Gun Machine – Warren Ellis

Gun Machine
by Warren Ellis
Pub: Mulholland Books
308 pages

I’m going to cheat a bit with this review. The best way to get some sense of this book is to watch the trailers I’ve embedded below. I could tell you it reads something like if David Cronenberg (in the horror/History Of Violence days) made an episode of CSI. I could liken it to a less drug infused Hunter S. Thomson. Warren Ellis’ writing always puts me in mind of a text analogue of a  Hieronymus Bosch painting, as he conjures an image of hell that’s by turns fascinating, disturbing, and most importantly a bit too close to home. But these comparisons would only get you so far.

I’m going to put you into the capable hands of Wil Wheaton, Ben Templesmith and Jim Batt to get a better flavour of things.

Has that piqued your interest?

I suppose you need to know a it more of the story. I’m going to leave the lead up to that scene alone, and instead tell you what comes after. All those weapons can be traced to an unsolved murder; hundreds of guns, each with its own dead body. And it’s Tallow that’s going to take the fall for finding them, because no one in the police department wants to deal with the politics and PR of all that unnoticed death.

And it’s not just his colleagues and superiors Tallow needs to be wary of, but the owner of the morbid treasure trove, out to reclaim his trophies, and make some fresh corpses on the way.

Tallow isn’t alone in his insane journey down shit creek though. Two CSU’s come along for the ride, with their own brand of madness. Scarly and Bat, really help the book along, with the interplay and dialogue between the three being key to elevating the book.

Set in a future that feels a mere handful of tomorrows away, there are tiny nods to technology that could be just around the corner, without pushing the book anywhere close to science fiction.

Gun Machine is as much a story of Manhattan as it is a tale of crime, and there are references and mentions that’ll have you reaching for google to track them down.

Warren Ellis’ second fiction book, this feels more grounded than the ambient weird of Crooked Little Vein, and there’s still the feeling of a comic book writer under the surface in the descriptions, and that’s no bad thing.

I’m going to leave you with my recommendation that you give the book a go, and with the second trailer, which is a very different beast from the first, and that’ll make more sense as you read the book.

Dangerous Gifts – Gaie Sebold 2

Dangerous Gifts
By: Gaie Seblod
Pub: Solaris

 

Adele put up a review of this book up couple of weeks ago, and I thought I’d follow it up with my opinion.

The second book featuring Babylon Steel, the eponymous heroine of Gaie Sebold’s first book (reviews here by me and here by Adele), Dangerous Gifts sees her once again forced to deal with trouble she’d rather avoid. The story carries on from the first book, with Babylon becoming the bodyguard to Enthemmerlee, against her better judgement, under the unfortunate confluence of circumstance and financial troubles. This means abandoning the Red Lantern and her crew, and venturing to Incandress, Enthemmerlee’s home plane/world.

Wrapped more in political intrigue than the first book, Dangerous Gifts keeps up a good pace, keeping things nicely rolling along within it’s confined time frame, balancing it’s constituent parts well. With the story primarily taking place on Incandress rather than Scalentine the book has a freshness that the second book of a series sometimes struggles to find.

If I had one complaint about the book it would be that slightly too much of the plot pivots on eavesdropping upon some fortuitous piece of information. While not a bad plot device I can think of four instances where the story changed in a way impossible without Babylon or another character happening to be in the right place at the right time. While this is the case with the plots of all books, the use of eavesdropping broadcasts it over-much.

The above aside the book is very good, the pacing is good, the action scenes work, and the characters feel real, with layered emotion, and the dialogue is great.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Pub: Arrow Books
374 pages

Wade Watts has but one escape from his hellish life in a towering trailer park (see the rather wonderful cover), the virtual reality world of OASIS. There’s something grander than merely ducking into an imperative online world though, and that’s a quest.

James Halliday, the creator of OASIS was obsessed with 80s pop culture, an obsession that dominoes out into the world upon his death. Halliday had no heirs, and so in his will left the control of OASIS, his personal fortune and possessions to anyone who can solve the puzzles he has left scattered throughout the virtual world he has created, and find his Easter Egg. Wade, like many others is dedicated to solving these puzzles, yet as we start the story, five years after Halliday’s death the first riddle has yet to be solved.

