Bizarro, Fantasy & SF


THE TELEPORTATION ACCIDENT
NED BEAUMAN

Bloomsbury USA
$25.00 hardcover, available now (paper edition published on 5 November 2013 at $16.00)

Rating: 4.8* of five

The Publisher Says: HISTORY HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE HUNGOVER.

When you haven't had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing that is happening to anyone anywhere. If you're living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn't.

But that's no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can't, just once in a while, get himself laid.

From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes an historical novel that doesn't know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can't remember what 'isotope' means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.

LET'S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT.

My Review: My review, if I was up for it, would be nothing but retyping the entire novel in this space. You don't need to read my yodels of praise and warbles of inducement to buy the book, you need to read the book.

Is the book funny, as is claimed for it in so many "real" review sources? Here's something I marked on page 7:
Klugweil, meanwhile, was a twenty-four-year-old sso languid as to be almost liquid, except when he went on stage and broke open some inner asylum of shrieks and contortions, wild eyes and bared teeth -- which made him perfectly suited to Expressionist acting and almost useless for any other type. He'd been at university with Loesser, who had always wondered what he was like during sex but had never quite had the cheek to make an enquiry with his dull girlfriend.
Page seven and I'm chuckling, building to a snorting laugh. This is my kind of humor, this droll and dry as a good martini sort of language making ironic-verging-on-facetious observations of all those about the main character...and which observations comment quietly on the main character himself.

What about the romance mentioned so prominently in the book's sales materials, and in "mainstream" reviews? Loesser pursues the elusive, rich, and utterly madcap Adele Hitler (no relation) across continents, despite this exchange from page 54:
"You'll fuck the man who brings your coffee just because he's handsome, and yet I chase you for two years and --"
She waved her hand as if to swat him away. "Oh, please let's not get into that again. 'Love is the foolish overestimation of the difference between one sexual object and another.'"
"Who said that?"
"I saw it on the wall at a party."
"Oh, so it must be true! And all my devotion means nothing?"
"I'm flattered, but there'd be no point in us even trying. You're the sort of man who couldn't stand it if I were unfaithful, but you're also the sort of man I couldn't help but be unfaithful to. You're that type. You're an apprentice cuckold."
Well, all righty then! That's him told. Loesser's anguished suspicion that Adele is right wars with his indignation at being evaluated, pigeonholed, and relegated to a non-starter position before he can make so much as a move. This propels the rest of the novel.

For noir tropes, we have Loesser's falling in with one Dr. Voronoff, famous in the demi-monde of Paris for his impotence cure: Insert the testicle of a monkey between a man's own testicles and let its nature suffuse the aging roué with unquenchable virility. For madame, there is a similar cure for the debilities of aging: Skin cream made from the foreskins of newly circumcised babies. Fresh, innocent skin cells from a body part famed for its stretchiness...well, what could possibly make more sense? A can't-fail nostrum for wrinkles and crow's feet! And Loesser, plus an accomplice-cum-con man called Scramsfield (who promises Loesser that he will reunite him with Adele, already vanished to Los Angeles), will happily liberate wealthy, stupid American women from their desperately needed money in order to survive the Great Depression.

After a spectacular failure in the quackery trade makes Paris too hot for Loesser, he continues his pursuit of Adele to Los Angeles, and here the story becomes an extremely strange (even stranger, I suppose) send-up of Golden Age science fiction tropes, decadent capitalist stereotypes, rumors of Hollywood loucheness, all of which so deeply informed the interwar popular culture's storytelling.

Teleportation. Actual physical teleportation. Research and development for same. It's almost incalculably difficult to imagine how this could be done on a macro scale in today's scientific universe, but thankfully Beauman hasn't set his story in our world but in 1935 (as it now is in the story). And here we come to a place in the narrative where, although there is no diminution of the chuckle-inducing phrasemaking or the wince-cringe-and-giggle observation that's characterized the book until now, the window-dressing is just that, decoration.

The heart of this book is yearning. Everyone in the book yearns for something, be it a person, a state of feeling, a quantum of knowledge, a passed opportunity, a deed desperately regretted that's in need of recall; yearning and searching for the way to fill the void left by the object yearned for. Adele, that object of Loesser's yearning, seeks to fill her own void by assisting in the creation of an actual, physical teleportation device, being the amanuensis and magician's assistant to Professor Bailey of the currently rechristened California Institute of Technology. The Professor has the most yearning of anyone in the entire book, stretching back to a time in Los Angeles history when what was then the Throop College of Technology welcomed a Midwestern boy called Bailey....

I don't believe anyone would thank me for the spoiler that completes that sentence. It's worth the trip to discover it yourself.

This novel was longlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize, and I see why. Beauman's linguistic playfulness and inventive use of tropes in ways both satirical and satisfying to trope fans is amazing when one considers his revolting youth. (He is under thirty, which I consider an affront to God. No one born after Man left the Moon for the final time to date should understand the world Beauman builds with deft and dextrous motions. Ain't natural.)

I left this reading experience amused, satisfied, and to my own surprise, quite moved. I liked the process of getting to the end of the story. I liked the scenery painted for me along the way. I liked the moral, or to give it less gravitas, the point of Beauman's engrossing, enfolding, bemusing narrative. I really want to know what happens next in Beauman's career. I hope I can keep all my buttons in the proper buttonholes until he finishes his ideas' fermentation.

