I was reminded recently that in the early nineties Tony Parsons argued that games are the new rock’n’roll. That was nonsense then, and still is, but not because games aren’t creative or expressive, and certainly not because they aren’t big enough. It's because games can make that once in a generation claim of being a new medium, and one of the privileges of this is to resist being mapped onto old thinking.
Games have arrived with their own agenda, where sights and sounds are meshed with challenges, where the senses are piqued to demand and respond to your participation, where immersion is mandatory. Games might jostle with music and movies and books, but they are of a brand new genus. They won’t replace rock’n’roll anymore than architecture might replace sculpture.
But that still leaves a question. Music is inclined to show off. Performance is at its heart, image and culture flow from it. It has visible audiences that recognise and learn from one another. Its trite but true: music has a ‘scene’.
But the intense participation that makes gaming unique also makes it private. It's as dispersed as it is widespread - for all the magazines and review sites, it has no natural gathering place. We know that gaming has a culture, but what does it look like?
The Corpse Wore Pasties (2009) is the debut mystery from Jonny Porkpie, New York's self-appointed Mayor of Burlesque. In the great tradition of Kinky Friedman and Gypsy Rose Lee, the detective and protagonist The Corpse Wore Pasties is Mr. Porkpie himself.
In the novel, Jonny Porkpie is producing a friend's burlesque show for an evening. His job should be easy. He's working with professionals, after all, he just need to make sure everything runs smoothly. The evening's show also features some of Jonny's best friends, consummate professionals like Cherries Jubilee and Jillian Knockers, as well as other respected performers like like Angelina Blood. Jonny is unpleasantly surprised, however, by the arrival of Victoria Vice - a known plagiarist and all-around nasty character. The latter would be forgivable, but Victoria's history of stealing other performers' acts makes her persona non grata in the burlesque community. Jonny is shocked when she shows up and is quickly thrown into the role of peacemaker, which mostly entails keeping her away from the others.
Not far enough away, as, in one of the most memorable opening pages in the annals of Hard Case Crime, Victoria dies a very messy death. On-stage, too. How awkward.
Oh pie, why are you so delightful?
Life without you? So very frightful
Or stuffed with meat
We devour you by the plateful
Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.
Mom's apple pie. For real! My mom makes the best apple pie, you guys. She makes perfect, flakey, buttery crust, and fills the crust with apples and brown sugar and cinnamon and butter and brandy, and then while it's baking you kind of want to die because it smells like heaven. And then, after it comes out of the oven, you get to eat it. I don't need my apple pie with ice cream or cheddar cheese or anything. Just plain ol' gooey delicious apple pie.
Sweet potato pie. Somehow, it's even better than pumpkin pie. I like mine with a dollop of cream.
Joe R. Lansdale's extensive body of work ranges from steampunk mayhem to East Texas noir, with a few stops along the way for the unclassifiable and truly bizarre. His Hap Collins and Leonard Pine stories are some of my favourite mystery novels - the perfect balance of character, setting and detection. His more pulpy work - for example the Drive-In series or his infamous "The God of the Razor" - is noteworthy in a completely different way, a combination of splatterpunk horror and lingering weird (little w) imagery, William S. Burroughs landscapes populated by Richard Laymon characters.
Mr. Lansdale also exercises himself by walking along a completely different spectrum, with his coming of age and historical fiction set in his beloved Texas. Sunset and Sawdust (2004), The Bottoms (nominated for some award or another) (2000), The Boar (1998) and, perhaps best of all, A Fine Dark Line (2002).
A Fine Dark Line is ostensibly a mystery. Stanley Mitchell is a naive 13 year old in the mid-sized town of Dumont, Texas, 1958. While playing the woods behind his house, he finds a half-buried box of old letters - the only surviving artefact of a burned down mansion from a generation before. The letters tell the story of two young women, both, Stanley learns, dead under mysterious circumstances.
John Abbott's Scimitar (1992) is a graceless thriller set in New York. A Libyan sleeper agent, a dense college student and a self-absorbed British diplomat all fumble around the central plot - an assassin's scheme to assassinate President Bush.
The primary protagonist is "Sonny" aka Krishnan Hemkar aka Scott Hamilton aka a series of other pseudonyms. Sonny begins the book as a medical student in LA, but, by the second chapter, receives his long-awaited call to arms and makes his way to New York. Although his handlers keep dropping like flies, Sonny is able to make contact with the rest of his organisation and receive his orders. President Bush and ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are both in New York. Take them out. If there's a problem with the mission? Just kill the President. (Poor Thatcher, not even a first-tier target.)
As well as being a doctor/assassin, Sonny's astoundingly good-looking. Jaw-droppingly so. In the opening pages, he's given the "come-hither" look from a beautiful woman in a singles bar, a young lady he leaves the next morning without even a note farewell. His libido gets some exercise on his cross-country journey as well. Sonny takes the train (for various "evil devices in luggage" reasons) and encounters Elita, a college sophomore who is immediately blown away by Sonny's sexual magnetism. Sonny's tried and tested pick-up line is "Would you like to sleep to me tonight?". And, hideously, it works every time. His rampaging ego is the book's real villain.
In Hope Dahle Jordan's Take Me to My Friend (1962), seventeen year old Julie Jameson is faced with the biggest challenge of her life: driving from Florida to Illinois. Julie, her mother and her grandmother are all enjoying their time at the beach when they learn that Julie's father and uncle have been in a car crash. Her mother flies back, as there's no time to spare. This leaves Julie - indecisive, shy Julie - with the responsibility of driving her grandmother and all their stuff back.
Poor Julie. From the opening pages, the reader is doused liberally in her insecurities. She's by no means a failure - good grades, good looking, good boyfriend, good future - but Julie's never been able to find her own way. "She feels unworthy of her parents", Julie describes herself (in the third person), "she wanted to be the bystander, not the star" (12). In fact, Julie only defines herself by her outgoing boyfriend, Peter. Slightly older and a much more dominant person, Peter lets Julie do what she wants: follow.
The challenge of cross-country driving terrifies Julie. She's terrible behind the wheel and has no sense of direction. Plus, this is late December and the very idea of driving on snow (not a problem in Florida, but definitely a challenge once in the Midwest), leaves her petrified. Her grandmother is good company, but has her own (real) problems to deal with, like being very old and very ill. Julie exclaims for a bit, but is overruled. She's going to have to grow up and make the drive.
1) The unequaled joy of finding a new series. Not just picking up a debut and thinking, "this is going to be one to watch", but reading the first book in a long-established series and realising that, "holy cow, I've got four more waiting for me!".
2) The horrible shame of realising that people have been recommending those books to you for years. Fortunately, my friends aren't the sort to rub it in with expletive-strewn text messages (Bex) or say "I told you so" in the comments on this very thread.
So it is with mixed (but not really) feelings that I confess that His Majesty's Dragon (2006) knocked my socks off. I read the first book in one evening, the second the next and the third and fourth on a flight over to the US. I'm now consciously avoiding buying the fifth because, good lord, I'm going to run out of these before long.
Gushing aside, what is it about His Majesty's Dragon that really hit the spot?
Well, thus endeth a sad time for Pornokitsch: our first week ever without a review. We've got a few scheduled for next week already, but this still makes a sad little blot on the record.
We have had some big news recently on other fronts. For the Kitschies, the Inky Tentacle's judging panel is now in place and we're working with Blackwell's to host a Steampunk Evening on 8 December. Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse has also been released, both as an eBook and as a foxy limited edition that can be found exclusively at Tate Britain.
But next week? Reviews.