The 80s theme that so pervades the quest for Halliday’s Easter Egg serves as an interesting device, allowing the book to merge past and future with geekish abandon. There’s inferences on the current state of the world as well, in the vision of what we become. It’s hard to move away from the 80s when considering the plot, and I can’t decide if that’s a fair comment, or just the nearest one to hand given the way the book wears the era. There are huge and evil corporations, high school to survive, and the awkwardness of young romance, a sub-plot that works nicely against the larger story without feeling in any way forced in.

With technology reminiscent of William Gibson’s cyberpunks, nods and knowing winks to games, films, music, and fashion from the era the book is unrepentantly nostalgic. I suspect there is a perfect demographic that this book fits, that experienced the era it harks back to first hand, rather than seeing it diluted through the lens of current pop culture. That said being a little out of that loop hasn’t harmed my enjoyment of the book, although there is a feeling I might have missed references.

Wade feels well realised as a character, and there’s an interesting duality between his progress in OASIS and in the real world. The book handles the virtual landscape well, although I’d be interested to know how it reads to someone unfamiliar with computers, or indeed looking back in the years to come over the technological developments.

Pony up your $1, take your 3 lives, and prepare yourself.

Kraken – China Miéville

Kraken
By China Miéville
Pub: Pan Books
481 pages

Kraken is a book I should have got round to reading a long time ago, but it seems strangely appropriate to be talking about it now, with the first footage of a giant squid in it’s natural habitat having been released this week. But less science, onto the book.

Billy Harrow is a man out of his depth, although he’s assured, by some, that it is far deeper than he imagines. A curator at London’s Natural History Museum, he was part of the team responsible for preserving the giant squid that sat at the heart of the Darwin Centre. The 8 meter (ish) long specimen, that one morning simply isn’t there. Someone, or someones has pulled off an  impossible theft.

For the sake of avoiding romanticising the squid (we’re not that kind of site), here is Archie (no, really) in his tank.

Picture taken from The IndependentThe discovery of the theft places Billy at the heart of a conspiracy in a world he doesn’t know exists; a London rife with magicians, cults, prophets, gangs, sects, familiars, and gods. Not to mention the Met’s own small magical task force, the FSRC, the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit. To some of them the squid is more than just a museum curiosity, it’s a creature that holds the apocalypse in it’s tentacled grasp.

China Miéville’s writing style is idosyncratic, and it’ll drive you off if you can’t settle to it. If you can though, the staccato rhythm suits the book incredibly well. There’s much of the uncanny setting left unexplored, with groups, factions and places left as hanging meat hooks to snag in the readers brain, mentioned only as titbits and allusions.

Billy feels well rounded, and his reactions feel like the most markedly real thing in a book full of the unreal. His friends, allies, accomplices and enemies are less pinned down, and better for it, as their mystery only serves to enhance the demarcation between the weirder London and Billy.

And London is as much the star as Billy. There’s the unsettling overlay of the real and unreal in the book that is only tempered by having heard of those places, been in that building or stood in that spot.

There are similarities to be drawn between Kraken and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Both feature a protagonist unwillingly pulled into a darker, deeper, more magical London, and being changed by the experience. Is it going to appeal to the same people? Undoubtedly yes, although tone and style are far removed. While Neverwhere, though macabre, always had something magical glittering in the darkness, Kraken leans more towards the black cold of the ocean depths; the violence and magic has a different aspect, a rougher edge. There are many characters who simply won’t survive, and the book gains weight and power from the feeling of no one being safe.

I can only recommend Kraken. It’s a fantastic book that takes the reader on an unlikely journey through a supernaturally tinged world that’s a far remove from the usual urban haunts of vampires, zombies and werewovles. The unfamiliarity and the unexpected plot this allows is one of the highlights.

