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October 2008
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Underground Reading: Five / Seven / Five

As part of the 'clear the living room table so I can eat' initiative, I'm afraid I'm going to have to continue the rapid-fire reviewing. Unsurprisingly, Anne recommended haiku. So, without further exposition, seven books, several of which deserve much better treatment than this: 

The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon:

Inbred cannibals
rape, pillage, maim and slaughter.
Try harder next time.

Beware! by Richard Laymon:

Punctuation alone!
Can't make a bad story scary!
Beware! of Beware!

Who Has Wilma Lathrop? by Day Keene:

Before she ran off,
she loved like "wife and mistress".
That's the wild fifties.

The Savage Breast by John Trinian:

Rich girl loves artist
The artist loves her money.
That's really it.

Once a Thief by Zekail Marko:

Reformed thief tries hard -
But the Man won't let him win.
Starring Jack Palance!

After Hours by William Lawrence:

Boss shags secretary
in a posh department store.
Fire solves everything.

Sin in Space by Cyril Judd:

No sin. "Space" means Mars.
No sex. No guns. No nothing.
Book is a let-down.


Meanwhile, in Sul...

Grand Exemplar Kreoss stalked the dusty temple courtyard, the sun beating down overhead. The new soldiers - aware of the Exemplar's scrutiny - stood silently at attention.
Kreoss turned to the diminutive priest by his side. "Tell me again about these... Bastions?", he growled.
Brother Ichtherious swallowed hard, and briefly contemplated transferring to the Reclaimers. "They're a new elite troop for you, sir. Some of the finest in the knightly orders - trained exclusively with the polearm, and blessed with all the standard..."
Kreoss cut him off with a single gesture from his mailed fist. "I understand that... priest. But there's something not right about them, and I would know what it is."
Although prepared for the question, Ichtherious still broke into a light sweat that had nothing to do with the sun overhead. "The Bastions plastic."

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Graphic Novel Round-up: Five for Feeding


Temporarily reverting to the 'mass review' format - the table is filled with unreviewed books, which makes dinner a little tricky. Read the reviews, so I can eat. Thanks.

Stormwatch: Team Achilles (Wright / Portacio): Published in 2003, Team Achilles picks up the slack as the flagship The Authority  title degenerated into decrepitude. Team Achilles does a good job rehashing the timeless 'who watches the watchmen?' (topical!) question about keeping superheroes in check - and the morally-bankrupt Wildstorm setting is a perfect place to ask it. Although a bit too super-macho (can anyone in this title do wrong?), and relies a little too much on prior knowledge of the setting, this is solid read. Worth pairing with Ennis's The Boys - same subject matter with a dramatically different tone of voice. 

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Alan Moore's furniture

"[Alan Moore] makes the furniture of his stories fit around his artists' need" - Melinda Gebbie

I really liked hearing Melinda Gebbie say this at Friday night's talk about Lost Girls. As well as being an obscenely talented writer, all of Alan Moore's graphic novels are blessed with unnaturally perfect artistic matches. It is encouraging (and inspiring, I think) to know that this is the result of a strong and open partnership between the writer and the artist.

Dave Gibbons is perfect for Watchmen. His simple, symbolic, four-color art is exactly what that title needed to come to life. Similarly, From Hell would not have worked nearly as well without Eddie Campbell's hyper-detailed, macabre sketches. Top 10 benefits from Gene Ha's lavish backgrounds. It just keeps going...

The Cinematic Black Hole: Liveblogging Dragon Wars

Dragon_Wars_4 The back of the box for Dragon Wars is completely devoid of information.

Rather than traditional things like ‘plot summary’ or ‘character names’, all I know going into this movie is that it cost $75 MILLION DOLLARS. 

If you're keeping score at home, that's 84  million boxes of 89-cent Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Sight unseen, I already know that’s a lousy deal.

1: Who needs the back of the box when you've got an animated backstory to kick things off? Every 500 years, the world gets a dragon. A good one or a bad one. Since bad ones destroy the world, apparently the good ones are on a fairly lengthy winning streak.

3: Is that Michael Madsen as a government agent?

4: An Unshaven Young Reporter is having flashbacks. More backstory.

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Alan Moore: He's pretty decent

I'm attending an Alan Moore talk at the V&A tonight.

I'm somewhere between 'terrifyingly overexcited' and 'combusting'. Let's face it, in an industry teeming with talent, he's simply the best there is. If you want to make an argument for Gaiman, Ellis, Bendis or Morrison - go for it, I'll nod politely, but we'll both know that even these luminaries aren't in the same league as the Wizard. (If you want to make an argument for Millar, Miller or Claremont, just keep it to yourself, ok?)

The danger, of course, is to take him for granted. Entering 'Alan Moore' into my book collection turns this up:

Alan Moore      

When it comes down to it, any one of Alan Moore's books would be enough for him to be included on the list of top writers - even one of the 'minor' ones, say, The Ballad of Halo Jones or Top 10. If he had just written From Hell... or V for Vendetta... or The League of Extraordinary Gentleman... or The Killing Joke... We'd think he's a genius. And when you look at his entire body of work, it is simply overwhelming.

