Iron Angel

May 28, 2008

Iron Angel, by Alan Campbell (UK cover)

 

Iron Angel, by Alan Campbell.

 

Well. Scar Night was good: very good, in fact, and not just ‘good-for-a-first-novel’ good, but a genuinely interesting and oftentimes quite bloodthirsty fantasy in an exceptionally well-realised new world. Then came the limited edition Lye Street novella, which I’ve reviewed earlier so have no need to go through again. And finally we have this, the official second book in the Deepgate Codex.

And ’tis wonderful. From the Time Bandits-esque spectacle of a man dragging a city-sized, rotting Flying Dutchman manned by gods and the dead across continents*, the rope around his waist cleaving through buildings and armies alike as he walks, to the surreal and monstrous depiction of Hell and its honeycombed, decaying hives of the subconscious being torn asunder by the visually astonishing Worm… and these are just elements of a whole that smacks you over the head almost every page with something new, often grotesque and always marvellous. (I can’t get the scene with the archon being pursued through Hell by a Door [of all things!] out of my head: you have to read it to experience it — just sheer bloody storytelling) The death throes (or are they?) of the eponymous Deepgate city, hanging over the abyss into Hell, are also brilliantly written and genuinely horrific in places.

I can’t say it’s entirely perfect, much as I want to: as other reviewers have mentioned, the scarred, homicidal and insane angel Carnival isn’t in it nearly enough and when she is she’s pretty much worse than useless. And it ends on the most teeth-gnashing I-want-part-III-sodding-now cliffhanger you can think of. Hopefully Campbell’s already writing it, because I for one can’t wait.

I can’t honestly comprehend why anyone remotely interested in fantasy isn’t reading, and loving, Campbell’s work here. And if, for some reason, you couldn’t get into Scar Night, definitely please try this. It’s… well, I’ve run out of superlatives. Just get it.

Recommended to Hell and back. >:D

 

 

(oh, and here’s the US cover, which is quite flash, actually… 🙂 )

 

Iron Angel, by Alan Campbell (US cover)

 

 

 

* Methinks I remember some similar kind of mad spectacle in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen too, which I am very pleased to see exists on DVD and will therefore shortly be acquired. Must’ve seen it twenty years ago but there was a Grim Reaper figure in it that was one of the best and most nightmarish renditions I’d ever seen…

Er, right. End of digression :O )

Bleeeeeeeak

May 13, 2008

Well, various bleak things anyway. Don’t know why I put myself through them, really.

 

I’m in a phase (that I’ll very shortly be out of it, ref the whole bleak thing) of reading Japanese fiction, and the only real reason I can think of is that I’m trying to find a kind of idealised Japanese cyberpunk thing I can immerse myself into. For my mind, this ideal is a Blade Runner environment salted with the early, capsule-hotel/mad-tech/Chiba City-inspired elements of Neuromancer and seasoned with Cayce’s fleeting, surreal visit to Japan in Pattern Recognition. Trouble is, I can’t find anything like this anywhere. And why are so many Japanese to English translations so bloody flat?

Digressing. Out and Grotseque, by Natsuo Kirino.

 

Out was interesting. It’s the story of a quartet of Japanese women who work the soul-deadening nightshift at a lunchbox factory, preparing prepackaged lunches for the hungry Tokyo masses… probably a uniquely Japanese concept since we don’t have anything like that here. They have insipid, squalid, nihilistically boring lives and one of them snaps, killing her husband after she finds out he’s gambled away their life savings. Without anywhere else to go, she asks her friends at the factory to help, for money and favours, and they do, dismembering the body and getting rid of it. But one of them, who is pressed into body-part-disposal service very much against her will, doesn’t hide the head very well and things begin to fall apart. Cue an utterly psychotic Japanese mobster who indirectly loses his business concerns because of the murder, a police investigation and, bizarrely, a woman who develops a taste for what she’s done and finds that there’s money in the body disposal business…

It’s noir, it’s dark, it’s grim, it’s miserable and it’s full of sad, brittle, broken characters whose ennui and hopelessness keep them endlessly tottering on the brink. And some most of them fall. Depressing, true, but the twists keep coming and some of them are truly out of left field. Thus: cautiously recommended.

 

Grotesque, on the other hand, is not. “Cool, angry and stylish,” it says on the tin. Uh-uh. Ostensibly the story of two women who descend into prostitution on the mean streets of Japan and eventually get murdered, it takes forever to get going — endless boring crap about school lives and dysfunctional families and >>yawwwwnnn<< — and then meanders to a creeping, boring halt. Yes, the lives of prostitutes are horrible; yes, the world is a bad place; yes, bad things happen to innocent people.

But it could have been interesting, and it’s not. It’s cluttered with the trivia and minutiae of the lives of schoolgirls and boring nerds and sad, sad people and it doesn’t work. I found myself skipping great chunks of it just to find something actually happening, rather than people just talking about existential grief and the crapness of their lives and how little fun it is to sell yourself for ¥500 or whatever. Frankly, a complete waste of the three hours of my life I took to skim-read this drivel. Sigh.

