LET THERE BE LIT

A CHRONICLE OF BLURRED CONNECTIONS

New essay anthology on writer Steve Aylett brings elements of absurdity, sci-fi and depth

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Jacksonville fantasy and slipsteam writer Bill Ectric has been influenced in sometimes nearly opposite ways by his friend, English writer Steve Aylett. Ectric read Aylett’s strange 2005 novel Lint, without initially utnderstanding it was a parody, which isn’t as unusual as it might sound.

Now Ectric’s edited a new book of essays, Steve Aylett: A Critical Anthology, which includes works by Ectric himself, as well as others by sci-fi/fantasy giant Michael Moorcock, graphic novelist Alan Moore, author of V for Vendetta and Watchmen, and D. Harlan Wilson, whom Ectric cites as a mentor.

Ectric calls Lint, a fictional biography of science-fiction writer Jeff Lint, a “sort of like Spinal Tap is to heavy metal.” Though the novel has an absurdist, mockumentary quality, readers who don’t know key elements in the stories of writers like Philip K. Dick, for example, might read the parody straight.

The generic genre word “slipstream” helps explain why Aylett can be perceived in so many ways. Slipstream blurs the borders between fantasy, science-fiction and literary fiction and, in the case of Lint, literary biography as well. Aylett even published a Jeff Lint companion book, And Your Point Is?, said to be “a must-have for [his] collectors, students, imitators and stalkers.”

Ectric’s straight reading of Lint influenced his own 2009 novel Tamper, which similarly blurs categories. Tamper reads like a collaboration among William S. Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft and J.D. Salinger that somehow works. Sometime between Ectric’s striking up a correspondence with Aylett and his coming to terms with Lint as parody, Aylett even read and advised Ectric on portions of Tamper.

In Ectric’s essay, “Uncanny Recognition,” included in the new anthology, he writes that while continuing to digest Aylett, “I looked for signposts. Specifically, I sought the intersection of ‘satire’ and ‘cyberpunk,’ two labels that appear frequently in reviews of Aylett’s work.” Aylett’s other influences, Ectric writes, include Voltaire’s satiric Candide, in which the fictional philosopher Professor Pangloss glosses over all suffering, saying, “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

Lint mocks the readers taking writers’ stories too seriously. For example, Lint’s “Lemon Experience” is a direct reference to Philip K. Dick, best known for his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the 1982 film Blade Runner is based. Dick kept a journal later published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, in which he describes his hallucinatory 1974 “visions,” known as his “Pink Light Experience.”

Ectric has also played along with Lint’s mock biography, posting fictional remembrances on sci-fi blogs where Lint took on another life outside Aylett’s fiction. He speaks with a soft Virginia accent and hardly stops smiling, at least with one side of his mouth. He’s just mischievous enough to delight in the hoax.

“I wrote, ‘I remember when I met Lint back in the early ’70s,’ and I told this bizarre story of how Steve Marriott of the band Humble Pie and I saw the Virgin Mary rising up from the stage behind where Lint was reading.”

Ectric is almost as good a networker as he is a writer. He curates the kinds of writers he likes and calls himself a “chronicler who explores connections.” He’s connected with various kinds of artists around the world, often on his website, billectric.com, where there are interviews posted with local writers Sohrab Fracis, Al Letson, and Stetson Kennedy, as well as beat jazz musician David Amram and the writer Hettie Jones.

When Ectric interviewed Aylett, the two became fast friends. Because Aylett was Alan Moore’s neighbor in Northampton, England, Ectric was able to be in touch with the graphic novelist as well. Later Ectric and Moore both starred in the self-reflexively awful film version of Lint.

When Ectric met Aylett at a pub in Boston in 2013, each was equally interested in the other’s work. Ectric recalled that Aylett was kind and honest when responding to excerpts of Tamper he had sent him. “He’d say either, ‘This doesn’t really work,’ or ‘For God’s sake, don’t change that.’”

In fact, Ectric first thought he should end the novel with “a big action-packed culminating fight,” but Aylett advised him “that it was so different from the rest of the book it didn’t fit. He said, ‘I think you should be more subtle.’ Then he said, ‘But don’t you change your last page! That works!’”

Though Ectric says every writer he admires influences his style, his story “Doctor Waxwing’s Hotel of Rooms,” published in the sci-fi journal Emanations, is particularly Aylettesque.

Ectric worked two years on Steve Aylett: A Critical Anthology, and along the way. distinctions between critical interpretations and writers’ intentions made themselves constantly known. He regularly remembered William Burroughs saying, “Word is an organism,” and “The Word is now a virus.”

Language infects us, forming our personalities; when the virus of language leaves us, it takes our words forward and into new and constantly unanticipated forms.

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