Captain Ironhand (1957) is a not-so-dashing, not-so-thrilling adventure of the high seas. Set in 1772, Captain Ironhand features James Challoner - a faux pirate - and Lady Artis Grantley - a faux heroine.
The book starts with Challoner out of work and out of sorts. He's a Navy man, but false accusations of rape from a sex-starved Countess had him stripped of his commission (reader, please note, "women = bitches"). His luck changes when a patriotic coalition of Lords, Admirals and Christian businessmen select him to lead a mission of Great, Manly Daring.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom (that is, "don't give boats to sex criminals"), the coalition gives Challoner a state-of-the-art warship, a handpicked crew and a blank cheque to equip the lot. In turn, Challoner is given a fancy fake name, the "Ironhand" of the title, and sent forth to prey on pirates. Set a thief to catch a thief seems to be the vaguely-conceived plot.
This cunning strategy falls apart a bit when Challoner is instructed that: a) his mission is to get intelligence of pirate activities and b) never to report back.
[Jared's note: Although I'm a big fan of 24 (even the horror that was Season 6), I'm still not the biggest Bauer nut that I know. Fortunately, I scored a review from the most persnickety member of the Pornokitsch team - Mr Pickles.]
KJ Parker might as well change his/her pen name to "The Enigmatic". Not only do the official blurbs refer to the author in this fashion, but virtually every review does the same for his/her books. "KJ Parker" is a pseudonym (supposedly of someone that's already famous in another genre), but the cryptic reputation is reinforced by his/her chosen stylistic territory.
Parker, as I've pretentiously noted in the past, writes epic fantasy with the tone and flair of the great existentialists. Imagine Camus (beret / chain-smoking / small coffee / derisive look) secretly going home and reading Tolkien under the covers. The closest modern comparison is Andrzej Sapkowski, who also lends a certain stark & philosophical bent to his work. (Although the 'stark' could be the result of the translations).
Purple and Black is a limited edition novella from Subterranean Press, who have defied the 2009 malaise by putting out some stonking short fiction over the past 12 months.
It is, first and foremost, a stunning book. Subterranean pulled out all the stops - even printing it in mixed purple and black text. A short (120 pg) book, this is a quick read, but by no means a light one.
Garth Ennis, Ben Templesmith and Warren Fucking Ellis - a Round-up with three of the best.
Groom Lake (Lyall / Templesmith): This goofy novel gives the Templesmith treatment to the little gray men from outer space. The wide-ranging, fast-paced story touches on conspiracies, invasions, awkward penetrations and the media perception of the wacky fellows. The hillbilly protagonist and his Federal/spook lady counterpart are pretty lackluster, but the real star is the chain-smoking, fun-seeking alien, Archibald. There's a plot, but mostly it is an excuse to watch Archibald go bonkers and the other characters swap clips. If nothing else, this is an excellent vehicle for Templesmith's art - the man does more than vampires, you know. (7/10)
Punisher: War Zone (Ennis / Dillon): Ennis has written the Punisher from every perspective - slapstick to sinister. This is the sequel to the earlier, slapstick volume of adventures (now re-released in a massive trade collection that should grace every geek's shelves). Ma Gnucci is back from the dead... again. Or is she? The Punisher is being stalked by one of his old adversaries (maybe not the one you think). Ennis' work is always a delicate balance of style and substance. The more gothic Punisher work is forgiving of missteps than the comedic ones. Although enjoyable, this veers slightly too much towards poop jokes & degradation. I wanted this to be great, but it was only so-so. (5/10)
Doktor Sleepless: Engines of Desire (Ellis / Rodriguez): Ellis always shines when writing an episodic series for a longer title (NEXTWAVE, Fell, Global Frequency...) and this is no exception. It allows him to play with the wonderful, perverse, far-seeing ideas in his head, but within the form and structure of established characters. The closest comparison to Doktor Sleepless is his work on Transmetropolitan - a vicious, anarchist protagonist strives to rearrange society with the tools at hand. And the good Doktor has many, many tools indeed. Quality Ellis is like some sort of Lovecraftian manuscript - it may hurt your mind, even as it broadens it. (9/10)