The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 2

Libraries and bookstores are, or should be, temples to books and the art of reading and in that role they should be places that people want to visit. As mentioned in part 1 of this article, there have been a surprising number of fantastic looking bookstores and libraries that have sprung up over the last few years which I would imagine have become architectural and retail destinations.

I explored a number of reasons for this return to the book in the previous article (The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 1), so I will move straight on to the buildings themselves. Most of these images come from the ever-interesting design website ‘designboom‘ and if you click on the titles you’ll link through to the original articles if you’d like to find out more information.

Zhongshuge Bookstore, Yintai Center, Chengdu, China

Wuguan Books, Dayi Warehouse Cluster, Kaohsiung City, China

Library of Birmingham, England

‘The Hearts of Kings’ by Hanns Heinz Ewers

So who is Hanns Heinz Ewers? I had certainly never heard of him until a few years ago and, reading about his life, he sounds as though he was quite a complex character.

Hanns Heinz Ewers (3 November 1871 – 12 June 1943) was, and still is, a controversial figure and until relatively recently his work has been extremely difficult to find (so that possibly the reason I’d not previously heard of him!).

The controversy is not necessarily related to his writings, which due to their content could be seen as controversial, but largely due to his association with the Nazi party. Apparently he was attracted by it’s nationalism but disagreed with it’s antisemitism. His differences of opinion with element of the party line, combined with his homosexuality and other ‘issues’, got him banned from the Nazi Party at one point, although he managed to successfully petition to be re-accepted!

Obviously, some people find it difficult to separate a writer from the written word and I understand why they it might be difficult to read his work knowing about his affiliations. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. Personally, if the work is of a high enough standard and does not preach or promote extreme political or racial points of view without challenging them, then I have no problem with reading it. ‘The Hearts of Kings’ is a case in point – it is extreme in terms of it’s subject matter, but not extremist in terms of ideology.

His most famous work is a novel called ‘Alraune‘, which is essentially a re-working of the Frankenstein story. It concerns a woman without morals, born of an unholy union, who some critics of the horror genre have called the ultimate Femme Fatale. It has been filmed a couple of times, most recently in a 1952 German version. Interestingly Ewers wrote the screenplay to 1913 film called ‘The Student of Prague‘ (partly based on ‘Faust’ and partly on Poe’s short story ‘William Wilson’). It was hugely popular on it’s release, but it is extremely difficult to find a decent print of now, which is a shame as I’d love to see it. It has been recognised as the first German art film and a significant influence on the Expressionist films that came out of Weimar cinema during the silent era (probably the most famous example being the astounding ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari‘)

Published in 1922, ‘The Hearts of Kings’ fits perfectly with post first world war Germany and the decadence which came to define the Weimar Republic. It is a very short story (a mere 44 pages) and is suffused with a decadent, almost voluptuous atmosphere, far from the more visceral nature of modern horror – and all the better for it! Essentially it is about a crazed artist who invites the Prince Royal Ferdinand Philippe d’Orléans to view and buy a series of paintings about his ancestors. When he visit the artist he discovers his family’s horrific legacy.

I do not want to give too much of the story away (well it is a very short story), but suffice to say, if you like the works of Edgar Allan Poe, then this would definitely be your sort of thing. Ewers has, by the way, been described as the German Poe (he also published a critical essay on Poe in 1916).

The copy I have of ‘The Hearts of Kings’ is a limited edition book published by ‘The Ajna Offensive‘ and is available through their website in the US (or from the UK based ‘Side Real Press‘, being the sole distributor in Europe).

