Mark von Schlegell invented his peculiar brand of ficto-criticism and philosophical pulp fiction by publishing almost exclusively in the international art world, putting its global commitment to avant-garde experiment, futurist visions and amateur left-wing agitation to the service of radical speculative fiction




Mark von Schlegell, Ickles, Etc., Sternberg Press, 2014.

Edited by Nikolaus Hirsch, Markus Miessen
Featuring artwork by Louise Lawler

Website: http://www.sff.net/people/schlegell
Facebook: Facebook profile
Blog: http://dreamingthemainstream.tumblr.com/


It’s the late twenty-first century. Technological, environmental, and social catastrophes have changed the meanings of culture, nature, and landscape forever. But in what remains of the international urban scene, architecture still refuses to admit it hasn’t been modern since the early twentieth century. Enter Ickles, Etc.
Helming Los Angeles’s most misunderstood info-architecture practice is Henries Ickles, “the man without self-concept.” Time and again Ickles offers practical solutions to the most impenetrable theoretical entanglements of art, architecture, and science in the 2090s.
In the fifth book in the Critical Spatial Practice series, Mark von Schlegell’s fusion of theory and fiction puts the SF back in notions of “speculative aesthetics.” A collection of interconnected comical sci-fi stories written for various exhibitions, Ickles, Etc. explores the future of architectural practice in light of developments in climatology, quasicrystalography, hyper-contemporary art, time travel, and the EGONET. Occupying New Los Angeles, visiting the Danish Expansion, Nieuw Nieuw Amsterdam, and 1970s St. Louis, the practice finds selves embroiled in very spicy mustards indeed, redefining info- architecture and jettisoning the burdensome “self-concept” of the Western tradition in the process. Just don’t expect a visit to the ruins of Disney Hall!


Mark von Schlegell, High Wichita, Smashwords, 2013.

It's 2133. A priceless Vermeer is making its way back to Earth. Freelance Spacer Nick Wesley is charged with protecting the painting as it comes on board The Polly-Ann, the eccentrically re-fit cross system space-hauler of notorious Count Simwe Skaw. WIth Skaw poised to make a move, Nick secures the masterpiece with a so-called quantum lock. Meanwhile, back on Earth riots in Equator City are threatening stability of the C. Clarke Elevator. Even if he manages to outwit Skaw and his minions, Nick just might not make it back for Nora's Sunday Brunch on Penobscot Bay...

High Wichita is a key novelette in Mark von Schlegell's still un-winding science fiction future history, The System Series. A missing link between the novels Venusia (2005) and Mercury Station (2009), High Wichita is both a love-letter to pulp fiction and a pot-boiling caper story of its own.
                  


Mark von Schlegell, Andro Wekua: Dreaming Dreaming JRP Ringier, 2012.                        

Drawing on genres such as fantasy, sci-fi and horror, Andro Wekua (born 1977) creates fantastical, macabre tableaux that explore personal, collective and fictional memory. This book includes works from the artist's 2012 exhibition at Gladstone Gallery--large colorful abstractions--as well as Wekua's signature collages and portraits.


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Mark von Schlegell, Mercury Station, MIT Press, Semiotext(e), 2009.

Published by Semiotext(e) in 2005, Mark von Schlegell's debut novel Venusia was hailed in the sci-fi and literary worlds as a "breathtaking excursion" and "heady kaleidoscopic trip," establishing him as an important practitioner of vanguard science fiction. Mercury Station, the second book in Von Schlegell's System Series, continues the journey into a dystopian literary future.
It is 2150. Eddard J. Ryan was born in a laboratory off Luna City, an orphan raised by the Black Rose Army, a radical post-Earth Irish revolutionary movement. But his first bombing went wrong and he's been stuck in a borstal on Mercury for decades. System Space has collapsed and most of human civilization with it, but Eddie Ryan and his fellow prisoners continue to suffer the remote-control domination of the borstal and its condescending central authority, the qompURE MERKUR, programmed to treat them as adolescents.
Yet things could be worse. With little human supervision, the qompURE can be fooled. There's food and whiskey, and best of all, the girl of Eddie Ryan's dreams, his long-time friend and comrade Koré McAllister, is in the same prison. When his old boss, rich and eccentric chrononaut Count Reginald Skaw shows up in orbit with an entire interstation cruiser at his disposal, there's even the possibility of escape ... back in time.
Like Venusia, Mercury Station tells a compelling story, drawn through a labyrinth of future-history sci-fi, medieval hard fantasy, and cascading samplings of high and low culture. The book is a brilliant literary assault against the singularity of self and its imprisonment in Einsteinian spacetime.

