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|Sunday, October 10th, 2010|
The Walking Dead HB vol 4, by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Although I was a little put off by some elements of vol 3, this series is quite astoundingly good, and I wasn't going to stop reading it just because of a little gruesomeness. It's a book about zombies, there's bound to be some unpleasantness, after all... I just needed a little time to get over the bad things that happened to the characters I'd grown used to. To be fair, any book that has such that kind of impact on me must be pretty good, especially given how few comics actually cause me to respond to their characterization. Kirkman is a writer with an eye for good dialogue and interpersonal relationships, and the black and white art perfectly suits the story he is telling. This volume collects issues 36-48 of the comic (which is up to 75 or so now, so I've got a way to go to catch up), and marks a fairly major change in the set-up of the story. It isn't a good change (for the characters, anyway), although I think I was a little less upset by this volume's cruelty, perhaps because I'd been a bit numbed by the previous one. It will be fascinating to see where things go from here, though - I've already got vol. 5 on order...
I read the hardback, ISBN: 9781607060000, one evening in early October.Doctor Who: The Only Good Dalek, by Justin Richards & Mike Collins
I've been enjoying the graphic novel collections of Doctor Who
comics from the monthly magazine, and have read a few of the American monthly issues, but this is the first full-length GN that I've read (possibly the first that's been done, I think). It works quite well, to be honest - the storytelling is a little more decompressed, which isn't always a good thing but works well here. There's more chance to build up some tension, and not having to recap the plot every eight-to-ten pages makes the read much smoother. The art is nice, although perhaps a little too scratchy in places for some people's taste, and the story trucks along - perhaps not the most ground-breaking or interesting plot ever written in DW, but entertaining enough and with plenty of nice references back to the original series. The main characters are, as in Michael Moorcock's Coming of the Terraphiles
, perhaps a little broadly written, but I guess that's inescapable given the lead times of producing 126 pages of full colour art, and the ending is nicely downbeat. It looks as if there's a new plan behind BBC Books' DW publishing schedule, and if this and the Moorcock books are indications of the future, I might go back to reading DW fiction properly for the first time in ten years...
I read a Hardback, out now, ISBN: 9781846079849.2000AD collections - Judge Dredd vols 15 & 16, Harlem Heroes
More free comics from work, hoorah. The Dredd ones are still fun, although these ones don't seem to have any of the long mega-epics that I always enjoyed as a kid. There isn't much that's more enjoyable than a decent Dredd story, though, so no complaints here. </i>Harlem Heroes</i> was an early 2000ad strip (it started in the first issue), and one I've never read before. It isn't, quite frankly, very good. There you go. I've said it. The art (mostly by Dave Gibbons) is nice enough, and there are hints of something better in the story, but it feels like the comic was still trying to work out what it wanted to be. Not the worst thing I've ever read, and it passed the time, but not worth hunting down unless you have fond memories of the originals.
|Tuesday, September 14th, 2010|
|The Silent Land, by Graham Joyce
I do like a bit of Graham Joyce. Twoc
) is one of the best teen books I've ever read (although to call it a teen book is to underestimate just how good it is), and his most recent, The Memoirs of a Master Forger
) was very well done as well. And The Tooth Fairy
) is bloody brilliant. I didn't get on quite so well with The Limits of Enchantment
), but that wasn't at all bad. So yes, I'm a fairly big fan of Joyce's. So a proof of this turning up was always something that was going to make me happy!
Now having said all of that, it seems clear that this is a bit of a departure (in some respects) for Joyce. It looks - well, it looks a lot more commercial, to be honest. According to the blurb on the back of the book, it has already been sold as a Hollywood film. I know that doesn't for a moment mean that it will get made, but god it feels like it was written with that purpose in mind. I don't actually believe that - Joyce isn't that cynical - and I'm happy that it has happened (he deserves to do fantastically well) but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was trying to be a 'filmic' novel. It isn't, I should make clear, in any way 'not' a Joyce book - it feels like his prose, and it fits in with his previous work. It just seems a bit more mainstream, for want of a better word (again, I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing).
It's also very straightforward, on the surface at least. Basically a two-hander, our lead characters are young, good-looking, very much in love and happy to have lots of sex. Stranded in an abandoned mountain village after an avalanche, they try to escape but can't find a way out. Then the creepy things start happening... It seemed fairly obvious to me what was going on quite early in the novel, but Joyce throws in enough blind alleys and red herrings for me to be somewhat unsure until the very end. In the end, though, the plot (tense though it is) isn't really the thing that works here - instead, the prose and characterisation are what makes the book stand out. I think there are a couple of flaws in the portrayal of the two leads (although it could be argued that the dissonance is intentional on the part of the author), but they are so enjoyable to spend time with that it isn't a problem. They shouldn't be quite as likeable as they are, what with their happy lives and skiing and ability to get on under pressure, but you'd have to have a pretty hard heart not to warm to them, and to be scared for them.
