The Jewels of Kali - Illustrious Acquaintance believed I shouldn’t listen to this because why listen to something that you know is going to be racist bananas on a cracker and just general bananas on a cracker also. WHY NOT LISTEN TO IT THO? Anyway, then we were like, white people always seem to have a thing for Kali, no? Then we felt bad for saying “white people” in “that way”. Then Illustrious Acquaintance thought I should listen to this because Kali might be short for cauliflower and that might be interesting.
Cristina Algarotti, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday (Howells 2018), 292pp
The main character in Algarotti’s new novel is an artificial intelligence, a consciousness spun out of a cat’s-cradle of linked supercomputers (some on earth, some in orbit, one on the moon), called Lah Rïd 7040qb, known as Lala by its developers. The opening chapters are all told from the point of view of Lala: how s/he comes into awareness, his/her friendships with Lance and Kuoh (his/her favourites amongst the programmers and developers). She’s a charmer, is Lala: vastly knowledgeable and sensitive, creative and accomplished. Through her eyes we see the wonder of the world as if for the first time. Algarotti effortlessly sketches in her interplanetary future, its gleaming tech, its marvellous ruins, explosions throwing out lotus-petals of light, crowds pulsing along the superhighways, webbing between Earth and Moon, and humanity’s hopes for reaching the stars.
Disclaimer: It has been five (?) years since I had anything to do with The Kitschies, so, this is a non-disclaimer disclaimer. This has nothing to do with me or with Pornokitsch as a whole. (Anne still makes the trophies though!)
But, god damn, they're fun to watch. Check out this lovely website created by sponsor Blackwell's. And buy all the books - at a discount!
This year's shortlists look exceptional: I've read precisely zero of the books, but have now ordered a half dozen based on their very intriguing descriptions. I've long held the opinion that awards are just glorified recommendations. They don't make things objectively Better or Worse, but they are very good machines for discovering new reading. If you can find an award with taste that matches your own, hold that sucker close. Or, in this case, keep gripping the whole darn tentacle.
On a self-indulgent personal note: The Kitschies was the first of our projects that we initiated,... then left. If these tiny, tentacular awards were ever going to do what they were supposed to do, they needed to live and breathe beyond us, and be bigger than us. That's something we saw at the time, and, as much as we miss them - it was the right call, and we've never regretted it.
We're now a few days away from wrapping up a ten year project (Pornokitsch), and that's not so long after wrapping up a five year one (Jurassic London). Knowing that at least one of our goofy little kids grew up to have an impact on the world... that's what I needed to hear right now. Well done to The Kitschies and to everyone behind them. (And thanks.)
The book was big and heavy, which meant it would burn well. Ree ran her fingers over the embossed cover before opening it. The leather was a little damp, of course, but not sodden, and the pages inside were crisp and dry. She tore out the first page and threw it onto the fire.
Some reviews that are united by being... written. And since this site ain't around for much longer, it is now or never! Featuring Margaret Millar's Fire Will Freeze, Bill Beverly's Dodgers, Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and Lucas Dale's First Watch. Something for everyone and/or no one, I suspect.
Utterly bonkers ‘sealed room’ mystery - think of it as punk-Christie, with an emphasis on surreal dialogue, backhanded character development, and a (surprisingly) fair use of the Detection Club rules. A busload of skiiers - of variable ages, backgrounds and levels of outdoor experience - find themselves stranded in rural Canada when their bus-driver, quite literally, runs away. When the squabbling tourists finally go chasing off after him, they instead find a ramshackle mansion, tended to by a pair of (violently) unwelcoming women.
The mystery unfolds through a series of snarky conversations (everyone is barely holding it together) and accidental discoveries (there are a fair number of bodies about). Millar has one primary protagonist, a young busybody with an overactive imagination. The point of view changes frequently and, as with the best mysteries of its type, everyone is a suspect. The weirdness ramps up quickly, not aided by the frequent shifts in perspective, but Fire is well worth the initial effort.
A pre-Tolkien, pre-Lovecraft fantasist who spanned genres, styles, and formats: Chambers was a success during his lifetime, and a massive influence beyond it.
Three books by two favourites: Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat and Thornyhold and Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca.
Touch Not has the hallmarks of one of Stewart’s classic romantic suspense novels: a beautiful woman (Bryony Ashley), both supremely confident and utterly alone in the world; a breath-taking location (the collapsing, but beautiful, ruin of Ashley Court); a discreet problem (the Court, and its expensive upkeep - whatever is one to do with this most ridiculous of #firstworldproblems). There are even several handsome men, depicting a variety of swoony characteristics, for Bryony to inevitably choose from. And, naturally some skullduggery: perhaps Ashley’s father’s accidental death wasn’t quite so accidental after all.
In the normal Stewart formula, this would unfold in the traditional way, with a few twists, an inevitable romantic pairing, and the barest modicum of actual threat. Stewart’s novels often unfold with an aristocratic coziness that precludes actual danger: the characters are so warmly ensconced in an upper crust so thick that murder itself couldn't penetrate it. (It is, I daresay, utterly wonderful to read, and her characters' self-confidence makes them better escapism than a thousand-thousand hobbits.)
Over the past decade, we - with the help of some spectacular guests - have made over 1,500 recommendations - from vegetables to Star Trek novels, cover-tentacles to character-swaps, geek anthems to fanfictions, memes to Pakistani action heroes.
Friday Fives only had one rule: be positive. They were always an excuse to talk about something we loved, no matter how niche or geeky or mundane. As a result, we got interesting people, being really passionate, about a lot of very silly things. They were a joy to read and even more fun to write.
Our last Friday Five is a Friday Fifty [actually 58, as 'cheating' is another long-standing Friday Five tradition], as we pick, well, whatever. Enjoy.
"To parasitise. To live off other forms of life whatever forms they have or will take."
"And what separates the forms, humans and animals, from artificial life?"
They cast me in Julius Caesar because I’m good at pretending to be surprised by murder.
Our aim was for Brutus. You’ll just have to trust me when I say he deserved it. The director told me the aim was for Brutus, he told me Brutus deserved it, and he gave me a figure and a cash advance. He told me who was in on it: Julius Caesar, Cassius the Conspirator - and now me. They wanted somebody strong and reliable in the chorus, because they weren’t all as accustomed to the act as I was. They were all committed to the job, don’t get me wrong, he said; but until you’ve truly gone through with it, you don’t know for sure. My job was to rehearse the big crowd scene just like an ordinary extra, and wait for the signal. We were going to do it during a performance. The audience were going to be our witnesses and our alibi. I told the director it was a ridiculous idea, and he doubled the figure. I said I’d do it.
Every year on this date, we like to point people towards Rose Biggin's excellent Shakespearean murder mystery, "Put to Silence". Read it for free here.