It is quite expensive for such a short work, but there are a number of reasons why it is worth getting. Not only is it a cloth-bound limited edition hardback publication, it is also a rare taste of the rare talent that was Hanns Heinz Ewers. In terms of a monetary investment (as opposed to a literary, cultural or aesthetic one) it is interesting to note that copies of the book are already available on Abebooks for nearly four times their initial price, even though it has not yet sold out at the publishers! To add to the quality of the publication, replete with marbled end-papers, the original illustrations by Stefan Eggeler have been lovingly reproduced in all their gruesome detail. Here’s some information about them from the ‘Side Real Press’ site and some examples below:-

Originally published as a limited edition in 1922 as ‘Die Herzen der Könige’ this macabre tale by Ewers (newly translated by Markus Wolff) was complimented by the equally disturbing and wonderful etchings of Stefan Eggeler (1894-1969).  Both were created by artists at the height of their powers. Further information on both Ewers and Eggeler can be found HERE and HERE.
      The original edition (now quite rare) was printed on very poor paper and much trouble has been taken (in collaboration with the Eggeler estate) to render the tonalities of the illustrations accurately.

Having just looked at the Side Real Press website I found that Hanns Heinz Ewers ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice‘ (first published in 1910) is currently at the printers and will be available for sale later this year. This book was Ewers first novel and the first of three about a character called Frank Braun (a thinly veiled Ewers). The second novel, published in 1911, was the aforementioned ‘Alraune‘, which has already been published by Side Real Press and demands significant amounts of money on the second hand sites (I wish I’d known about it when it came out in 2010). By the way they also published a collection of his short stories (in 2009) which also commands high prices (if you can find it!).

News Flash – I’ve just completed my first Author Interview!

This is quite exciting – I’ve recently answered a series of questions about being an author and the subject of my first book ‘The Cenotaph of Dreams‘ (click on the title to link to the Amazon.co.uk author’s page and this one for the Amazon.com site).

If you’d like to read the interview and find out a bit about the book, it’s genesis and inspiration, or a little more about me for that matter, please follow this link. If you like what you read, or know someone who might be interested, please share it on any social media you can think of – there’s nothing like a bit of free publicity, is there! Thank-you!

The book is available as an e-book and as a paperback from the Amazon Kindle Store.

Where to Start – How About the End…?

So, what would the end of the world look like?

We live in crazy times (haven’t we always!). Wars rumbling on in the background of the West’s consciousness (Yemen), or wars that the world looks at but does nothing about (Syria), politicians who promote division to bolster and their own egos, gun crime, knife attacks, cars used as weapons…I could go on. The end of the world could come in many forms, but societal breakdown and the end of civilisation is probably more likely than being struck by a giant meteorite (I hope I’m not tempting fate there!). Amongst all this doom and gloom it is important to remember that for the majority of people living on this planet, life is much better than that.

Our perception of the state of the world is seriously eroded largely by negative press – camera crews and news reporters try to find the most appalling incidents to make the public tune in. That is essentially their job. Of course, it’s human nature to seek out bad news, but it’s important to remember that positive things are happening all the time that are never reported.

Just like the news reports, fiction often visits the darker side of the human condition (or not-so-human, depending on your genre). It is essential for the development of a plot for ‘something’ to happen. That ‘something’, or ‘trigger’, is necessary for events to take place and a story to unfold, and rarely is it something pleasant.

To write a story it can be quite difficult to actually begin, or ‘put pen to paper’ as the cliche goes. Sometimes it can be good to start with a dramatic event to draw people in, or at least a line or two to pique their interest or create bemusement. Something, anything to grab the reader and make them want to read on.

Another way to start is to imagine the ‘trigger’ event and work backwards. Think about what would lead up to the event taking place, or how and why the main character is involved or affected by it.

This is all well and good, but how to come up with the ‘trigger’ in the first place? Some people use random words, or suggested opening lines, or they look in the newspapers and magazines then extrapolate their own variations on the stories they read. Another way is to find an arresting image and to create a story that leads up to, or runs away from, what is pictured. That’s where this post comes in – hopefully.

The end of the world is a pretty dramatic event and has been illustrated numerous times throughout history – in art, literature and on film. The images below are interesting because they fuse photography and painting to create believable scenes (they digitally fuse the two media to create impossible ‘photos’). Created by Michal Karcz (an artist form Warsaw, Poland), his images appear to encompass post-apocalyptic, alien or parallel worlds and alternative futures/pasts. They could be a good starting point for a story/

What would you write inspired by these pictures? Or what do you use as a trigger for your stories?

