The Rose of the Prophet by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

6a00d8345295c269e201bb09f892f4970d-250wiThis is it, y'all. The entire Pornokitsch legacy, resting on one final review. There's no guarantee that I'll ever have a platform like this again. Worse: these last words need to be worthy of the ten years of effort that went into building said platform. These words will represent the entire body of my work: now and forever. Terrifying.

And yet, that's not true, is it?

It is very easy to empathise with that kind of pressure – but it is also utter madness.  Approximately 80% of our traffic already goes directly to ‘old’ articles - and that's soon to be 100%. Most people that encounter Pornokitsch, or me, will never even see this review, much less use it as their means of judging the rest of my work.

Understandably, it is a relief when I acknowledge that this piece doesn’t need to be the ur-blog. I can try something new, experiment with something old, or do what feels right to me without having to second-guess my own legacy. I could even phone it in. This post is not exceptional, and that's liberating: I have permission to fail, and that makes it easier to get on with it.

I don't, however, have permission to wibble endlessly. I promise this does lead somewhere, but let's park this discussion of empowering failure for now.

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The Kitschies

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 11.14.34Disclaimer: It has been five (?) years since I had anything to do with The Kitschies, so, this is a non-disclaimer disclaimer. This has nothing to do with me or with Pornokitsch as a whole. (Anne still makes the trophies though!)

But, god damn, they're fun to watch. Check out this lovely website created by sponsor Blackwell's. And buy all the books - at a discount!

This year's shortlists look exceptional: I've read precisely zero of the books, but have now ordered a half dozen based on their very intriguing descriptions. I've long held the opinion that awards are just glorified recommendations. They don't make things objectively Better or Worse, but they are very good machines for discovering new reading. If you can find an award with taste that matches your own, hold that sucker close. Or, in this case, keep gripping the whole darn tentacle.

On a self-indulgent personal note: The Kitschies was the first of our projects that we initiated,... then left. If these tiny, tentacular awards were ever going to do what they were supposed to do, they needed to live and breathe beyond us, and be bigger than us. That's something we saw at the time, and, as much as we miss them - it was the right call, and we've never regretted it.

We're now a few days away from wrapping up a ten year project (Pornokitsch), and that's not so long after wrapping up a five year one (Jurassic London). Knowing that at least one of our goofy little kids grew up to have an impact on the world... that's what I needed to hear right now. Well done to The Kitschies and to everyone behind them. (And thanks.)

The lists and the links are all here. 


Review Round-up: Smoke 'em while you got 'em

Some reviews that are united by being... written. And since this site ain't around for much longer, it is now or never! Featuring Margaret Millar's Fire Will Freeze, Bill Beverly's Dodgers, Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and Lucas Dale's First Watch. Something for everyone and/or no one, I suspect.

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13631744Fire Will Freeze by Margaret Millar (1944)

Utterly bonkers ‘sealed room’ mystery - think of it as punk-Christie, with an emphasis on surreal dialogue, backhanded character development, and a (surprisingly) fair use of the Detection Club rules. A busload of skiiers - of variable ages, backgrounds and levels of outdoor experience - find themselves stranded in rural Canada when their bus-driver, quite literally, runs away. When the squabbling tourists finally go chasing off after him, they instead find a ramshackle mansion, tended to by a pair of (violently) unwelcoming women.

The mystery unfolds through a series of snarky conversations (everyone is barely holding it together) and accidental discoveries (there are a fair number of bodies about). Millar has one primary protagonist, a young busybody with an overactive imagination. The point of view changes frequently and, as with the best mysteries of its type, everyone is a suspect. The weirdness ramps up quickly, not aided by the frequent shifts in perspective, but Fire is well worth the initial effort.

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Stewart, Stewart, Heyer: Touch Not the Cat, Thornyhold and Envious Casca

 Three books by two favourites: Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat and Thornyhold and Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca.

For more on Stewart, check out our Author Appreciation and our convenient 'field guide'. For more on Heyer, er, just read a lot of Heyer? (It is well worth it.)

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TouchNotTheCatTouch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart (1976)

Touch Not has the hallmarks of one of Stewart’s classic romantic suspense novels: a beautiful woman (Bryony Ashley), both supremely confident and utterly alone in the world; a breath-taking location (the collapsing, but beautiful, ruin of Ashley Court); a discreet problem (the Court, and its expensive upkeep - whatever is one to do with this most ridiculous of #firstworldproblems). There are even several handsome men, depicting a variety of swoony characteristics, for Bryony to inevitably choose from. And, naturally some skullduggery: perhaps Ashley’s father’s accidental death wasn’t quite so accidental after all.

