Matthew Kressel is a writer, computer consultant, and co-host of the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series. His website is www.MatthewKressel.net. These are his good things.
Good things to read.
The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart. An epic tale about a familial line of Lamed Vavniks, or thirty-six righteous souls who quietly uphold the world, according to an ancient Jewish myth. The novel spans eight centuries, culminating in an ending so powerful I was moved to tears the first time I read it. The book affected me so much I ended up writing a novel about the Lamed Vav.
Crackpot Palace by Jeffrey Ford. I first discovered Jeffrey’s work when he read at Fantastic Fiction at KGB, the reading series I currently host beside editor Ellen Datlow. I quickly fell in love with his stuff. This fourth collection of his work is probably my favorite. Jeff is a master at building worlds of wonder with deceptively simple sentences. If you can’t read all the stories, definitely check out “The Hag’s Peak Affair”, “Daltharee”, “Glass Eels” and “The Wish Head.” You’ll likely become a fan as quickly as I have.
Occultation and Other Stories by Laird Barron. Laird excels at character creation, at the slow build of suspense that culminates in cosmic terror. Yes, we often know a big evil is coming (often more psychologically than physically menacing), but it’s not about the evil so much as how his vastly unique and well drawn characters face the incipient horror. And the worlds he creates, though part of a common cosmic theater, are fresh and fascinating each time. Besides Jeffrey Ford’s work, I’ve rarely read a collection of stories this good.
Good things to watch.
Red Dwarf. The last human in space, three million years hence, with a preening and sentient descendant of his cat, a robot who loves to clean, and a hologram of his annoying roommate as company. What’s not to love? Though the final season was hit or miss, the early episodes were classic, and some of the best science fiction ever handled on television. My favorite episodes are “Tikka to Ride,” where an accidental encounter with John F. Kennedy leads to some seriously sci-fi hijinx, “Backwards,” where a world in which time flows backwards turns Santa Claus into an evil villain that steals children’s toys, and the mini-series, “Back to Earth,” riffing off of Blade Runner and the meta-narratives of Philip K. Dick. Which leads me to…
Blade Runner. Initially confounding the critics, the film has become one of the most enduring and monumental science fiction films of all time. Director Ridley Scott put an enormous attention to detail into the production so that repeated watchings reveal stacked layers of meaning. Blade Runner has inspired everything from fashion to film and everything in between. To me, the most interesting topic is not whether Deckard is a replicant, but how Blade Runner’s dark landscapes have become the default way we envision the future: bleak, polluted, overcrowded. Why has this image been so pervasive in our culture and what other images might replace it?
The Golem (1920). A masterwork of atmosphere, this silent-film classic tells the story of the famous Rabbi Loew in Prague who creates a man from clay in order to protect his people from persecution. What could possibly go wrong when you use a demon’s power to bring a dead lump of clay to life? The third act will break your heart as it horrifies with its wanton brutality. Filled with incredible sets, beautiful landscapes, and utterly frightening vistas, it’s startling that such a complex production could be pulled off in an era when the phrase “special effects” hadn’t yet entered the lexicon. The film is worth seeing if only for the final scene where the golem-turned-evil-turned-good-again encounters a little girl outside the ghetto.
Good things to use.
A French Press. First introduced to me by my fiancé, any other caffeinated beverage preparation-device pales in comparison to the flavor elicited by the wonderful French Press. Whether it’s coffee or English Breakfast Tea (my preference), you cannot go wrong with one of these.
A Yoga Mat. You know those aches and pains that people complain about? You know the back cramps and sore neck and all those other minor annoyances that just progressively get worse as you age? (If not, just wait!) I discovered a few years ago that we don’t have to experience pain as we age. By practicing your Yoga for ten minutes every morning on your clean yoga mat, you can chase off those pestering aches and pains as easily as you chase away morning breath by brushing your teeth. In other words, Stay limber my friends.
A Good Chair. As a corollary to the above, if you sit in a chair all day for work as most people do, you must have a proper chair. When I began writing seriously about ten years ago I wrote on my grandmother’s hardwood chair. And while the chair had sentimental value for me, it was perhaps the worst possible thing for my back. Later, I switched to a padded folding chair. I might as well have switched from cocaine to crack. It wasn’t until I switched to a proper, ergonomic chair, set to the right height, that I began to realize that one doesn’t have to suffer for one’s art, or at least not in the bum anyway.
Connect with Matthew on Twitter, @MattKressel.