Having said that the plot isn't the main thing, that isn't to say that it doesn't work. It just doesn't really have the weight to it that one might expect from a Joyce book. They get trapped, they walk around, things get creepy, and then everything gets resolved in a way in which I'm not going to give away here, obviously. There's a great time to be had as it happens, and the tension really does ratchet up and up, but there you go. As I said, filmic. It also helps that the various odd incidents start off slightly odd and get properly creepy, and are very hard to explain as they happen. Joyce isn't cheating, though - he largely has a way to justify everything, and if I have one criticism, it would only be that I would have liked a slightly more open ending. Instead things get wrapped up - not neatly, not happily, not unhappily - but more tidily then I expected. Well worth a read, though, and I hope it sells loads of copies.
I read a proof during the end of August and the beginning of September. The book is out in November, ISBN: 9780575083899.
|Monday, September 13th, 2010|
|Hellblazer: Original Sins, by Jamie Delano & John Ridgway
I've been reading the Hellblazer
comics for a while now, but for some reason I never managed to get back and pick up the first of the collections. So I did, when I saw it come in to the shop second-hand. And then I read it. I think I'm beginning to run out of things to say on this blog...
Anyway, it's quite fun, if you like horror-ish comics, and good to see how things (sort of) started out. It can be a bit of a mixed bag - the Maggie Thatcher/Devils as Yuppies is brilliant - and although it ends a bit oddly (the problem, of course, with collections of monthly comics), overall I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I've got the energy to track down any future collections, though - I'll wait until the fall into my hands, like this one did. Having said that, the art by John Ridgway is great. I'm lucky enough to own a few Ridgway originals - Doctor Who
, mostly - but I suspect the price of Hellblazer
pages would be extortionate. Hmm, might go and do some googling...
I read a secondhand copy, on my day off, September the 11th. Should be easily available, ISBN: 1563890526.
|Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Phew, the last of these Niven books. I went on a little jag for some reason, but one might as well end up with the best of them. This is the book that really made Niven famous, and for good reason. There are certainly some issues with it, again largely to do with his characterisation (especially of women) but the sheer energy of his invention, and his willingness to follow an idea through to the furthest possible conclusion, make it all work. To be fair, the lead trio of characters - the cowardly alien Nessus, the warlike cat Speaker, and the human Louis Wu - do actually work together quite well, and the fact that the eponymous space object doesn't actually appear until about a third of the way through the book doesn't really matter. Even when I know what's coming, there's a sense of fun to be enjoyed as the hints slot in to place (well, to be fair, the title of the bloody book is one fairly big hint as to what they're going to find but still...).
Actually, though, there's a surprisingly odd (albeit enjoyable) low-key sense to the book. We never really find out who built the ring, or if they're still around, or... and so on. In fact, the last lines of the book point out that the whole narrative has only covered a tiny amount of the possible territory it could, and implies that there will be a sequel. I still find it odd that it took Niven 10 years to write it, but my copy of that book is hidden away, and I seem to remember that it wasn't very good, so that should be enough Niven for me for now. I read a new copy, during early September, that I borrowed from work, out now, ISBN: 0575082542.
|Tales of Known Space, by Larry Niven
Again, can't find the image of the one I read.
Yep, more Niven, just because. It's alright, there's only one more I own that isn't in storage, so I'll stop soon. This is a collection of short stories, all set in Niven's Known Space
future history and, as is almost always the case with short stories, the quality is variable. There are some nice SF ideas done in a few pages, and the science appears to be fairly accurate (if a little dated in places). A couple of the stories are more concerned with the impact of technological advances on society than of the science, and these tend to be the more interesting for me (although very dated, often a bit sexist and somewhat right-wing). Seen as a collection, though, you can see Niven's skill as a writer grow and the best stories here - especially the last one, There is a Tide
which is just fun.
I sort of miss the times when I would read all of the books in a series - I just don't have time nowadays - and although I don't much like some of Niven's flaws (characterisation and sexism), I love the effort he puts in. The Known Space
books and stories may be variable, but by god they're frun.
I read an old paperback in early September 2010, and the book seems to be out of print in the UK.
|The Smoke Ring, by Larry Niven
This isn't the cover on my copy, thank god, because this is utterly dreadful.
Having just re-read The Integral Trees
, to which this is the sequel, and having enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it seemed obvious to move on to the next book. Which, luckily, was also still on my shelf (most of my Niven books are in storage...). Still waiting for that new Abercrombie proof to hit (it has now, so that's my reading for the next couple of weeks sorted!). Still, these aren't exactly difficult reads, so what the hell. I like a bit of old-fashioned science fiction every now and then.