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I originally discovered these images a few years ago on the designboom website at this address.

Mycelia – A New Magazine for New Weird Fiction

I have had this magazine in my possession for a number of weeks now, but have only managed to have the time to read about half of the contents of the first issue. I had hoped to review the whole thing, but at the rate I’m going it’ll be some time before I can do that.

I’m not exactly sure how I came across this, I think it was mentioned somewhere on Goodreads (which I very recently signed up to and am still getting used to). I decided to buy the two issues that have been released to see what it was all about and it’s already quite interesting.

Mycelia (published by Hedera Felix in Glasgow) describes itself as “a new biannual print magazine in Scotland for weird fiction, experimental literature and art.” From what I have read so far this is an accurate description. The first few stories (they are all quite short) cover a wide range of styles and subjects which can be classified as weird. Below is a photograph of both Issue 1 and Issue 2.

The first story features what I assume to be a genetically engineered sub-human/dog-like creature, another one concerns a boyfriend who has vegetative aspects which don’t seem to concern his partner, another is a hard Science Fiction story and another which is more old-school weird. It was this one which has been my favourite so far. It’s called ‘To Keep The Cold Away’ and is written by Daniel Pietersen. After inheriting a collection of netsuke (small Japanese carved ornaments to be worn with a kimono) the protagonist becomes strangely connected to them. It’s not quite clear, but either they wither and change physically causing the character to do the same, or she does first and they take on the change. Traditionally in this type of story there would be a curse or spiritual connection, maybe a pining for the original collector, but that is not evident here, which moves the story from the Gothic to the Weird.

There are a number of interesting photographs dotted throughout the magazine, some of which remind me of Surrealism. I particularly liked the two photographs by David Redford Palmer. I’m not sure if they have been manipulated or not; they are of natural subjects (a tree in one and cloud in another) but they possess a mood, a darkness, even a sense of dread. I would like to see more.

There is an odd almalgam of stories with a recurring seagull motif that seem to be trying too hard to be arty in a weird way. If there is a criticism of Mycelia, it would be that it tries too hard to be arty or experimental, to the point of complete abstraction and this can leaves one unable to make the slightest sense of it (but I guess that’s just weird in another way).

I’m assuming that the name Mycelia comes from the word Mycelium, which is quite appropriate. This is how it is described by Wikipedia:-

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro, especially within the fairy ring fungi. Fungal colonies composed of mycelium are found in and on soil and many other substrates.

Citation

If the rest of Issue 1 and the second Issue continue in this vein then I look forward to reading more in the future – who knows, I may even submit a few photos or stories – it’s certainly something worth supporting!

You can obtain a copy of Mycelia by visiting their shop, here, and you can use a discount code at the checkout to reduce the cost (it’s why I decided to buy both Issues!), the code is – SUMMER2019. You can also buy a copy at one of their stockists:-

Category Is, Glasgow
Good Press Gallery, Glasgow
Aye-Aye Books, CCA, Glasgow
Fruitmarket Gallery Bookshop, Edinburgh
Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh
Whitechapel Gallery Bookshop, London
Serpentine Gallery Bookshop, London
Coming soon to Book Art Bookshop in Hoxton, London!

The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 1

Over the last few years there seems to have been a resurgence in new libraries and bookshops all over the world (and for some unknown reason more abundantly in China).

Is this merely a case of the architecture of spectacle turning it’s eye to yet another institution? Previously architects have thoroughly expressed their egos in a range of areas, including commercial buildings – think The CCTV Headquarters (Beijing), LLoyds of London, or 30 St Mary Axe (better known as The Gherkin, of course). Or museums – The Guggenhiem Museums (New York and Bilbao), The Jewish Museum (Berlin), Pompidou Centre (Paris). Or arts centres – the Sydney Opera House, Sage Gateshead, City of Arts and Sciences (Valencia) and the Heydar Aliyev Center (Baku, Azerbaijan).