"Myles's unique writings on art and culture manage to stay right on target while simultaneously misbehaving. Come to think of it, that's not so far from the spirit of Oscar Wilde summoned by her book's title." - Alan Gilbert

Although science fiction is known as a “literature of ideas,” many recent novels in the genre have been stuck in a rut of fun but safe geek technophilia or retro “boy’s adventure” stories. In a way, then, Mark von Schlegell’s Mercury Station feels both fresh and dated, because it ignores most of the current scene. Instead, the novel harks back to the heyday of such New Wave giants as J. G. Ballard, as well as such glorious eccentrics as Ursula K. Le Guin, John Calvin Batchelor, and Philip K. Dick, while shooting off stylistic fireworks reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov.
In 2150, Earth is an ecological wasteland. Humankind has colonized the solar system, but survival is far from assured. Eddard J. Ryan is locked up in a prison on Mercury for terrorist activities. His jailer is a somewhat dysfunctional artificial intelligence, the “moral imbecile” MERKUR qompURE. The arrival of Count Reginald Simwe Skaw, “a collector by trade,” complicates Ryan’s existence: Ryan once helped Skaw research temporal “gaps, breaks, anomalies, evident whitewashes,” and other “evidence of chrononautic penetration”; now Skaw’s return suggests that he has confirmed the existence of actual chrononauts, or time travelers, and that revelation involves Ryan in a much larger game that concerns the nature of time itself.
Von Schlegell meanwhile spins a medieval tale that follows a mysterious chrononaut known as Peregrine. The author uses atmospheric images—for instance, tents that whisper “indecipherable secrets, there against shadow-muffled lanterns, wax-burned fingers”—and intricate wordplay to portray a distant time. Ultimately, Peregrine’s quest provides context for Ryan’s memory loss and for how Skaw came to possess evidence of chrononauts.
The many delights of Mercury Station include Ryan’s jousting with MERKUR qompURE during interrogations about the gaps in his memory, the inclusion of Ryan’s rather suspect résumé, and the author’s extended riffs on the nature of time travel; a description of chronautics as “time’s sex organs” is particularly good. Most important, von Schlegell offers an explicit rejection of Ray Bradbury’s “butterfly effect,” which asserts that tiny alterations to the past can lead to irreparable changes in the present. Instead, an avatar of MERKUR qompURE, noting anomalies in fourteenth-century Europe, theorizes that during certain periods “a time traveler might not disrupt the history at all, as so much of that history was so soon to be disrupted on a greater scale”—in this case, by the black death.
Early on, von Schlegell writes, “If Earth’s fate was sealed then its history was now a closed system.” Later, however, and despite a fair amount of tragedy, he suggests that as long as the past is alive, our future is, too: “The war for Earth is still winnable . . . a valuation of the past.” Whether that’s true in the real world, von Schlegell addresses the realities of a grim future with grace, humor, and intellectual honesty. - Jeff Vandermeer

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Mark von Schlegell, Venusia, MIT Press, Semiotext(e), 2005.

Primitive literacy is redundant. Mere words are expelled. We inaugurate a world of pure presence. The mind, that intrudes itself between ourselves and those memories too terrible to know, must keep us moving beyond the grasp of their claw. To control the flow, it will be necessary that political order be imposed always temporarily. The state shall enjoy direct, creative access to the real.

