Monday, October 12, 2015

alien nostalgia

D. Harlan Wilson at Los Angeles Review of Books on the "alternate near-past" pomo-s.f. metafiction of Douglas Lain, whose After The Saucers Landed -

"depicts an alien invasion set in an alternate near-past where people have been dehumanized by the worn-out specter of consumer-capitalism and electronic media. From beginning to end, the pages are littered with kitschy pop detritus, including references to Soundgarden, UFOs, B-movies, Bill Clinton, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Macy’s, “garbage pail lid-shaped” flying saucers, Yoko Ono, body snatchers, name-brand autogeddon (Studebakers, Volvos, Toyotas, Mercedes-Benzes, etc.), MTV, Pepsi, Proctor & Gamble, Heineken, Duran Duran, espressos and cappuccinos and Maxwell House French roast, Elvis, The Carpenters, Playboy and Penthouse, the Gap, junk food, Swatch wristwatches, Good Morning America, Magritte, ZZ Top, Jazzercise, soap operas, laser light shows, IZOD shirts, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Herman’s Hermits, comic books, and Toys “R” Us … 

.... Lain has been called a postmodern SF author. What that means in the 21st century isn’t necessarily what it meant in the fin de siècle 1990s or the paranoid ’80s, let alone the anti-disestablishmentarian ’70s and the freewheeling, psychedelic ’60s — all decades that Lain jaunts back and forth between in After the Saucers Landed as he conveys the characters’ backstories while underscoring the evanescence and displacement of time itself. There is no stylistic experimentalism or playfulness with narrative structure; Lain more or less shoots straight, with a palpable beginning, middle, and end, and he writes in prose that is smart yet colloquial. On the postmodern register, two coordinates jump to attention: metafiction and nostalgia.....   the way we create mythologies and stereotypes about the past rather than try to represent or reclaim an authentic sense of history. Lain’s novel is an iteration of this pathology.

"The narrator and protagonist is an English professor, experimental writer, and UFO enthusiast named Brian Johnson. In a short prologue, he recalls the first landing of kitschy “Nordic-type alien[s] from the Pleides” on June 11, 1991. “It was exactly like something from a B movie from the ’50s,” Johnson recounts. “The landing was another sequence of moving pictures set between commercial breaks.” Punctuating the corniness of the event, the leader of the Pleidiens, dressed in a sequined jumpsuit, introduces himself as “Ralph Reality.” This is bad news for Johnson and his mentor and colleague, renowned artist and ufologist Harold Flint, whose research on the prospect of alien life is foiled by the brazen “Reality” of their goofy (and seemingly good-willed) arrival in flying saucers straight out of Amazing Stories or Plan 9 from Outer Space.

"....The Pleidiens were prompted to make contact with the human race because of Flint.. as well as by his colleague, fellow artist and semi-rival Charles Rain, who, in 1953, orchestrated World Contact Day, an event premised upon a message that was paid homage to in a song (“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”) written and recorded by the band Klaatu in 1976 and covered by the Carpenters in 1978....

"The first rule of (post)modernity is there is no (post)modernity, which is to say that real truth is a fiction, and identity is a slippery changeling. On the surface, Lain’s engagement with these themes might seem antiquated and cliché, but it works on the level of nostalgia, as if Lain is sentimentalizing what it was like to read Foucault or Derrida for the first time as a graduate student when theory was fresh and new, difficult and challenging and enlightening, rather than Old Hat. I’m uncertain of Lain’s actual university experience, but he is conversant in some schools of theory and satirical of academia; to an extent, After the Saucers Landed is a campus novel....

"Alien nostalgia, however, points to the broader nostalgia conveyed by the entire book for pulp science fiction aesthetics, which were once “amazing,” “astounding,” filled with a “sense of wonder,” and so on, whereas now, in the realm of Baudrillardian hyperreality... such media has become a mere insignia of “the death of the real” — a death that is very much alive in After the Saucers Landed."

No fresh air here then...  just the exhausted and clogged atmosphere of the lingering 20th Century

10/26 postscript - some real fresh air

(via Erich Kuersten)

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Check out this: it's Langley Schools Music Projects cover, which is way creepy and melancholy with all those children's voices: