Ankle Of Doom!

March 5, 2010

Well, normally this infrequently-updated blog is about books, but today I wanted to show the entire world (i.e. less than one person who reads this) exactly what happens when you attempt to enact the ultimate cliché — in other words, stick your foot down a rabbit hole and destroy all the ligaments.

Three weeks of sick leave ensued. And, whilst ordinarily three weeks off work would be a Time Of Joy And Rejoicing, three weeks sitting down with your foot elevated, unable to sleep because the slightest move twinged a mangled sinew and being completely confined to a chair is not actually huge amounts of fun.

Sigh.

Currently, it’s still somewhat fat and swollen but the bruising has dissipated, except on the other side of the ankle where it pierced all the way through the joint. Walking is randomly difficult: there’s a particular foot angle that hurts considerably but I don’t know what it is and thus can’t avoid doing it.

Double sigh.

On the plus side, got a lot of reading done and will hopefully motivate soon to get some of it up here on the blog. 🙂

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The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod.

Intriguing police procedural, set a few dozen years in the future and predominantly in Scotland. The Earth’s groaning in the wake of some fairly nasty climate change problems, resulting in a pair of massive space elevators being constructed to facilitate vast, floating solar barriers in an effort to mitigate UV radiation. Robots are becoming relatively commonplace and some of them are developing artificial intelligence, which is something of a problem for the general community as they don’t quite know how to deal with it — or integrate them properly into society. Add to this the fallout from the Faith / Oil War, which has effectively banned religions of all kinds, and we have a very interesting world postulated.

Into this mix we have the bombing murder of a man who turns out to be a Catholic priest, a title which has no official standing in this new world and has cause for potential future political ramifications, especially since religious terrorism has effectively been wiped out by the ‘winning’ of the Faith War. Casualties with ‘underground’ religious affiliations begin to mount as the protagonists, a Scottish police inspector and his robot aide-de-camp (once-combat mech) Skulk, desperately try to work out what is going on — and whether extremist religion is making a monstrous comeback as a very significant anniversary approaches…

Enjoyed very much. Particularly liked the fairly harsh, albeit balanced, treatment of religion — it effortlessly segued into an e-mail meme that’s circulating at the moment that’s very resonant and powerful: a picture of the World Trade Centre twin towers with John Lennon’s words: Imagine no religion beneath it. The story isn’t horribly politically correct (it can’t be with that type of subject matter) and doesn’t mince words as it beats down on the religious, the authorities and the fundamentalists alike.

The interaction of robots and people was also compellingly drawn, especially the sensitive and awkward issue of incipient artificial intelligence spreading like a slow virus through otherwise non-sentient machine workers… and the hideous potential for fundamentalist religious extremism to infect even the inhuman.

It becomes a bit chaotic towards the end (and not a little nihilistic either), but in the main MacLeod keeps all of the many balls he’s juggling in the air and the effect is, for the most part, mesmerizing. Definitely recommended.

 

 

 

…unfortunately, unlike the following three:

The Caryatids, by Bruce Sterling.

 

Well, I liked the cover…

This is a mad, sprawling, incoherent future-tech-dying-planet-eco-disaster, er, splat of a novel. One of those books where the ideas outpaced the story — in fact, the story seemed almost nonexistent, or at most very flimsy indeed. Four clone women in different situations, bred to be avatars of now obsolete technology, trying very hard to… nope. Didn’t get it. Doesn’t mean others won’t, but for me The Caryatids fell very, very flat: it was like a future-tech wiki and a Greenpeace screed met in a bar, fell in lust over a few cigarettes and then went home and tried to shag out a story before realising they were sexually incompatible. I applaud the intent, loved some of the ideas, but the whole didn’t work at all…

 

 

…rather like Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente — and I’ll be brief with this one. Style over content, and of the latter there was none. People dream their way into a fantastical world, the trigger to enter (no pun intended) is sex with someone who bears a tattooed map of this oneiric wonderland. And then… nothing happens except a few weird sights, incomprehensible rituals and/or conversations, and a desperate neeed/want, like drug withdrawal, to stay there forever.