Anyway, as a book this has the same drawbacks and high points as the first one. Characterisation isn't great, and the female characters tend to be less impressive than the male. There are some points that you could argue lean towards the sexist, although actually they're not too bad and (sadly) fit within the structures of the society Niven has created. The prose is workmanlike rather than stellar, and there is an occasional tendency to drift off in to displays of how accurate the science is, which can be a little dull(but I guess at least show that he's done his homework)
On the plus side, the plot rattles along, the world & society Niven has created are outstanding - truly different, truly interesting - and the book is a fun enough read to keep you from tripping over the problems. It obviously isn't the place to start - you have to have read the first book, for one - but isn't bad, either. If you like The Integral Trees
, you'll probably like this as well.
I read a tatty old paperback in the first week of September, but the book seems to be out of print in the UK.
|The Integral Trees, by Larry Niven
I picked this up on a bit of a whim, to be honest. I went through a long phase when I was a teenager of reading all of Niven's stuff, but hadn't bothered in ages. But an email from Subterranean Press about a collected edition of his short stories meant that, when I was scanning my shelves, this jumped out at me. I'd remembered it as being one of the better ones, and as I was waiting for a new bunch of proofs to come in, I went for it.
It isn't too bad, actually - I can totally see what my teenage self saw in it. Proper SF world-building, starting small and expanding out until the reader grasps just how thought through the whole thing is. I suspect that it wouldn't be to everyone's taste - his prose is solid but not exactly outstanding - but the sheer level of invention and realism (well, it seems to be fairly believable to me, but I'm not a scientist, what do I know?) carries the reader along. If you like SF but have never tried Niven, this is probably a good one to go for. The development of the characters is not exactly a strong point (especially some of the women) - and, like many male SF writers he leans a bit to the right-wing for me, although this isn't as bad as some I've read - but enjoyable, scientific and solidly written.
I read an old paperback edition I've had on my shelves for ages, but the book looks to be out of print in the UK at least.
|Tuesday, August 24th, 2010|
|Legacy of the Stars, by John Gregory
It’s been a while since I used to read cheap SF paperbacks from second-hand bookshops. At the time they were often all I could afford, but in these days of earning a salary and working in a place where I get free books, I don’t often feel the urge to trawl through the ‘three for a pound’ shelves in search of gaudy spaceship-based covers. However, on a slightly depressing shopping trip to Holyhead recently I found myself with nothing to do but browse the charity shops, and at one of them this book sang out to me. Well, at fifty pence a book it was this or the Target novelisation of Doctor Who: The Happiness patrol
. Some would say that I made the wrong choice, but I stand by my decision.
The thing I liked most about this book is the fact that the back-cover has, above the blurb, in big letters, in the same font as the cover, the words The Star People
. Now, if you look again at the title of the book I’m reading, you’ll notice that it isn’t called The Star People
, is it? No, it’s called Legacy of the Stars
. That, combined with the fact that the events described in the blurb all occur within the first twenty pages of this one hundred and sixty-nine page book, suggests to me that the publisher wasn’t all that concerned about someone picking it up, looking at the back, not realising that they’d already read it and buying it again. In fact, I would say that the publishers wanted that to happen
! I know, shockingly cynical of me. However, given that there are no spaceships after the first ten
pages, yet they appear on the cover, it seems like a reasonable guess. I won’t even mention the terrible proof-reading, or the fact that the strap-line above the title on the front cover (“They came from outer space seeking a home, but instead found a hostile world of death!”) only applies to the first twelve pages of the book. Oh whoops, I already have.
Actually, I think my most
favourite thing about this book is in fact the sequence of ads at the back. You know, where normally the publisher would put ‘Also by this author’ or ‘Other books in our series of SF novels you won’t realise you’ve already read’. Instead, we get five pages (five!) of ads for “High Quality Reproductions” of … lamps. You can order a Miner’s lamp (“superb full size reproduction of the original coal miner’s lamp”), a Lacemaker’s lamp (“unique and quaint”), a Handcandle lamp (“not just a beautiful ornament”), a Mini Vesta lamp (“supplied with an ‘Opal Vesta’ shade”) or Wall Brackets (“A choice of two”). Most are available for the low price of £19.50, which, given the book itself cost £1.50 when published, I would guess is about £100 now. “If the impossible should happen and you’re not completely satisfied”, you can return the products to the vendor. Who are Book Peddlar Products. Which is such a wonderful name for the supplier of low-cost tat from the back of random SF books that I can’t believe it. I suspect that they may be part of the same company as the book’s publisher Ace/Stoneshire, but I wouldn’t want to spread rumour or tarnish the publisher’s name. Ahem.
Anyway, apart from all that, the book is quite a nice little read. Short, yes, but with a half-interesting premise. Aliens are exploring the galaxy after their planet has blown up, come to a nice looking solar system, get hit by a meteor and land on the third planet out from the sun. Soon struck down by a mysterious illness, their last act is to set up a giant computer whose goal will be to shepherd the backward creatures who live on the planet towards a brighter future. Yes, the third rock from the sun was actually Earth. Who would have guessed! Oh, I’m being a bit sarcastic again, and the book doesn’t really deserve that. We bounce forward through the beginnings of human intelligence, and then the author pulls a rather fun switch and what I was expecting to happen didn’t. The second half of the book is rather more formulaic at first – creepy creatures in the middle of America come up from the ground and attack people – but again, there’s a bit of a nice twist. The author actually tries to say some things about racism and the mob mentality, and actually succeeds to a certain extent, and there’s an epilogue which is really quote moving (if you agree with that sort of thing). Overall, while this book isn’t a classic, it’s far better than the way in which it was published would suggest.
I read a tatty old paperback on holiday on the 23rd of August.
|Ten Stories About Smoking, by Stuart Evers
I’m not a huge short story fan, to be honest. Or, to be more honest, I’m not a huge fan of single-author collections of short stories. I know they tend not to do very well – it’s the perennial cry of the sales rep, “I know they’re difficult to sell, but this collection will be different” – but that isn’t my problem with them. My problem is, I think, that the stories blur into each other. No matter how good the author is, no matter how skilled they are at writing in different voices, my brain is tuned to lump things together. It doesn’t help that I tend to look for connections between the stories - even when I know they’re not there, I assume that there will be links or echoes throughout the collection that can be found if only I look hard enough, and so I unconsciously amalgamate everything together and therefore find it hard to distinguish them when I look back. Given all of that, I tend not to read a lot of collections (this is also why I like David Mitchell, for example – those stories are meant
to be connected). However, this one comes with a fairly hefty buzz about it, and is about smoking (which I’m a big fan of), so I thought I’d take it on holiday with me.
Of course, the sensible way for me to read short story collections, given the caveats above, would be to parcel them out – read one or two, take a break, read something else and then go back to the collection. I’m not very good at doing that, though – I can just about keep a couple of books on the go at once, but normally only if one of them is significantly less complex than the other, and only if I’m spending a lot of time in two different places. That, largely, is why I tend to read comics and humour books at work, and more complex novels at home or travelling (please note, I know that a lot of the stuff I read isn’t that complex really, but you know what I mean). To get back to the point, with Ten Stories About Smoking
, I did manage to break things up a little bit more, before falling back into the mistake of reading the last five stories all in one go. Perhaps that’s why I have pretty positive feelings towards the book, although it could, of course, also be because the book is good. Of course, that might suggest that I’ve had the wrong idea about short story collections for years. After all, I used to read lots of them as a kid/teenager (mostly SF, you won’t be too surprised to hear).
I’m going to stop wittering on about whether I like short story collections or not. Perhaps I should read a few more. Anyway, this one is rather good, I reckon, and I don’t normally rate them, as I may have mentioned, so that counts as a win as far as I’m concerned. The use of smoking (or cigarettes) works fairly well as a way to tie these relatively disparate tales together, although that isn’t to say that there’s a massive variation in tone. The overwhelming feeling is of loneliness or loss – nothing here is particularly cheery – and the texts are full of moments when things aren’t being said, where the reader has to fill in the gaps. Perhaps the fact that I tended to assume the worst is an indication of my state of mind, but I feel in quite a good mood, so I think it’s because of the emotional mood of the writing. A couple of the stories have really stayed with me – the single woman visiting her brother and his family, the visit to a boxing gym – and the prose is precise and often touching. There is a slight tendency for the smoking theme to feel a little shoe-horned in at times (the Vegas one seems like a perfectly good story without the fag element), but never to such an extent that the story feels cheapened. Although the last few blur into each other a little, as I said, the final story is clever and powerful, and not much writing manages to be both of those things at the same time.
It looks like Picador are going to publish this as a collection of pamphlets within a cigarette-box shaped container (although I may be reading too much into the blurb on the back of the proof), which sounds interesting and slightly risky, things always to be applauded in publishing. I’m sure it will get good reviews – if nothing else, these are hugely competent and well-put together stories. I hope it sounds like the compliment I intend it to be that I’d like to see the author extend his range a little next time, whether that’s in a novel or another collection of stories. Regardless, keeping an eye on Evers seems like a good idea, and when it’s finally published, Ten Stories About Smoking
will be well worth tracking down.
I read a proof on the train to, and then on holiday in, Wales, from the 16th of August to the 22nd. The box set is out in March 2011, ISBN: 9780330525152.
|Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock
Clearly, this book isn’t going to be for everybody. Not everybody is a Doctor Who
fan, for a start. And even among the millions of people who watch the TV series, very few want or need to buy a book based on it. Equally, although Moorcock is a fairly big name – I hope I won’t cause offence by saying he’s massive by the standards of the regular authors of DW books – he isn’t the most mainstream writer in the world. That said, the announcement that Moorcock was going to write a full-length Doctor Who
novel provoked some serious excitement out in the small Venn-diagram intersection of people who like DW and also think he’s a brilliant writer. That includes me – I used to follow all of the DW novels, although I stopped some point just before the new series started, and I have read almost everything that Moorcock has written. And believe me, that’s quite a lot of books – his output is prolific, and they range from the throwaway fantasy books for which he is, perhaps, most famous to the astounding Mother London
. I’ve got them all (well I don’t have some of his very early work and juvenilia, mostly published under pseudonyms), so there was never any doubt that I was going to be picking this book up. I managed to get hold of a proof just before I went away on holiday, and it jumped straight to the top of the ‘to read’ pile.
The first point to make, I think, is that this is a Moorcock book with some Doctor Who
trappings, rather than a straight-forward Who
story. That isn’t a problem for me, and Moorcock is such a skilful writer that anyone who started the book knowing nothing about his work would, I’m sure, know that they were in good hands. It was fun for me to spot the links to his other creations – some obvious, some more subtle – but they wouldn’t get in the way of the story. This does have the added bonus of meaning that the Who and Moorcock continuity obsessives will now have whole new worlds to explore – all of Moorcock’s work is linked, and therefore now part of the Who world, and vice versa
That’s me a being a bit silly, really, but one of the things I’ve always loved about Moorcock’s work is the way in which everything tie together. Cameos, quotations, actual cross-overs, echoes and hints – there’s always a connection somewhere. That this book is business as normal, and that the editors have allowed their star author free reign, seems like a good sign. I would have hated a book that had been written under constraints, that had taken Moorcock’s talent and energy and dissipated it with rules and strictures. What would be the point? I’m sure some Who
readers would have preferred a less idiosyncratic book, and I do understand that point of view – the characterisation of the Doctor and (especially) Amy Pond is simplistic at best – but somehow it all hangs together. It feels
like a Doctor Who
book, and it feels
like a Moorcock book, which means that it works.
Plot-wise, I don’t want to give too much away. In the far future the Doctor and Amy hook up with the Terraphiles, a group of Old Earth re-enactment types who have a very dubious understanding of what they’re trying to re-create, leading to some very funny misunderstandings. For various reasons it turns out that the Doctor has to ensure that a certain team wins the upcoming grand tournament of Old Earth games – confused iterations of Cricket, Archery and other Olde-Englishe pastimes – and recover the trophy. How and why the book gets to this final game is, plot-wise, almost irrelevant although everyone, especially the reader, has fun on the way, and everything is deeply Moorcockian. Having said that, the first half of the book (at least) feels like an insane version of a Wodehouse novel, and this is clearly intentional on the author’s part. A hat stolen from a hotel room, angry matriarchs, old buffers who only want the quiet life, a blustering hero called Bingo who has to steal the aforementioned hat, falls in love with Amy and tends to give “his by now celebrated performance of a space-beacon on full traffic duty, blushing red and blanching white in a matter of seconds”, and so on. I didn’t realise that what I needed in my life was a science-fiction version of Wodehouse, with added Doctor-ness, but it turns out that I did. I can’t bang on for too long about how entertaining and fun this all is, because this review is too long already, but clearly I loved it.
As I said at the beginning, this book won’t be to everyone’s tastes. If you’re a Moorcock fan, you’ll love it, and I can say that with no hesitation whatsoever. Doctor Who
fans might, I worry, be a bit split – it isn’t hugely Who
-ey, although I think there’s enough here to keep most fans happy. People who just like really good, fun, energetic, well-written escapist literature will also approve, although I fear that it might be hard to convince them to buy it. You might even be able to convince a Wodehouse fan, as long as they were prepared to see things refracted through a Moorcock point of view. For what it’s worth, I loved it, and recommend it hugely. But then I sit in all four of the above camps, so I was always likely to be pleased. The sales sheet says that this is the first in a series of Doctor Who
book specials, and if the calibre of the authors – and the writing – is as high in the future, I’ll be along for all of them.
I read a proof on holiday in Wales, from the fifteenth to the twentieth of August (well, I had other things to do). The book is out in October, ISBN: 9781846079832.
|Kick-Ass, by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
I read this graphic novel a month or two ago, but forgot to add it to my list of books to write about. So this will be a nice small one. I haven’t seen the film – I don’t know why, I wanted to, I just seemed to miss it – but when it came out I was reminded that I hadn’t read the original comic, so when the film-tie in came back in to stock at work, I picked it up. I can see why the film-makers believed it would be such good source material – a new(-ish) idea, carefully thought through and well implemented, with some memorable designs and incidents. It was a fun read, and even if I’d bought the book and taken it home I don’t think I would have been too disappointed, although it didn’t feel to me that it would stand up to much re-reading. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it felt as if everything was out on the surface – once the initial premise and jokes had been understood, there wasn’t much more to dig my teeth into. Having said that, I still want to see the film, and if they do any more comics, I’ll buy them.
