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The Best and Worst Books of June

This year is going quickly, right? Not just me?

June reading included the last of the DGLA shortlists (for the first week) and then three weeks of ANYTHING BUT EPIC FANTASY. Not that I'm singling that genre out for special hatred, just that ten books in a row of anything is too much. Curiously, this made for one of the most enjoyable months of reading in a while, as I somewhat randomly plunged around my Kindle and the piles of stuff on the floor.

A few disappointments:

GorDavid Ewalt's Of Dice and Men (2013) got a mini-review earlier, so I won't drag this out. It is a very  fluffy history of Dungeons & Dragons, and I'm sorry it wasn't a little more insightful. There are a few cute anecdotes in here - and real evidence that Ewalt got under the skin of the game and the company - but this was too superficial to be of real interest.

Lionel White's Party to Murder (1966) is a Gold Medal from one of the publisher's more hit-or-miss authors. This is firmly in the 'miss' category. A woman dies at the office Christmas party. Also, and unsubtly, there's a robbery and a hit and run that same night. Structurally, Party has potential: each chapter is a different point of view and White does a solid job of establishing all the different voices. That said, the mystery is ridiculous, with way too many moving parts: everyone is a criminal, whether that's embezzlement, adultery or being a psychotic serial killer. It is overly sordid. It doesn't help that the core point of view - the infodumping detective - is painfully jaded and world-weary. The result is a messy, dirty, ill-plotted crime novel that reads like the worst of grimdark fantasy.

John Norman's Tarnsman of Gor (1967) was bad. But not in an interesting way. I've bullied it already, so no point in repeating myself: the book was boring. I expected to dislike it, but I didn't that'd be the reason. There's ponderous prose and dubious sexual politics, so not a total 'loss', but most of this book was just a meandering travelogue. 

Enough of that, here are a few books I'd actually recommend from June:

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Friday Five: 5 (Family Friendly) Fanfictions

This week's Friday Five is courtesy of Tanya Brown, co-head of the Fanfiction stream at Nine Worlds. Tanya has been reading and writing and critiquing fanfiction for over a decade, having looked afresh at it after the first of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies. Off the back of our previous Fanfictional Friday Five, Tanya volunteered to share a few more recommendations of great places to begin with fanfiction... Without further ado, over to her!

LokiLast year at the Nine Worlds convention, I gave a presentation in which I attempted to demolish the myth that fanfiction 'reduces every relationship to sex'. A lot of fanfiction does feature romantic and / or sexual relationships: but so does a lot of published fiction - and not only in the 'romance' genre. Like any other genre, fanfic can include a romantic or erotic relationship without it being the focus of the story.

If you're not in the mood to read romance or stories with explicit sex, there are plenty of fics that are well-plotted, well-written and don't feature sexual relationships. I've recommended some of my favourites below. They're all based on Marvel's Cinematic Universe, and as long as you've seen the Avengers movie you shouldn't find any unfamiliar characters. (As a non-comics fan, I wonder how much extra texture I'm missing!) These stories were posted before the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so some have been Jossed. All are ten thousand words or less, and all but one are rated G for General Audiences. 

Contrary Advisor by oak. A SHIELD post-incident wider consequences analysis: how can the physics of Avengers be explained without incurring 'the tortured screams of the physics team'? Was Loki really an idiot, or was his true goal something other than the conquest of Midgard?

This fic reminds me of late-night conversations in convention bars: that blend of informed speculation and wild invention. It's a great example of fanfiction that explores plotholes and inconsistencies in canon. There's a sequel, 'Show Your Work', in which Analyst M'Zangwe proposes a hypothesis about the management of Stark Industries, and suggests an explanation for the Black Widow's interpersonal skills.

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Film 101: Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi 2013)

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterI've got Oz on the brain these days; I just reread the first six Oz books recently, having loved them as a kid but not reread them in close to two and a half decades. They're fun! I can see why I loved them when I was eight. I can see, too, why I outgrew them; they're imaginative but slight, and many have very little plot-wise to hold them together. And many are informed by Baum's complicated relationship to the material; on the one hand, the Oz books made him rich. On the other, they clearly bored him to tears.

But! Oz! Somewhere over the rainbow! Munchkins and talking animals and Kansas, oh my! Oz is such a part of the cultural fairytale lexicon that it still feels refreshing and fun and worth dipping into, more than a century after the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and close to a century after the premiere of the classic The Wizard of Oz. I mean, hell, it's probably the preeminent American fairytale, isn't it? A restless midwest farm girl has a magical adventure; learns the value of home and family.

