Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

February 14, 2018

Book Notes - Tim Wirkus "The Infinite Future"

The Infinite Future

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Tim Wirkus's novel The Infinite Future is brilliant and inventive, one of the year's best books.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Stupendously inventive and rewarding…The second half of Wirkus' tale is…a sci-fi epic which echoes Battlestar Galactica and the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin in equal measure…Especially well suited for fans of Jonathan Lethem and Ron Currie, this work announces Wirkus as one of the most exciting novelists of his generation."

In his own words, here is Tim Wirkus's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Infinite Future:

"There She Goes (Live at the BBC)" by the La's

As his life spirals out of control, one of The Infinite Future's narrators becomes briefly obsessed with this song:

"Every failure deserves a soundtrack and on that sorry day at the Biblioteca Anita Garibaldi, mine was "There She Goes," by the La's. I know you've heard this song before. The album version is a rom-com staple, a jangly, Steve-Lillywhite-produced pop confection. But the band also recorded a live version for BBC Radio that's not as warm or polished. The vocals are rougher, the guitars more jagged, the production more spare, and it totally skews the feel of the song. The album version has a sweet, wistful vibe to it, but the BBC version, even though it's not that different, sounds like the aural instantiation of pure anxiety, especially once the song hits the 1:40 mark and the backup vocals come in, pleading and echo-y."

There's also, I think, something obsessive about this version of the song, and obsession runs throughout The Infinite Future.

"(Nothing but) Flowers" by Caetano Veloso

This Talking Heads song is my favorite dystopian narrative of all time, in which a horrified speaker is trapped in a verdant, pastoral nightmare-scape devoid of Seven-Elevens, billboards, highways, and candy bars. You should just listen to Caetano Veloso's terrific cover of the song, but to boil it down into an aphoristic, less interesting version of itself, "(Nothing but) Flowers" is about how one person's idea of paradise can become another person's hell.

That's not a groundbreaking sentiment by any means, but it came in handy as I was working on my novel. One intimidating thing about writing a narrative that takes place in the future (as the second half of The Infinite Future does) is deciding how things might be going a few hundred years from now. Dystopia? Utopia? A more complex mix of the terrible and the okay? Along the way, I realized that you can't answer that question without thinking about how things are going in relation to specific people. For the narrator of the novel's second half, then (a nun trapped on a space station about to be destroyed by an elite army unit with orders to kill), things are not going great.

"Survival Car" by Fountains of Wayne

Power pop is happy music for sad people, and no album embodies this principle better than Fountains of Wayne's infectious and melancholy debut. Fountains of Wayne shows up on a top five list created by one of my novel's narrators who's in the midst of an increasingly dire financial crisis. "Survival Car," one of my favorites from the record, is an ooh-la-la-la-backing-vocal-interlaced track about trying to give a sad person a ride (I think?).

"Starman" by David Bowie

Has any major songwriter composed more songs about space stuff than David Bowie? I doubt it. In conceiving the futuristic portions of my novel, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars served as a useful inspiration point of twentieth-century sci-fi panache and going-for-it-ness. "Starman" especially fits that bill, with the godlike title character dispensing such gems to his mortal worshippers as, "Let all the children boogie."

"Lady Stardust" by Seu Jorge

I'm also a huge fan of Seu Jorge's album of Bowie covers, although covers is not quite the right description, since Seu Jorge also wrote Portuguese lyrics for all of the songs on the album. I almost wrote, Translated all the songs into Portuguese, but that also is not quite right, as his lyrics have little to do with Bowie's. That kind of artistic transmutation features heavily in The Infinite Future, as a sad-sack young writer reads and translates the works of a mysterious Brazilian sci-fi author.

Anyway, Seu Jorge's take on "Lady Stardust" is as spooky as it is re-listenable.

"Holocaust" by Big Star

Power pop may be happy music for sad people, but in this instance, it's just very sad music for very sad people. The song is still weirdly catchy, though, which makes for a pretty dangerous combination: a huge downer of a song that you can't get out of your head. Fittingly, my power-pop-loving narrator listens to "Holocaust" at an especially low point in the novel.

"Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden

When I was living in São Paulo in the early 2000s, everyone in the city owned an Iron Maiden t-shirt except for me. (That's something I should have remedied by this point in my life, but somehow I haven't). One of the Brazilian characters in my novel is a serious music enthusiast, and so of course, Iron Maiden had to come into the picture. They only get a brief shout-out in the novel, but there's something about them that resonates with the concerns of The Infinite Future.

I think a big part of it is that no one could ever accuse Iron Maiden of not committing to a song. "Number of the Beast," for instance, is so over the top (the spoken word intro! the gleeful Satanism! the general bombast!) and so much fun. Tonally, I initially wanted to go for something similar with the novel-within-a-novel in The Infinite Future, but ultimately ended up taking a more restrained route. In the first half of the book, though, the characters discover a book proposal for the fictional Infinite Future written in a maximalist style that I hope could be labelled Iron Maiden-esque.

"Três Letrinhas" by Marisa Monte

A lovely song about longing, a mood that runs throughout The Infinite Future. If you've never listened to Marisa Monte before, check out Universo Au Meu Redor, the album that features this song. It's a great contemporary take on midcentury Brazilian bossa nova, a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.

"Messing with My Head" by Tinted Windows

Another great power pop number, this one about an obsessive and unhealthy relationship. "Messing with My Head" crops up at a cheerier moment in The Infinite Future. (Also, when are these guys going to make another album? Was this thing just a one-off? If Bun E. Carlos, Taylor Hanson, James Iha, or Adam Schlesinger are reading right now, consider this your Bat-Signal. We need you!)

"Diz Que Fui Por Aí" by Nara Leão

Nara Leão, Brazilian music pioneer, makes a cameo in The Infinite Future, mentoring one of the characters in the art of bossa nova guitar. "Diz Que Fui Por Aí" showcases the qualities that made Leão such an unstoppable force. The jaunty guitar perfectly counterbalances the world-weary vocals, creating that quintessential bossa nova mood of danceable melancholy.

"Metamoforse Ambulante" by Raul Seixas

There was a huge Raul Seixas mural across from my first apartment in São Paulo. At the time, I'd never heard of the guy, so I asked my neighbors—a kind pair of aging hippies who sold homemade cleaning products from their house—who he was. They played me this song, an anthem beloved by Brazilian counterculture-ites of a certain generation.

It is a pretty great song, from its psychedelic opener, to Seixas's strategically deployed falsetto. And the cover of the album on which the song features (Krig-ha, Bandolo!) embodies a type of late-sixties, early-seventies pseudo-mysticism that heavily guided The Infinite Future's novel-within-a-novel.

Tim Wirkus and The Infinite Future links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Locus review
Publishers Weekly review

Dawning of a Brighter Day interview with the author
OTHERPPL interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists