Tuesday, 17 June 2014

You still can't beat a good book...

These days, I’m an avid reader. An overnight break between two books tends to be all I allow, before impatiently starting the next. But despite growing up a science fiction fan, I didn’t start reading SF until I was in my early twenties, just after the turn of the millennium. The first SF book I got my teeth into, was Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, which remains my favourite SF novel to this day. But despite subsequently reading several of Clarke’s works, I didn’t become a regular reader until relatively recent years, when I became absolutely immersed, obsessed and addicted to the genre (focusing mostly on Gollancz’s “SF Masterworks” range).

However, one day my wife unexpectedly bought me After the Quake, a book of connected short stories by Japan’s best-selling author, Haruki Murakami. I’d never heard of him, but was instantly drawn into Murakami’s juxtaposed worlds of contemporary Japan and dream-like scenarios and alternative time streams. This proved to be a welcome break from classic science fiction – metaphorical, hysterical, sexy, dark, harrowing and generally fascinating, Murakami’s stories are works of wonder with characters you get to know much more intimately than you might expect.

And it was around the same time that a friend recommended the work of British author Christopher Priest (you may have seen his name crop up in several of my recent blog entries). Priest’s 1981 novel, The Affirmation (part of the Gollancz range, complete with an Escher-esque cover) explores the merging of worlds and identities, and also introduces The Dream Archipelago, which would go on to be a recurrent setting in his books. Like any great novel, The Affirmation doesn’t show its age, and still reads as a contemporary masterwork. But as with Murakami’s work, I really enjoyed the blurred lines between dreams and reality that the book presented. Similar crossovers into seemingly alternative realities (often in the form of the Dream Archipelago) are the focal point of many of the author's later works; two particular favourites of mine being The Glamour and The Dream Archipelago; a series of short stories set around the different islands, with some pretty disturbing and thought provoking moments! And Priest’s latest book, The Adjacent (which I’m still reading, at the time of writing this) has certainly lived up to expectations.

This is the kind of writing which makes you stop, think and ask questions.

As somebody fascinated with dreams and the subconscious, and as a believer in fate and coincidence, this kind of writing instantly appealed to me. It is also harder to categorise, if you’re into such things; some call it fiction, others speculative fiction, or even fantasy. But in this, I feel I’ve really found the kind of book that I connect to, and which really fires up my imagination – in a different way to how futuristic SF novels do.

As I have previously mentioned, it was books such as these which provided additional inspiration for my latest album of electronic music, Traces. It’s much harder to illustrate such themes via instrumental music, but as my work is all about mood and atmosphere, I was more concerned with trying to capture that; almost like writing a soundtrack to the books I was reading at the time. 

So at present, the main source of inspiration for my music and artwork comes from whatever I’m reading. I’ve found that you can appreciate and respect an author and their works in just the same way as you can a musician and their albums. Books, like albums can become quite personal experiences. You can re-visit and re-discover albums and books, and never tire of them.

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