You can see why people just keep going back to the Oz well.

And you can see why Sam Raimi was attracted to it; he loves a layered post-modern challenge to an old storytelling trope. And, rather more crudely, I suspect Tim Burton's surprise - and unfortunate, for those of us who dislike 3D - success with Alice and Wonderland may have had something to do with getting Raimi's Oz film greenlit: cult-figure director with darkly whimsical sensibilities takes on robust fairytale; gives it a modern twist. Worked for Burton; will work for Raimi. QED.

Well, like Burton's Alice in Wonderland, it doesn’t.

I have regularly documented my feelings for Sam Raimi's directorial style, so I'm a little hesitant about this review. It's fair to argue that Raimi's films are simply not for me; that I should just accept this fact and leave well enough alone. But I can't, for a couple of reasons. To begin with, he keeps making films I want to see. More importantly, however, Raimi makes films that almost work for me. They're imaginative and ambitious and the fact that they haven't yet stuck the landing doesn't mean I don't think they someday will.

But I've tortured my metaphor long enough. To be totally clear: Oz the Great and Powerful, like every other Raimi film (I’d argue), is a mess, but it's an imaginative, sprawling, ambitious mess. And one of these days Raimi might get it right and finally make a sprawling, ambitious, imaginative success.

He’s going to work a little harder on his female characters, though.

Spoilers for the film follow.

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Completing Dahl: Sometime Never - A Fable for Supermen

This year I’m blogging once a month here at Pornokitsch about finishing reading everything Roald Dahl wrote. I’m halfway done, and so far I’ve looked at one of Dahl’s more obscure titles and ones I’ve simply overlooked, like Rhyme Stew

Sometime neverSometime Never a.k.a. Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen

There are living in the world to-day countless human beings each of whom has knowingly committed murder during war. That knowledge does not weigh an once upon their consciences, yet each of them would gladly, swiftly ostracize a fellow citizen who was caught dealing from the bottom of a pack of cards.

I am a killer myself. I try to feel bad about it, but I never can. I would feel very bad about dealing from the bottom of a pack of cards.

What then is one to think about war? What is one to think about man? What is one to think about the future?

So begins Sometime Never (1948), Roald Dahl’s first novel, and one of only two he wrote with an grown-up audience in mind. After Sometime Never, Dahl would not write another novel for adults until 1979 (the wonderful My Uncle Oswald), and did not write another novel-length book until James and the Giant Peach in 1963. There is power in Dahl’s opening remarks - and his follow-up comments, about how if we humans saw ants making weapons to destroy one another we would assume one day the entire species would annihilate itself. Why not, therefore, assume that about ourselves? Dark, man. Anyways, the introduction is perhaps even more powerful knowing Sometime Never has the distinction of being the first novel about nuclear war published in the United States after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Fiction: 'The Word of God' by Nir Yaniv

The beginning of the end was very simple, but no one suspected it.


Ofer searched through his pockets like a man possessed. ‘A pen!’ he said. ‘My kingdom for a pen!’ and immediately found one, in the pocket of his shirt, and when he returned home discovered that the door refused to open. He couldn’t understand why.


‘This time it will work,’ she said to herself, while waiting at the café for a guy she had never seen. ‘This time it will work out. He will be beautiful, rich, intelligent, nice, considerate, and he will fall madly in love with me. I know it.’

And so it was.

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New Releases: The Wicked + The Divine #1

Wicked+DivineThis year’s Image Expo unveiled an unusually extensive and diverse range of upcoming new titles, but the one that seems to have generated the most interest, curiosity and excitement is this one.

It’s traditional shorthand to refer to The Wicked + The Divine’s creative team as ‘Team Phonogram’ in reference to their first Image series, but (and much as I’d like them to become known as 'Team Young Avengers') this is presumably the point where they transition to 'Team WicDiv' for the foreseeable future. It certainly should be, because this feels like the most perfect next iteration of their collective creativity. Which in retrospect I’m going to claim as a totally deliberate metaphor for the theme of this series.

“Just because you’re immortal doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.” Every ninety years, twelve gods are reborn inside existing human (I’m assuming) hosts. They shine for two years, inspiring, mystifying and enraging, and then they’re gone. ‘Gone away’ from the gods’ perspective; dead as far as the bodies they pass through are concerned.

This first issue opens with a brief glimpse of the early 1920s gods at the very end of their run, and immediately raises questions I hope we one day see answered: What happened to the eight already dead before page one? Who is the woman who seems to attend them? 

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Friday Five: 5 Trips to the Moon

This week's Friday Five has a lunar theme - courtesy of a man who knows his way around a fictional rocketship. Ian Sales is the editor of the Rocket Science anthology and the author of the BSFA-winning novella Adrift on the Sea of Rains. His latest book, the third in the series, is Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above and is out now. Ian's blog investigates science fiction, science and, er, fiction, and you can argue with him on Twitter @ian_sales.

Tales of visiting our natural satellite have been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1969 that a human being first set foot on its surface. In the decades immediately before Apollo 11, the Moon was a popular venue for science fiction stories. There were those set in Lunar settlements, such as Arthur C Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust (1961), or Robert Heinlein’s deeply problematic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966); but there were also several sf novels about first missions to the Moon. Such as the following five...

TintinThe Adventures of Tintin: Explorers on the Moon, Hergé (1954)

Is there anybody on the planet who hasn’t read this? According to Wikipedia, the twenty-four Tintin books have been translated into “more than 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million”. Explorers on the Moon is quite easily the best of them (although I do like Flight 714 (1968) a lot). It’s a direct sequel to Destination Moon (1953). In a nutshell, Professor Calculus has been hired by the Syldavian government to build a nuclear rocket engine at a secret establishment. In Explorers on the Moon, Calculus’s red-and-white-checked rocket - which has itself become a cultural icon - has launched, despite the best attempts by saboteurs from rival nation Borduria (whose flag, brilliantly, depicts a giant moustache). The rocket reaches the Moon and Tintin et al explore the surface in a “Moon tank”... but the saboteurs have not yet finished with them. Hergé bats about fifty : fifty in terms of scientific accuracy. He has, for example, the rocket accelerate at 1G toward the Moon, then turn over and decelerate. And during the turnover, the crew experience zero gravity - with much hilarious hijinks, especially from Captain Haddock and a bottle of whiskey. The lunar landscape, on the other hand, is shown incorrectly as jagged and mountainous.

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Disappearing Rabbits: Rick Kleffel interviews Jeff VanderMeer


 Jeff VanderMeer is the award-winning author of Finch, Wonderbook and many, many others, as well the co-editor of The Weird (and many, many others). He is, in short, one hell of an author with incredible taste. We're delighted to host this (abridged) discussion of Jeff VanderMeer's Authority - an interview by Rick Kleffel, originally recorded for his Agony Column, and for his radio show on KUSP in Santa Monica, California.

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Comics: The Metaphorical Pull List

Wake2Since I started writing here a few people have asked what I read regularly/what’s on my pull list. Strictly speaking, I don’t have a pull list any longer.  I have had them with various shops in the past, including the two most recent - The Isotope in San Francisco, and Gosh when I moved back to London, two stores I couldn’t recommend highly enough.

There are two reasons I don’t have a list any more: 1) Because of work and travel, weeks and weeks of stuff would accumulate awaiting my collection and when I finally managed to pick them up I’d often end up never getting round to reading all of them, and 2) I made a fairly serious switch to digital reading for individual issues for reasons of space and also the platform’s ability to counter reason 1. At the same time I switched a few titles to trades because I thought they read better like that - anything written by Jonathan Hickman, for example.

But there are obviously titles that I read every month (or at least most months), as well as those which I dip in and out of at least semi-regularly.  The following is a partial list of those - if I listed everything I read even semi-regularly we’d be here all week.  I’ll note stuff I read in trades on another occasion.

Two points to note:  This isn’t necessarily a list of recommendations - I enjoy all of these, but some more than others, and some because I have a history with them.  Anything I think someone could pick up and relatively easily get into gets an asterisk.  Anything marked with two asterisks is recommended, but you should grab the collection and start from the beginning.

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Interview: Chillin' with the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club

Remember that time you went to a thing but you didn't really do the thing, you just hung out with your friends and had a very nice time? Then thought, "well, that was a silly thing to do, we could've done our own thing, and it would've been just as nice". Well, someone has invented JUST THAT THING. And it is called the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. And if that introduction makes no sense at all, just sit back and relax, as founders Jennifer Williams and Den Patrick are about to explain it all...

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