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)

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]

 

 

 

 

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. 😛

Se7en

January 15, 2008

Se7en (graphic novel)

Se7en, by various.

A graphic novel partial adaptation of the film Se7en, written entirely from the point of view of the serial killer himself, John Doe.

If you enjoyed the film, this is indispensable. If you’ve not seen the film, this is equally indispensable. If you’re a fan of surreal, grotesque art and the insane stream-of-consciousness looping nightmare of the imagined thoughts of one of the most disturbing serial killer archetypes of our time, this is… wait for it… indispensable.

The authors and artists have expanded on the film to weave the thought processes, motivations and background of John Doe into a chilling seven-part descent into utter depravity that simultaneously mirrors and, in some ways, eclipses the source material. They’re helped considerably by access to some elements from the film — notably some grotesquery photographs included collage-fashion, some of which are genuinely hard to look at, and batteries of images created but not necessarily used or only glimpsed in the film itself (witness the 52 Polaroid pictures of the ‘Sloth’ victim showing his descent into the pitiable monster found in the bed by the detectives: they were all created, and many appear within, gruesomely uncensored).

It’s a trepanation of a read: a visual feast of nightmare and monstrosity that sinks into your head like acid and both changes and augments your perceptions of the original film with brutal indelibility. Reading pages ‘culled’ from Doe’s endless exercise books interspersed throughout highlights the kaleidoscopic aura of horror and dementia that, combined with some of the imagery, can make you literally worried to turn the next page.

I’d call it almost perfect. The purist in me didn’t like a few pages of the art, with it ranging through the various artists credited from sublime and queasily photorealistic through to a thankfully few pages of appalling Sienkiewicz-styled knife-scrapings-on-paint-blotches (I’m not a fan of Bill Sienkiewicz’s art in any medium, though others find him groundbreaking; but certainly I feel it doesn’t really have much of a place in Se7en); occasionally the ramblings of a fictive killer’s mind became too obscure to serve the story’s purposes. But they’re very minor quibbles, and even with them I’m still repeating that word: indispensable.

Pick it up and prepare to be harrowed. You’ll never look at comic art the same way again.