I read the film tie-in edition, out now, ISBN: 9781848565357
|Saturday, August 21st, 2010|
|Angelica Lost and Found, by Russell Hoban
Hoban is absolutely one of my favourite authors, and one who I think is cruelly neglected. Yes, Bloomsbury keep on publishing him, and Riddley Walker
(which is an outstanding book, and will change the way you look at life) is well-regarded, but I just feel that a new book from him is only a truly exciting moment for a handful of people. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps there are loads of readers out there waiting with bated breath for Hoban to churn out another one, but I don’t think so. Even some of the people who work for his publishers acted surprised when I got worked up about this book, and admitted that they didn’t really know who he was. I’m not complaining, honestly, I just think he should be praised to the rafters.
Anyway, I convinced Bloomsbury to send me a copy of the manuscript for Angelica
, which I then bound on our Espresso book-printing machine, leaving me with a slightly odd-shaped book. I don’t know if there are official proofs out there, but I do know that I have a one-of-a-kind edition of this, and I’ll do my best to get Hoban to sign it, which will make me quite unreasonably happy. It may not be among his best work, but the fact that this eighty-plus year old man is still writing pleases me intensely.Angelica
is a hard book to describe, purely because it’s so wonderfully, insanely odd (perhaps not quite as odd as Linger Awhile http://marcusgipps.livejournal.com/17292.html?thread=7564
, but not far off). Our main character is a hippogriff, sprung from a painting based on an epic poem, able to inhabit people and control them, searching through time for the beautiful woman who, in the painting, he helped to rescue. This Angelica is, the hippogriff is sure, out there somewhere, and when he finds her he may be able to win her affection. Hoban doesn’t actually much use the person-inhabiting bit of magic realism he has invented, which surprised me a little – I was ready for a sequence of vignettes – but locates the story in San Francisco in the early twentieth century, introduces a woman who may or may not be the personification of Angelica, and then heads out to wherever his imagination takes him. We have some bestial sex, some psychoanalysis, some art appreciation, not a few chapters of the hippogriff fading into nothingness, some sailing, some opera appreciation and much much more. If you’ve never read Hoban before that might seem like quite a shopping list, but I’m probably only covering half of it.
The reader has to be prepared to accept Hoban’s way of writing, which is quite distinctive. His most recent novels have all been similar in style – a deceptively simple prose that propels the plot but also manages to get under the skin. Hoban has an astounding ability to turn a phrase (I actually have a quote from him on the back of my business cards), but doesn’t let the language distract from his ideas. As long as the reader will go with the flow and accept a little magic realism in their lives, the book is a magnificent success. As I said at the beginning of this overly gushing tribute, this isn’t his best work (Riddley Walker
is, or perhaps Linger Awhile
of the later novels), but it is still wonderful. Buy it, support one of our best authors, because he won’t be around for ever.
I read a cobbled together proof at the beginning of August, and finished it on the train to Wales. Out in November, ISBN: 9781408806609
|Robin Ince's Bad Book Club, by Robin Ince
Another humour book that I picked up because I was still ploughing through the Dying Earth
anthology and wanted something a bit lighter, both in tone and actual weight. Robin Ince is a stalwart of the Latitude festival literary tent, and when we were up there selling books this year I caught bits of him doing his ‘Bad Book Club’ a number of times, and it sounded funny enough to be worth having a look at the book. We sold out at the festival, however, so when I got back I nabbed a copy from the shop and blasted through it. The book is certainly entertaining enough in its own way, although I suspect it works better as a live show. Essentially it’s just a collection of musings and diatribes based on and around the terrible books that Inca has picked up in charity shops, jumble sales and so on.
Clearly there are some terrible books out there, although Ince’s fondness for them means that the book doesn’t seem too cynical or aggressive. Although the books are divided into sections – Self Help, Thriller, Romance and so on – there are some entertaining running jokes, and I was left with the urge to a) find some of these books and read them for myself and b) send Ince some of the more hilarious things I’ve found myself, so clearly the book had an impact on me. Fun enough, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing – Ince doesn’t claim anything for his book other than entertainment, but bits of it did feel like they’d been transcribed from his live show, and perhaps don’t work on the page quite as well. Basically, go and see him if you can, but you could quite happily pass an hour or two reading the book instead.
I read the trade paperback, ISBN: 9781847442697, at work during the end of July.
|Invincible Ultimate Collection Vols 1 & 4, by Robert Kirkman
Again, I was given free copies of volumes 2 & 3 of this series – obviously someone thought I’d enjoy Kirkman’s work (this series is written by the author of the Walking Dead
comics). Again, it took me ages to get around to reading them, mainly because I didn’t see much point in starting in media res
. Eventually, on a dull day, I picked up vol 2, had a go and really enjoyed it. Obviously volume 3 then followed, which was also very good, so it made sense for me to pick up the first volume at some point and then continue on. To be fair, that was about two years ago, so it has taken me a while to get around to it. Well, these things are expensive, and I find I hard to actually shell out for books, I’m so used to getting them for free. I know, difficult life, isn’t it?
