Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reading in September

The concept behind Shine is interesting, but the stories are uneven, to say the least. In addition, it’s hard to tell what Vries means when he talks about Optimistic SF. In the introduction he says that it’s not just a tragic, or even an average, world that people learn to adapt to or prosper in, but rather something where everyone is truly better off, and yet a good majority of these stories don’t fit that definition. Not that that makes those bad stories, of course, some of those are the best in the collection, but they further muddy the waters of whatever Vries was trying to say. There’re also an annoying number of stories that are either purely didactic or incredibly obvious allegories.

Visions is a short story collection from one of Russia’s premier writers in the early twentieth century. Andreyev’s writing is dark, precise, and evocative, and his use of the supernatural to show his ideas in stories like The Red Laugh has convinced me that, if he had lived twenty years later and published in England, he would be mentioned in the same breath as many of Lovecraft’s contemporaries (Machen, Blackwood, etc). In fact, his story Lazarus has been in a Famous Modern Ghost Stories collection. Anyway, review on the way.

Matter is an enjoyable book that likes the building up part of its story so much that it really doesn’t do anything else, going from transit to conclusion in only a few dozen awful pages. Still, I will be reading more of Banks’s work. Review here.

Last Days is so taut that putting down the book at any point, whether it’s a chapter break or the middle of a sentence, feels like physically prying yourself away from some addictive drug. The narrative has its problems, but they’re comparatively minor. Review on the way.

It was enjoyable when Heinlein was actually trying to, you know, tell a story. The two hundred pages of tensionless philosophizing that followed, however – not to mention the painfully predictable sacrifice scene – did not help. Neither did the irony of “Nine out of ten times, if a woman gets raped it’s her fault,” appearing in a book about equality and free love. Neither did the other fifty-five sexist or otherwise offensive quotes and situations that crop up. Nor the playboy super-genius author insert.

There are certain things that you expect when going into a classic. Powerful writing, interesting themes, deep characterization, you know the drill. The Odyssey delivers on all those fronts, as well as being something I didn’t expect: a page turner. It may have been written a few thousand years back, but it’s still a damn fun read.

Though I’m always comparing King’s later books to his earlier classics, I’d almost forgot what it was like to read him when he’s actually firing on all cylinders. This is, without a doubt, one of King’s best novels – though not one of the very best – and a frightening and acomplished horror novel no matter the standards you hold it to. Review coming.

May as well continue the Policy of Silence on Breaking New Ground posts, because it amuses me. Review on the way.

The Folding Knife is the personal tragedy that lies at the heart of an epic. Parker’s characterization and prose are impeccable, and, even if the conclusions and events are bleak, the book is impossible to put down due to the sheer charisma that every word of dialogue brings with it. Review on the way.

I think that just about everyone has heard about the Way of Kings at this point. In my opinion, it’s quite good, but not great, and it’s reviewed to death. So I’ll be adding yet another review, just because. Until then, there are a huge number of great reviews of this out already, including Niall’s for Strange Horizons.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Iain M. Banks - Matter

Welcome to the future, she thought, surveying all the wordage and tat. All our tragedies and triumphs, our lives and deaths, our shames and joys are just stuffing for your emptiness. (p. 297)

Matter is one part semi-medieval revenge story, one part high tech adventure, and one part a boy’s coming of age (of sorts). The novel is packed with clever ideas and good moments, but every one of those comes at the expense of one of its other threads. It’s hard to fault certain elements of Matter for succeeding as well as they do, but, when those elements drag down the rest of the story, I don’t have much choice.

Matter opens with a close up shot of Sursamen, immediately throwing us into the trenches with Prince Ferbin. The first chapter is sheer chaos, punctuated by the staccato detonations of artillery shells. As soon as the reader begins to think they’ve found their footing, events conspire to pummel Ferbin again. First his advisor is blown apart by an artillery shell. Then, hiding in a building with gore and shit running down his leg, Ferbin is witness to the murder of his father, King Hausk.

The king’s death sends the first of the novel’s two strands into motion. The first is Ferbin’s quest to get his throne back. Knowing that his father’s old allies plan to kill him on sight, he decides that the only place to get help is above, where the aliens dwell.

What we see of Sursamen in the beginning is fascinating already. The technology of the world is half World War Two and half feudal, featuring Knights riding through the skies on flying mounts with automatic weapons in hand. Ferbin, though initially obnoxious, grows somewhat more bearable as time goes on and he matures, and his conversations with his loyal but insubordinate servant, Holse, are always amusing.

The second thread is Ferbin’s brother, Oramen, who must rule in his father’s place, unaware that his father’s inner circle is planning to dispose of him. Oramen, too, starts promising. The boy’s desire to live up to his father is touching, and his habit of speaking in a manner reminiscent of an overblown Shakespeare when trying to do so, freely cribbing as he does, is great: “If any energies of yours could bring our father back, I know you’d devote them to that cause without stint. That vigour instead will be turned to the good interest of all our people. ypou bring us sorrow and joy at once, my good tyl Loesp…" (p. 37)

When the camera zooms out, we see that nothing on Sursamen was anything like we’d thought it was. Sursamen is a shellworld, an artificial planet made up of a myriad of layers, each the surface of a world for all effects and purposes. That change in scale – and the concept of Shellworlds to begin with, which is downright awesome – is the unquestioned highlight of Matter.