I've rated the book under five stars, which all of the foregoing would seem to support, because I wasn't catapulted to a new level of spiritual awareness or aesthetic ecstasy (0.1 off), and because the dust jacket of the hardcover edition is coated in some sort of spoodge that has the hand-feel of the years-old bacon grease that coats the interior of a none-too-clean greasy spoon's range hood (0.1 off, after an entire star disappeared; seemed unfair to Beauman, since *he* didn't choose this icky stuff. If I come to find out he *did* choose it, another star off, and no mistake).

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CLOCKWORK ORANGE
ANTHONY BURGESS

W.W. Norton
$14.95 trade paperback, available now

Rating: 1* of five

The Publisher Says: A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title.

In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?"

This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

My Review: I found the slang, "Nadsat," stupid and tricksy. I found the "ultraviolence" almost risibly dated, since I've seen my nephews playing video games more violent than this. I found the prevalence of rape so voyeuristically deployed, so gratuitously hamfistedly bludgeoningly prevalent, that in the end it evoked only a snort of derision from me.

That, in the end, is my problem with the book. Leaving aside the roll-my-eyes-so-far-I-can-see-my-brain nonsense with words, and the novella becomes a pursey-lipped Great Aunt Prudence-shocker, a piece made to play on the fears of right-wing conservative religious nuts and libertarian dupes of the twin perils of Moral Degeneracy and Government Intervention.

I'll give the last words to Burgess, whose response to the book I found on Wikipedia:

In 1985, Burgess published Flame into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence, and while discussing Lady Chatterley's Lover in this biography, Burgess compared that novel's notoriety with A Clockwork Orange: "We all suffer from the popular desire to make the known notorious. The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation, and the same may be said of Lawrence and Lady Chatterley's Lover." Burgess also dismissed A Clockwork Orange as "too didactic to be artistic." (emphasis added)

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SIX MONTHS, THREE DAYS
CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Tor.com
Free, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: NBC is putting Charlie Jane Anders’ Six Months, Three Days into production and we could not be more excited! Tor.com published the Hugo award-winning novelette in 2011.

From Deadline Hollywood, NBC is adapting the story into...

...a light procedural about a mismatched pair of San Francisco private investigators — an upbeat, free-spirited idealist and a swoon-worthy, brooding fatalist –- both of whom can see the future. Forced to team up, the pair knows their relationship is destined to grow from antagonistic rivalry into fairy-tale true love… but only if they can stop him from being killed in six months and three days. The adaptation will being written by film and TV writer Eric Garcia, author of the novel Matchstick Men, on which the feature film was based. Ritter, Garcia, Janollari and Silent Machine’s Lindsey Liberatore are executive producing.
Charlie Jane had this to say over on io9...

I was really blown away by how many people connected with this story, both with the characters and with the ideas. After a decade and a half of toiling in obscurity as a fiction writer, it's beyond intense when something you wrote takes on a life of its own like that. Knowing that something that came out of your head is living in other people's heads, is enough to make your head explode. I felt way beyond lucky.

So then hearing from other creative people that they want to turn my story into something brand new and different is kind of that same feeling of astonishment and luck — only maybe even more so, because of the realization that smart people are putting time and energy into the idea of adapting your story. Whatever happens with this deal, I will never stop being thrilled about that.
A huge congratulations to Charlie Jane Anders! And a thank-you to editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden for acquiring the story for us. This remains one of my favorite stories we have had the honor to publish. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. And then get the popcorn ready for TV night!

My Review: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!" --Robert Burns

That quote has always chilled me. I don't want to see myself as others see me, thanks. Burns's point is that we should not wish for that, ever, because the burden of knowing what another person thinks, sees, feels is quite impossibly heavy and unbearable. Think of how many times in this good life you've wanted not to know what you yourownself thought, felt, saw.

Charlie Jane Anders, a smallish fixture in the SFnal world with a good reputation as a storyteller and a nice lady, imagines for two people the horrid, heavy burden of seeing the future...exacerbated or ameliorated by their discovery of each other and their subsequent, doomed relationship. After all, seeing the future means knowing how it ends, right?

“I don’t think you’re any more or less powerful than me. Our powers are just different,” Doug says. “But I think you’re a selfish person. I think you’re used to the idea that you can cheat on everything, and it’s made your soul a little bit rotten. I think you’re going to hate me for the next few weeks until you figure out how to cast me out. I think I love you more than my own arms and legs and I would shorten my already short life by a decade to have you stick around one more year. I think you’re brave as hell for keeping your head up on our journey together into the mouth of hell. I think you’re the most beautiful human being I’ve ever met, and you have a good heart despite how much you’re going to tear me to shreds.”
Or does it, wonders Judy, mean that she can make changes in small things and thereby change the future? Is it in her power to alter the inevitable? Doug doesn't think so. Doug is a committed and convinced determinist. He sees only one future, and he's sure he's correct about its inevitability.

Judy sees, on the other hand, a multiplicity of possible futures, and must weigh in a matter of a blink which one she will choose. Pause a moment and consider that. Doesn't that degree of personal accountability for one's life's course sound appallingly dreary?

And now imagine for a moment the sheer relief of finding and spending time with the one other person on the planet that fully, as fully as humans can anyway, Gets You...while knowing that your love is doomed. (See the title for a clue.)