Anyway, these were a lot of fun. I think I preferred volume 4, but that’s probably because it was actually continuing the story for me, whereas volume 1 was really just filling in the background, most of which I’d already picked up. Invincible
is much more of a traditional superhero comic than The Walking Dead
is, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it to someone who wasn’t already pretty au fait
with comics, but it is a lot of fun. These collections are well put together, too, which is always a bonus, and the additional material is well presented, if often badly proof read.
I read both of these on one of my days off towards the end of July, ISBNs: 9781582405001 and 9781582409894. I also re-read volume 3, just to catch up…
|The Walking Dead HB Vol 3, by Robert Kirkman
I know I’m woefully behind on this series, and I know that everyone who reads comics already knows how good it is, but there you go. If I have to blog about every book I read, I’m going to include this one. I was given free copies of the paperback volumes one, three and four a couple of years ago, and waited ages to read them (mostly because I wanted to pick up vol. two before I did. When I finally got around to them I realised quite how good they were – intelligent, tense, scary, all the things that comics can and should be (and rarely are). When I realised recently that I had a bit of money spare I decided to try and catch up with the rest of the series, and made the decision to upgrade to the nice hardbacks (this one collects paperback volumes five and six, which is why my numbering is off).
I think I’ll stick with the series, but, if I’m honest, this book did put me off a bit. I’m not worried about violence or sex or swearing – especially in a book like this, which is trying to be as realistic as a book about a zombie apocalypse can be – but the sheer blank-eyed sadism shown here was really hard to read. Rape, mutilation, torture – largely (but not entirely) shown off-page, and inflicted on characters we’ve grown used to – aren’t my idea of a fun time, and I found myself wanting things to drop back down a level. That’s probably an indication of quite how well-written the book is, and I’m sure the author has thought this all through, but it was the first time in the course of the series that I felt he was throwing things in for the sake of it, rather than as a natural exploration of what might happen after the end of the world. It’s well done, and I will stick with it (and I’m pretty sure no-one’s going to pick up volume five without having read the rest), but I hope there might be a slight easing off of the horrific-ness, even if only for a bit.
I read the Hardback collection, ISBN: 9781582408255, at home at the beginning of August.
|Reality Hunger, by David Shields
I only read this book because my girlfriend had read it for some work she needed to do, and wanted my opinion. So I blasted through it and picked out some things that seemed relevant to her research. I’m not normally a fan of literary theory writing, as should be obvious if you’ve looked through the blog. I didn’t even read a lot of it while I was studying English Literature at university, when I really should have, so this was a slightly odd experience. It was made more so by the fact that the book is quite odd in itself-a collection of paragraphs and sentences, individually numbered, which sort-of build up into a thesis for the future of the novel. Some are quotes, some are biographical, some are serious, some are not. To be honest, some are reasonable and clever, some are aggravatingly stupid or directly contradict other points Shields has made.
Overall a sort-of manifesto seeps through, although I’m still not quite clear why Shields thinks that it matters. Apart from the fact that he makes some claims which are instantly, obviously, factually, wrong (obvious even to a lapsed graduate like me!) the thing that really bothered me was just how unclear or obscure some of the points he was making were. Perhaps I’m just stupid, or perhaps this kind of literary theory isn’t my thing (actually, most literary theory isn’t my thing, to be fair). Even allowing for that, though, I did think this had been thrown together in a hurry. I’ve been told that it came from the notes he uses to teach a course, and that makes a lot of sense. To be honest, quite a lot of it read to me like notes jotted down by one of his students who wasn’t quite sure which bits of the lecture would come up in a test. The book comes garlanded with quotes from the new wave of American (and other) authors, but it struck me that a lot of them were clearly friends of Shields. Honestly, if you’re going to mention IN THE TEXT just how close you are to certain people, you probably shouldn’t run their positive quotes on the front of your book. I know it happens all the time, and I shouldn’t whinge, but it still annoyed me. Having said all that, there are the kernels of some interesting ideas in here. I’m just not sure that they matter hugely, and I’m not sure they’re worth excavating.
I read it in an hour or two, shaking my head and spluttering occasionally, at the end of July. Out now, ISBN 9780241144992
|Awkward Situations for Men, by Danny Wallace
I’ve actually ended up reading most of Danny Wallace’s books – not for any particularly good reason, but they’re generally enjoyably readable, and it doesn’t hurt to dip into something a bit light-hearted and non-fiction from time to time. To be fair, that argument would be better if I didn’t spend most of my time reading comics and SF books, but still, I have a soft spot for the kind of book he normally writes.