It’s the end of the twenty-third century. Earth has violently self-destructed. Venusia, an experimental off-world colony, survives under the enlightened totalitarianism of the Princeps Crittendon regime. Using industrialized narcotics, holographic entertainment, and memory control, Crittendon has turned Venusia into a self-sustaining system of relative historical inertia. But when mild-mannered junk dealer Rogers Collectibles finds a book about early Venusian history, the colony—once fully immersed in the present—begins losing its grip on the real. With his Reality-V girlfriend Martha Dobbs, neuroscop operator Sylvia Yang, his midget friend Niftus Norrington, and a sentient plant, Rogers wages a war to alter the shape of spacetime, and in the process, revisions the whole human (and vegetable) condition.
Mark von Schlegell received a PhD in English and American literature from New York University. His criticism and fiction has appeared internationally in anthologies, artist books, magazines, and catalogs, from Brazil to Denmark. He has worked as an editor, archivist, cartographer, security guard, librarian, and plumber’s assistant, but currently divides his time between Los Angeles and Cologne, writing and teaching. Venusia is his first novel.
 
"A psychedelic sampling of high and low literature that reads like the best of the genre. . . . like a head-on collision between a David Lynch film and a Philip K. Dick novel in the 23rd century." - Mike Errico

"A heady, kaleidoscopic trip into a dystopic future as well as a backward look at the necessities of the past." - Jackie Cassada

"a mind-bending excursion through the plastic neuroscapes of quantum reality." , Cheryl Morgan

"Mark Von Schlegell would be my candidate for the writer/critic of our emerging future."
Norman M. Klein

Mark von Schlegell's Venusia, described as a "dystopian fantasy novel" is the work of a writer with obvious imagination. Almost every page is full of marvelous new mindscapes, previously unimagined and yet oh-so probable gadgets and political maneuvers.
The human world on Earth as we know it ended suddenly and now humanity lives on a part of Venus, the planet all human scientists insisted was inhabitable. People's lives appear to have continued as before -- they sleep, they eat, they exist, there is a version of television, some even try to work. Surrounding all this apparently innocuous routine is a shrouding fog of mystery.  
Many radical changes have taken place since Humanity attempted to make a home on Venus, but no one seems to have really noticed. The "flesh" of flowers is provided to everyone as food, part of "the Feed" ritual that takes place many times daily. Feeding on these flowers works to keep people in a state of oblivion where they do not remember their past and barely even know who they are or what their goals or dreams ever were. It is sad to read how it has become a part of even innocent children's lives "Already glutted, the children held hands in circles. Wide-eyed, they chanted their sound-churning songs," songs that remind us of "Ring a Ring O'Roses."  
The government in place, wants to "make Feed our religion… We must dedicate ourselves to its observance." Ironically, anyone abstaining or choosing to go without flowers is called an "addict." Attempts to "desist" from feeding on the flowers happen surprisingly often, so much so that it is a legally punishable offense to try and abstain from Feed. Even our main protagonist is setting out on this brave route when we are first introduced to him. He experiences strange hallucinations, a slow filling of the mind with the past.
We get different parts of this big story through the psyches of its major characters, a bookseller who due to a quirk in the system is mostly invisible to the intrusive state spy system, a beautiful high-level psychiatrist who still clings to a sense of right versus wrong, a midget government law enforcer with much to prove and a puzzling television anchor. The main characters are led into a self-chosen route that takes them away from their Feed centered, Venusian lives. We follow them through their decisions, indecisions, indiscretions and adventures as they begin to unravel a mystery bigger than any of them could ever have imagined, one upon which hinges the future and past of Humanity and the Universe. Through the Venusians' fascination with antiques, a lust fueled by a lack of their own concrete memories to give them a proper past, we follow along as Humanity's forgotten history is pieced together, individual characters' pasts threaded together, and eventually a satisfactory revolution against the evil powers-that-be attempted.
Due to the intertwining lives and emotional explorations of these individuals, it could have been confusing to witness the shifts in time and perception, history and future altogether, but the author manages to keep everything quite easy to follow. Some of the details, like a mind's ability to manipulate time and place, lend themselves to multiple readings due to their complex multiple layers but at no time is one lost as to what is happening or wondering why it is happening.
This book by Semiotext(e) Sci-Fi, one of the first in their series of Sci-Fi books under the Native Agents imprint, truly lives up to Semiontexte's aim to "speak to the present demise by assembling radical models for unlikely futures." Compellingly written, with brilliant details, any Science Fiction appreciator would fall in love with this book. - Sumita Sheh 