Do you lie down and weep for what can't be changed? Do you rail against the cold, merciless gawd who lumbered you with this "gift?" Or do you break the rules, test the limits, fight for yourself and your happiness, by doing something, anything, to take your future into your own hands?

Well?

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GAHAN WILSON SUNDAY COMICS
GAHAN WILSON

Fantagraphic Books
$29.99 hardcover, available now (and worth every dime)

Rating: however many stars there are

The Publisher Says: Gahan Wilson is probably best known for his macabre Playboy cartoons, filled with charming monsters, goofy mad scientists, and melting victims, and his cutting-edge work in the National Lampoon, but he’s also one of the most versatile cartoonists alive whose work has appeared in a wide range of media venues. Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics is Wilson’s assault from within: His little-known syndicated strip that appeared in America’s newspapers between 1974 an 1976. Readers must have been startled to find Wilson’s freaks, geeks, and weirdos nestled among family, funny-animal, and soap opera offerings. (The term “zombie strip” — a strip that has long outlived its original creator — takes on a whole new meaning in Wilson’s hands.)

While each strip, at first glance, appears to be a standard, color Sunday strip (albeit without panel borders), each Sunday Comic is a collection of one-panel gag cartoons, delineated in Wilson’s brilliantly controlled wiggly-but-sophisticated pen line. The last gag cartoon on each Sunday is part of a recurring series, either “Future Funnies” or “The Creep.” Some Sundays are a freewheeling mélange of board meetings, monsters, and cavemen (with cameos by Wilson’s Kid character from Nuts, his gimlet-eyed view of childhood, collected last year by Fantagraphics), while others riff on a topic or subject (clocks, plants, wallpaper, etc.). As is his wont, Wilson mines the blackest of black comedy in the banal horror of human nature. Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics collects, for the first time, each and every one of these strips, luxuriating across a 12” x 6” landscape format, with Fantagraphics’ trademark high production values, innovative design, and succinct historical commentary.

My Review:


What else need be said? It's Gahan Wilson, and it's either your kind of thing or it's not. It's very much my kind of thing.



I feel like these sofa-sitters about most of modern life. I don't get it. I feel like I have sixteen thumbs, mostly on my feet, and color-sensing seismographs instead of ears, in the rap-infested, reality-show-obsessed, Fox-as-news world I'm in. I don't fit, and I don't want to.



Goodness knows, there is no reason to assume it ever will, at least for very long. I keep slugging. Books like this, humor from 40 years ago, show me that there is in fact nothing new under the sun. Some people have always felt, as I do, that the world makes no sense, that up is in fact down, and the best we can do is cope.



I paint what I see.

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THE BABY KILLERS
JAY LAKE

PS Publishing
Out of print!

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: "Within our tale, gentle reader, you will see writ before you a palimpsest of low living and high misdemeanor, and the curious redresses that are visited as a result thereof . . ."

In The Baby Killers, Jay Lake restages mankind's Fall from Grace as an alternate-history steampunk fable. Written in a style of rambunctious Victoriana-that-never-was, this novella is set in Philadelphia in 1907, when that city serves as the seat of the British Dominion of the Americas, and as a Pandora's Box of sin and vice. The Governor-General has a taste for violating innocents, while the good Dr. Scholes uses them to fashion his mechanized agents of Justice. The Gollinoster, a feminine incarnation of angry retribution, wanders beneath the city streets - and an undying creature of ancient destruction is rushing to meet her. Villains and heroes (categories that overlap significantly) battle in a story of debauchery, degradation, radical experimentation, mad metaphysics . . . and a farting Frenchman.

Both popular culture and actual history are mined here to create a tale in which the use of idealized technology meets our darkest desires . . . and the result is positively electric.

My Review: Never let it be said or implied or even thought that Jay Lake is anything other than adventurous. This is an exuberant trip into a sick, weird vision of a sick, weird culture.

Much like our own.

Don't believe me?
{She} stood sobbing in front of her house. She, who had not cried since age ten when her brother took her virginity in the upstairs maid's room. ... There had probably been six people in the house when {the girl} exploded into flames. Two were girls from her list, valuable members of her stock book.
If this doesn't remind you of the response of the owners to the Bangladeshi clothing-factory collapse, and the BP America president's response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, you're not paying attention.

The Baby Killer of the title isn't what you think it is. Well, it sort-of is; but not really because it's so much worse than what you think it is: Dr. Scholes uses the living brains of babies to power his retribution machines, his Robocops of steam, which of course means the babies qua babies are dead, though their "lives" are continuing and are augmented by Countess Lovelace's punchtape difference engines.

Drone-using teenaged soldiers, anyone?

So that's the book's level of success. It's a dark and bitter look at the endless and boundless vileness of humanity, and it's a cautionary tale told too late about the price extracted from us all for the sin of hubris, and it's darkly funny as well as starkly moral. It's compact, at 68pp, and so it's impossible to overdose on the grims. It's got a farting Frenchman as its Angel of Justice. It's, well, it's surreal and it's weird and I can think of no good reason for you not to buy and read it.

So go already. Amazon doesn't run on air.

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WALKING YOUR OCTOPUS: A Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephalopod
BRIAN KESINGER

Baby Tattoo Books
$29.95 hardcover, available now, so what are you waiting for?!

