Hotchpotch

January 12, 2009

i.e read lately, as in the last month or so. Not exhaustive — I seem to be reading a lot lately, mainly due to the hideous 38ºC weather:

  • Terminal (Brian Keene): noir crossed with horror, about a compassionate bank robbery (main character discovers he has cancer and only a couple of months to live, decides to rob a bank to provide for his family) gone badly wrong. Enjoyable story, bleak ending but there’s a fine line between homage and plagiarism and for some of it… it bothers me how much of Garth Ennis‘ early Hellblazer run (and elements of Preacher) show through, in some cases almost word for word. Obviously Keene admires Ennis’ work: I’m just not sure it doesn’t fall a little close to the line in this case.

  • Kill Whitey (Brian Keene): again, noir crossed with horror, and much better this time. Working man infatuated from afar with a Russian strip-club dancer abruptly becomes murderously entangled in her world when she attempts to flee the club and its oppressive owner, Whitey. Who comes after them, and apparently can’t be killed. Fun, this, in a Terminatoresque way: particularly liked the reason why he’s so unkillable (and no, it’s not because there are any robot bits under his skin). Recommended.

  • Brides of the Impaler (Edward Lee): when Lee’s writing for the small press, unfettered, unrestrained and uncensored, he’s untouchable — one of the most imaginative and brutal writers around. When he writes mass-market (and nope, not blaming him for that, man’s got to make a living and hopefully it’ll give him enough financial stability to write more of his dark, dark work), he’s diluted down drastically, probably by editorial decree and blue pencil. Trouble is, it makes a lukewarm read compared to what he’s capable of. Impaler’s a case in point: it’s violent and twisted and sexual, sure, but sanitised: the ‘camera’ cuts away when the worst begins, and what remains is a disjointed and somewhat gutted story that doesn’t entirely hold together and isn’t gross or gruesome enough for the reader not to mind. The Bighead, unfortunately, it ain’t.

  • Queen of Blood (Bryan Smith): sequel to House of Blood, under the same imprint (Leisure Books) as Impaler above, but far more brutal and harsh, surprisingly. Perhaps poor old Edward Lee’s reputation for sick and depraved fare means he’s more heavily censored/edited, but Smith comes out far higher on the in-your-face scale, which pleases and perplexes me at the same time. Difficult to explain what this one’s about without giving the plot away, except it allegorises concentration camps and fetish domination whilst mixing in demons, magic and the potential to rewrite the world to one’s worst fantasies. Enjoyed greatly, yes… but wouldn’t have been my first choice for a sequel: that would’ve been Freakshow, which was utter genius.

  • LA Confidential (James Ellroy): 1950s police drama/thriller/blacker-than-black noir. Everyone’s bent, everyone beats up everyone else, the police are as bad as the villains and the world is hell. Convoluted, insanely detailed plot — a reread is probably in order to make sure all the dots joined up. The violence levels are extraordinary, not only the killings and beatings the police are investigating (and, in the latter’s case, often instigating), but in their own methodologies (interrogation via the garbage disposal was a new one on me). Loved it, but don’t start your Ellroy collection with this one: it’s the third in a self-styled ‘LA Quartet’ that starts with The Black Dahlia (based on the real-life murder), steamrollers through The Big Nowhere and ends with White Jazz. I recall the film version (Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger… Guy Pearce??) was also rather good, if not particularly close to the decayed morals and brutality of the book.

  • Vampire Zero (David Wellington): third in what I thought was a trilogy of vampire novels after 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins; not so sure after reading the last page.  [in fact not a trilogy: fourth novel in progress according to the author’s website] Wellington’s vampires are monstrous, nigh-on-invincible predators distinguished in particular by their jutting shark-like teeth, which they use very frequently and not at all in decorous twin-neck-punctuating fashion. The fact that he treats them as monsters rather than sad, castrated Goth wannabes makes me both smile and want to read more; the fact that he’s built an excellent police procedural around the hunts for these horrifyingly powerful beasts only adds to that. Find the series and get it immediately: he’s breaking mainstream after originally serialising all of his work on the web (some of which is still there and thus free to read), and deservedly so.

 

  • Bad Things (Michael Marshall): thriller, with one of the most effective first chapters I’ve ever read — gave me chills, but then Michael Marshall (Smith) is good at that. A father whose life was destroyed three years ago by a horrible but inexplicable event receives a cryptic e-mail basically saying ‘I know what happened’. Returning to his home town to investigate, he becomes involved in something monstrous… and perhaps otherworldly. It’s an intriguing twist on the noir/thriller trope, and it works very well indeed… and Marshall is head and shoulders above most of the mystery/thriller writers out there both in this regard and in general. I just wish that he’d write science fiction again: Only Forward, Spares, One of Us and some of the short stories from What You Make It are some of the best examples of that genre, and generally fiction writing, period.