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Mark von Schlegell, New Dystopia, Sternberg Press, 2011.
 
“To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.”—Bernadette Devlin

2011. A kulturnaut, a squid, a Shakespeare, a dog, an artist abstract, a chrononaut, a washerwoman, Tom Ripley and his bones all pass through New Dystopia. Their sped-up speculations lead to new models of deterritorialized life. Visionary and hallucinatory models. Through them, Mark von Schlegell “displays” some of the facets of the invisible catastrophe breaking up our world, which artists in particular are responding to.

Put together in the wings of the “Dystopia” exhibition at the CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, acting as a resonance chamber, this illustrated novel raises the issue of possible futures in the form of a critical fiction, and involves the outposts of the novel to come. About New Dystopia, the city in which the novel’s protagonists live, the narrator states: “As an American … one only came to New Dystopia City to become an artist. That only there was it a way of life.” According to von Schlegell, we are living in that new metropolis. He states, “Dystopia is today.”
Dystopia has been called "utopia's wretched flipside," yet contemporary science-fiction author Mark von Schlegell has figured out how to see dystopia not as pure apocalypse, but as a tabula rasa - a context from which luck, hope and a possible utopian future can emerge. Von Schlegell's illustrated screenplay-as-science fiction novel is the jumping-off point for this exhibition catalog from the Musee d'Art Contemporain, Bordeaux. With many illustrations, reproductions and installation photos on the theme from several dozen important contemporary artists, including Wallace Berman, Isa Genzken, Franz West, Cosima von Bonin and the Pathetic Sympathy Seekers, among others
 




Petting the Singularity: An Interview with Mark von Schlegell      By Claire L. Evans

Mark von Schlegell is something of an oddity. Based in Cologne, Germany, this American author began his career more as a cultural critic than a science fiction scribe; he was a longtime mainstay of the contemporary arts scene in Los Angeles, and his diversion into speculative fiction—and a psychedelic, intellectual one at that—happened sort of sideways.
This is immediately obvious in his work, which is dogged and incredibly esoteric, a wry mix of stupid fantasy and devastating insight; although they're clearly influenced by the awe and slime of pulp paperback sci-fi novels, his are the kind of books that get published by MIT and the anarchist philosophy press Semiotext(e). His first novel, Venusia, throws the "dystopian future" paradigm out with the acid-bathwater, transcending spacetime and spacereason in a feverish gallop, telling the story of the totalitarian psycho-holographic regime of a future Venus. It's confusing, it collapses in on itself, it reaches across a broad length of fictive time, and it's narrated by a plant.
His second novel, Mercury Station, is due out in April 2009.
Claire L. Evans: Donna Haraway, in "A Cyborg Manifesto" [Simians, Cyborgs and Women], proposes that the novel is a nineteenth century form. Do you think the novel is still relevant? If not, what is the literary form of the future?
Mark von Schlegell: The novel is still relevant; it's the "Manifesto" that's old news. The novel was and is the great forge of enlightenment and it was invented, so I believe, not in the nineteenth but in the early seventeenth century, in Don Quixote, a book so long it's almost impossible for one mind to handle.
Yes, we're at a low point today. Not only in novel writing, but in all the arts except TV. This is no reason to run about and say a particular form is dead. There have been low culture points before. Late empire Rome in its full decadence, for instance, fascist Europe, Stalinist Russia. Guess what? The larger cultures sucked. When reason, peace, and economic and social justice are on the rise, so then is the good, published, available novel. There are signs of things getting better already.
Though there's a myth of a quickening, our lifespans are about to get incredibly long and perhaps multidimensional. The novel will have to expand if we hope to keep track and take control of what these lives might mean, into dimensions it hasn't even realized it's had. When space travel is the norm, long hours of flight will best be filled by long novels—longer, I think than we even imagine. Presumably, off Earth, one-third gravity will be the norm so we'll be able actually to hold enormous books rather easily. These extreme books of the future will be extreme-length narratives constituting alternate realities and economies of their own. You can already see this happening in popular literature.
CLE: Do you think a technological singularity is likely?
MvS: This idea of the technological singularity, so I believe, is the theoretical outcome of planned obsolescence in the computer industry. It's very impracticable. Moore's Law is no longer valid by most accounts, and the relation of capitalist technology to utopia is necessarily asymptotic. I don't see it happening.
Skippy as Asta
Male terriers played Asta in adaptations of The Thin Man, yet in Hammett's novel Asta is a female schnauzer.