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A beautifully produced and richly illustrated book that showcases the day-to-day adventures of independent girl-about-town Victoria Psismall and her pet land octopus Otto. Thirty panoramic, full-page illustrations humorously chronicle the duo's home and social activities that include (among other things) bathing, biking, dating, cooking, playing croquet, and pumpkin carving. Accompanying text explains the "do"s and "don't"s of living with a large land octopus. The book's art is extremely detailed, and each illustration tells its own visual story. The Victorian era characters and period-influenced design elements combine to create a wonderful, collectible art-object for those who still value the classic elegance of ink-on-paper. The hardcover binding is plussed with two-layer embossing and spot varnish, and the interior is printed on extra heavy paper. An exquisite volume for lovers of books, art and pets.

My Review: I can't remember snickering, chortling, giggling, or smirking this much in a very long time. The absurdity of the premise is matched only by the beauty of the object.

"The adventurous spirit of the octopus is infectious. After spending time with them, you will find yourself attempting many activities that might have heretofore been out of range of one's more mundane lifestyle." This fronts a page showing Victoria, our intrepid octopus-adopter, attempting (with limited success) to ice-skate, supported by the smiling, multi-skated Otto the rescued octopus.

Inspired, divine steampunky-bizarro silliness. If the pictures don't make you smile, I'd tell you to unpucker and drink a G&T and then look again. If they still don't make you smile, apply for a sense of humor graft.

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THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE
NEIL GAIMAN

HarperCollins
$25.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

My Review: A charming way to wile away a Saturday afternoon. It's a lovely story. Been told before, as what has not, but to call this little entertainment a groundbreaking work by a master is absurd.

Did I enjoy it? Oh yes. I liked it fine. As always in a Gaiman book, no one changes. Nameless narrator as child confronts horrible reality that all is not as it seems, he is not Safe, and the world can be whisked away in a flood of knowledge. He goes on being a child. Nameless adult narrator comes to terms with loss, only he doesn't really because he can't remember what it is he's coming to terms with.

The Norns, Urðr, Skuld, and Verðandi, are brilliant constructs, even if there is doubt about their separate and uninfluenced creation in Norse mythology and not grafts of the Greek Fates. The Norns, and their amazing well, describe all too clearly the experience of being alive in the elegant universe that quantum physics tells us lies under the pretty picture we lie ourselves to sleep with. Gaiman clearly Gets It. He expresses his clear-eyed and seemingly unflinching comprehension and acceptance of the unreality of the illusion we inhabit in this book. That's refreshing and it's pleasant.

But brilliant? Groundbreaking? Really now. James Joyce was brilliant. Proust was brilliant. Beckett's plays are brilliant. I will perform the osculum infame on Fox News if someone can make a respectable case for Gaiman being brilliant by those lights.

A worthy and amusing entertainment. There is nothing whatever wrong with that.

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LEAGUE OF SOMEBODIES
SAMUEL SATTIN

Dark Coast Press
$18.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Lenard Sikophsky’s father has been feeding him plutonium since the age of six in the hopes of making him the world’s first bona fide superhero. First, he must pass the unusual tests of manhood locked in the centuries old tomb, The Manaton, a secret relic passed down for generations. Falling in love with the beautiful, compulsively suicidal Laura Moskowitz doesn’t make his life any easier. But with the guidance of the Sikophsky men, the antiquated rulebook, and of course a healthy amount of plutonium, Lenard accepts his fate as an exactor of justice. . . .

Twenty years later, Lenard’s son Nemo is introduced to the same destiny as his father, only this time the violent entity called THEY are in dangerous pursuit. Lenard’s life and the legacy of his family are put to the test when he is forced to defend everything he loves.

My Review: Well! THAT was fun. I liked reading Sattin's just-slightly-OTT prose, I liked the comic-booky story, and I liked the relative absence of typos and mangled parallelisms.

I thought I would scream occasionally...the women in the book are, well, how to put this diplomatically...girls. No other way to say it, they're girls, in the old-fashioned pejorative white-man-on-top sense.

And Nemo is less introduced to his destiny than inducted into it. Like Geek Love, a disturbing book on similar themes of parental manipulation and dysfunction, each generation of Sikophsky boys has A Destiny and Will Follow It. Or Else. This being an evergreen theme, I was really looking forward to Sattin's trippy take on it.

In this, I wasn't in the least disappointed. I offer this odd little passage from the book as evidence of Sattin's skill with trippy:
In 2003, Lantana, The Savage, Zatkin, watched the sky over Kansas for signs of impending doom.
In that forlorn sea of cattle, wheat, corn, and sorghum grain, he'd come to Finney, following the anonymous, electronic chortle of a villain calling himself The Brother who apparently had a nuclear bomb aimed and ready in the direction of the Sunflower State.
Lantana watched the sky, his toga still in the humid Midwestern slough as the sun made hell of his retinas. He wasn't sure he even believed that The Brother existed, that this anonymous, self-proclaimed villain, in all probability, was some sex-deprived soul out of Ohio with a mouse pad and a pink, pimpled penis.
Trippy, like I said. The image of a superhero named after a flowering vine standing in a cornfield with his glad-rags limp in the heat? Yes, priceless. Contrasting that with the old stand-by nerd stereotype, effective.

But therein also the problem with the book. This is a good idea, told well enough to go over, and not an out-of-the-park homer for one big reason: A lot happens, and very little changes. As I've made this same observation about Neil Gaiman's works (and been trounced and screamed at for it), this problem isn't unique to Sattin. I do wish the ending hadn't been quite so...not rushed, exactly, but tacked-on feeling. The natural end of the book was earlier, in a wide and featureless sky. Then came a bad case of the knit-knit-knits as some future history was rammed down my throat, fitting about as well as a long woolen scarf would.