Ash: A Secret History – Mary Gentle

Ash: A Secret History
By Mary Gentle
Pub: Gollancz
1113 pagesI began reading Ash, some time around 10 years ago, and I have at last finished it, after numerous on-again off-again attempts and slogging restarts. It’s not an easy book to keep momentum on, mainly due to the sheer size of the damned thing. Those 1113 pages are packed with tiny, tiny font. I’m not just making excuses here either; the American release saw the story split across four books, making it far more manageable.

So was it worth the time and effort?
I think so. 
Ash follows the story of the book’s titular lead, a female mercenary captain, plying her bloody trade across Europe in the last quarter of the 15th Century. She holds her mercenary company together through experience, ability, force of personality, and something a little special.
Ash hears voices in her head, that may be the Green Man, the Lord and his saints, or something more sinister. These voices advise her in battle, and lend her some of the mystique of Joan Of Arc.
Ash’s Europe is a time and a place both familiar from history yet altered from how we know it. The Visgoth Empire rules over Africa, a land trapped under a literal eternal darkness, where mechanical golems serve the lord-amir’s bidding. The King-Caliph in Carthage in bent on the conquest of Europe.
The book is split down into sixteen fairly hefty parts, each separated by documentation alleged to relate to the original manuscripts from which the main narrative was translated, and which also chronicles the wild goose chase of archaeological dig searching for evidence of the events descried. This framing device both adds its own twist to the story, and flags up the differences between Ash’s present and our past.
With its alternate history setting and a framing device of found documents and archaeological digs in the present the book balances itself flags up some of its historical quirks.
The story is written thick with detail, and it serves to really ground the reader in Ash’s surroundings, from rust speckled weapons, fleas, and the bloody, thumping violence of combat, to the tangled skein of political allegiances across the battlefields and bedrooms of Europe, the physical impracticality of armour, and the tenuous command of a mercenary force.
I found the detail one of the engaging factors, although some may find in cloying to be presented with so much information beyond the bounds of the story.
The characters feel absolutely real, from Ash herself, down to the camp followers; hell, even Ash’s horse, Godluc, seems well realised. While there is an overarching fantasy/alt history/sf bent to the storyline, it doesn’t overwhelm the more historically accurate elements, and in facts sits very comfortably amongst them.
Ash is up there as one of my favourite characters (or I’d have given up reading this years ago), and (if you’ve got the time) her story is well worth a read.

Comics – 29th August 2012

As is DC’s want during month’s that have five Wednesday’s instead of neatly fitting in with their four week cycle it’s odds and sods time, with Aquaman from last week, a few annuals, and the perennial schedule hopper, Justice League.

Other publishers, less caring about the fluctuations of the calendar have followed their usual cycle so there’s Debris and New Deadwardians.

DC – New 52 #12 Part 5

Aquaman
The Flash Annual
Green Lantern Annual
Justice League

Other

Debris
The New Deadwardians

Skipped To The End…
Continue reading

Comics – 22nd August 2012

A mixed bag this week, with some titles improving, some going the other way. There’s still another set of releases out this month, including Aquaman #12, and a number of annuals. September see DC putting out 0 issues of all it’s titles, and introducing some new ones as well, but between now and then I’ll be doing a look back over the last year, and seeing if the New52 have been a success.

DC – New 52 #12 Part 4

The Flash
I, Vampire
Justice League Dark
New Guardians
Teen Titans

Skipped To The End…

Continue reading

Comics – 1st August 2012

I’m not sure if this makes a year in the New 52 or not. I think, seeing as we are now moving into the twelfth issues for the comics that launched last September that the books have run for a year, even if the date says different. That being the case there are a lot of titles without Annuals though, although there are a few to come later this month. But I digress.

I’m going to save a final summing up of the first year of the New 52 for a later post, but there are a few things that need to be said here. Many issues are wrapping up their story lines this month, in readiness for #0 in September that will provide another jumping on point for new readers, as well as bring more characters into the New 52.

Onto the reviews.

DC – New 52 #12 Part 1
Animal Man
Dial H
Earth 2
Stormwatch
Swamp Thing

Marvel
Hawkeye

Other
Harvest
Mind The Gap
Thief Of Thieves

Skipped To The End…

Continue reading