Not I. Unfortunately I wanted to leave from the moment I first got there, and am still somewhat surprised I persevered through to the end. If dreamy, poetic but ultimately meaningless prose and ridiculous, improbable characters desperately seeking escape into a world that makes no sense and is drawn about as clearly as a charcoal sketch on a blackboard is your thing, then go for Palimpsest and good luck. I like a little story with my opium musings, thanks….

 

 

 

…and that brings us to the titular ‘urgh’, which I will keep short and sweet:

Brian Keene’s Castaways.

  • Apparently a homage: Jack Ketchum’s Off Season and elements of Richard Laymon’s original ‘Beast House’ trilogy;
  • Apparently a homage: the television game-show Survivor;
  • Has cannibal Neanderthal monkey monster rapists in it;
  • And the most cardboard-cutout characterisation and phoned-in plot, complete with astonishingly out-of-place and romance-novel happy ending I’ve ever had the misfortune to read…

Sorry. Awful. I used to like Brian’s work a lot, but some of his recent work… well, I love horror, but for some reason I don’t seem to be his audience anymore, because his last couple have been indifferent to me, and this one was dire. From someone who absolutely loathes reality shows like Survivor, being unable to give a positive report on something that was essentially panning the TV genre is sad indeed.

 

 

‘Kay then. Next time it will be all good, rather than some good and some urgh, promise. 🙂

Not dead! Really! Just really, really busy. Actual content will appear again soon. Have read many books. Very good ones, too, like the Temeraire series, Dan Simmon’s Drood and Stephen Hunt’s ‘Jackals’ ongoing (Court of the Air, The Kingdom Beneath The Waves and the not-read-yet The Rise of the Iron Moon). And lots more. Yes.

Just busy. I feel guilty now.

To assuage this guilt-ridden feeling, I destroy your brain present you with pictures from the world’s greatest film, which is all about the attack of a giant space mutant chicken:

 

Feebly waving hello…

June 23, 2008

Tired. Apologies to my zero readers, and mainly to myself: been away, stuck in the middle of nowhere for a few weeks for work purposes, and my enthusiasm is low. It’s an effort to write anything at all at the moment.

Having said that, yes, I’ve been reading, and these are a few of the choice — and not so choice — cuts of late:

Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary, by Lydia Lunch — recommendation: avoid. Non-stop dismal sex, drugs and the fringes of rock’n’roll. Autobiographical, I believe: I’m surprised she didn’t kill herself. Reminds me of Ken Russell’s Whore.

Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72, by Hunter S. Thompson — I wanted to see the inspiration behind Transmetropolitan and its Thompsonesque protagonist, Spider Jerusalem. After I’d finished this I felt a bit sad, to be honest. I like Transmet, but there’s so much of Fear And Loathing… in it that it goes well beyond what I’d consider homage towards a rewriting. This book is good — it made me interested in American politics, which is well-nigh bloody unbelievable — and exceptionally written (except for the last 50 pages or so, when Thompson was so drugged out he had to dictate everything and the climax came across as a series of less interesting interviews rather than his lyrically malevolent prose) but it threw Transmet up in a bad light. An overly derivative light, I’m afraid. In that regard, I wish I hadn’t read it; I could’ve kept the magic of the comic series alive a little longer.

 

 

The Ushers, by Edward Lee — short, brutal horror stories. Nihilistic, unrelenting and about as far from the mainstream as you can get. Breath of fresh air, frankly, even thought said fresh air in Lee’s world is sprinkled with bodily fluids, unnatural sex acts galore, horrific torture and endless monstrosities. Cost a packet: it’s a specialty thing, well well well out of print, but worth it. I’m constantly re-impressed with Lee: yes, he’s probably one of the hardest of the hardcore horror writers and the majority of his work would never get published in the mainstream, but his stories are genuinely clever and information-filled as well. From detailed Civil War history through the detailed workings of police forensic and detective departments to (accurate) musings on philosophy a la Kierkegaard and Nietzsche… it’s all there amongst the blood, guts, strange new orifices and psychopathic rednecks.