That may well be the case, and if they are in need of another area to develop I would suggest they design a rash of new cinemas – we haven’t really had many exciting cinema buildings since the 30’s, as far as I know!

Another reason could be that it is a reaction to the sterile, digital world of the e-book. We are analogue creatures, we like real physical things, we fall in love with books, but could we really fall in love with an e-reader? I doubt it.

The sensation of holding a book, leafing through the pages, the texture and smell (particularly of old books), are just a few of the aspects of reading a book that a series of zeros and ones can never come close to.

Whatever the reason, there are some amazing temples to the written word appearing and I thought it would be a good idea to stop writing and let the images of these places speak for themselves.

By the way, all these images are from articles on the excellent ‘designboom‘ website. If you would like more information on either the buildings or the photographers then search for the buildings on their website or click on the title and it should take you to the article.

Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore, China

The M.I. Bookstore, Harbin, China

Oodi Central Library, Helsinki

The Art of Science Fiction

It’s common knowledge that Science Fiction (or Scientific Romance as it was originally called) was very much a product of its time.  A combination of Victorian adventure story, the influence of war and Empire, the speed and revelations of the industrial revolution (and the associated scientific advances), and, in the hands of the best writers, a literary critique of the times.  There are earlier traces of the speculative and the fantastic, but it was the Victorians that firmly set the template of what we now know as Science Fiction.

Title-pageEven early explorations of this new form of writing were associated with striking visual art, which is wholly appropriate for the nature of the genre.

A good example are the illustrations for the 1905 French edition of H.G. Well’s ‘The War of The Worlds’ (first published in 1897).  Henrique Alvim Corrêa (1876–1910) was a Brazilian artist working in Belgium who created wonderfully atmospheric images, full of darkness, light and menace, an example of which can be seen to the left.

As was common at the time, many of the stories we now know as novels began life as serialised stories in popular magazines like The Strand Magazine, Pearson’s Magazine, and The Idler.  It’s wasn’t until the 1920’s though that specialist Science Fiction magazines began to appear.Amazing Stories

Beginning with Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in 1926 – these highly illustrated magazines soon proliferated and spread the graphic iconography of the genre as much, if not more, than the words from which they originated.

In a strange way the magazines, which were there to spread the ‘word’ of Science Fiction were superseded by the images they used to illustrate the text.  When the cinematic Science Fiction boom of the 1950’s took hold it would only be a short time before the age of the magazine was over (apart from a few survivors).

Although I love early Science Fiction stories (I’d read all of H.G Well’s short stories before I’d left school), I did not feel as much of a fondness for the mid-20th century stuff (and the space operas were just a drag!).  I was far more attached to the films of the 1950’s Science Fiction craze (many of which were based on novels) and even now I would rather see a Science Fiction film than read a Science Fiction book (probably because Science Fiction is such a fantastically visual genre).  I think this is part of the reason why I have migrated to the relative of Science Fiction in the speculative fiction genre that is The Weird.

Village Of The DamnedSince the magazines lost their near-monopoly on Science Fiction stories and the eventual decline in such movies (The Village of The Damned being one of the last original stories of the era), the graphic or illustrative element of the genre flourished on the covers of paperback books.

I remember in the 80’s and 90’s seeing loads of classic Science Fiction paperbacks with cover art from the 1960’s and 70’s in charity shops – but of course, like so many other things, I did not appreciate them at the time!  It is now rare to see the striking and strange book covers at all, and particularly the first editions (paperback or otherwise) anywhere at all.

Fortunately I recently came across a collection of these speculative stories from another age and I decided to buy the lot!  They look stunning and on the whole are in fantastic condition; but my mind is skewed towards the Weird and that is where my heart is, so reluctantly I have decided to pass them on.  Just looking at the covers makes you wonder what imaginative wonders the pages contain and I would love to have the time to read them all but it’s just not possible.

