Thursday, 30 September 2010

Second Journey of the Magus by Ian R MacLeod

One in a taxi, two in a car...
Well, as some of you may have noticed Short Fiction Wednesday has yet to make a re-appearance. The fact is that, on reflection, I don't think I can dedicate the reading and writing time to a weekly short story post like that. It's sad, and if I was a proper writer rather than some arsehole farting out words in his spare time I'd like to do it, but I have got to prioritise things. I don't want to disengage from short fiction entirely, however, so I'm going to try and keep up with Niall Harrison's short story club over at Torque Control. I've often meant to do this, but keep forgetting (and may forget again!).

This time I've remembered, though, so here are my thoughts on The Second Journey of the Magi by Ian R MacLeod. I'll hopefully get into the chat with the knowledgeable folks there, but leave a comment here if you like!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I sleep too little, I work too hard. I have ambitions – material, professional, artistic – that go largely unrealised and spend most of my time doing what Ian Dury summarised in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll as “business you don't like”. Life is hard and full of compromises and yet I wake up and face it day after day. Why do I do it? I make a good wage but I'm not really fussed by fancy stuff or expensive crap, and I reckon I could be just as happy – happier even! – dreaming my life away sitting in a public library in a malodorous alcoholic fug. Yet, I go on. What drives me to it, and keeps me going back for more?

These are the questions that literature asks us to consider and – at it's best – answers for us. The purpose of literature (I think) is to tell us truths that are not easily or convincingly conveyed in other ways, things that might sound banal or straight forward when articulated directly, but that inform our whole beings. To really know them, to really understand we have to see them in action, to be shown not told (to paraphrase that crusty old rubric) how life is.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

2000AD Part 1: I Remember the Good Old Days

It must have been the summer of 1977 to 1978. This is New Zealand, of course, where summer straddles the New Year, and it was probably after Christmas, so that means 1978. I remember particularly because we were on holiday around the North Island, one of those touring holidays we used to go on, all packed into Dad's old Fiat 128, Mum riding shot gun, three in the back and one lucky child in the coveted space in the boot lounging on duvets (don't worry, it was a hatch back). No seat belts, no car seats, Dad smoking like a chimney the whole time – this was the 70s, and life, among other things, was cheap.

I remember the day itself very well. We were staying in a motel, somewhere in Rotorua, somewhere far from the centre. It was a blazing hot, sunny day, that intense piercing sun you get in New Zealand that you can feel cooking your skin through your t-shirt. I don't remember the circumstances exactly, but all of us got a few coins to spend at the local shop. I don't remember what my brothers and sisters bought, but I bought a comic.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth 01

Rogue in action - brilliant work from Dave Gibbons.

War was a staple of boys' comics when I was growing up. In those days, I guess some of the older guys working on the comics could well have actually fought in the war. Certainly, guys of our Dad's generation were steeped in WW2, having grown up with it as a background to their own childhood. I guess the comics had to pass muster with the parents as well as the kids, so this stuff still sold. Even so, many of my contemporaries, not to mention my own older brothers, were intensely interested in World War 2, and all those Airfix kits and 1/32 scale model soldiers were a huge part of my childhood.
 In the dark days before 2000AD, when my brothers were reading comics like Valiant and Hotspur, and later Commando comics, WW2 stories were really common. While I was kind of interested in the violent action and tales of heroism, I found the historical context pretty boring. I'd be looking for the space or futuristic stories, but they were few and far between. That's why I fell on 2000AD with such enthusiasm as a kid: it seemed to be a comic made just for me, with all the boring crap cut out and just the futuristic and space strips.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Looking for Jake by China Miéville

This book was given to me by my not quite uncle Alan. Alan married my Mum's sister in the sixties when I was a wee baby – the tale of me vomiting all over everyone has been retold many times both by my aunty and my Mum. They were regular visitors to our home when I was a kid living in the UK and seemd seemed impossibly glamorous and interesting to me. They were somewhat younger than Mum and Dad and were the sort of couple who always knew about the cool interesting things. They were always fashionably dressed – leather jackets or Afghan coats, Chelsea boots and granddad shirts, the whole thing. Birthday presents were always interesting and quirky – unusual children's books or odd toys perhaps from their travels in exotic places, and whenever they came to visit – or when we went to visit them – it always an interesting and exciting time.