In the normal Stewart formula, this would unfold in the traditional way, with a few twists, an inevitable romantic pairing, and the barest modicum of actual threat. Stewart’s novels often unfold with an aristocratic coziness that precludes actual danger: the characters are so warmly ensconced in an upper crust so thick that murder itself couldn't penetrate it. (It is, I daresay, utterly wonderful to read, and her characters' self-confidence makes them better escapism than a thousand-thousand hobbits.)

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Review Round-up: Squadron Supreme, The Bug Wars, Crownbird and Beasts of the Burnished Chain

Four reviews with nothing in common, really. Squadron Supreme, Robert Asprin's The Bug Wars, Kit Thackeray's Crownbird, and Alex Marshall's new novella, Beasts of the Burnished Chain. Featuring: Military science fiction, four-colour superheroes, colonialist espionage action, and some grimdark skullduggery!

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Squadron_supreme_titleSquadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco (1986)

Squadron is really quite spectacular, and every time I read it, I'm more impressed. It is, for those that missed it, a pre-Watchmen (barely) examination of superheroism. Squadron's thematic heft is made all the more weighty by the fact that the Squadron is a group of C-list Marvel heroes that are all thinly veiled versions of DC characters. That makes them expendable and strangely liberated - despite their immediate familiarity, there's no backstory, canon or future. The result is, quite possibly, the most mature, most interesting take on the Justice League that ever existed - all courtesy of Marvel Comics.

The twelve issue series begins with a world that's in bad shape, thanks to a battle between the Squadron and a mind-controlling super-villain. The Squadron steps up and declares itself 'in charge': the team is going to fix the world. From infrastructure to disarmament, they go about their utopian plan - forcing everyone to be better, if necessary. The situation becomes more extreme when the Squadron find themselves with a machine that can 'behaviourally modify' people. Now, as well as sweeping social and infrastructural change, they can now literally make individuals Be Good. The ethical situation doesn't go unchallenged, and the discussion - and fallout - is explored over the course of the series.

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YA Y'all: Moxie, Part-Time Princesses and Sarah Dessen

One more round-up of Young Adult reading - Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie, Monica Gallagher's Part-Time Princesses and a whistle-stop tour through the ouevre of Sarah Dessen. Steel yourself for angst, anxiety, young women finding their agency, and some floppy-haired love interests.

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33163378Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Vivian’s high school, in a small town in Texas, is a hot mess of misogyny and harassment. The administration doesn’t care, the boys are a disaster, and Viv and her friends are left to suffer in silence.

And then she discovers Punk. It turns out that Viv’s mom was a Riot Grrl in the 1990s. After finding a cache of her mom’s zines, Viv sees them as the perfect way to express herself: angry, anonymous and, most of all, loud. ‘Moxie’ (the zine) succeeds beyond her wildest ambitions, introducing Viv to new friends, creating an underground of female empowerment, and of course, getting them heard.

It isn’t without trouble, of course, and Moxie contains all the ups and downs that you might expect. Moxie is a Disney After School Special version of Friday Night Lights, with all the conflicts (oh no! Moxie is banned!) and ‘surprises’ (oh wow, the cheerleader is on-side!) that fit the formula. There isn’t quite a moment where they all jump on their desks... but it isn’t far off either.

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Three Fantasies: The Black Witch, The Empire of the Dead, and The Summer I Became a Nerd

The Black WitchThree reviews - all books with different 'fantasies', or relationships with fantasy, at their heart: The Summer I Became a Nerd, The Black Witch and The Empire of the Dead. One's a romp. One's a long-overdue provocation. One's kind of a mess. Enjoy!

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The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (2017)

A very traditional fantasy with a thought-provoking, revisionist twist.

The Black Witch has a really, really interesting premise: it full-on tackles the fact that many fantasy tropes are inherently racist. That's not only a telling comment on the radical polarisation of real-world politics, but, within the scope of genre, Witch takes a  fascinating approach to fantasy's racial essentialism. All Orcs are evil. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Elves are good. Fantasy is grounded in simple, unchallenged 'genetic' truths, with the exceptions (whaddup, Drizzt) there to prove the rule.

Black Witch has a completely classic fantasy world with a heroic human - basically the unappreciated secretly-hawt princess trope, rampaging hordes of Evil, the true religion, Fate and Destiny, a war against the darkness, and, of course, the chosen ones of light and darkness. But, as is made rapidly clear: every part of this is completely subjective.

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Friday Five: 5 Frosty Favourites for Snowy Weather

As #snowmageddon ravages Britain, we're looking forward to the weekend. We have firm plans to camp out - pressed against the radiator, under a dozen blankets (and two cats), with whisky in hand. Also, books. * 

Here are a few of our cold weather favourites.

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