 

  • The Tale of Beedle The Bard (J K Rowling): yes, I, along with much of the world, loved the Harry Potter series and when this came along I snapped it up. With a price-related wince I went for this fancy commemorative edition (ouch! £50!! What the hell were you thinking?!?) because it, er, had an embossed metal skull on the cover (yep, shallow = me). Curiously enough, they printed 100,000 copies of this limited edition, which didn’t seem very limited to me, and apparently within a month they were sold out, and my £50 book now sells in excess of US$185 used and US$240 new. Which I’m not entirely sure what to think about, but am happy I got a copy anyway because it’s beautiful: oversized wooden book-shaped box, velvet inlay, velvet bag, leather book with metal clasps studded with gems (probably coloured glass) and the aforementioned grinning embossed skull… oh yes, the stories inside are fun too, but by far the most fun element is Professor Dumbledore’s ‘comments’ after each one. I think they’re in the unlimited edition, so if you’re a fan you won’t miss out, but they’re completely hilarious: very rare I laugh out loud at a book. If you can find one of these limiteds, pay the price: it’s worth it.

(gasp) Enough for now. More later-ish. (Yes, there were indeed more)

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9 Responses to “Hotchpotch”

  1. Camilla Says:

    Crikey, you have been busy 0_0 I’m always amazed by how fast you read! (I seem to take weeks and weeks to finish a book these days, although admittedly these Bernard Cornwell books are going down pretty fast.)

  2. Arnout Says:

    I love the film version of L.A. Confidential. Definitly one movie that I can watch over and over again. (yes it’s Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey as well)

    I had been wondering if Michael Marshall was the same as mr. Smith. Reading ‘What You Make It’ at the moment and really enjoying his short stories.

  3. sarcade Says:

    Arni: yes, Michael Marshall (Smith) is the same person. He did the name-drop thing to distinguish his sci-fi from his thrillers. If you like his sci-fi stuff, ONLY FORWARD, SPARES and ONE OF US are immensely recommended: some of the best books I’ve ever read. His thrillers are also very good — THE STRAW MEN is quite disturbing.

    Ref LA CONFIDENTIAL: if you enjoyed the film I’d recommend the book. It can probably be read on its own without resorting to the sequence. Ellroy has a staccato, punchy writing style that drags you in very quickly: no wasted words at all (although in future books he does take this to excess a little).

    Camilla: when it’s this hot there’s not much else you CAN do but read. We’re in a lull at the moment with a couple of days around 26ºC, but it’s back up to 39ºC on Friday… 😦

  4. Camilla Says:

    Yikes. Erm…fill up the bath and lay in some iceblocks! Sorry about the heat – I hope you still have lots of books to carry you through it!

    BTW, do you ever re-read? I’ve been meaning to ask you that for a while. If so, what’s your experience of re-reading? Do you remember a lot from the first time or is it like reading the book anew?

  5. sarcade Says:

    Yes, occasionally. Usually I’ve got laid in enough of a pile to not need to, but I have a lot of favourites I go back to time and again.

    And no, it’s never like reading a book anew; mostly I find bits and pieces I might have missed or not made the right connections for the first time.

  6. Camilla Says:

    See, I’m so forgetful that re-reading (if I’ve left it long enough) is often like reading the book for the first time. I’m not sure whether this is an advantage or not. I often wish I could remember stuff better so I can contribute to conversations without sounding like an arse.

    Which books do you like to re-read?

  7. sarcade Says:

    Off the top of my head… (deep breath):

    SKIN and THE CIPHER by Kathe Koja;
    DARK TOWER VII by Stephen King (and a lot of other Stephen King, particularly THE LONG WALK, LISEY’S STORY and THE TOMMYKNOCKERS);
    ALTERED CARBON sequence and MARKET FORCES by Richard K Morgan;
    BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts;
    The entire ‘Parker’ series by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake, RIP);
    ONLY FORWARD, SPARES and ONE OF US by Michael Marshall Smith;
    PRADOR MOON, THE SKINNER, POLITY AGENT and LINE WAR by Neal Asher;
    CENTURY RAIN (over and over!) by Alastair Reynolds;
    TRANSMETROPOLITAN, NEXTWAVE, STRANGE KISS etc, DARK BLUE… almost anything by Warren Ellis;
    SANDMAN, of course;
    PREACHER, PUNISHER MAX by Garth Ennis;
    The Harry Potter series, although increasingly only the last four books;
    TERATOLOGIST, SEX DRUGS & POWER TOOLS, GAST, MR & MRS TORSO, PARTNERS IN CHYME, PORTRAIT OF THE PSYCHOPATH AS A YOUNG WOMAN… just about anything by Edward Lee really;
    I reread Bret Easton Ellis once every couple of years, especially your nemesis book, AMERICAN PSYCHO, which I kind of feel is a classic of modern literature;
    STRAIGHT TO YOU, TRUST, HATER, the AUTUMN series by David Moody;
    BLAME! manga by Tsutomu Nihei (love this to death);
    BATTLE ROYALE manga and book by Koushun Takami;
    LONE WOLF & CUB manga by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (I can practically recite this now)…

    …yep, a lot of rereading there. All I can think of off the top of my head. 🙂


  8. Incredibly great article! Honestly.


  9. Hehe am I literally the only comment to this awesome read!?


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