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.

 

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

 

An impulse buy that took me completely by surprise, Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books has kind of crashed into the top levels of my favourite books ever and left me blinking, dazed and astonished, in its wake.

Moers is a German author predominantly of childrens’ books whose works are only relatively recently being translated. His main trope is a fantasy world called Zamonia which is populated by a near-infinite variety of weird and wonderful lifeforms and is a world of endless, well, weirdness.

Quoting from Amazon.com via Publisher’s Weekly here, the plot in a very strained nutshell:

German author and cartoonist Moers returns to the mythical lost continent of Zamonia in his uproarious third fantasy adventure to be translated into English (after 2006’s Rumo), a delightfully imaginative mélange of Shel Silverstein zaniness and oddball anthropomorphism à la Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Optimus Yarnspinner, a young saurian novelist, embarks on a quest to track down the anonymous author of the most magnificent piece of writing in the whole of Zamonian literature. Traveling to Bookholm, the legendary City of Dreaming Books, the naïve Yarnspinner falls victim to Pfistomel Smyke, a maggotlike literary scholar who poisons Yarnspinner and abandons him in the treacherous catacombs miles below the city’s surface. Stranded in an underworld steeped in terror-inducing myth and home to more than a few bizarre inhabitants, Yarnspinner undertakes a long and perilous journey back to the world above. Enchanting illustrations by the author compliment a wonderfully whimsical story that will appeal to readers of all ages. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This is really only scratching the surface. What this book is, is a love letter to literature and books in general, and anyone who loves books, reading, dusty old tomes, libraries and bookshops (hmmm: me) will be transported upon delving in. Amidst these pages you will find cities and buildings composed entirely of books, Booklings that spend their lives memorising the works of authors and speaking only via their words, living books, poisonous and killer books, monstrously armoured BookHunters, Rube Goldbergian steampunk book machines… it goes on and on and on, with every page a mad new idea. Profusely illustrated, too, which is very useful given some of the wildly bizarre denizens Moers has thought up to people his incredible world.

Although it’s technically childrens’ literature, anyone can read it. There are some elements that are quite violent, à la the Brothers Grimm, and it’s a doorstopper of a book (which was marvellous, because I didn’t want to leave the world). Conceptually and linguistically (aside: the translation seems brilliant), there are some elements that small children wouldn’t follow either — which just means more for the rest of us. Do not ignore Bookholm because you might think it’s just for kids: it is so, so not.

Loved it so much I gave away my first paperback copy to another booklover and tracked down a hardback for myself. This is the sort of book that deserves to be a dusty, much-loved old book on an ancient wooden shelf — in the nicest possible way.

Can’t recommend this one enough, and the moment I laid my ink-smudged fingers on it and cracked the first chapter, I immediately began BookHunting the rest of Moers’ translated ouevre — which arrived yesterday. 😀  (Can’t wait… and you shouldn’t either)

Nervous!

November 14, 2008

And here is a brand new and very nervous Poor Friend.

Nervous

[It’s been quite a long time since we’ve seen a Poor Friend. And yes, it does have something to be nervous about…]

[I think Poor Friend is begging to be in a story, meself]

Shaking off the rust

November 14, 2008

Last time I was here was August. Bloody August. Time flies, no?

Well, things happen. For me, it’s interesting to note the general decrease of good blog content as everyone seems to wend their way over into Facebook or MySpace or twitters meaingless bullshit at each other. Everything is short and fragmentary and nobody seems to have very much to say. Me included.

I may not have been writing a lot about it but I’ve certainly been reading a lot; have to prise them books out of my cold, dead hands to stop me, to paraphrase a well-known lunatic firearms fringe. Also trying to write myself, as nearly 40,000 words of PM2 can attest. I had a real run on that too, especially when I took some time off, but now that I’m working again it’s more difficult to find the time. Which is probably an excuse, but time does seem to slither away like a headless snake bloodily slopping its way over an embankment and that was possibly the worse metaphor ever. Anyway. Should resolve to crack that 40,000 word barrier this weekend.

Reading-wise (oh god where to start):

Bought an enormous amount of Brian Lumley lately. Predominantly the ‘Necroscope’ series, some of which is criminally out of print, but, frankly, almost anything with his name on it. I never thought I was a particular fan of the Lovecraftian/Derleth Cthulhu Mythos until I started reading Lumley. Appears that I am, since a great big leatherbound hardcover of all of Lovecraft’s work in this vein, The Necronomicon, is winging its way towards me from Amazon UK as we speak.

Speaking of the Necroscope series, it’s excellent, although why the book covers persistently have blurbs shrieking, “If you like Anne Rice you’ll love this!!!” I have no idea. Anyone who thinks they’re going to get Lestat in a Lumley book might be in for something of an unpleasant surprise. Lumley’s vampires intermingled with psionic espionage and cold war machinations, and are less of the hand-wringing ‘Sweet-Lord-it-is-a-sad-sad-lot-to-be-a-vampire-oh-woe-is-me-never-to-see-the-sun-again-I-shall-existentially-pontificate-for-three-hundred-years-blah-de-sodding-blah’ and more of the shapeshifting horrendous monster that bites peoples’ heads off in one gulp type. His posit that vampires (Wamphyri) are infested by leechlike parasites which metamorphically change human flesh into fleshwreaking and bloodslurping monstrosities is highly entertaining, but more: his adversaries, psychics and spies, are quite unique in literature — a kind of James Bond crew with a unique array of very diverse psychic talents including the ability to speak to and raise the dead. (As a side note, the books all have lovely skull-themed covers, both English and American editions, which make me smile and chuckle evilly to myself)