What else?

Gardens Of The Moon, by Steven Erikson — first book of a projected 10-part epic fantasy series. I wanted a new long-form series to devour, and some completely dead time working in Goomalling (population 600, four streets and seeing a tumbleweed was one day’s highlight) allowed me to finally give this a shot. Was slightly discomfited when the first thing I read in my edition was an introduction from the author saying that roughly half the people who read this book gave up halfway through; the others perservered and are now lifelong series devotees. Unfortunately, although I finished it, I fell into the first bracket and have no particular urge to continue. It wasn’t because it was too dense, or there were too many characters, or the world didn’t open up quickly enough, which seem to be the major bones of contention for most reviewers. For me, characterisation was flat and I was bored by the thus-far less-than-epic story. If I’m ever in Goomalling again (and haven’t offed myself from boredom) then maybe I’d look at the next book, Deadhouse Gates, but otherwise — life’s too short.

Sex, Drugs And Power Tools, by Edward Lee again — paid a stupid amount of money for this simply because it has the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth short story ‘Header’ in it. The titular concept is a particularly tasty aberration practised by those good ole boys from the deep hills that Lee is so fond of; I won’t spoil exactly what it is. And the money was well spent on this one. >:)  (Apparently they’ve made a movie about it, but can’t find distribution because of the, er, subject material. Not surprised, personally!)

Dogwitch Volume III: Mood Swings, by Dan Schaffer — FINALLY I get to find out whether Violet Grimm ever gets out of the Banewoods, who or what the serial killer Elastic Head is, see the clockwork sex-doll cheerleaders in action and… you don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? Go buy all three volumes of Dogwitch and find out. Dark and unquestionably brilliant graphic novel storytelling.

 

‘Nuff now. Let’s see if I can get back into it on a more regular basis, hmm?

 

[Oh yeah, and sorry for the quality/layout of some of the images. WordPress appears to have made an unneeded ‘improvement’ to the image posting system which renders them in a shiteous fashion, sigh]

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Crrrrrrrrrrap

April 3, 2008

Apologies for the long delays in updating, my nonexistent audience. The embuggerance of work has kept me away from a computer.

That said, this is a Bad Review Post because sometimes things are just bad. In the tradition, however, of trying to be generally nice I will try and keep it short:

Winkie, by Clifford Chase 

Winkie, by Clifford Chase.

The story of a plush bear who, for reasons never adequately explained, is alive and then rather implausibly gets arrested for terrorism under the Homeland Security Act and charged with thousands upon thousands of offences. Winkie is given the world’s worst lawyer, won’t speak up to defend himself, has the most biased judge imaginable and… oh right it’s satire. Gosh, guess I missed the satire brick falling on my head. Some Americans aren’t happy with the way their government deals with terrorism? Homeland Security pisses them off? Well sure, but this doesn’t work. Not as a framework, not as an allegory, not as anything really.

Strange bothersome thing about Winkie: the author seems to have a fascination with bowel movements. One of Winkie’s goals in life is, when he strikes out for his own, to learn to crap. This segues rather weirdly and uncomfortably into him apparently crapping out a baby bear a little later on via some kind of faecal plush immaculate conception. Er… right. There’s also a rather exorbitant number of pages and little vignettes dealing with Winkie’s owner having difficulty toilet training himself. I mean, I can see the connection, the irony and the relevance but eww. Guess analytical crap isn’t my thing.