I currently have them for sale very cheaply on eBay, here, but be quick, the first lot end this Sunday evening (25th Oct.) – why not try a few, you never know what astounding stories await!

Here are just a few of the books available:-

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Time Stacks by Matt Molloy

Time-lapse photography has a history about as long as photography itself and the effect of the photographic image on art has had a huge influence.  The blurring of an image has been repeatedly used – whether in the cause of Impressionism, Futurism, or any number of artistic ‘ideals’ – that its photographic origins are sometimes forgotten.

Traditional time-lapse photography tends to create a smooth blurring effect, a softening of the image, a merging of motion into a continuous stream of light.  Matt Molloy, a photographer from Ontario in Canada, has taken a different approach.  For his time-lapse images he has ‘stacked’ a sequence of time-lapsed images, creating a staggered blurring effect.  The images are quite ethereal, bridging the line between a photograph and a painting.

Matt Molloy ‘Land of the Giant Lollipops’

Matt Molloy ‘Sky Sculptures’

Matt Molloy ‘Smeared Sky Sunset’

Matt Molloy 'Sunset Spectrum'

Matt Molloy 'Spun'

The British Library Sound Archive

Sound equipmentIn May of this year The British Library highlighted the situation regarding it’s Sound Archive (something I had not previously realised the British Library had), and that if nothing is done to preserve it we may loose chunks of our history captured in audio form.  The situation is succinctly put on the website, and reads:-

The nation’s sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Global archival consensus is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.
Some people will recognise the problem from a similar situation – the difficulty in reading early computer programmes (see my article, here).  Once a technology is superseded, the ability to access material stored in certain formats becomes increasingly difficult, let alone the natural degradation of the recording medium itself.  To counter this the British Library has set up the Save Our Sounds web page and identified three main aims for the project:-
  • to preserve as much as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings, not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK
  • to establish a national radio archive that will collect, protect and share a substantial part of the UK’s vibrant radio output, working with the radio industry and other partners
  • to invest in new technology to enable us to receive music in digital formats, working with music labels and industry partners to ensure their long-term preservation.

It has received a huge injection of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund but still requires donations to further it’s work (you can find out how to contribute here).  If you would like to explore some of the archive you can gain access to 60,000 recordings which have been digitised and made available online, here.The British LibraryCurrently there is an ongoing project, begun in 2012 and recorded by the BBC, called The Listening Project.  I have heard a few of these edited conversations on the radio and they are quite fascinating.  The British Library page has this to say about them:-

The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC.  People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library.  These one to one conversations, lasting up to an hour and taking a topic of the speakers’ choice, collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today.

Whether you interest lies in Classical Music, Oral History, World Traditional Music or the sounds of nature and the environment, there should be something of interest in the archive.  There is even a section of images of early play-back and sound recording equipment and early record catalogues from 1898 to 1926!  The Listening Project recordings can be found under the Accents and Dialects section or through the link above which goes to the BBC page on the project.Sounds of Our ShoresThis summer there is another audio project, but this time it brings together The British Library sound archive and The National Trust called Sounds of Our Shores:-

What does the UK coastline sound like during the summer of 2015? What are the distinctive sounds of Scottish estuaries, Cornish beaches, the Pembrokeshire coast or a busy seafront? In what ways do these sounds fascinate us, move us or seem important to us?

Sounds of our Shores is a community-led, interactive soundmap which asks members of the public to upload their favourite seaside sounds and help build a permanent digital resource of UK coastal recordings.

If you are near the coast in the UK and fancy contributing to this sound archive just go to the website and read the simple instructions – you can contribute as many recordings as you like, but I think they want something more than just waves crashing on a beach or seagulls screeching, so try to be creative.  I happened to be on the stern of HMS Warrior when the America’s Cup boats left Portsmouth Harbour a few weeks ago and caught the vague sound of people as they watched it happen.  It’s quite indistinct, except for a woman saying “Pretty good init.  Really impressive wan’t it….all come past us like that…” (from about 1.15), you can hear the whole thing here.