The Necroscope series is Necroscope, Wamphyri!, The Source, Deadspeak, Deadspawn, Blood Brothers, The Last Aerie and Bloodwars. Thus far. There’s a few more I haven’t got through yet (The Lost Years, Resurgence, Invaders [come back into print, you swine: you’re holding up the bloody series!!], Defilers, Avengers, The Touch). Muchly recommended. Not a doubt when I finish ’em I’ll probably go into the whole thing in more detail, if I can staple my fingers and my attention to this blog again…

  

Currently reading Stephen King’s new short story collection, Just After Sunset. Just about every other book gets put aside when a new King appears. Not terribly far into it yet but ‘The Gingerbread Girl’ already deserves a special mention for creepy psycho of the week, whilst ‘Willa’ is an almost surreal ghost story. Lovely.

Should give a shout-out for Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, a door-busting brick of a book that’s a weird twist of monks, mathematics, science fiction and the end of the world. Difficult to quantify and it started a little slowly, but then abruptly grabbed me by the eyeballs and hauled me in. Very much enjoyed.

And can’t leave without mentioning Neal Asher, because two of his books showed up at the same time. Shadow of the Scorpion deals with the backstory of one of his perennial characters, the Polity Agent Ian Cormac; The Gabble and Other Stories is short (although some were novella-length) pieces expanding on elements of his sci-fi universe with a lot of emphasis on his completely weird and wonderful creations, the gibberish-talking, utterly unpredictable and occasionally human-eating gabbleducks. Superb, both of them.

 

 

An odd little one: Skull Cathedral, by Tim Waggoner — short story that’s barely a book, dream-like (nightmare-like, more accurately) and horrific descent into someone’s head via way of machinery, hideous fantasies/hallucinations and altered perceptions. Recommended for that shelf we all have (or is it just me? 😀 ) which overflows with bloody bodily fluids on a regular basis. Particularly liked the moment where the protagonist discovered he had rectal sphincters for eyes, all appropriately plumbed in as well, in a crowded restaurant… I mean, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? >:)

 

 

Will stop there for a moment: rambling. This blogging thing is hard lately… I read too many books. Run out of bloody shelf-space again… :O

Demon Apocalypse

August 7, 2008

 

 

Demon Apocalypse: Book 6 of The Demonata, by Darren Shan.

 

A kid’s book, huh? Wish these’d been around when I was a kid. I mean, the very first paragraph has a human-sized demon in the shape of a scorpion poke out some hapless victim’s eyes with its stinger and lay millions of flesh-eating maggots in the bloody sockets, which then proceed to eat said victim’s brain. Kid stuff. Yum.

I’m not buying into the argument here that violent material stimulates violent activities in children. For what it’s worth, I think that’s down to parental supervision and the ability of a parent to contextualise said material for the little tykes if it’s a wee bit splattery or nasty. What I am buying into is that almost any kid would love this, which is why Darren Shan is so popular. It’s gruesome, gory fun with a cleverly engrossing overarching plot and a real sense of danger throughout the series. In Shan’s books, people make decisions and have to live with the consequences; often those decisions are bad, and so are the results. As is life.

Shan’s characters are, above all, human. They’re scared, and sometimes that doesn’t mean they do the right thing. Sometimes running away is considered the best option, as well it should when a million demons led by the luverly Lord Loss, a floating red eight-armed monster with a torn-out heart and Medusa-like serpents in the bloody hole, invade your home town and proceed to kill and eat everything in it. And when the chips are down and they do the right, noble heroic thing… it doesn’t always work. Characters you know and love may not make it through.

And that’s damn good. As has been this series, thus far. Happily, bloodthirstily awaiting the next one (Death’s Shadow) — especially if it has the return of the acid-spewing, stomach-melting giant rabbit. I dunno, kids today…  😛

Sloppy Seconds

July 18, 2008

Sloppy Seconds, by Wrath James White

 

Sloppy Seconds, by Wrath James White.

 

Er. Well. Yes.

A short book of short stories, very very limited edition thing. Apparently at the annual World Horror Convention they have an equally annual Gross-Out Contest, wherein which authors are liberated from the bounds of common decency, morality and taste in their efforts to outdo each other with the most vile, nauseating, splattery, repulsive, brutal and monstrous stories they can think of. All for some kind of nonspecific prize (probably a rotting fishhead tastefully mounted within the remains of an underaged streetwalker sprayed with fake gold) and the honour of being pronounced Most Gross Storyteller of 200X. Well. Yay. 😀

Anyway, Wrath James White has been runner-up a few times — never quite cracked it, but judging by the five stories in Sloppy Seconds he bloody should’ve done. Emphasis on the word ‘bloody’. And other bodily fluids. In abundance.

Whilst the stories are almost unimaginably sick and brutal, they’re also well written (a few typos notwithstanding) and, despite the brevity of the medium, very effective if you can get past the subject matter (or have no problems with the subject matter, like me 😉 ). It’s a weird place, this under-under-underground basement genre of extreme horror, but White is very much at home here and damnit if he hasn’t dragged me inside and made me feel at home…

I love this sort of thing. It makes the joys of American Psycho look cuddly. It’s parked next to the equally astonishingly repulsive Excitable Boys in the shelf: there were a few Gross-Out winners in that too if I recall correctly…

For the rest of you, probably be glad it’s a limited edition and you’ll never get hold of it.

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. 😀