But hear this: I enjoyed this weird and wonderful journey. I'm glad I took it, for all that I had reservations about it. Sattin deserves a shot at your eyeballs. He's got more to say.

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UNDER THE DOME
STEPHEN KING

Galley Books
$19.99 trade paper (media tie-in edition), available now


UPDATE ON THE TV SERIES 6/24/2013 in 5sec: cute boys, dirty pols, meanass bitches = weeks of fun! Junior is perfect, sociopathic little shit; Barbie is too young and too pretty, thank GOODNESS, to be true to the book; and the amount of writing talent is adequate to the task, but no more than that.

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Book Report: Chester's Mills, Maine, is having itself an ordinary morning, and its citizens are gettin' up to all the usual things: Spending too much of their husband's money, killing girls, beating up people they don't like and driving them out of town, making evil brews, only thing missing really is a bonfire and a faggot. Business as usual for the human race, in other words.

*WHAM*

Down comes the Dome.

No way in, no way out, no one can understand the nature, the origin, or the purpose of the Dome inside or outside of it. National security issues crop up. The town misfit, an Iraqi war vet, is called back into national service to solve the mystery. And then things get **really** ugly: The local used car salesman takes control.

Think Nixon with a mean streak and a Big Fat Secret to protect.

"From Bad to Worse" could be the subtitle of every Stephen King novel, but this time it's so so so so bad and then it gets so so so much worse that the reader is calling out to Divine Providence for the mercy of Death...and then comes The Twist. The Dome is revealed to be...but no, you have to read it.

My Review: Stephen King = what Chuckles the Dick would've been if he'd had talent.

Just sayin'.

I hated liking this book. I resented the demands on my gouty wrists and fingers, supporting its mammoth weight, flipping the pages faster and faster and faster as I got more and more sucked in to the story. I snorted snobbily at myself, caught up in this not-terribly-sophisticated narrative. None of which stopped me finishing the book and sighing with mitigated contentment at its sudsy, gloriously cinematically trajectory. I can see the miniseries...I want to see the miniseries! soon please!...unfold in my mind. It's what Stephen King does brilliantly: Tells you a story of human nature, irrefutably making points that need making about Mankind and its flaws, while wringing your withers with fear, excitement, and sadness.

The Dome was a really cool narrative device. I liked its unknowability, I was completely on board with mystery forces causing it who-knows-why...and then we find out why. I wasn't especially interested in that part, and felt it was a tidge unimaginitive coming from Mr. Shock-and-Awe himself.

Eh...so what...I had over 1000pp of reading pleasure. It's like potato-chip sex. The kind you have because you can. It still feels good, and no way are you gonna stop just because it's meaningless.

(I suppose this last isn't comprehensible to my girly readers of either gender.)

Relax. Enjoy. Don't think too much. You'll end up in a much better mood than you started out in.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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DESOLATION ROAD
Ian McDonald

Pyr SF
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational 'Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town's founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child-grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with-and married-the same woman.

My Review: Earth can't sustain its current population in the style to which all 7 billion of us wish to become accustomed, and no one is predicting a sudden outbreak of common sense and birth prevention to bring the numbers down. What are we to do?

Move, of course. Where? More than one place. There's the Metropolis, the geosynchronous city in space reached by fixed space elevators; but that's filling up too; wherever shall we go?

Well, Mars, for one. The Remote Orbital Terraforming and Environmental Control Headquarters (ROTECH for short) consortium is created on the Motherworld, sent into a moonbelt orbit around Mars, and given a thousand years of development, has finally produced a planetary ecosystem that can sustain unsuited humans in the open.

ROTECH governs Mars as lightly as any frontier is governed. People, let loose from cities and rules, pretty much do what comes naturally. They have babies, they make farms, they organize themselves into Us and Them, and they do it all at breakneck speed without worrying too hard about consequences. When Consequences rain down from the Heavens, well, adapt or die.

Ian McDonald does in 363 pages what others do in 1000. He makes Mars come alive, he peoples it with fabulous characters (human and cyborg and robotic), he creates a logical thought experiment...how can humanity survive its inevitable wearing out of the Motherworld?...and uses it to tell us about ourselves, about what we are *actually* made of, and about what triumphs and tragedies flow naturally and inevitably from that.

I adore this book.

There.

No, really, that's it. I adore this book. You should read it, especially if you point your booger-holder at the sky when science fiction is mentioned. I don't read THAT people should read this. If you don't, then you should be ashamed of your inflexibility.

I even re-read Jane Austen recently. And liked it. So. What's that “I don't like THAT” stuff again?

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RIVER OF GODS
Ian McDonald

Pyr SF
$26.00 hardcover, $17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: As Mother India approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business—a gangster, a cop, his wife, a politician, a stand-up comic, a set designer, a journalist, a scientist, and a dropout. And so is—the waif, the mind reader, the prophet—when she one day finds a man who wants to stay hidden.

In the next few weeks, they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation.

River of Gods teems with the life of a country choked with peoples and cultures—one and a half billion people, twelve semi-independent nations, nine million gods. Ian McDonald has written the great Indian novel of the new millennium, in which a war is fought, a love betrayed, a message from a different world decoded, as the great river Ganges flows on.

