Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Austin Grossman

Austin Grossman is a writer and video game designer.

His debut novel Soon I Will Be Invincible was published this summer.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
It would be an act of charity to call me an omnivorous reader -- I don't really have any control over what I read, and it doesn't follow a pattern. My intake is split roughly between early 19th-century fiction and poetry, comic books, and genre fiction, although this year I'm making an effort consider contemporary literary writing.

Where I live in Berkeley there's an enormous used bookstore called Moe's which has a cheap, eclectic, literary selection and rapid turnover. I saw several galleys of my own novel come through, well before publication date. It's also open til 11PM every single night; no one of my age and pretensions to normality should be found there after 9:30PM, god forbid on a weekend night, snuffling along the shelving in search of the magic title, the ax for the frozen seas. I try not to look at the other customers -- it's like looking into a dark mirror of my own future bachelorhood -- a despairing thrill to notice I'm already wearing the same ragged blazer, carrying the same backpack -- I only need a full beard and a few nights outdoors to fill in the picture. My rule is that if it's after 10 and I'm the only one without a beard, then I have to leave.

But I should be talking about books. Books I have read in the past few weeks, or am still reading.

The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Walter Scott. I have to say, fantasy readers should embrace the literary prehistory of their genre; Scott writes at the birth of industrial modernity and its radical nostalgia for an invented medievalism, and in his framing narrative convincingly allegorizes their imagined relation.

The Road. Cormac McCarthy needs no introduction I suppose, devastating and compulsively readable McCarthy's ashen, immaculately straight-faced apocalypse only made me nostalgic for Gamma World, the lushly green radioactive future of my adolescence, when nuclear war was paradoxically generative of an unwholesome vitality. Mutatis Mutandis! I know it's about death and all, but I have difficulty accepting the authority of McCarthy's absolute humorlessness; even Beckett knew there was a black joke in the end of the world.

Men at Arms, Evelyn Waugh. What is it that's comforting about WWII-era fiction? I read Alan Furst's The Polish Officer, and it led me to this. Is it minor Waugh? Major Waugh? It feels ... kinder, more humane -- I guess that means it's lesser Waugh. It feels less about the war than an account of the clash of temporal cultures surrounding the mass mobilization -- lonely, hearty atavistic Late Victorians mixing with lonely, detached Edwardians.

These, and I guess lots of comics. DMZ, Walking Dead, Birds of Prey, Y: The Last Man. It has been a while since I read something that decisively stunned me.

Upcoming, I have on the stack, selected by the wordless inarticulate creature inside me that selects books: Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts; Joanna Kavenna's Inglorious; and Shelley Jackson's Half-Life.
Soon I Will Be Invincible was widely and very positively reviewed. The Wired review briefly describes the book:
In a world where BlackBerry-carrying superheroes grace the cover of GQ, being a supervillain known as the "angriest dork in the world" isn't easy. A heartbreaking genius of staggering evil, Doctor Impossible avenges lost love, a lonely adolescence, and a plethora of foiled doomsday devices. (That fungus army seemed foolproof!) Every comic-book cliché in this witty, stunning debut is lovingly embraced, then turned inside out.
For more reviews and other links, visit Austin Grossman's website and the Soon I Will be Invincible website.

--Marshal Zeringue