Editor's Choice

"A beginning is a very delicate time."

Inspired by John Hodgman's speech at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, in which he interrogated President Obama about the Kwisatz Haderach, I decided to read (okay, re-read) Frank Herbert's Dune. I've seen the David Lynch movie at least a dozen times, to the point where snippets of its dialogue are part of my conversational repertoire, but I haven't read the book probably since I was 12 or 13.

I was expecting it to be slightly silly -- and it is -- but it turns out that it's also surprisingly absorbing, despite, or maybe because of, its peculiar tone of haute solemnity, as if Spengler decided to try his hand at pulp sci-fi. Herbert seems to relish not only inventing superfluous terminology and casually throwing out details from the millions of years of epochal galactic history that he'd like readers to believe he has worked out in full, but he mixes in an ersatz Hegelianism, with occasional evocations of the master-slave dialectic, the ideas of totality and species being, and a grand transcendent design in history. What's brilliant about all the quasi-philosophical jargon is that Herbert doesn't try at all to use it coherently; he just seems to like the way it reads tonally. That's enough to endear the novel to me, though I suspect if I knew more about Herbert's pretensions, I'd be less seduced.

So far, a 100 or so pages in, the narrative seems preoccupied with capturing how the characters read so much out of various minute phenomena -- it's like a manual of hermeneutics rendered as fiction. Preposterous feats of intuition and prophetic dreams are blended in with painstakingly methodical deductions about other characters' emotional states and what behavior they will prompt. Strategic problems are never far from the surface, virtually no details are given without a gloss of their tactical import, or alternatively, an intimation of its mythical portent. What emerges from this is a schizophrenic view of human character that alternates between ultrarationality and supernaturalism. I can't think of anything else quite like it.

What I'm trying to resist though if reading the book as camp, though I'm not sure if this is possible, not sure if one can turn off the irony part of the brain. But it helps to regard the language not as accidentally bathetic but as a specific accomplishment of a mood through somewhat unlikely means, a fog of abstractions and interior monologues to conjure what ends up gripping readers as a kind of physical sensation -- does that make any sense? Wait, it doesn't matter, Michael Jackson might be dead...

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

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Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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