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December 2010
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Half-Remembered Books: The Starlight Barking by Dodi Smith

Starlight Barking You knew The One Hundred and One Dalmations was originally a children's book, right?  Of course you did.

But did you know it has a sequel?  And that sequel is not The 102 Dalmations?

I read The Starlight Barking once, at about age nine.  It stuck with me.  Why, you might ask?  Because it was seriously fucked up.

Today I'm going to tell you what I remember, from one reading 22 years ago, of this classically messed-up children's book.  Then I'll read the Wikipedia article about it and compare.  Who knows?  Maybe I made the whole thing up.

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The Week that Was

It was a busy week at Pornokitsch. If you missed any of it, here's a quick recap:

Next week, we'll be reviewing our remaining Kitschie finalists - The Folding Knife and Aurorarama - and announcing the winner of the 2010 Golden Tentacle. We've also got more from Monsters & Mullets and a bit of helpful advice for those going to the SFX Weekender.

Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard

Today would've marked the 105th birthday of Robert E. Howard, a genre legend whose influence easily equals that of H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien.

As the years have gone by, poor Mr. Howard is increasingly remembered only for Conan. Not a shoddy legacy, to be fair. The Conan saga is well-written, entertaining and surprisingly deep. (A statement that will earn nods of recognition from those that have read the stories and immediate dismissal from those folk who have only watched the movies.)

But Howard is to Conan as Lovecraft is to Cthulhu - each author awkwardly burdened by their most famous creation to the exclusion of all their other contributions.

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The Kitschies: Kraken by China Miéville

Kraken [This is the third in a set of five reviews - each looking at one of our 2010 Kitschie finalists. As part of our commitment to a transparent judging process, we'll run through each of the books in turn with our criteria in mind. Please take part in the discussion below!]

“Miévillian” gets bandied about a fair amount these days as adjectival shorthand for a particular kind of book.  Generally, that book is 1. Gritty 2. Urban 3. Fantasy featuring 4. Tentacled 5. Weirdness.  There could not be a more superficial way of categorizing China Miéville’s work. Rightly, “Miévillian” should refer to those rare, tightly-controlled stories that simultaneously subvert genre conventions and narrative expectations while blasting the reader through a plot so carefully constructed and densely layered she can only stagger off the final sentence longing for more.  “Miévillian” doesn’t mean weird words and cactus-men.   “Miévillian” is about ripping genre apart and rebuilding it in into something new and wholly unimagined. 

China Miéville’s protean approach to genre means he’s never met a category he didn’t explode with all the calculated mischievousness of a teenager smoking under the principal’s window during school hours.  Nowhere is this more evident than the absurdist comedy of Kraken.

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The Kitschies: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City

[This is the second in a set of five reviews - each looking at one of our 2010 Kitschie finalists. As part of our commitment to a transparent judging process, we'll run through each of the books in turn with our criteria in mind. Please take part in the discussion below!]

A modern noir set in Johannesburg, featuring a black, female, ex-journalist, ex-junky, ex-convict narrator, a daemon-y sloth clinging to her shoulders, Lauren Beukes’ impressive sophomore novel Zoo City sounds about as wanky as they come.

But Beukes turns what could have been a ridiculous Raymond Chandler-meets-Phillip Pullman pastiche into a deep and thoughtful examination of guilt and redemption in the 21st century. 

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Hell Here

You've surely heard by now that Anne Hathaway has been cast as Catwoman in the next Batman movie. To which Pornokitsch says: at least she'll be better than Halle Berry. Probably.

Nolan has a much better track record casting men than women.  So we're heartened to hear that he's cast Tom Hardy as Bane. If we're very good little boys and girls, Mr. Hardy might just wander off with every scene he's in, as he did with Inception. We're okay with that.

Now go home, pop your copy of Batman Returns into your DVD player, and sing along with Michelle:  six, seven; all good girls go to heaven.


New Releases: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Ben-aaronovitch-rivers-of-london Rivers of London is the long-awaited original series from popular TV and tie-in writer Ben Aaronovitch. A darkly comedic police procedural, Rivers is a deliciously more-ish book that is nearly impossible to put down.

The book (and presumably, the forthcoming series) features Peter Grant, a somewhat crappy police officer who suddenly discovers that he's, well, magical. Or at least, suddenly aware of the magical. Young Grant was on the fast track to a bureaucratic desk job, but now his life is much, much more interesting. Grant is poached for duty by Chief Inspector Nightingale, the Met's divisional head (and the entire division) for Creepy Magical Stuff.

It all happens just in time. The Rivers of London, at least, their magical embodiments, are having a turf war - it is in the pushing and shoving phase, but still, if it goes wrong, the city will be in bad shape. Grant is also juggling a second supernatural case - a nasty serial-killer of a poltergeist is beating people to death and making their faces fall off.

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How Do You Read a Series?

Chronicles It's easy with something like Harry Potter; the books are written and published chronologically. But what about the Narnia series, or Forester's Hornblower series, where the authors wrote the books out of chronological order?  When you make your first foray into a well-established series, do you start with the book the author wrote first or the book that comes first, chronologically?

Although I'm pretty fanatical about chronological consistency, (I am an historian, after all), this question really tears me up. As I enjoy watching authors develop, I like to begin where the author began, with the first book he or she wrote in the series. That said, I love well-done character development, and a good series can develop character to a degree very few stand-alone novels can match. For the most part I start with the book that comes first in the series' chronology, no matter when the author wrote it.  But I always secretly fear that I'm missing Something Important by not starting where the author began.

Underground Reading: The Goldfish Murders by Will Mitchell

1170-1 The Goldfish Murders (1950) seems to be the only book ever written by Will Mitchell. This is a combination of great shame and great relief, as The Goldfish Murders might be one of the strangest books I've stumbled across in a long, long while. Half pastiche, half morbid fantasia, Mr. Mitchell's sole work is a unique contribution to detective fiction.

Lieutenant Lash is just wandering out of a movie theatre on a rare day off when he's tackled by a taxi driver and dragged over to view a homicide. A lovely dame has been dameslaughtered - stabbed through the heart with an antique dagger and left to die. Adding insult to injury, a goldfish has been delicately tucked between her breasts. Lash - paired with his professional rival, Sergeant Regan - sallies forth to seek out the killer, and winds up knee deep in skulduggery.

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