Current

December 23, 2009

Reading:

Omnibus edition of Stephen Baxter‘s ‘Mammoth’ trilogy. The world as told from mammoths’ purview in the past, the present(!) and the future, when mammoths have been reengineered and are populating Mars. Enjoying very much, albeit I think I have learned as much as I need to about the many uses of mammoth dung now.

Recently read:

   

  

Baxter writes hard science fiction, has a degree background in it and it shows. There really is a new, mad idea on every page, though: sometimes the sheer weight of information makes you want to take a step back and shake your head for a mo’.

The ‘Destiny’s Children’ quartet is relatively uplifting, with Exultant and Resplendent being some of the best sci-fi I’ve ever read. Exultant in particular unequivocally sets out the joys of actually trying to fight a possible future space war, where relativity and distance often mean that battles and consequences thereof can actually happen… er, before they’ve happened. And effective commanders can actually use this to make sure that terrible defeats that have already occurred — don’t occur. It’s heady stuff.

Space is a new world appearing on damn near every page and exhausting / exhilerating to keep up with.

Moonseed is an initial nod to the John Wyndham-esque ‘end of the world’ scenario, although a cosy catastrophe (which Wyndham was often, erroneously I believe, accused of writing) it is most certainly not.

And Titan is the most monstrously nihilistic and depressing epitaph to our current concepts of intrasolar travel I’ve ever read. Which did not make it a bad thing, by the by, but some of the scenes actually set on Titan made me… well, after the carrot poisoning bit I did check my feet. Don’t let the words here put you off, though: you need to read this book, if only to see how space travel really shouldn’t be done.

Also:

Birthday present to myself. Huge coffee-table tome with over 500 cover artworks (and many other standalones) of Stephen King‘s publishing history. Including a great deal of Dark Tower material and some new and exclusive pieces. Relatively in-depth interviews with artists and input into King’s writing history, a little of which I hadn’t come across before. Marred only by a few spelling / text-setting errors, which I can forgive more because it’s a small press. Recommended if you can afford it (and you’re a foaming-at-the-mouth-like-Cujo fan of King, like me).

Else? Probably seventy or eighty books since I last updated this. If I get a chance, I’ll try to pick out some of the worthies soon.

Writing:

Picked up PM2 again after a lag of some months. Found my voice immediately, which was pleasing. The past three days, little bits here and there in between other things (like work) have added another 3201 words and 17 pages to the total… which currently stands at 222 pages, 43,865 words.

With no end in sight.

 

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)

Wince

January 2, 2009

No, not about the wedding. Wedding was fine, yep, don’t remember much about the actual ceremony but am crystal clear about all the rest of it. It’s good to be married, methinks. Ring still feels a bit weird on my finger (heavy) but no doubt it so did upon Sauron’s until he got used to it.

Haven’t been in much because of the oh for Christ’s sake I keep making excuses about this — I’m here when I’m here I think is the best way to determine how and when I update this bloody thing. Brain’s falling out of my skull through several of my age-related deossifying fossa now I’ve crumbled out of my thirties.

The ‘wince’ of the header was simply me going over in my head recently elements of books that made me — strong-stomached, reared-on-horror-and-lovin’it, can-take-anything-I-can me — wince. For no particular reason except I’d outlined a scene for something a while ago that made me cringe a little… and I wrote it. Came from a dream that shot me awake, sweating and shuddering despite the joys of air-conditioning in an Australian summer (and that definitely is a joy).

Anyway, for no good reason, Things Wot Made Me Wince In Books (The Not Exhaustive List O’Fun) :

  • Hooray for Matthew Stokoe’s Cows and his very fresh approach to ‘animal relations’ involving razored cookie cutters, pinioned cows in a slaughterhouse run and a whole heap of frustrated abattoir workers;
  • Peculiarly enough, while I can read American Psycho any day of the week and enjoy it, there’s a line in the far, far tamer Rules of Attraction that gets me every time: “I almost slit my dick open on her coil.”
  • Honourable mention for the surgeon-rapist nightmare things in Brian Lumley’s House Of Doors II: Maze of Worlds. Their utterly bizarre chanting and rather insalubrious dream-inspired antics got a double-take and a reread out of me.
  • And speaking of Lumley, his very detailed descriptions of an alien talent called evagination in Necroscope: The Touch were a barrel of fun too… and let’s not forget the poor bastard forced to run about with his foot turned around backwards.
  • Can’t forget Edward Lee with just about all of The Dritiphilist, which is so limited edition most will probably never see it, and quite frankly all, be thankful for that. I won’t explain the particular philia: that’s half the fun.
  • And whilst I’m in siction territory, Wrath James White’s Succulent Prey, complete with very detailed recipes for cooking and eating certain choice parts of the human anatomy, dug the knife in a couple of times.
  • There’s a scene in Tim Waggoner’s Skull Cathedral wherein a man with assholes for eyes gets caught short having dinner in an expensive restaurant… Yep, eurgh.
  • A couple of moments in J F Gonzalez’s Survivor are a little hard to take, especially the upshot of the bargain a captured woman makes in order to get out of being the star of a snuff film.
  • The sheer brutality of Jack Ketchum’s unexpurgated Off Season has to be read experienced to be believed, with the slow, hideous death and cannibalisation of one of the girls an astonishingly visceral (no pun intended) jolt: monstrously powerful writing that stays with you for ages.
  • A strange half-laughing / half-what-where-you-thinking? wince for the method with which the Tooth Fairy in Robert Devereaux’s Santa Steps Out actually creates and delivers the gold coins she exchanges for cute kiddie molars…
  • Literal cold shivers on my skin in Derek Raymond’s final ‘Factory’ novel, Dead Man Upright, when the unnamed Detective Sergeant of the series finds and watches the killer’s first video.
  • And perhaps another shudder or two for just about all of David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy-Four, where the discovery of a mutilated swan leads to another discovery of a dead child — with angel wings.
  • Another honourable mention goes rather despicably to me and something that lurks on my hard drive, never to be seen by another human’s eyes (probably) about a deranged woman who finds herself locked in a maternity ward…

 

I think I could go on and on with this. Surprisingly therapeutic fun. But since everyone’s throwing up in a corner by now, may be a good time to leave it. What about you, Friends Who Are Reading (or probably soon to be ex-reading now that they’ve read this blog entry) — anything in fiction freaked you out?

 

>:)

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