Tuesday, August 11, 2009

STRANGE TELESCOPES: Daniel Kalder's Anti-Tourism Crusade

Sam Jordison reviews Strange Telescopes in 3AM magazine: "Strange Telescopes is the second instalment in Daniel Kalder’s anti-tourism crusade. Anti-tourism, in case you haven’t been lucky enough to encounter it so far, is a philosophy of travel Kalder claims to have forged in the Shymkent Hotel, Shymkent, Kazakhstan, October 1999. In this auspicious place he also laid down a manifesto the first three points of which are:

1. “As the world has become smaller so its wonders have diminished. There is nothing amazing about the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, or the Pyramids of Egypt. They are as banal and familiar as the face of a Cornflakes Packet.
2. “Consequently the true unknown frontiers lie elsewhere.
3. “The duty of the traveller therefore is to open up new zones of experience. In our over explored world these must of necessity be wastelands, black holes, and grim urban blackspots: all the places which, ordinarily, people choose to avoid.”

The rest is just as interesting and provocative, the final point, especially so: “The anti-tourist loves truth, but he is also partial to lies. Especially his own.” It’s only natural that the man who came up with such a policy document writes good books. His first, Lost Cosmonaut, took him to some of the former USSR’s more obscure ’stans. Dark places on the map ruled by statue-hungry megalomaniacs and – surprisingly – Buddhists. The book was, to use the technical terminology, fucking awesome. The kind of book that makes anyone else (all right, me) with an eye on alternative travel writing and the beauty of ugliness, extremely jealous – but also keen to read more. As much as possible. So I’ve been looking forward to the follow up for a long time – and wasn’t disappointed. It also is fucking awesome. Kalder’s delight in encountering such strangeness is an easily shared pleasure. But he doesn’t just see madness, pointless endeavour and absurdity. He sees the suffering, struggling, yet always hopeful humans behind it. Yes, he laughs at the fools, but this is not a cruel book. He pities them too. The portraits he gives are affectionate and warm and often moving. These strange men and their strange longing for … more… wins Kalder’s sympathy and even admiration – and that of the reader in turn. As Kalder makes us see, these are important people. People who make the world more interesting. Just as this book does. "

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