 

Autofiction and Snakes And Earrings, by Hitomi Kanehara

 

Autofiction: more bleakness. Yea, verily? Indeed, although a much shorter book and interlaced with a nicely psychotic turn from the protagonist, who basically goes insane with jealousy whenever one of her paramours disappears out of her sight. The story runs backwards, beginning on a plane when she is returning from a second honeymoon and her husband disappears into the toilet (she thinks he’s shagging the stewardess and her mental state spirals downwards from there) back through three instances of her history as the reasons for her chaotic mindstate are quite eloquently revealed. There isn’t a great deal of closure but it was at least interesting, with the authorial voice quite compelling throughout. Again: cautiously recommended. -ish.

Snakes And Earrings is much better, possibly because it touches upon my idealised cyberpunk Japan as wistfully noted early in this entry. It’s a short piece, a little over a hundred pages, and the author’s first novel: according to the inner jacket blurb she left school at age eleven, started writing at fifteen and fired off her stories to her father who translated for them for publication. If that’s true, it works: it reads very autobiographical and very much the seedy, countercultural side of Japan, with a nod towards the Harajuku Girls and a sordid wink at Cronenbergish body modification horrors, albeit realistic ones (yay, split tongues!). It’s about body piercing, physical mods and the strange, twisted lives of those who live in this culture — and how they end. There isn’t a lot of hope in it, but in this case that works well: a short, punch piece like this is defined by environment and characterisation and they shine through like the edge of a razor blade. Definitely a good read, this one.

 

Finally, still in Bleak Genre but well out of Japan, we have a film: Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the Stephen King novella The Mist:

 

The Mist

 

 

Darabont did two of the best Steve King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Here’s his opportunity to cut loose a little and just make a balls-out horror film, and he did it in style. The Mist is about what happens to a little Maine community when a mysterious fog envelops the town, trapping most of the residents in the supermarket, who then find out that bloodthirsty monsters lurk in the bleary white world without. As per usual when people are put in a confined space and forced to try to get along to survive, it invariably turns into disaster.

The special effects are marvellous (although people really aren’t just thin balloon-skins of meat with hundreds of gallons of high-pressure blood waiting to spurt beneath it… however since I’m quite happy to see blood and guts in a movie I’m prepared to overlook this, and indeed even encourage it), the acting is more than acceptable (occasionally a little over the top or wooden, but that’s often a problem with Stephen King writing as source material: his dialogue doesn’t always translate well into what someone would really say), and the inexorable rising of the horror and despair is deftly handled.

And then there’s the ending, which… let’s just say that in the novella, King left things rather open. This doesn’t. It’s one of the most brutal, bleakest things I’ve seen in a long, long time. Brrr. And well done.

Enthusiastically recommended — but you won’t walk away with a smile on your face. You may, however, not want to drive into fog again. Ever. :O

 

 

 

 

White Ninja

May 7, 2008

I Am White Ninja Pickle etc

 

I Am White Ninja And You Are My Pickle Sidekick, by Scott Bevan and Kent Earle.

 

Unutterably stupid and weirdly popular comic series now collected into the above handy chunky book form. Appeals very much to my no doubt equally unutterably stupid sense of humour. For example:

White Ninja Pie

Support some struggling artists — and by the artwork sample you can see why they’re struggling, oh yes — by buying what’s actually a very funny product. You won’t be sorry: well, you might be, but it would be too late then. 😛

After The War

May 7, 2008

After The War, by Tim Lebbon

 

After The War, by Tim Lebbon

 

Two novellas set in Lebbon’s fantasy world of Noreela, the subject of the excellent duology Dusk and Dawn, and forthcoming novels Fallen and The Island.

Lebbon writes gritty, often bloodsoaked fantasy: it’s mud, blood and the hell of battle rather than cute elves and dwarves. His well-realised world of Noreela contains such grim highlights as organic battle machines, unkillable Red Monks and underground drug demons, amongst many others. Magic is a commodity that is very often unreliable and generally has to be paid for in lives — usually many lives.

‘Vale of Blood Roses’, the first of the two tales within, tells of the repercussions of a group of mercenaries finding an apparently hidden valley where magic is still working and the machines still live. The mercenaries, as is their wont, already driven half-mad by endless war, begin slaughtering indiscriminately until what resides within the valley rises against them in a truly grotesque way. There is a reason this valley was hidden from the rest of the world, after all…

The second tale, ‘The Bajuman’, is the story of the titular character, a societal pariah who lives by finding things that most people don’t want found, and his search for a missing fodder: a human creature once bred for food although the practice is now frowned upon. The search, set in the aftermath of the Great Plagues, takes him through the worst of Noreela City and, ultimately, beneath it into the catacombs from which no-one has ever returned before. With good reason…

Grim and often hideous, provocative and inventive, these are certainly not stories for those who like their fantasy cosy, or are overly enamoured of happy endings. Or with, y’know, fairies and things. But for those wanting a little raw meat on their fantasy bones, preferably still buttered with blood, you can’t go wrong with Lebbon’s ‘Noreela’ series, and these two shorts are perfect introductions.

One word of warning: this is a Subterranean Press limited edition, with no plans as far as I know for a mass market release. Copies are up on the various Amazon sites, but I’d imagine once they’re gone, they’re gone, and aftermarket editions will undoubtedly appreciate very quickly in value. My advice? Get it while it’s hot. 🙂