Going hand in hand with the new perspective is our third main character, Anaplian. Anaplian was the daughter of King Hausk, but left her planet to become an agent of Special Circumstances, the shadowy organization that operates on the fringe of Culture space and monitors, and decides the fates of, the other civilizations that the Culture encounters. The shift between the dirty and (literally) shit smeared Sursamen and the gleaming Culture is almost dizzying, and it’s from here that we first see how miniscule the conflict on Sursamen is:

She had realized that [the king] was just another strong man, in one of those societies, at one of those stages, in which it was easier to be the strong man than it was to be truly courageous. Might, fury, decisive force, the willingness to smite; how her father had loved such terms and ideas, and how shallow they began to look when you saw them played out time and time again over the centuries and millennia by a thousand different species. (p. 84)

Anaplian learns of her father’s death and heads back toward Sursamen. Despite the fact that Matter often concerns itself with the bigger picture, we come to realize that the details of the galaxy, too, are important, the actions of the common man still important in the light of what are, effectively, giants and deities:

The stage is small but the audience is great, had been one of King Hausk’s favorite sayings. To some degree he meant that the WorldGod watched and hopefully somehow appreciated what they were doing on its behalf, but there was always the implication that although the Sarl were primitive and their civilization almost comically underdeveloped of, say, the Oct (never mind the Neriscene, still less the Morthanveld and the other Optimae), nevertheless, greatness lay in doing the best you could with what you were given, and that greatness, that fixity of purpose, strength of resolve and decisiveness of action would be watched and noted by those far more powerful people and judged not on an absolute scale (on which it could barley register) but on one relative to the comparatively primitive resources the Sarl had available to them. (p. 118)

So those are the three threads. Individually, each is very promising. Unfortunately, Banks focuses on the three so equally that none of them have time to develop, preventing any one aspect from really pushing the book to greatness.

Let’s start with Oramen. The boy’s plot seems interesting to start, but the shallowness of it all soon starts to gall. The usurped king is a trope that everyone is, I trust, familiar with, and while Banks’s occasional irreverence to its finer points can be refreshing, the banality of the set up is never left far behind. The villain is always cartoonishly devious, the rightful heir always painfully naïve. After he misinterprets the third or forth attempt on his life, it’s hard to not feel that the antagonist should just kill him and get it over with already.

Ferbin’s quest takes us to several interesting locations, and involves some great dialogue, but the whole thing is pointless. Anyone who’s read a novel before can predict that the person who helps him out is going to be his sister – who happens to be one of the super powerful Culture, and just happens to be going to the same place as him – so everywhere else he turns for help just feels like a waste of pages. Hell, Banks all but acknowledges this at times, such as the scene with Hyrlis. Now, that scene’s one of the absolute finest in the novel, but the whole thing is completely unconnected to anything else and only makes the slightest attempt to even pretending that it relates.

Anaplian, the player who will obviously decide the game, spends the vast, vast majority of the book in transit. Like Ferbin, she enters into all sorts of weird and interesting locations and scenarios, but it’s, once again, hard to shake the feeling that we’re watching the actor’s walk to the studio, not the movie itself. Which is pretty much exactly what’s going on, because the action doesn’t even pretend to get started for her and Ferbin until the two are united and on their way back to Sursamen.

The core of Matter is the idea that the events on Sursamen, though central to the characters, are ultimately inconsequential to the universe as a whole. This is an interesting theme, but it works far too well. When events on Sursamen finally jerk into motion, everything is interrupted by an intergalactic showdown that comes out of nowhere.

Yes, I get it, it’s supposed to have come out of nowhere. Well, you know what? That doesn’t help. The fact that the entire crisis on Sursamen simply falls apart without anything even approaching a climax is not helped by the fact that it was supposed to, nor by the fact that Banks told me it would. A bad ending is a bad ending, whether you stick a sign on it or not.

And that intergalactic showdown? Its climax is just as bad, without even the slight balm of a reason for it being so. One moment, we’re wrapping up the character arcs we’ve had for the whole book. The next, the world’s being destroyed. By a robot with all the believable motivations of Mr. Freeze. Because. The moment after that, crisis over. No resolution, no falling action, just over. Done with. Go read the epilogue for another Tolkien reference, if you want, but certainly don’t start expecting closure.

The one element that does make it through to the book’s end intact is the prose. Banks is one of the rare authors that can evoke atmosphere through his creation, be insultingly irreverent to said creation, and have both the atmosphere and the joke still come off. For the conveyance of an epic scale, I give you Ferbin’s description of an alien world:

This was, Ferbin thought, the equivalent of a whole civilization, almost an entire galaxy, contained within what would, in a normal solar system, be the orbit of a single planet. What uncounted lives were lived within those dark, unending braids? How many souls were born, lived and died within those monstrous curling twists of tubing, never seeing – perhaps never feeling the need to see – any other worlds, transfixed for ever within the encompassing vastness of this unexplorably prodigious habitat? What lives, what fates, what stories must have taken place within this star-surrounding ring, forever twisting, folding, unfolding? (p. 393)

As for the irreverence, look no further than Banks’s naming system, which proudly christens high-tech potentially planet-destroying monoliths with names like Don’t Try This At Home and The Hundredth Idiot.

Matter has an interesting concept at its heart, and Banks brings both the world and the characters to life. Unfortunately, the book’s buildup is about five times longer than it should be, and the payoff is ten times shorter than it should be. Despite some intriguing ideas, Matter doesn’t live up to its promise. Still, Banks’s writing is strong enough, and his scenes vivid enough, that the journey is enjoyable, all the same.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Up and Coming (and Essential?) in September

Don’t you hate it when you go to check something in your Up and Coming (and Essential?) post, that you know you posted on the first, but it’s not there, and you look everywhere for it, but it’s just...not there? And then you go to your files, but see that you deleted it because you thought you’d already posted it? No? Well, I just did. I’d like to redo the whole thing, but, honestly, there seems to be little point. The month is practically over, so I’m just going to highlight one book that I haven’t seen mentioned much yet, but definitely should be:

I Am Not A Serial Killer was a very enjoyable read, and satisfactorily creepy even if it had some problems, so I’m looking forward to the sequel’s US release quite a bit. Of course, it helps that Dan Wells is one of the three core members of my beloved Writing Excuses.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alan Moore - Batman: The Killing Joke

So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the Emergency Exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away. Forever.

The Killing Joke is the familiar story of Batman and the Joker. We see the Joker begin his plan, some hints at the Joker’s origin, and then Comissionar Gordon and his daughter, Barbra, are at home, and the doorbell is ringing...

The Joker enters and, with no preamble whatsoever, blows both Barbara’s spine and any pretences of the rules away.

The Killing Joke is a psychological battle a personal duel between Batman and the Joker, where the stakes are reality. Convinced that all the separates sane from insane, perception from reality, is “one bad day,” the Joker puts Gordon through hell unimaginable. Shown photographs of his wounded, nude daughter. Stripped naked and surrounded by the deformed and the deranged. Subjected to the Joker’s arguments and ministrations. By the end of it, the Joker knows, Gordon will be insane.

The Joker is a mockery of everything that is human. Having seen beyond us, he is the master of everything that we are and hold dear. He is practically asexual himself, yet he strips Barbra and shows Gordon the pictures, all to destroy the man. At the height of his power in the novel, he speaks to his minions, those who have been enlightened, about humanity, and he does it by describing a creature in a cage, something obsolete, interesting in the same way as any specimen is, any part of the past, but something hopelessly inferior nonetheless. His expressions and poses are as manic as his dialogue. At times, he’s scared and almost comically intimidated, at others he’s maniacal, others terrified, and, at some times, he’s simply hidden by shadow:

Of course, Batman shows up, invited by the Joker. The two are opposites, diametrically opposed and fated to clash again and again:

I’ve been thinking lately. About you and me…We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me. Perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later…Are you listening to me? It’s life and death that we’re discussing here. Maybe my death. Maybe yours.

Batman and the Joker are opposites, yes, but they are more than that. They are two heads of the same man, victims to that same One Bad Day, each taking a different lesson from their catalyst. The Joker dedicated himself to destroying that existence that he’d once had, proving to the rest of the world that darkness is all that matters. Batman dedicated his life to preserving the reality that he no longer shares.

The Killing Joke is marred by two flaws. The first, and the lesser, of the two, is Gordon’s sanity at the end. Now, I’m not disputing the end result. What I do have a problem with is that we never really see him change, at all. I don’t know if a man would truly break, no matter the man, in circumstances like those here, as the Joker claims, but it’s clear that it would change him. While I’m sure that Gordon does change, in the course of the narrative, we don’t see it. We see his horrified, naked figure as he’s tormented, we see him a cage, and then, at the end, we see him say: “I want him brought in by the book.” There’s no indication that Gordon felt anything at all; we are kept entirely out of his head, leaving us with a perfect picture of both extremes, but nothing much in the middle, no real grasp of how the common man fits into the picture.

My other complaint stems from Gordon’s aforementioned line. Let’s look at that for a second: “I want him brought in by the book.” Uh, by the book? Excuse me? I’m pretty sure that the book does not include a masked vigilante chasing down the criminals, beating them to a bloody pulp, and then handing over the leftovers. In fact, I’m pretty sure that that’s as far from any police procedural as you can get.

The second flaw is far more important. The Killing Joke is a novel that explores the human psyche, but it’s one that does so from firmly within the formula of its genre, and it even goes so far as to call attention to the tropes that it’s obeying…because. At times, it’s hard to feel like anything in The Killing Joke matters. Batman’s sending Joker back to Arkham, but neither character even bothers to pretend it’s the last time, and both of them openly acknowledge that there will be a final showdown someday, but certainly not here. The possibility that maybe Batman won’t find the Joker, or that the Joker will win, or that he’ll get away, none of that is even considered here.

The atmosphere and psychological aspects of The Killing Joke come off brilliantly, but the page turning suspense that one assumes to be the core of a super hero comic is totally missing. Still, if you’re a Batman fan, or are just curious about the genre, this is a great read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Graphic Novels

[This is a Breaking New Ground post]

Graphic novels are a bit different from Urban Fantasy in that, if I’ve ever truly looked down upon them, that period ended long ago. Still, for the longest time, they just didn’t seem like something I’d be interested in. Why would I want to read a book where half the imagining was done for me? It almost seemed like a worst-of-both-worlds between books and movies, where the images hamstring your own mental picture, while the lack of motion leaves said images static and unimmersive. Besides which, I just wasn’t sure that there were any stories told in Graphic Novels that I would actually want to read. From my ignorant outsider’s perspective, all I could see was pretty much super heroes. Now, I used to love super heroes – and perhaps I still do, because I think that The Dark Knight was several hours of sheer perfection – but I wasn’t convinced that you could make a convincing book out of a guy who beats people up while wearing tights and a cape.