My Review: Ian McDonald. This is a name to conjure with, boys and girls. This is one fearless Irishman. This is a major major talent doing major major things. How dare he, how dare I, warble his praises when he, a white guy from the colonial oppressor state, has the temerity to write a science fiction novel about INDIA?!? There are scads of Indian writers and it's their country! Let *them* write their stories!

Codswallop.

Read the book. Then come and tell me it should have remained unwritten because of some nonsensical national pride hoo-hah.

It's got every damn thing a reader could want: A new gender, the nutes, pronoun “yt;” a wholly new form of energy harvested from other universes; a political scandal-ridden politician who falls for our main nute character, despite his long marriage, and pursues yt desperately; a civil war a-brewin' over water rights in the now fragmented subcontinental political world; aeais (artificial intelligences) that are forbidden by law to exceed the Turing Test that establishes whether an entity is human or human-passable; and, as with any law, the lawbreakers who inevitably arise are hunted by a new breed of law enforcement officers, here called “Krishna cops.” Krishna being the Original God, Supreme Being, One Source in many parts of India, there is some justice to that, one supposes.

Recapitulating the plot is pointless. This is a sprawling story, one that takes nine (!) main characters to tell. I felt there were two too many, and would entirely prune Lisa, the American physicist, and Ajmer, the spooky girl who sees the future, because those story lines were pretty much just muddying the waters for me. I thought the physicist on a quest, who then makes a giant discovery, which leads her back to the inventor of the aeais, could easily have been a novel all on its own, one that would fit in this universe that McDonald has summoned into being. I simply didn't care for or about Ajmer.

The aeais' parent, Thomas Lull, is hidden away from the world in a dinky South Indian village. Yeah, right! Like the gummints of the world would let that happen! I know why McDonald did this, plot-wise, but it's just not credible to me. He could be demoted from player to bit part and simplify the vastness of the reader's task thereby.

So why am I giving this book a perfect score? Because. If you need explanations:

--The stories here are marvelously written.
“And you make me a target as well,” Bernard hisses. “You don't think. You run in and shout and expect everyone to cheer because you're the hero.”
“Bernard, I've always known the only ass you're ultimately interested in is your own, but that is a new low.” But the barb hits and hooks. She loves the action. She loves the dangerous seduction that it all looks like drama, like action movies. Delusion. Life is not drama. The climaxes and plot transitions are coincidence, or conspiracy. The hero can take a fall. The good guys can all die in the final reel. None of us can survive a life of screen drama. “I don't know where else to go,” she confesses weakly. He goes out shortly afterwards. The closing door sends a gust of hot air, stale with sweat and incense, through the rooms. The hanging nets and gauzes billow around the figure curled into a tight foetus. Najia chews at scaly skin on her thumb, wondering if she can do anything right. -- p388

Krishan barely feels the rain. More than anything he wants to take Parvati away from this dying garden, out the doors down on to the street and never look back. But he cannot accept what he is being given. He is a small suburban gardener working from a room in his parents' house with a little three-wheeler van and a box of tools, who one day took a call from a beautiful woman who lived in a tower to build her a garden in the sky. -- p477

Some of my favorite passages I can't put here, because they contain some of the many, many words and concepts that one needs—and I do mean needs—the glossary in the back of the book to fully appreciate.

--The concept of the book is breathtaking. Westerners don't usually see India as anything other than The Exotic Backdrop. McDonald sees the ethnic and religious tensions that India contains, barely, as we look at her half-century of independence ten years on (review written 2007) and contemplate the results of the Partition. He also sees the astounding and increasing vigor of the Indian economy, its complete willingness to embrace and employ any and all new ideas and techniques and leverage the staggeringly immense pool of talent the country possesses.

--McDonald also extrapolates the rather quiet but very real and strong trend towards India as a medical tourism destination: First-world trained doctors offering third-world priced medical care. This is the genesis of the nutes, people who voluntarily have all external gender indicators and all forms of gender identification surgically removed, their neural pathways rewired, and their social identities completely reinvented.

Think about that for a minute.

If your jaw isn't on the floor, if your imagination isn't completely boggled, then this book isn't for you and you should not even pick it up in the library to read the flap copy. If you're utterly astonished that an Irish dude from Belfast could winkle this kind of shit up from his depths, if you're so intrigued that you think it will cause you actual physical pain not to dive right in to this amazing book, you're my kind of people.

Welcome, soul sibling, India 2047 awaits. May our journey never end.

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11/22/63
Stephen King

Simon & Schuster
$35.00 hardcover, $19.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be what you hoped?

Jake Epping 35 teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor's story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father. On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock 'n roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas guzzlers without seat belts. Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?

My Review: Jake Epping is a modestly successful high-school English teacher with a bad, broken marriage to an alcoholic behind him, a future of great sameness before him, and a date with destiny that cannot be foreseen. He is, in short, you, or me, or any other Stephen King hero.

What happens to Jake is, he gets a chance to change the world. Seriously. No spoilers here, but Jake gets a chance to make 11/22/63 just another date on the calendar Pope Julius invented for us. How? Through a little rabbit-hole in time that a friend of Jake's finds, uses, and tries to accomplish the salvation of Kennedy through the use of: Living from September 9, 1958, until he can get rid of Lee Harvey Oswald before November 22, 1963. But the past, you see, doesn't want to be changed. So the guy gets terminal cancer, comes home to 2011, and zaps Jake with the job of changing the future by changing the past.