My novelette High Wichita is narrated by a "pet singularity," ASTA. ASTA can do everything, ride a photon, write a book, make 3D holograph recordings, even love, especially love. It's very expensive, illegal (though impossible to be contained), and just at the most miraculous point, just where it saves the day, it's somehow insignificant, a sort of cute little dog. It's modeled on Asta, actually, from The Thin Man.
We don't need the singularity from our technology. We need privacy, good health, free clean energy, renewable resources, and a space elevator.
CLE: Are there writers working outside the realm of science fiction who you feel are on the same page as you?
MvS: For contemporary writing I like to read things where I'll learn tricks of the trade and taste current zeitgeist. You'll find me being inspired by fantasy stuff in the Marion Zimmer Bradley or George R.R. Martin direction, or by romance à la Diana Gabaldon or by more literary writers like Chris Kraus and Fanny and Susan Howe. The ficto-historian Norman M. Klein and I have been on pages together. After Larry David, perhaps my favorite living writer is the comic book writer Alan Moore. I also loved Pynchon's Against the Day, though maybe after all, it is science fiction. I have so much choice that I enjoy most things I read on the Internet. If the whole Internet was one giant webpage, written by Allperson, I would have to say Allperson is a pretty amazing writer from what I've seen.
CLE: Is Venus Los Angeles? Why is so much contemporary science fiction inherently about Los Angeles?
MvS: It remains a city able to inspire the sort of love-hate that helps writers make books. It's a field of paradox. Perhaps it's something like a muse. Venusia was mostly written there and is inseparable from the place in my imagination. But until such moment as the greenhouse effect finally runs away with the bag, L.A. is not Venus.
Starfleet Academy
Despite the backdrop of San Francisco, this scene of Starfleet Academy was filmed in Los Angeles at the Japanese Garden of the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.