This one, however, is a bit disappointing. A collection of articles Wallace has written for some magazine/newspaper I’ve never heard of, they focus on embarrassing situations that he, as A MAN, gets in to. You know, being stupid in front of his girlfriend, feeling a bit fraudulent in front of ‘real men’, getting confused about social etiquette and so on. That isn’t really a problem in itself - I’ve read loads of books of collected columns (I hesitate to call it journalism) and they can be very entertaining - but these feel really thin, to be honest. Thin columns don’t add up to a weighty book, no matter how many times the author claims an over-arching theme in the foreword. A passable enough way to spend the time, I suppose, and perhaps they would be better as an occasional treat rather than all in one book, but this isn’t really worth picking up.
I read the trade paperback during my breaks at work, out now, ISBN: 9780091937577
|Marvel: Siege & Marvel: 1985, by various.
Another couple of free comics that I would never normally have picked up, but were sitting in my office at a time when I had nothing else to read so got pushed to the top of the pile. I know almost nothing about Marvel comics, to be honest – I read a couple as a kid, but I was mostly a DC reader, so I never really know who the characters are. Oh, I’ve seen the films, and I know the basics, but it’s the background guys who leave me with a blank look on my face. Given that, Siege
was pretty much incomprehensible to me, although it barrelled along quite nicely and I think I followed the central plot, even if some of the nuances escaped me. Still don’t really care, though. I read the paperback collection, ISBN: 97818465345221985
was a lot more successful for me, however. It isn’t really about Marvel superheroes, except in the sense that they inspired the children of the mid-eighties. Instead our hero is a kid who loves his comics, in a world like ours. He has problems at home, at school and so on, and when he starts seeing the Marvel heroes, it looks like his mind has gone wonky. Of course they turn out to be really here, and the book degenerates into more of a Marvel punch-up then I would have liked, but there are some very nice touches on the way. You still need a certain amount of knowledge of the characters, but a vague awareness of modern pop culture should do it. Worth a look, ISBN: 9781846534065
|Songs of the Dying Earth, by various.
I read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth
collection a year or two ago (http://marcusgipps.livejournal.com/61958.html
), and thought it was patchy at best. I could see why it was revered, and the language was wonderful, but I had issues with some of the implementation. It was OK, but it didn’t become my favourite book overnight. So when Subterranean Press, who put out some utterly gorgeous editions and who take too much of my money, announced this collection of short stories based on Vance’s work, I didn’t jump at it. Even the presence of Neil Gaiman and Tad Williams, two of my favourite SF authors, didn’t convince me. However, when Harpercollins published a standard Hardback edition in the UK, and then offered me a free signed copy (signed by the editor, George RR Martin), I figured it was worth having. It then sat on my pile of unread books for a ear, until I decided it was really really time to give it a go. Also, for some reason the idea of short stories was hugely appealing to me, even though it meant lugging a seriously hefty tome around in my bag.
I’m not going to talk about all of the stories, because frankly I can’t be bothered. Also, there was a slight tendency for them all to merge in my memory quite soon after reading, if I’m honest, which I suppose says something about the strength of Vance’s setting and style. That said, nothing here was dreadful by any means. Some of the stories used Vance’s actual characters and locations, some struck off into new ground, but by-and-by they worked well. Some better than others, unsurprisingly – well, it’s an anthology, of course there’s going to be variation – but this was obviously edited very carefully. Probably not worth reading if you know nothing about the original books, but then I’m not even sure about that, now I think about it. If you like some of the authors involved, and you want a nice variety of short stories, this is well worth a go.
I read a signed hardback, but the paperback is out now, ISBN: 9780007277483
|Hellblazer: Dark Entries, by Ian Rankin
It strikes me that I’ve never really read much Ian Rankin. I think I read one years ago that was named after a Cure song - Hanging Garden
, maybe? – but beyond that, nothing. I do read the Hellblazer
comic, though (I even like the film, don’t tell anybody) and it seemed like such a good idea for DC to get a seriously big-name author involved. I’m sure they could have sold bucketloads of this book to the general punter, although it seemed to me that distribution issues may have reduced the impact it might otherwise have had. Of course, your average Rankin reader may not be particularly keen on buying a comic (or Graphic novel, if you prefer), but this is a nice little package. Hardback, small format, attractive Black & White artwork, easily accessible premise – should all be fairly easy to sell to the non-comic market.
Having said that, I’m actually not so convinced that a Rankin reader would necessarily appreciate this. He catches Constantine’s voice well, and the plot hangs together, but it could be considered a little unwelcoming to the uninitiated. Oh, perhaps I’m being unfair – I worry that I’m underestimating the new reader’s willingness to be carried along and learn on the way. Still, as much as I enjoyed it – and I did, although it wasn’t the best thing ever
, by any means – I’m just not convinced by the book’s ability to attract a new type of reader to intelligent comics. That may not have been the point, of course – but I’d be very interested to know just how many copies were sold through bookshops rather than to the comic trade.
I finally got hold of a copy soon after getting home from holiday, and read it on a day off during July, ISBN: 9781848563421