snickers bar.
I loved Alison Smith’s recollection of the week she spent escorting Ursula K. LeGuin around her college campus as a guest. It shows clearly what a cool person the acclaimed author was, how generous she could be of her time to those who needed it. The whole piece is just so warm and lovely.
David Bentley Hart’s How To Write English Prose is, by default, a long and twisty read. Don’t skim this. Take the time, settle in with it. There’s a lot of great advice on offer and some stunning examples of the best this labyrinthine monster of a language has to offer. Seriously, it’s worth it.
Stevie Wonder. I mean, come on. A giant of music, innovator, inspirator, collaborator. Pioneer of musical synthesis, a mad genius who even today sparks flashes of joy and harmony wherever he goes. Did you know he was also the prime mover behind Martin Luther King day in the USA? It took decades and every ounce of goodwill he could muster, but Stevie’s determination won out. And we get a killer song out of the deal too!
We know John Carpenter as one of the great film stylists. But the man has serious musical chops too, as his iconic soundtracks attest. In semi-retirement he’s enjoying life as a rock star, touring and releasing new records regularly. This is the story of his first band, and the incredibly rare album they sort of released.
The Last Word goes to Chaz Hutton, who has some great advice for the Ninth Art-curious amongst The Readership. There is no excuse not to make comics, even if you can’t draw. Follow along and give it a go!
It’s getting to the point where every week we lose another musical heavyweight. This week we say goodbye to David Crosby, whose angelic voice and soulful guitar was such a part of the Laurel Canyon sound. From the Byrds to Crosby Stills and Nash, across decades of solo works, David’s music was never less than glorious. I’m posting up a personal favourite, from CSN’s appearance at Woodstock—my Dad’s copy of the soundtrack album supplied my first exposure to that voice.
See you in seven, true believers.