Then, back in April, I read Watchmen. Well, that was the end of any real prejudice on my part. The story was excellent, and the super hero framework made it quite plain that it would never have succeeded in another form. At the time, I said (in my Reading in April post) that Graphic Novels were: “something I’m going to definitely try and do more of, now.” Months later, I’ve read followed that initial success with…nothing.

So, unlike the Urban Fantasy challenge where I’m trying to go from distaste to some degree of enjoyment or at least a position of knowledge, here I’m just trying to read some fun stuff. But, seeing as this was a challenge, I did decide to jump in at the deep end of my old apprehensions about Graphic Novels. It is, it seems, superhero time.

Now, I originally did the same thing as I did for the other Breaking New Ground post. The problem is, there I actually researched the books. Here, knowing nothing about the field, I figured out what to read by the highly scientific method of emailing someone I’d seen reading a book with pictures in it, specifying that at least some of the five had to involve super heroes. In the end, I decided that writing several hundred variants of she said to read this one. And this one! would get sickeningly old, so just pretend it says that under the pictures if you want.

Anyway, the five lucky novels are:




Seeing as I doubt I’m going to really hate any of these, I’m not going to bother with the Breaking New Ground posts that are following the Urban Fantasy reviews and just stick to the tried and true schedule of reviews broken up by random musings.

And yes, I’m aware there are seven titles here. Blame the person who picked them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

White Luck Warrior [Cover Art]

It's a very ornate cover, and, while I'm wondering if it might be overly colorful for what's likely going to be a dark text, I still like it a hell of a lot more than the cover that was leaked a while ago:

Though there's no real new information in it, reading the blurb on the back got me pumped for reading this.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bringing the Rack to New Lands

Over the past few days, I've been putting all of the reviews that I've done here up on amazon, inspired in part by Speculative Horizon's Amazonian Call to Arms and in part due to the thought that a wider audience can't be all that bad a thing. Of course, as anyone who's read this blog for more than five minutes can probably see, my reviews are not a good fit for amazon. My average review is between three and six times amazon's maximum review guidelines (three hundred words), uses quite a bit of quotation (which looks fucking awful without anything to distinguish it from my own words but "), and I find myself wandering far from Is It A Good Book? on quite a few instances. Don't worry that I'm going to simplify what I'm doing to fit amazon (assuming that, as someone reading this post, you read and enjoy my review style); I'll just be doing what I always do and shoehorning it into an ill fitting venue. Should be good fun.

And, of course, if anyone feels like devoting hours of their life to hunting down all of my reviews and creating several different amazon accounts in order to vote them into the most helpful positions, why, that'd be just dandy.

Get on it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thomas Ligotti - Songs of a Dead Dreamer

It is said that death is a great awakening, an emergence from the mystifications of life. Ha, I have to laugh. Death is the consummation of mortality and – to let out a big secret – only heightens mortal imperfections. (p. 94, Only Drink to Me with Labyrinthine Eyes)

Songs of a Dead Dreamer opens with The Frolic, a seemingly simple story about a child abductor. Out of all the collection’s stories, The Frolic is by far the most traditional, complete with easily sympathetic characters and a thoroughly sane narration. In the distance, however, are hints of something far stranger. The incarcerated abductor is clearly insane, but his delusions aren’t of grandeur but of insignificance, denying himself even a proper name. John Doe, as our psychologist protagonist tags him, says that the abuse he defiles his victim with is wholly irrelevant to his true purpose. John Doe, instead, frolics with the children, claiming to liberate them and take them to a cosmos of crooked houses and littered alleys, a slum among the stars. (p. 21, The Frolic) But, until the end, that strangeness is kept at bay:

Until then their home had been an insular haven beyond the contamination of the prison, an imposing structure outside the town limits. Now its psychic imposition transcended the limits of physical distance. Inner distance constricted, and David sensed the massive prison walls shadowing the cozy neighborhood outside. (p. 14, The Frolic)

As the Frolic ends, the bizarre explodes into the ordinary, and the collection proper begins.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer is an incredibly difficult reader. Like all the best horror, Ligotti’s works are drenched in atmosphere. This is not, however, the kind of atmosphere that you sink into and are carried away by. The book is, instead, a very active read; the reader has to build up their own atmosphere, brick by brick, with the pieces that Ligotti provides.

What makes the experience truly trying is what you are expected to imbibe. Ligotti, like Lovecraft before him, is a truly cosmic author. This is not fiction meant to simply unsettle you. Ligotti entirely forgoes the standard pathways of horror; there is no gore here, precious little suspense, scarce violence. Ligotti’s words will, instead, get inside your mind and, once there, ransack everything that you hold dear. This is one of the bleakest collections you will ever read, a grand altar assembled to celebrate the utter unimportance of your world. These stories will not evoke your sympathy, because while reading you will realize that no living creature deserves sympathy. These stories don’t even have the prospect of a happy ending, because while reading you will come to realize that there is no such thing as a happy ending. Story after story is an inexorable slide through darkness, the blessed perhaps ending in a Ligottian paradise:

And was it a world at all? Rather the unreal essence of one, all natural elements purged by an occult process of extraction, all days distilled into dreams and nights into nightmares. Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm, while imperfection was the paradoxical source of idealities – miracles of aberrance and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or a thwarted searching for the good. Instead, there was proffered a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal. (p. 276, Vastarien)

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that the stores in Songs of a Dead Dreamer are dry or uninteresting, not at all. In an interview a few years ago, Ligotti said that Literature is entertainment or it is nothing, and he lives up to that principle in every single piece here. A large part of the enveloping atmosphere of the collection comes from Ligotti’s prose, which is nothing short of incredible:

