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The Weeks that Were

A busy two weeks have gone by on Pornokitsch. Here's what we've been doing...


  • Tom Fletcher's The Leaping (2010) (and writing the fuzzy-faced evil).
  • Graham Joyce's The Silent Land (2010) (and how to drive comments through ambiguous reviewing).
  • Gary McMahon's Pretty Little Dead Things (2010) revisited (and the perils of Leeds).
  • Adam Nevill's Apartment 16 (2010) (and why London is still scary).
  • KJ Parker's Blue and Gold (2011) and Catherynne Valente's Deathless (2011) (and the perils of style over substance).
  • Missoula Redhead examined Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (1953) and decided that women don't look best in chains.
  • Simon Spurrier's A Serpent Uncoiled (2011) (and keeping a protagonist on the edge without falling over it).
  • Sam Stone's Demon Dance (2010) (and the ethics of reviewing outside the comfort zone).
  • Finally, a short fiction round-up with Maurice Broaddus' "The Ave" (2011), Rob Spalding's "Sunday's Unicorn" (2011) and Donald Westlake's "They Also Serve" (1961).

After the jump, a recap of the features and Friday Fives, as well as a few fun excursions out into the real world. 

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Friday Five: 15 Morally Ambiguous Genre Characters

We spent a great deal of time this week arguing about what the subject of our Friday Five should be. Ultimately, we decided to reflect our interblog uncertainty by discussing morally ambiguous characters we like, for whatever reason. 

Be they anti-heroes, punchclock villains, or just plain ol' complicated folk, these are the not-quite-entirely goodguys we find haunting our imaginations years and even decades after finishing the books they appear in.  Why not share a few of yours?


Ziani Vaatzes: Also my favorite hero, my favorite villain and my favorite anti-hero. As the titular engineer of KJ Parker's Engineer Trilogy, the entire series focuses around Vaatzes' elaborate plan to go home. In order to be reunited with his family, he'll do anything. This isn't a matter of a dramatic murder or two - Vaatzes topples empires.

Cardinal Richelieu: One of the things that endears me so much to Pierre Pevel's The Cardinal's Blades is that he clearly shares the same appreciation of Richelieu. The Cardinal became a villain for the silver screen, but was always written more appreciatively in the original Dumas books. He may not always agree with the musketeer "heroes" (they're plenty dodgy in their own right), but he's always on the side of France. The Cardinal is saddled with an inept king, a hostile Europe, social unrest and a queen that's shagging the country's worst enemy. He's the original master of realpolitik - that, or the greatest juggler the fictional world has ever known. 

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Review Round-up: Unicorns, Vultures and Escapes

Looking through a handful of shorter works - Robert Spalding's "Sunday's Unicorn", Donald Westlake's "They Also Serve" and Maurice Broaddus' "The Ave".

Sunday's UnicornDespite its (very) recent release, Robert Spalding's novella, "Sunday's Unicorn", feels like a throwback to an earlier era. Part of it is the style - this thoughtful horror tale has the fairy-tale aesthetic of early Peter S. Beagle. The story is divided into two parts. The first is Billy's childhood. Initially, this begins as Bradburian memories of his youth in his grandparents' crumbling mansion and playing games with his older brother. It quickly turns ominous. After staying out all night to wait for a "unicorn", Billy's brother disappears and his family collapses into ruin.

This set-up (and the introduction of the deeply dark status quo) is the strongest part of "Sunday's Unicorn" - Mr. Spalding encapsulates both the magic of youth and its helplessness. 

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PK Interview: Trevor Richardson

For the past few weeks, we've been having an ongoing conversation with Trevor Richardson, artist, script-writer and, now, author. American Bastards, a layered and slightly trippy journey through the American cultural subconsious, is one of the most exotic books we've read this year. We had to meet the man behind it - and he didn't disappoint.


American BastardsPK: I’ve now spent 48 hours in Texas - most of which was spent circling the 10,000 highways strangling Houston. From the car window, I didn’t see a lot of culture. But if American Bastards is to be believed, the cowboy state is one of the creative centers of America... what did I miss?

TR: First up, the South at large is one of the biggest creative contributors to American culture. There’s a kind of art that comes out of the cities that is powerful, relevant and cool, sure. But there’s another kind of art that comes from the bottom rung, the poorest of the poor, the uneducated voicing their desires, losses and pain.

Music is a clear indicator. Without the darkness of the South so many musical forms would have turned out very different. Jazz, country, bluegrass, even rock and roll, all of it found its sea legs in the South, and Texas is part of that. And like so much of the art world, where there’s a musical form there’s a literary form to match it, or a visual form, or a backyard trailer junk poet. The point is, creativity is not strictly reserved for NYU students or crazies in the South of France.

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New Releases: A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier

Serpent UncoiledEvery occult detective has his or her point of differentiation. Race. Gender. Exorcist. Demon. Slayer. Vampire. Teenager. Ageless. Sex addict. Zombie. Immortal. The list goes on and on - somewhere in the human subsconscious there's a dartboard of adjectives and, if and when this trend limps into retirement, it will be well-perforated. 

However long the list may stretch, it may never turn out a character as far out on the edge as Simon Spurrier's Dan Shaper.