It’s a strange, sad book and the satire was both very obvious and frustratingly irrelevant, at least in parts. Too much emphasis on faecal matters for my liking. There were some strengths, but it’s a first novel and shows a bit, unfortunately. Although very occasionally, when he wasn’t being endlessly miserable or crapping, Winkie was quite cute and likeable. A shame the surrounding cast and story weren’t. 😦

And now a movie review, also brought to you by Crrrrrrrrrrrrap:

Beowulf (2007) 

Beawful Beowulf (2007) — screenplay by Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary, directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Hmmm.

Everyone says that Beowulf should be seen in 3D: it was designed that way, they say; without it you won’t get the full experience and it will look crappy, they say. Well, being stuck in the desert in the monsoon season and seeing it on a caravan park television movie channel, I unfortunately did not get to see it in 3D. Funny that I forgot to pack my trusty 3D glasses when I was sent to the middle of nowhere. So I will throw in a caveat here: perhaps Beowulf is indeed an utter masterpiece in 3D.

Because it sure wasn’t in 2D. If this is the future of computer-generated animation (CGI, for the 0% of the population who don’t know), we’re buggered. The occasionally well-rendered scene were buried beneath marionette people with stiff and unmoving faces, hair that stayed absolutely still except for the last quarter-inch which moved a little like a curtain’s edge, Angelina Jolie’s breasts digitally enhanced to the size of watermelons and pointing upwards so high they were close to poking her eyes out, and the most APPALLINGLY CRAP DRAGON ANIMATION EVER. It had a head like a gold potato and it flew like a bloody rod puppet and did I mention that it had a head like a GREAT BIG GOLD POTATO AARGH MY EYES MAKE IT GO AWAY

Oh God the Giant Space Chicken Monster in this 1950s movie was more convincing than Beowulf’s dragon. (Scroll halfway down that page to see the Giant Space Chicken Monster: it’s worth it)

It astonishes me that technology has come so far, and yet we can’t do the kind of seamless animation with a computer that we got with models, full-scale and miniatures and stop-motion in movies such as Dragonslayer. Which had a very impressive dragon indeed.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the dialogue or the story either: conversations between the players invariably came out stilted or lame, and the plot was sketchy and a little messy, with at least one very significant deviation from the original tale that kind of, in my opinion, rendered the original tale pretty much useless. For spoilery’s sake I will only say I’m talking about Grendel’s mother here and leave it at that. Sorry Neil and Roger: you’re both very talented people but this didn’t work for me.

Something that perplexed me even though I’m sure they had a reason was why Ray Winstone as Beowulf was digitally rendered to look exactly like Sean Bean. To the point where Bean must’ve approved his likeness or considered suing. Winstone apparently no longer has action-figure looks (according to the commentary on the DVD, I note, from his own lips) and so, fairly enough, didn’t necessarily want his character modelled on him, but why not create something new? And if you are using Sean Bean, why not have him voice himself…? And then there was the frankly surreal Matrix-y acrobatics fight between Grendel and Beowulf and AARGH THAT DRAGON IS BACK IN MY MIND GO AWAAAAY

I must say that I was under the impression it was supposed to be very violent and bloody and pretty much entirely for adults, but the version I saw looked very tame and there was surprisingly little blood. Also, when Beowulf was fighting naked (was that a spoiler? ah sod it) it was laughably bizarre to see objects just ‘happening’ to continue to cover his ‘manhood’ all the time (eg: someone holding a carefully positioned helmet or sword, Grendel’s arm in the way, etc etc ad infinitum). However, there is apparently an unrated version out there that is far more graphic, so perhaps the one I saw was a soft’n’squishy edited-for-mindless-TV-pap version. Which just made the whole experience even worse

Er, sorry. Not being very objective here, am I. Very well. In the interests of pure objectivity: I admit that I did not adore Beowulf, but I’m sure if I saw it in 3D, all of the previously mentioned issues would disappear in a puff of elegant perfection.

No, really.

OK, back to the book reviews next time, and something I hopefully did like. 😀