Best of all, though, would be the depiction of my life as an abstract painting – a twilight world, indistinct around the edges and without center or focus; a bridge without banks, tunnel without openings; a crepuscular existence pure and simple. No heaven or hell, only a quiet withdrawal from life’s hysteria and death’s tenacious darkness. (And I tell you this: What I most love about twilight is the deceptive sense, as one looks down the dimming west, not that it is some fleeting transitional moment, but that there’s actually nothing before or after it: that that’s all there is.) (p. 147, The Lost Art of Twilight)

Ligotti’s writing is incredible at capturing a moment and then making that moment seem like all eternity. His use of description in Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech, for instance, fills the room with so many oddities that it’s impossible to picture all at once, leading to a claustrophobic and cluttered atmosphere where the reader is sure something vital is lurking behind them. The one drawback of the style comes about in Masquerade of a Dead Sword, which is essentially a nihilistic heroic fantasy story. The majority of the tale works quite well, but when the climax comes around and events are supposed to leap into motion, the immediacy that such an action scene requires is smothered under the oppressive weight of the atmosphere.

Ligotti has said that he has no interest in capturing the lives of “normal” people in his stories, but, when it comes to the fringes of society, he has almost no equal. The discomfort and fear of Alice (Alice’s Last Adventure), or the repressed dreams of the “fair haired girl” (The Eye of the Lynx), the conflicted nature of Alb Indys (The Troubles with Dr. Thoss), the sheer longing of Victor Keirion (Vastarien), these are portrayals that are almost painfully poignant, characters outside our own experience whose plight is so vast that we not only come to recognize theirs but lose the ability, for a time, to even glimpse our own.

When it comes to the integration of philosophy and atmosphere, Dream of a Manikin is a good example of Ligotti’s general style. The story uses several different frames to layer itself, gradually building an extremely unsettling air while introducing us to Ligotti’s concept of shared dreaming and Divine Masochism (p. 61, Dream of a Manakin). The majority of the story is discomforting and thought provoking, but it’s only at the end, when Ligotti has fully developed both idea and atmosphere, when events became truly visceral. The story’s conclusion causes the entirety of the text to come to life and turn on us, infusing what seemed like a relatively contained exploration of ideas into a rapier stabbing into us.

That sudden reversal characterizes many of the stories here, though it rarely comes in the form of a conventional twist. Often, the majority of the story will describe a ritual, setting, or mindset that seems at once standard and ye so subtly wrong that we can’t do anything but fail to comprehend it again and again. Then, as the story closes, Ligotti puts down the final piece of the puzzle and pulls the whole story into focus, showing us that not only was the world we’d been seeing correct, but that it was, in fact, the world we live in, the only possible mindset to ever even contemplate. A great example of this is The Greater Festival of Masks. The vast majority of the story takes events that seem simple and makes them so surreal as to be indecipherable. Noss tries on a mask, watches over the mask shop, supplies a mask or two, and then goes off with his mask. It’s only at the end that the reader can truly appreciate the story and see why no word of it was wasted, which is the reason that so many of Ligotti’s stories are even stronger on reread.

The use of several different frames is a technique that Ligotti uses throughout the collection. Many of these stories are about identity, so the constantly shifting nature of how the tale is told compliment that perfectly. Probably the most accomplished of the shifting frame stories are Notes on the Writing of Horror Fiction (a piece that is delightfully metafictional, informative, and creepy as hell) and The Christmas Eve of Aunt Elise. The latter is interesting because the narrator’s feeling of familiarity and tradition are only matched by the reader’s sense of dislocation. Is the tale Jack recounting his experiences many years later? Is it a new experience that the narrator is having? Perhaps, the center of the stale is the story that Aunt Elise is telling. Or, perhaps, it’s another possibility, only coming to light at the end, and grotesquely altering everything that came before.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer will terrify you, and I’d be lying if I said it was a truly pleasant experience. All the same, this collection is absolutely essential. If you are going to read two works of horror in your life, make one Lovecraft and the other Ligotti.


My analysis of the Nyctalops Trilogy is here.

My analysis of Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech is here.

If you've read Ligotti and want to discuss interpretations, there's no place better to do so than at the dedicated Ligotti website The Nightmare Network.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Micmacs [Movie Review]

Micmacs is a movie of spectacle. The plot is fast moving. The plans are bizarre. The characters over the top. The two villains are child eating monsters, and the team’s running round them is hilarious to watch. But there’s a problem, and it’s that the spectacle is all there is. Under the weird, glossy surface, there just isn’t much there.

The movie is primarily concerned with a crusade against arms dealers, but the crusades beginnings and motivations remain sketchy, to say the least. The main character’s father, a soldier, was killed by a land mine, and the main character was shot in the head (but survived), yet I never really grasped how either one of those necessitates the total end of weapons production. But anyway, the plan is to incite a war between the two most prominent dealers.

The crusaders are a motley crew that live under a rotting scrapyard and each of them has one quirky characteristic. For instance, one is flexible and can fit inside small places, like refrigerators. That’s it, though. There’s no hint of personality beyond that, and the cast is large enough that characters are only called upon when their particular talent is needed, rendering the whole group to be like different shaped keys, dragged out when the right lock presents itself, rather than actual people.

The schemes themselves are the Rube Goldberg of espionage operations. These are, by far and away, the best part of the movie, and trying to figure out how the various elements are going to come together before they do is great fun. That being said, it’s almost impossible to actually figure out why their plans are so byzantine in their complexity, nor why something that dependant on chance succeeds again and again.

In order to enter one compound, the main character contracts a pornographer, who then shows one of his people getting fucked in the window opposite the arms dealer’s lair. The security guard – who happened to be looking at exactly the right time, happened to be male, happened to be a bit of a voyeur, etc – is distracted by this. While he watches, Flexible gets into the place’s air ducts. Note that there were no cameras on the ducts, so there was nothing to stop her from getting into them in the first place.

At this point, rather than simply proceeding into the place now that she’d past the guard, she opens the vent in the guardroom and slowly dangles herself down – trusting the guard to be too enraptured to turn around – and drugs the man’s coffee, which was luckily hot enough to dissolve the substance. The guard then drinks it, falls asleep, and they’re in. Oh. Okay. Clearly the most efficient way to accomplish that.

Really, I think that that plan just about sums up Micmacs at its best and at its worst. If you’re willing to just go with the flow and enjoy the spectacle, you could have a good time, and the various plots are, though moderately to extremely nonsensical, probably worth the price of admission. That being said, the movie never explores anything deeper than mentioning it off hand, trying to understand why the characters are doing any one thing is absolutely impossible, and there are enough never explored pathways (if your character could drop dead at any second from a bullet in his brain, and then never does, it feels a bit like a Chekov’s Gun, to say the least) and…really?...moments (an explosion in a crowded urban area that knocks out windows blocks away and occurs in the middle of the day causes no casualties) that it’s a tenuous recommendation at best.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Neil Gaiman - Fragile Things

One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story. It is a balancing act and it is a dream. The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.

The tale is the map which is the territory.

You must remember this.
(p. XIX, the Mapmaker)

Fragile Things is Neil Gaiman’s second collection and my first experience with his short fiction. These stories are wildly disparate, ranging from the bleak to the jubilant, and the majority of these stories function by throwing the narrator into contact with some other world, be it a literal one or the simple breath of wonder into an otherwise ordinary life. This is surely not the first time that Gaiman’s tackled the theme – in fact, it’s no secret that almost all of his works boil down to “normal bloke discovers magical world” – but the number of different ways that the same general idea can be reached from is simply staggering.

One of Gaiman’s techniques here comes not from showing us the point of the story via the world building, but rather via said world building’s deconstruction, putting the story’s soul in the violation of the initially established principles, the process of exposing a loophole or intricacy that we didn’t first grasp. This warping of the rules – a game that doesn’t so much violate the initial promise to the reader but rather twists it until the result is utterly unrecognizable but thoroughly satisfying – can be found in a good number of the collection’s stories. Harlequin Valentine begin with our viewpoint harlequin affixing his heart to his Columbine’s door, and when she opens the door, we get underway. The story is a quick and witty affair, consisting of the Harlequin’s toying with his one-day valentine and messing with the lives of everyone that he encounters as he follows her. At this point, the reader thinks that they understand the rules, but they’ve got no idea. It’s at the end of the story, where the harlequin’s love has a consequence unexpected enough to shatter everything we know about how the story’s cosmos function, that the tale goes from whimsical to powerful.

Not every story in the collection ends in a twist, but almost every one does mess with the reader’s perceptions and expectations. At the end of Harlequin Valentine, the former Columbine says: “That’s the joy of a harlequinade, after all, isn’t it? We change our costumes. We change our roles.” (p. 174, Harlequin Valentine) Almost every story in the collection, and almost every character in those stories, is a slippery being, refusing to settle into clichés or expectations. Bitter Grounds is a story of shifting identity, and as the narrator drifts further and further away from whom he was, the tone morphs to accompany his shift. Keepsakes and Treasures, a dark and dreary tale, takes a second out of its forward progress to point out that, if not for the oppressive prose and characterization, we’d be reading a fairy tale: I told him I thought it sounded like something from a story book. “I mean, think about it. A race of people whose only asset is the beauty of their men. So every century they sell one of their men for enough money to keep the tribe going for another hundred years.” (p. 128, Keepsakes and Treasures)

One of the most interesting stories from the collection, and 2004’s Hugo winner, A Study in Emerald, is impossible to predict from start to finish. It is, as Gaiman explains in the introduction, an attempt to wed the rationality of Sherlock Holmes with the otherworldly unknowability of Lovecraft’s horrors. Stephen R. Donaldson (and Writing Excuses) has talked often about how fiction is a combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and the reason that A Study of Emerald is so weird in Gaiman’s catalog is that the magic is actually the familiar, here. Though the two ingredients seem as likely to combine well as peanut butter and cheese, the mixture actually works, and neither element of the story feels forced…and yet I did not love A Study in Emerald, and the reason why is the problem I have with some of the stories in this collection.

Neil Gaiman is a writer of ideas, and they are fabulous ideas, big and witty and wondrous. The problem is, when ideas of that caliber get down in the trenches, they occasionally push other parts of the story aside. This works at times, like in the aforementioned Harlequin Valentine, when the torrent of bizarre ideas and imagery leads to a great emotional moment, but it can also lead to stories where you can admire what Gaiman’s done, but can’t really enjoy the result all that much.

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch suffers quite badly from this. The story is a about a small group of friends and acquaintances who are taken on a tour of ten increasingly bizarre rooms. As they go, one of their party, Ms. Finch, is transformed and is lost from their lives. The descriptions of what the party sees is interesting, but the tale fails to achieve its impact because those sights leave no room to really care for those watching them, leaving of the party member’s disappearance an unmoving event.

The truly obvious results of idea-driven writing are the curious that become increasingly common as the collection goes on. These are, for the most part, successful. Most, like Strange Little Girls or 15 Cards from the Vampire Tarot, illustrate a single mood or idea, then fade away before losing their welcome. The only one of these that felt unnecessary was Diseasemaker’s Croup, which, while clever, is just too insubstantial to be really interesting.

Of course, Gaiman’s output here is far too diverse to be so simply summed up, so How to Talk to Girls at Parties and How Do You Think This Feels? pop up to lay to waste the concepts-in-center-stage theory. The former is a very funny story about a teenage boy going to a party and being too oblivious to catch the girls’ hints that they aren’t from earth at all. The narrator’s, and the story’s, cheeky refusal to every get the point is surprisingly endearing. The second of those, however, is probably the weakest story in the collection. In it, the narrator is left by his mistress and creates a gargoyle to guard his heart in an attempt to never again feel hurt. The problem with the story is that the supernatural element is so slight, and the mundane too generic, for there to be anything to ever catch fire.

Despite how much time I’ve spent talking about potential drawbacks, Gaiman’s flights of fancy are the core of his work, and his refusal to reign them in is pretty much the soul of the man’s writing. His ability to let his ideas stand on their own, presenting the character’s and the situation without the need to constantly shape the reader’s opinion, allows some of the collection’s pieces, such as Keepsakes and Treasures, which only works due to Gaiman allowing the reader, not the author, to be the judge of the character, or in October’s Chair, which is either an unsettling story of losing touch with reality and a painful and needless death, or a heartwarming story of escape and embracing the fullness of life.

The poetry’s inclusion here was evidently quite controversial, and I’m glad that it made its way inside in the end. Gaiman’s prose is almost always deliberate and light, obscuring great depth with an airy surface and true wit, and his rhythmic tendencies come to the fore for the poetic part of this collection, the cadence of the words creating an irresistible and enchanting feel:

If I were young as once I was, and dreams
and death more distant then,
I wouldn’t split my soul in two, and keep
half in the world of men,
So half of me would stay at home, and
strive for Faerie in vain
(p. 27, The Fairly Reel)

So far this review has never tackled the entirety of Fragile Things, or even made much of an attempt to do so. Some stories are like this, some are like that, some aren’t like that…but wait, surely it must have more cohesion than that? Surely the collection (unlike this review) was not a mere scattershot assembly of random pieces, worthy and unworthy? Well, rest assured, because Gaiman is one of the best collection editors I’ve ever read. What I mean is that, even if a particular story didn’t work for me, every tale still bolstered the whole. This is a compendium of odds and bits, yes, and there are new characters in (almost) every story, yeah, and new worlds, etc, but there is not a single point in the entire collection when Gaiman says: Alright, hold on for a second, I’m going to go change gears. Every word of Fragile Things flows into the next, across line breaks and story breaks and genre lines, and the balance with which the man paces insures that you’ll never want to put the book down, no matter how many pages you’ve just turned and how many tales you’ve just completed.

This is, like any short story collection, a tad uneven. Still, there are three mind blowing Bitter Grounds pieces for every one How Do You Think This Feels?, and Gaiman shows no fear when he takes us into a new place with each page, each destination both bizarre and familiar. This collection has quite a bit of essential material for any Gaiman fan.

Standouts: Harlequin Valentine, Bitter Grounds, October in the Chair, the Fairy Reel

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Interview: Adam LG Nevill

There’s a bookstore a few minutes from my house with a vanishingly small horror section. You’ve got several shelves of Stephen King, one of Dean Koontz, and every once in a while you get a Lovecraft collection. A few months ago, I saw something new there: Adam LG Nevill’s Apartment 16. Now, having read and reviewed both Apartment 16 and Banquet for the Damned, I can say that Nevill deserves his spot on that shelf without the slightest doubt (though his proper shelf would have far more MR James, I believe). Nevill’s books blend the best elements of classic and modern horror, and they just might leave you quivering in a corner, drinking cup after cup of coffee because you are too afraid to go to sleep. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a horror novel, Nevill is a name that you need to add to your list. Nevill was kind enough to say yes when I asked him for an interview, and we talked about everything from the horror genre at large to musical adaptations. The results are below:

Everyone knows that both M.R. James and Stephen King are horror, but the two are so different. The classic horror authors primarily stuck to short stories and were generally uninterested in character, while modern authors like the aforementioned King, have works that are built entirely upon the characters’ backs. What do you think unifies the whole field, and how do you go about melding both aspects of the genre together? On the same note, do you think that the supernatural is an essential part of horror, or have books like Silence of the Lambs changed that? If you think it isn’t, would you ever consider writing a horror novel with no supernatural element?

For me, horror as a definition in fiction is that which is written to intentionally horrify, frighten, or to at least disturb a reader; whether it uses a supernatural or a human agent to deliver this result is the same. It’s why horror as a literary field is not solely restricted to stories and novels within the modern field of “horror”, but crops up in many other genres of fiction too. Often, the best examples of horror appear to me in non-genre books.

