evan dahm

Hi here’s another list of things I’ve read that are really important to me, on the loose theme of ‘fantasy urbanism.’ I still haven’t read Dhalgren.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. This is the most essential thing to read if you are even tangentially interested in anything about this list i think. Revelatory to me as a pulpy-literalistic fantasist.

Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson. Inspired by the Calvino book, an enormous overview of planned or dreamed cities that were never built.

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer. Some of my favorite secondary-world fiction I have ever read. Short stories from the history of an empire at the ludicrous extreme of size, depth, history. The English edition was translated by Ursula K. Le Guin who is my favorite.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar. Beautiful book and deals with an invented setting and urban spaces with a more densely intellectual approach than I have ever seen.

Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas. An architectural history and “retroactive manifesto” for Manhattan, but some of the most interesting bits are about Coney Island in particular. Huge futuristic conflicts underlie every modern city.

The City & the City by China Miéville. This isn’t a lot of people’s favorites of his because its fantastic elements aren’t the loudest, but it’s so smart and bewildering and develops an allegory for emergent social strata in urban spaces that is really compelling.

The Event Factory by Renee Gladman. Just finished this; it feels loose and dreamlike and engages very clearly with real feelings of exploring new spaces, radically repurposing urban environments…

Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy. Not as totally concerned with cities as the rest of the list, but a really exciting and unusual example of worldbuilding from an intentionally political/utopian perspective.

Surregional Explorations by Max Cafard. The first few essays in this book deal with Surrealist and Situationist approaches to urban space and the unconscious of cities; it’s a weird jumbled book but I liked it

This is something I mentioned on twitter: my favorite idea lately for stories to work with is “humanity’s struggle to come to terms with the unknowable.” That’s as fine a point as I can put on it, I guess. It seems like an important and politically resonant idea, and a lot of my thinking lately revolves around how to articulate a position at odds with extremist claims of absolute knowledge, while still existing in a world of provisional material truth.

Here’s a list of media that I’ve really loved and that approaches this idea from different angles. Nothing comprehensive, just a list I’ve been adding to.

  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, 1851. This is a book I have spent too much time with, and its focus on the failure of human intellect and ideology to make sense of nature/the transcendent/god is important to me.
  • Solaris by Stanisław Lem, 1961. One of my favorite scifi novels; more about philosophy of science than about scientific ideas. Moody and intense satire. The Tarkovsky adaptation is beautiful but doesn’t quite engage with the same ideas.
  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1971. Bewildering pseudo-first-contact story that really interestingly ties into USSR politics (this point is made really well in HyperNormalisation). Also adapted by Tarkovsky, interestingly; haven’t seen it tho
  • Alien, 1979. One of a hundred examples of a story that works elegantly with little exposition of its fantastical elements, to be undercut by the more explicit approach of its sequels. Really cool to read as a chaoskampf story; alien representing the archetypal dragon/chaos monster. Beowulf should maybe be on this list but I don’t remember it too well
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968. I mean obviously.
  • Shin Godzilla, 2016. Extremely smart use of an entrenched pop-culture genre as essentially political satire. I read a lot of people saying it didn’t make sense if you aren’t familiar with Japanese politics but I disagree!!
  • Arrival, 2016. The aliens are satisfyingly Weird to me but understanding them is treated as an achievable intellectual goal, so maybe it doesn’t belong on this list. anyway good movie
  • Dark Ecology by Timothy Morton, 2016. Ambitious and mystifying book that’s sort of about building a new way of relating to ecology and humanity, in the context of catastrophic climate change. A lot of time spent deconstructing mythologies of absolute truth that proceed from the invention of agriculture. Plato’s Revenge (2011) is a book that deals with some similar ideas but I did not like it so much
  • Orality and Literacy by Walter Ong, 1982. Broad & fascinating book on linguistics and the cultural shift represented by the invention of writing. The idea that literacy in particular concretizes our language and our models of the world is why it’s on this list.

The Kickstarter for my illustrated edition of Moby-Dick is ending in a couple of hours. We are over goal, so this book is going to print right away as soon as the Kickstarter money lands!

This was a very new kind of project for me, and ended up being an enormous and maybe over-ambitious thing to try to do, so it’s wonderful to see that it resonates. Thank you so much for your support.

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Got my copy of Benign Kingdom today and it is absolutely gorgeous. All the artwork is beautiful as is the book itself. I’m so in love with it and can’t wait for future volumes. I also got the postcards and poster, but the poster hasn’t arrived yet. Hoping it gets here today or tomorrow but with USPS who knows. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who didn’t get it through the Kickstarter.