Also, he wrote Watchmen.

Where is Troy Jamison?

Where is Janice Gantry_11168_fSam, the protagonist of John D. MacDonalds's Where is Janice Gantry? (1961),is an insurance claims adjuster. In a testament to JDM's ability to make even the mundane routine seem fascinating, Sam's job is surprisingly interesting. JDM uses Sam's interactions with his clients to describe his character - ultimately showing the reader a man that's fair, honest and perceptive.

Reading the paper one morning, Sam describes a story about a multiple car pile-up on the freeway, killing a local businessman and six others. Sam muses that it isn't really his line of work, and then returns to puzzling over the titular mystery. The businessman is Troy Jamison, and JDM aficionados will recall this event as the dramatic climax of Slam the Big Door (1960).

This is pretty nifty. I'm glad John D. MacDonald doesn't go overboard with the connections between his books (the world doesn't need a warm weather version of Derry, Maine), but finding this was a treat.

Underground Reading: The Blood Circus by Thomas K. Fitzpatrick

The Blood Circus Published as a Fawcett Gold Medal in 1968, The Blood Circus is a thriller based on the alien subculture of the motorcycle gangs. It isn't exactly Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels, but, for a chapter or two, Thomas Kirkpatrick's The Blood Circus isn't bad.

Fitzpatrick has done his research, and joyously recites long glossaries of biker vocabulary and lovingly lingers in his descriptions of urine-stained jeans and growling engines. Unfortunately, as a piece of thriller fiction, the book fails quite badly. In his quest to detail the horror of biker culture, Fitzpatrick goes skidding down the slippery slope to outright madness. What begins as a depiction of a violent counter-culture ends as a paranoid fantasy.

The book begins in a very promising fashion. A gang of bikers, the Beasts, pull into a Southwestern ghost town and proceed to do horrible things to a family of tourists. Fitzpatrick illustrates the conflict between the gang and 'square society' - the bikers are fearless and unrestrained while normal folks are frightened and bound by the rules. As long as the bikers refuse to play by the rules, they're unstoppable. Fortunately, we have the police (with big guns) to hold them in check.

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Jumping the Shark

The monthly newsletter from Borderlands includes a selection of fantasy and science-fiction series that have 'jumped the shark'.

Although their editor apologizes for including some classics on here, I think they've made some excellent picks:

The Dune series by Frank Herbert - Stop at the first book, Dune. If you really loved it, you may read the second, Dune Messiah.  But stop there.

The Amber books by Roger Zelazny - The first set, one through five (Nine Princes in Amber to The Courts of Chaos), are excellent.  Don't even bother reading the second five (The Trumps of Doom to The Prince of Chaos).

The Ender books by Orson Scott Card - Read the first one, Ender's Game.  Then, please, please, please do stop.  Skip wwaaayyy ahead and read Ender's Shadow. Then stop for good.  And while you're at it,you might want to skip the rest of his work entirely.

The Anita Blake series by Laurel Hamilton - They continue to deliver all the way up to Obsidian Butterfly, which is volume 9.  After that, stop (unless, of course, you like porn, porn, porn, with a side of porn.  But in that case, my I suggest Penthouse's Forum magazine? It's much cheaper and comes out every month.)

The Thomas Covenant trilogy of trilogies by Steven Donaldson.  Read the first three (Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves) then stop.  Not only are the later books inferior but they spoil your appreciation of the central character because they remove his only admirable trait.

The Xanth novels by Piers Anthony - Read the first three.  They're really quite clever and funny.  But then the jokes run out, the puns become onerous, and they just aren't _good_ anymore.  But, wow, have they gone on . . . and on . . . and on (Anthony is up to number 29 now . . . and people still buy them . . . wonders will _never_ cease).

What would you add to the list? Anthony's Apprentice/Adept series is another one that should have been axed after the first three volumes. And Simon Green's unrelentingly campy Deathstalker saga comes to mind.

Out of genre, I'm not sure there's a better example of shark gymnastics than the Ed Noon series.

Underground Reading: The Jebson Kids by Fern Burke

The Jebson KidsThe Jebson Kids, by Fern Burke, was published in 1966 by the Softcover Library. It is a striking blend of reactionary politics and soft core pornography. 

The book tells the story of Bill MacLaren, ex-Marine, who comes into the Jebson household as a 'nanny' of sorts. The household is awash in problems - primarily the behavior of the twin children: Roberta is a nymphomaniac and Peter is (eep!) gay.

Bill solves their problems, and those of the twins' guardians, by using an elegant scientific tool that appears over and over again in the (bad) fiction of this era: The Slappenfuk.

Although the process may seem (hopefully) dated in this enlightened modern era, in sixties fiction, the Slappenfuk was a popular cure-all. Despite the Teutonic name, the Slappenfuk is not Freudian in origin - but merely a form of unconventional pseudo-psychological treatment. If someone has a problem, you slap them... then you fuck them. In the space of chapter break, everything will be resolved.

The Jebson Kids is an unusually focused novel in that the Slappenfuk solves every single problem raised during the course of the book. From cover to cover, it is 154 pages of non-stop slapping and fucking. Let's take it on a case by case basis:

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