Jake does. Boy, does he ever. Way big does he change the future.

Nothing in life is free. Remember the first time you heard that? Was it your mom or your dad who laid it on you? How hard did you kick against knowing it, and for how long?

Jake takes a week. I aged a hundred years in the week Jake took. So will you.

And that's all I'll say. Well, no, not all.

Every life has its losses, mine included. They're not so interesting to other people, of course, because folks are mostly interested in their own miseries and haven't got a lot of energy to spare for the troubles of others. Okay, fine; what fiction does is, it gives us a chance to have a catharsis, in the ancient Greek sense, the reason they invented plays and melodrama and tragedy and comedy. It was therapy to go to a play and scream and cry and howl with laughter. The whole point was to get it all out. Catharsis.

I experienced many moments of catharsis in reading this book. I was wrung dry of tears on several happy and several sad occasions. I relived the might-have-beens of my own little life. I redrew the contours of history a couple times, inspired by King's redrawings.

I was swept up in a story that I so wanted to be told, and I was completely aghast when it was over because I didn't want it to be over, and I didn't want the finality of the ending to step on my gouty toes the way I thought it would.

But, like so many before me, I stubbed my toe on the stair of King's story and said ouch, before I realized it was a stair. Stairs go up, or they go down, but you'll never know which in the darkness until you feel for the next one.

But the deal is, once you know which way you're going, you're already there, committed to the movement. Exactly, in other words, like living life.

This is why Stephen King is our own Mr. Dickens. I hate Dickens' bloated, boring prose and his tedious, ridiculous plots, but he and King both write the books that offer catharsis to the audience of the age. (Just for gods' sweet sake, quit trying to pretend Chuckles is still speaking to you! And those gawdawful dull Shakespeare plays, stop it! You know you hate 'em like the rest of us do!)

The ending of the story was, for this reader, a catharsis of epic proportions. I hate and envy Jake, I bleed inside for him, I want to comfort him and slug him. I am undone by jealousy for his last harmony between past and present. I want one, too.

I got it, my last harmony, and you might too, if you'll read the 840pp of exciting and fast-paced life in 11/22/63. Please do.

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NEW AMSTERDAM (New Amsterdam #1)
Elizabeth Bear
Subterranean Press
$2.99 eBook, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty. Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world - and its only hope for justice!

My Review: This delicious book is one helluva good read, and quite entertainingly thought-provoking as well.

The title city, New Amsterdam, is the former Dutch colony on Manhattan Island, only captured by the British in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Now THERE's an alternate history that's fun to imagine! Bear doesn't imagine it, though, which I consider to be a flaw; but I forgive her because Abigail Irene the forensic sorceress is such a delight as a character! She is an aging beauty, a madcap heiress in her day, and now that middle years impinge upon her beauty, a lot more of a woman than most men can handle. Her liaison with her boss is very well portrayed as the comfort-and-convenience of middle-aged lovers, not some fun but ephemeral passion of earlier life. This alone makes the book worth reading.

The crimes Abby Irene is called upon to solve are of more mysterious origins than mere "bang-you're-dead" murders that our blah little world provides. She has to wonder if her murderers are inadequately controlled demons summoned from Hell by fools in over their heads. She is ably, if unwelcomely, assisted by the oldest creature she's ever met: Don Sebastien, the Spanish wampyr, whose reputation in Europe was that of the Great Detective. After he saves Abby Irene's life, she grudgingly accepts that he's got the chops to help her in her vitrtually single-handed attempts to control the supernatural crimes that New Amsterdam presents in abundance.

Don Sebastien is over a thousand years old. He's long since forgotten the name of the village in Christian Spain where he was born before the turn of the millennium (the FIRST one, that is); he's been undead so long that he's emptied the last reservoirs of companionship, camaraderie, and seeks true death at last.

His teenaged ward, Jack, has no truck with this. He is in love with Sebastien, and will not give up his connection to this marvelous, fascinating, and quite lively corpse. Jack was a child in a club for visiting wampyrs to feed on locals when Sebastien found him; he was purchased from his parentally made indenture to the vampire version of an IHOP and subsequently freed by Sebastien. Their relationship since then has been more equal than either really knows, and each is very much lovingly dependent on the other.

Bear makes *no* point of their respective genders. Their love is presented as fully as can be; they are persecuted because of prejudice against wampyr-human relationships.

Handy dodge, eh?

Well, this is a collection of stories that tells good mysteries solved by very richly drawn characters in an alternate version of Earth that I would like to visit if I could figure out a place to apply for a visa. Recommended for anyone who isn't completely dead inside.

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TALL TALES WITH SHORT COCKS Vol. 1
ed. Arthur Graham

Bizarro Press/Rooster Republic
$9.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Tall Tales with Short Cocks is a collection of the weird and the weirder, each story guaranteed to inflate your inner chode to the very limits of its (albeit limited) imagination. Zombies, clockworks, and rabies-infected assholes! An anthology of Bizarro Fiction that will have you thinking "WTF? I gotta read what happens next!"

It's not horror, it's not sci-fi, and best of all, it's 100% YA paranormal FREE!!!

My Review: Nine short to middlin'-long tales covering most of the bases in that latest attempt by the young to épater le bourgeois (aka their parents and the dreary little yup-yups who act the way their parents do) that goes by the label “bizarro.”

Srsly y'all we did this in the 60s and 70s. Never heard of R. Crumb? Heavy Metal magazine, with its torture porn comics? But I digress, and uninterestingly.

My pervy old man-ness was instantly snagged by this title. Well, really, anyone who has read my reviews and commentary should not be surprised by that. So what the hell, download to Kindle for NINETY-NINE CENTS, why not?

Heh.

Arthur Graham's piece Zeitgeist made the burned-by-TV guy in me chortle way more than is seemly in a graybearded grandfather of three. It gave me a giant happy and fulfilled a revenge fantasy. Good on ya, AG!

Regressive caused actual physical pain from (self-directed) laughter. Mr. Rowark...we will have words...not many of them will be nice. Some of them will have only four letters. The good news is that at least one of them will be “love.”

I Am A Whale was cute, and amusing, but “prose poetry”? Blank verse, more like, and a little of that goes a LOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNG way.

In the Flesh is billed as “steampunk noir,” though I'm more down with noir than with steampunk as a descriptor. This piece, though, makes me want to read more by John McNee because it's got that...something...there's an imagination at work here, overtime perhaps in this work, but with some bitch-slapping editing, this one's a breakout author waiting to happen.

The other tales in the collection are just fine. They don't rise to the level of my call-outs, in my never-very-humble opinion, but believe me when I tell you that I never once wanted one of them to be over sooner than it was, and with bizarro, that is *really going some.

That's why I recommend the book to the reader with a hankerin' to go over the line, over the top, and out of bounds. Fuddies will duddy over the worty dirds, and the squeamish will squirm until their squirmers are sore; they probably won't pick the book up; and I say that is a darn shame, because these writers aren't out to SHOCK! SCANDALIZE! OFFEND! you, they are telling you old stories from a new angle, and doing it with a verve and an attitude that is, dear goddesses only know, refreshing and invigorating. One day, this will be the ground from which the midcentury Stephen King will rise. Read it now. We're still gonna be around. Best to get used to it now....

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THE ROAD
Cormac McCarthy

Alfred A. Knopf
$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

My Review: I was one of those who wasn't enamored of The Road. It just flopped down in front of the reader and said "here I am take me or leave me but faGawdSake don't you dare analyze me or you'll get mad."

At least, one heard this voice in one's head as one read along, growing more and more irked at the pretentiousness of the thing.

The narrative is driven by the boy and the man moving from place to place to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. So far, so good, as in "that's a trope we're all familiar with and can hang with." Then we get to the standard, Mad Max-style film villains. Then environmental destruction a la A Boy and His Dog among many others. Then the man dies at the end, and we are left wondering (if we're decent human beings) what the devil will become of the boy now.

And...?

None of this is new, and that's not my problem with it; none of this is particularly well-handled, and that IS my problem with it. Portentously arty non-punctuation doesn't make this a deep book. The French nouvelle roman of the 1940s and 1950s (Alain Robbe-Grillet being one of my favorite practicioners, followed closely by Claude Simon and Nathalie Sarraute) did this stuff fifty years ago and it WAS fresh...now there needs to be some reason to use this technique or it comes across as simply affected.

I have heard from others that I am too harsh in my judgment, that the punctuationlessness of the book is partly making the point that the world lost to the man and the boy means that they are existing without amenities and so we should share in their struggle.

Bosh.

But I am a veteran reader of post-apocalyptic fiction and so acknowledge that I set a very high bar for novels in this genre. I am also a person who enjoys books about fathers and sons. I didn't really get this book from that angle at all. It seemed to me that the man and the boy had a standard f&s thing going, and nothing changed much until the man dies. So your point, Mr. McCarthy, is that sons are abandoned and bereft and directionless and vulnerable after the death of their father?

And...?

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BAD MONKEYS
Matt Ruff
HarperCollins

$13.99 trade paper, available now


Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.

She tells police that she is a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil; her division is called the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons--"Bad Monkeys" for short.

This confession earns Jane a trip to the jail's psychiatric wing, where a doctor attempts to determine whether she is lying, crazy--or playing a different game altogether. What follows is one of the most clever and gripping novels you'll ever read.

My Review: "Clever" is a good word for this book. In fact, maybe "clever-clever" is even better. "Jane Charlotte"? She needs a boyfriend named "Austen Brontë" in that case.

And that is the very last and final connection anywhere within the oddly shaped covers of the book to Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë. From here on, we're on a profane and sometimes profoundly blue trip through the Halls of Micturation that form Jane's psyche. Is she addled? Drugged? One helluva fast-thinking sociopath, like in The Usual Suspects?

Dunno. About half-way through, I lost steam. See, this is the issue I perceive in so much bizarro/New Weird fiction. It goes on too long. It takes the joke, beats that sumbitch to death, scoops up the jellified meatiness, and then sets to stompin' on it in hobnailed boots. And after a while, one loses the desire to be on the sidelines looking on.

So, a month went by, and I picked the book up again. (It was stabbing me in the kidney as I got into bed one night.) Idly flipping to the Book Dart (if you don't have these, get some, they're amazing), I resumed reading with a slight smothered yawnlet.

*slog slog pantpant slog*

And I finished the book, unable to toss it aside for one reason: I had to know how the HELL this guy was gonna get off the horse at the end of the ride.

Good, good job, Sir Matt the Ruff. I did not see that ending happening.

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