"Los Angeles," like all city-worlds, is a function of certain particular common desires and fears. I would list apocalypse, freedom from history, glamor, trash, environmental masochism, futurism, sin, tacos, and incredible gardens. An artificial ecology, it's the well-known end of the line. Where the dream busts and shines anyway with insistent beauty. Of course there's a real beauty to Los Angeles, on those perfectly real fake days. Something bordering on the miraculous.
It's not only a site of riot and rip-off, but of inspiration and achievement in the arts. Because of the entertainment industry, it articulates the imaginations of different generations in interesting ways, cutting across class, race, gender, politics. For my generation of Americans it was the invariable background of every film, every show that babysat our minds in those formative years. The very stage of our dreams. Star Trek, for instance, a representative best possible future, was filmed [primarily] there and you can see it everyday, wherever you look. Still, I'd say a lot of SF is about other city-worlds as well: New York, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, Glasgow . . .
CLE: Does your work as a critic inform your work as a science fiction writer in any way, or vice-versa?
MvS: It helps science fiction to have a tinge of the journalistic about it. An argumentative spirit of common-sense debate and politics should be in SF if I'm going to like it. A critical voice can be welcome. Poe (the creator) first published SF, in fact, in newspapers as hoax journalism, and he was a savagely intense critic. I came of age as a writer just before the blog and when I came to L.A. there were a number of small-budget, good, lively local magazines that had real local and international effect, particularly in contemporary art. As a critic, I could offend people and do favors, tributes, write about almost anything I wanted to in the guise of anything else and be expected to argue about it in the bar at night with other writers. I even published my own newspaper. Having been that sort of critic taught me a lot about worlds. Nevertheless it didn't lead anywhere professionally. In fact, editors grew increasingly conservative, friends died, ideas were stolen, reused, disrespected, all sorts of depressing things occurred, and the magazines all folded. I discovered how rare an opportunity I had enjoyed only later.
These days I look at it like this. For me, the only way to get at the truth is to admit I'm lying from the beginning. So if you ask me for criticism, expect a story. Science fiction helps my criticism. I often mix it in directly now. I found it adds humor, imagination, makes what is often a terrible chore done for money suddenly fun to do. Of course, this means my criticism is pretty "out there," and appears in publications of the sort rarely available to U.S. readers. But wherever they're interested in cultural criticism by trees, collaborations by time-traveling Stalinist collectives battling time-traveling fascists, fake diaries of schizophrenic eighteenth-century botanists, I'm the go-to guy.
CLE: So what's the trajectory been like between Venusia and your new novel, Mercury Station? Are they related?
MvS: Mercury Station is the next novel in the "System Series." It occurs in the same alternate future history as Venusia. Earth has self-destructed and various human settlements in the Solar System must cope with the loss to survive. However, Mercury Station takes place on another settlement, roughly a century earlier than Venusia, and there's no reference to the Melton colony in the new book. It's a self-contained time-travel adventure, half science fiction and half medieval fantasy.
CLE: I'm curious about the "hard" medieval fantasy aspect of your new book. Is this something you've been interested in?
MvS: Hard fantasy is a growing term, defining fantasy books whose worlds work with a sustained appearance of conceptual logic and physical laws, even with respect to their magic. They often "go medieval" à la Tarantino. Hard medieval fantasy I suppose would involve similar adult rigor as HF [hard fantasy] but try to place the story in the actual medieval culture hard fantasy usually presents as an alternate reality or alien world. HMF [hard medieval fantasy] could also define actual middle-ages fantasy, the pure delicious tales of Marie de France, for instance. These kind of generic definitions serve a great purpose in the organizing of reading (for the fan, the critic, and the publicist) but I don't really think of these terms when trying to write science fiction. What I love about science fiction is that it alone can contain every genre, every book ever written. It's a set of all sets that contain themselves, or something like that.

Fiction’s step away from the real world occasions the step towards an always immanent reconciliation, forming by its articulation a new Space, a Space on the verge of becoming.
(Mark von Schlegell. Realometer: American Romance)

Experimentation and risk were increasingly frowned upon by the American literary establishment in the Bush years. Mark von Schlegell invented his peculiar brand of ficto-criticism and philosophical pulp fiction by publishing almost exclusively in the international art world, putting its global commitment to avant-garde experiment, futurist visions and amateur left-wing agitation to the service of radical speculative fiction. In the suite at Hotel Marienbad Mark von Schlegell will read from his two latest publications, the novel Mercury Station and the critical essay Realometer: American Romance. The reading is followed by a rare screening of the 30 minute “upside-down documentary“ My Dinner With Merlin, co-produced with artists and writers in Los Angeles 2005.

 

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