We’re not spying, but it feels like we are. Each moment is tracked on surveillance monitors, recorded, studied. On one screen, a man, dressed moments ago in cowboy gear, is now postcoital with a robot prostitute. She soon makes herself scarce, heading back to recharge her circuits in the break room. The cowboy stares up at the ceiling, his six-shooter cooling in a holster draped over a chair. He’s luxuriating inside a simulacrum of an 1880s Western whorehouse, one situated within a network of amusement parks in an unnamed desert expanse. It’s the end of the first act of the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, a master of the techno-thriller novel whose occasional forays into filmmaking—he directed a half dozen features over two decades—yielded more modest, earthbound results than the fantastical predictions he packed into his paperbacks. But Westworld, his feature debut, continues to haunt. Its vision of a pleasure dome with exploited, humanlike robots as moving targets has been reprogrammed into a highly anticipated HBO series, premiering Sunday. Read More
- A new English-language interview with Knausgaard: “I once met a German journalist who compared me to a rock band. He said, the books don’t really have any focus, it’s just loose, it’s like just having some songs about drinking and they don’t have anything else. But it’s in that band photo, that image, where everything comes together. He wondered if I had a certain point in my writing, because it’s all, you know, bits and pieces and nothing. And then he saw pictures of me, he said, ‘You pose like a rock star, you kind of summarize everything there’ … He meant it really, really badly.”
- Today in the anxiety of influence: the aftereffects of one writer’s childhood obsession with Michael Crichton. “Much of the rhythm and timbre I claimed as my own in fact belonged to Crichton: isolating revelatory sentences on a line break between paragraphs … complex sentences interspersed with short sentence fragments like the dots and dashes in Morse Code. Even in my early twenties, writing bad pseudo-autobiographical short stories, it seems that I had retained, by osmosis, the stylistic habits I’d developed while eating ham-and-cheese sandwiches, drinking Coke, and imagining my name writ large on the shelves of an airport bookstore.”
- Just when you’d been thinking, Hey, it’s been a while since I heard a quality new acoustic musical instrument, along comes the Yaybahar, recently invented in Turkey; it uses “a combination of two drum-like membranes, long springs, and a tall fretted neck” to produce plaintive, resonant sounds.
- Must we continue to live in a world where this is happening? “She wears a leather corset and harem pants, like a gypsy girl from a fairytale. She is barefoot. In the dim candlelight, she asks what I’m in the mood for—something sexy? Something dark? I tell her what will please me, and she reads me a poem. She calls herself a poetry whore, and I have paid for her company. For the next ten minutes or so, she will read me her verses, converse with me, entertain me.”
- Fun facts about mace: it was invented in Pittsburgh in 1964 by a couple who kept an alligator in the basement. “At first they called it TGASI, for ‘Tear Gas Aerosol Spray Instrument,’ but soon they came up with the catchier name of ‘Chemical Mace’ … the name implied that chemicals could produce the same incapacitating effect as a medieval mace—a chilling design of spiked club—but without causing the same brutal injuries.”
In celebration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, have a look at these illustrations from the original serialization of his novel The Lost World, which appeared in The Strand Magazine from April through November of 1912. Conan Doyle’s novel tells of an expedition to South America, where—wouldn’t you know it?—dinosaurs still roam the earth. Everyone associates Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, but The Lost World also left its mark on popular culture: though Conan Doyle borrowed a large part of its conceit from Jules Verne, it remains the paradigm for a sort of swashbuckling supernatural adventure, full of bumbling professorial types and out-of-their-depth journalists and strapping, granite-abdomened men in pith helmets. It’s served as the source material for everything from The Land That Time Forgot to Land of the Lost and plain old Lost, and, of course, for Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park.
This is no country for Jeff Goldblum, but these illustrations, full of terror and adventure, do seem like the sort of thing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas might have hanging in their offices—and there’s definitely something of that Industrial Light & Magic awe in Conan Doyle’s vivid description of a pterodactyl nest:
Creeping to his side, we looked over the rocks. The place into which we gazed was a pit, and may, in the early days have been one of the smaller volcanic blow-holes of the plateau. It was bowl-shaped, and at the bottom, some hundreds of yards from where we lay, were pools of green-scummed, stagnant water, fringed with bulrushes. It was a weird place in itself, but its occupants made it seem like a scene from the Seven Circles of Dante. The place was a rookery of pterodactyls. There were hundreds of them congregated within view. All the bottom area round the water-edge was alive with their young ones, and with hideous mothers brooding upon their leathery, yellowish eggs. From this crawling flapping mass of obscene reptilian life came the shocking clamor which filled the air and the mephitic, horrible, musty odor which turned us sick. But above, perched each upon its own stone, tall, grey, and withered, more like dead and dried specimens than actual living creatures, sat the horrible males, absolutely motionless save for the rolling of their red eyes or an occasional snap of their rat-trap beaks as a dragon-fly went past them. Their huge membranous wings were closed by folding their forearms, so that they sat like gigantic old women, wrapped in hideous web-colored shawls, and with their ferocious heads protruding above them. Large and small, not less than a thousand of these filthy creatures lay in the hollow before us.