Shaper, the protagonist of A Serpent Uncoiled (2011), is a "fixer". The sort of jack of all trades, no-problem-too-hard-ass problem-solver that's familiar to readers of F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack or Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Shaper was once connected to one of London's dominant crime families, but, as of the start of the book, is eking out a sorry career as a freelancer - catching petty thieves in brothels. He's not a "bad guy", but he is a grimly amoral realist that's seen enough of the world to understand how things really work. Not quite an outsider, as his profession insists that he maintain his connections in the system.

Still, Shaper's liminal (and criminal) status isn't purely about his job.

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Foot Stamping & Whining Save the World: Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

Atlas ShruggedReading Ayn Rand's massive Objectivist tome, Atlas Shrugged, garnered quite a bit of commentary, from the librarian who suggested I ‘lose’ the book in an ‘accidental’ BBQ mishap to the stranger in the coffee shop who invited me to attend a local libertarian meeting, to my friends who, with expressions of shock, horror, and confusion, repeatedly asked, “but WHY?” I have to be honest…it was a contrarian impulse. I knew going into that I wasn’t going to agree with her philosophy, and that her writing style can be generously described as ‘clunky.’

There are plenty of places to find out the plot of Atlas Shrugged, but here it is in a nutshell… industrialists don’t like the rules, so they stop playing the game. And because they stop playing, everything falls apart. Yep, that’s it. Folks who make stuff decide that, because they’re being asked to do something they don’t want to do, they'll take their toys and go home.

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...have been, and always will be...

We have sad news.  Mr. Pickles - our occasional editor, regular contributor, and eternally grumpy friend -  passed away yesterday morning.  He had been living with a chronic illness, and although we'd managed to control it with medication for it for many years, it finally caught up with him.  The end came quickly, and we were with him as he slipped away.  He was eighteen.

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New Releases: What's Blue and Gold and Red All Over?

Two recent books reviewed - K.J. Parker's Blue and Gold and Catherynne Valente's Deathless. 

Blue and GoldKJ Parker's Blue and Gold (2011) features Salonius, the greatest alchemist who has ever lived. That's according to him - and since he also admits to being the greatest liar, his accomplishments should be taken with a grain of salt. For his patron, Salonius has the wealthy Prince Procas. Procas is an old school friend who's generous to a fault and considerate of all Salonius' needs... as long as Salonius delivers that pesky elixir of eternal life (oh, and also the secret of lead into gold). 

The novella follows Salonius' attempts at escape (time and time again). With only a handful of chemicals and bucketloads of chutzpah, he takes on overwhelming odds. However, as fragments of his background are revealed, the reader learns that he's not overly hampered by virtues either. He's a charismatic rogue, but the emphasis is on the rogue. That is, if he can be believed at all.

Sadly, by Parker's standards, Blue and Gold is merely average. This is something I'm extremely reluctant to say, but, is mitigated by the fact that even "average" Parker is better than 95% of everything else in the fantasy category. In Blue and Gold, the promising unreliable narrator shtick is never fully utilised and even Salonius' obvious charm isn't enough to carry a fairly straightforward story with a one-twist, one-liner ending.

Previously, I'd expressed concerns that Parker needed the space of a trilogy to work the traditional magic. Those worries have been dispelled (repeatedly) with works like Purple and Black and "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong". Blue and Gold is, despite the promising set-up, merely an entertainment - and a step behind when it comes to Parker's trademark complexity and emotional engagement. Still, the story delivers on the fun and even Parker can't be ground-breaking all the time.

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Pondering the BFS' Best Novel shortlist


Last week, I reviewed all the shortlisted novels on the BFS' British Fantasy Award "Best Novel" shortlist. Now comes the really fun part - wrapping up with a quick and narcissistic ramble about how I'll be voting and why.

First, I've enjoyed this process a lot. If the primary objective of the award is to promote interesting new books to interested new readers, it has certainly succeeded in my case.

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Friday Five: 15 Favorite Dragons

We're celebrating Tuesday's release of Kevin Costner's epic Dances with Dragons on Friday Five today by fessing up to being giant nerds. 

Which, who or what are your favorite dragons? 


Dragons.  Dragons!  Thanks to many, many years doodling during lectures, I can draw exactly two recognizably-what-they're-supposed-to-be things: cats and dragons.  (Dragons: cats with scales; wings; fire-breath.)

  • Smaug.  Smaug!  I love Smaug.  I vastly prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings, and about a quarter of that preference is because OMGDRAGON.  I dig Smaug so much I spent years flirting very seriously with getting this tattoo. Whatever. Shut up.
  • The dragon in Beowulf Some of the best, most interesting and most fulfilling academic work I've ever done was translating Beowulf from Old English. I became downright obsessed with the conflicts and inconsistencies that riddle the dragon's description in the manuscript, and wound up devoting months to a research paper about medieval superstitions and astrological phenomena.  Also: dragons r awesum. Whatever. Shut up.
  • Anne McCaffrey's firelizards. I read the Harper Hall trilogy at the right age - about nine - and fell madly in love with the idea of having a brood of tiny, excitable dragons as pets, to sit on my shoulder and squeak at passers-by. Whatever. Shut up.
  • Eustace the dragon (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  Remember the bit where Eustace the Useless turns into a dragon?  And he gets to fly around and stuff?  And then Aslan makes him peel himself out of his dragon-skin? Yes, Eustace then learns the errors of his useless ways and atones for his sins and boring redemption-arc blah blah blah.  He turns into a dragon.  He gets to fly around.  As a dragon.

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