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Steve Aylett
Thunder's Mouth paperback $14.95

review by Patrick Hudson

While he has strewn literary puzzles willy-nilly onto the hard shoulders of his career so far, the greatest unanswered question about Steve Aylett is: why isn't he more famous? He's young. He's funny. He's clever. He's prolific. His books are short and punchy, without padding, puff or any other literary protection, standing bare arse naked and ready for the reader to take a swing at them. His style is hip and easy, similar to the surreal media parodies of Chris Morris. All the ingredients are there for mainstream success, even if he is a little bit out-there for the typical Red Dwarf or Terry Pratchett fan.

Does the man have some crippling disability that prevents him from doing publicity? Does he have some dark secret, something between Misery and Morvern Callar?. Perhaps he is a literary Bluebeard terrified of anyone peeking into his locked room? But his web presence - heavy on portraits and CDs of music and spoken word material - doesn't suggest a shrinking violet. So where's the Richard And Judy selection, Mail On Sunday book section profiles and dust ups with Tom Paulin on Late Review?

His renown seems thinly spread, even for a cult author, but it's possible that I'm misreading the whole situation. It could be that he's actually quite rubbish, and only a handful of other deluded souls agree with me regarding his genius (my mate Jon, for example, who is clearly mad). From some perspectives I suppose that is true for a lot of cult authors, maybe that's why they're cult in the first place. Burroughs, Bukowkski, Kafka and Lovecraft all have their detractors. The reputation of SF's most famous cult writer - Phillip K. Dick - has received the Hollywood stamp of approval, but many other writers of equal merit languish in relative obscurity.

Which brings us to Lint, a biography of fictional cult writer Jeff Lint clearly based on the life of Phillip K. Dick. Born in 1928, Lint has a career in SF that spans the same period as Dick, and a similar slow-burning reputation that finally flares too late for him to really enjoy before dying. In the meantime, Lint glides through the 'Silver Age' of SF, writing nonsensical stories and throwing off bizarre non-sequitors like the bastard child of Salvador Dali and Dorothy Parker.

Just as Kurt Vonnegut breathed life into Kilgore Trout, his affectionate parody of Theodore Sturgeon, Aylett uses Dick's life as a springboard for surreal flights of fancy. He satirises trends in SF and mainstream literature, pokes fun at overblown Hollywood spectaculars and TV, and parodies Dick's metaphysical curiosity. Alongside the funny satire is a perceptive, if skewed, analysis of the history of SF.

The wider ranging points about the history of SF and the pomposity of its practitioners don't really add up to a thesis, but a great deal of fun is had at the expense of the old masters. Aylett's comedy has the bite of real affection, and it's almost like watching him reminisce over his own history as an SF reader in his own delicious, funny style.

As with any biography, Lint comes with illustrations. A middle section of colour pictures includes parodies of book covers from the relevant periods 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, emblazoned with Lint's idiosyncratic titles - 'I Eat Fog', 'Turn Me Into A Parrot', 'Jelly Result', 'The Stupid Conversation', and the genius 'One Less Bastard'. Elsewhere, Lint is shown in doctored photographs, most amusingly at a circa 1950s' anti-communism rally holding a sign saying, "I'm growing fins."

Lint's foray into the world of comics is redolent with the strangeness of non-Marvel or DC Comics from the 1960s and 1970s. 'The Caterer' is Jack Marsden, a man without special powers or costume. Apparently, not much happens over the nine-issue run - occasionally he pulls a gun or loses his temper - but the panels reproduced in Lint (somewhat murkily in this paperback edition) are thick with hilarious Aylett nonsense. The series is finally cancelled after Lint has Marsden go on a murder spree in an unnamed amusement park with actionable resemblances to Disneyland. His children's cartoon 'Catty And The Major' is even more disastrous.

This is a wonderful book, a witty tribute to the history of literary SF and the bizarre circumstances of its birth. It has the added spice of clever and amusing illustrations, not to mention an index, which came in very handy when writing this review - if only other authors were so considerate!
Lint by Steve Aylett

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