I knew Alan for the first eight or so years of my life and, aside from my Dad, Alan was the other ideal of manhood that my little six year old brain latched onto. Dad liked show tunes and trad jazz, Alan liked The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Dad was patrician and dignified, fashionable in his own way, of course, but a little staid and old fashioned, while Alan was zany and trendy and made a big impression on me.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Mark Millar's CLiNT

Sometimes I hate being a man. It seems churlish to complain too much, of course: being a straight white man in the west is pretty much like winning the birth lottery and I have done pretty well by it, despite being lazy, stupid, ugly and unfriendly. I'm not conflicted by it, I'm cool with having a penis and a beard and a beer belly and all that, and I manage the psychic balancing act of having deep respect and admiration for my female friends and colleagues while maintaining an appreciation of a fine set of tits without too much inner strife.

No, the one big downside of being a man is other men. Other men are, by and large, a pack of colossal wankers. It's been pretty clear to me since I was old enough to notice that 99% of men are stupid, close-minded bullies, with narrow interests and little of interest to say. In the interests of fairness, it's worth pointing out that I don't necessarily have a lot of respect for most women either - I'm an equal opportunity misanthrope in most regards - but if you want to find the source of most everything that's toxic and horrible in western culture, you just have to take a look at men's magazines.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Big Babies - New Series!

Looks like there's a new series of Big Babies on CBBC. Yesterday the boys went to the market where they met - inevitably - the Gonch, selling dodgy gnomes. You can still watch it on iPlayer, if you're quick - Rocco and Brooks's version of Hookey Street is worth hearing!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology by Russel Hope Robbins

I grew up in a house full of books. Thanks to Dad’s voracious appetite for popular fiction, and Mum's school teacher's instinct for filling the house with improving volumes, our house was like a Greek temple held up by unsteady columns of glossy volumes on history, art and cheap paperbacks and that never got thrown out, but were packed three deep in bookshelves that lined the living room, dining room and all the bedrooms.

This was my treasure trove, rooting though the shelves looking for something new and exciting and generally finding it, at least up until I was older enough to get out to the library or the bookshop myself. It's during these expeditions that I discovered Isaac Asimov and Michael Moorcock, and the fat anthologies of Golden Age SF that Dad devoured at a rate of two a day. I found all manner of intriguing non-fiction - Pelican English histories (a bit dry for me); slightly outdated large-format histories, especially of the ancient world, and occasional gems such as the Encyclopedia of Demonology and Witchcraft.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Vol 1

Robo Hunter is another series I remember well from when I was a kid. I knew Ian Gibson's art from some early Judge Dredd stories (I think he did the Mutie the Pig/Rico stories, which were the first Dredd stories I ever read) and this was the first time I'd seen him in full flight. Just as Ezquerra – in my eyes – “owned” Strontium Dog, Ian Gibson seemed to me to “own” Robo Hunter. I see now that the strip was written by “T B Grover”, being a nom de plume for John Wagner and Alan Grant, with Grant and Wagner working occasionally alone, nut for me it was entirely Ian Gibson's strip.

This has a much lighter tone than the series I've reviewed here so far. The others I've reviewed here have taken an at least partly serious look at some of the thematic implications of their settings. Ro-Busters addresses issues of slavery, Nemesis and Strontium Dog both address issues surrounding racism and prejudice, albeit in the context of space wizards and inter-stellar bounty hunters, respectively. Robo Hunter also has a satirical message, but the whole thing is treated without the gravity and pathos that you occasionally get in the other series and played strictly - and brilliantly - for laughs.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Quantum Thief

This is Rajaniemi’s debut novel, which - rumour has it - sold to Gollancz on the basis of the first chapter alone. The back cover blurb of this advance reader copy - which may or may not be the same as the final blurb - tells us it comes from “the same team that brought you Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and Joe Hill” and exhorts us to “be there from the start.”

I hate this sort of hype. I'm the sort of dreary guy whose natural reaction is to sneer "yeah, sure!" and go over to the remaindered books and second hand shelves looking for the undiscovered rubies in the dust. I can't help feeling that it steals part of the joy of a great book, that sense of discovering something unexpectedly marvelous. 

I understand why it's there but we seem to be on a hype rollercoaster these days....