Like you, I first noticed a sea-change from the over-published supernatural, or animal horror of the late eighties and early nineties, to crime and thriller primarily through Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. He popularized the human agent as the horror in such an effective way, it made a lot of supernatural horror/crazy animal horror just look silly. The appetite for blockbuster serial killer crime just seemed to leap from there, and many people buying the jaded and over-published horror jumped ship, because serial killer crime was fusing two genres effectively, and more plausibly, and didn’t disrupt natural law so much (one of the hardest things to pull off in fiction, which is why most horror novels end badly, I believe). There are dozens of writers I could name who have been writing borderline horror, within the crime and thriller genres. This suggests to me that the appetite for horror in fiction was always there; it just needed reinvention to remain vigorous. It will not die, despite changes in taste, it just absorbs new influences and evolves. In fact, the first novel I read that seemed to be a precursor to the modern trend of serial killer horror, was John Fowles’s The Collector, which is very disturbing. I thought it was almost the first and last word on that topic: he gets the psychology of his characters just right, and it eschews the sensational aspects of commercial serial killer thrillers.

And yes, I would consider writing horror without the supernatural element. I think 1984 and The Road are two of the most affecting books, in that they are disturbing, that I have ever read. Everyone should read them. They have universal human dimensions that non-fiction and news footage cannot replicate as a warning to us all.

Whether the source of a story’s horror is supernatural or physical, unless a writer is manifestly driven to write about something disturbing – as opposed to merely choosing it to entertain a reader, or to catch a trend - it just doesn’t cut it with me. That’s the important thing; not the source, but the intention.

Banquet for the Damned seems like a very ambitious project in a lot of ways. The writing is present tense, and the novel is very realistically grounded, both in the location of St. Andrews and the number of referenced sources on the occult and witchcraft. What led to all those risks, and did you ever feel like it was doomed to fail because of them?

It was ambitious and more than once I sat back and thought I had failed at what I set out to achieve, massively. I wanted the power of a short story to endure throughout a long novel. What was I thinking? In hindsight, I realise many seem to believe that it cannot be achieved in a horror novel. So stylistically, it was a bloody ambitious book to write, though the occult element may appear conservative and ‘old school’ to many as it deals with possession and witchcraft.

I paid a lot of attention to cultivating subtlety through glimpses and suggestions, as opposed to full reveals. There are no better examples of this style in the field than in the fiction of M R James, who only wrote fiction with the full intention of frightening and disturbing a reader. It was my goal to combine the stylistic traits of the better late Victorian and the Edwardian authors, like James, within a thoroughly modern multi-plot structure that Stephen King and Dan Simmons made their own, and to also write in the present tense to emulate a cinematic feel. If a reader could accept that immediate-tense narration, I hoped the actual appearances of the supernatural in the novel might take on a more vivid nature within the reader’s imagination. Perhaps in a personal film.

Banquet was every bit as much of an example of a new writer trying to achieve a particular set of criteria within a novel, and also hoping that it would be a good story for an average reader who would be unaware of the scaffolding.

In terms of research, as a student at St Andrews, I remember having 40 books on witchcraft and the supernatural on my post-grad library card, when a curious librarian finally asked me what I was doing at the university. It was Lovecraftian – some of the books had not been borrowed since the sixties and I would scurry back to my room and pour over them. I had a year up there and had the time to read dozens of secondary texts on the subject of the unworldly. From that I took great creative license with specific histories and idioms to create the sense that my fictional scholars were authorities in order to make the supernatural element seem authentic. I blended bits and pieces from many documented stories and phenomenon to create my own history of a forgotten pagan god/witch’s familiar that had been called by many different names and moved through the ages, worshipped by one cult or another. I wanted it’s origins and long story to reflect the patterns of how real history is interpreted and revised, so that even the documentation and sources seemed authentic. Making the supernatural believable in a modern setting is no easy task, so the carefully wrought history, the scholars, the academic environment, are designed to add credence to a preposterous notion I wanted a reader to accept.

Elliot’s book, Banquet for the Damned, influences almost every character in the novel of the same name, but we never get to find out too many particulars about the book itself. Do you have the contents fixed in your mind, or was it more an idea than a concrete thing?

I spent a great deal of time reading Colin Wilson when younger, and I think his Outsider series is masterly. I imagined a book that was a curious blend of Crowley with Wilson’s Outsider. Wilson also wrote a book about music called Brandy of the Damned, which is what George Bernard Shaw called music. So my mythical book and Dante’s adoration of it, and the title of the novel, was a personal homage to Colin Wilson – a writer who meant a great deal to me. I’d say reading The Outsider definitely changed not only decisions I made in my life, but the way I saw the world too. Probably the highest accolade I can pay any book. Trying to write passages from an actual book would have been a mistake.

Apartment 16 shows us the world with its glossy veneer stripped away. It’s a place where the dominant emotions are apathy and rage and where people are horribly assaulted for no reason save bloodlust. Do you think there’s truth in such a vision, or did you construct it purely for the aesthetics/power of the landscape?

Apartment 16’s horror aspires to transmit itself in a cosmic sense of one’s total defenselessness; as if the apparently indifferent universe is actually conspiring to enact some terrible punishment upon the individual; a kind of living damnation. It’s horror is also of a gradual psychic dissonance that erodes a stable perception; of actually being confronted finally by the true nature of things, the true horror of humanity, by a swift unravelling of all previously held opinions and understandings taken for granted in life. Everything leads to and ends in incremental disintegration, inside the vortex.

But also, the story’s horror in a treatment of the material world, arises from the essential indifference of society to the individual. And a choking terror for Seth that not only is he scapegoated, exiled and brutally persecuted by those he has fallen amongst, down there at the bottom of the world, of which most people know nothing, but he is also despised by those in positions of responsibility and social superiority. By pausing to actually look about himself, he perceives only the futility of his every endeavour, of his entrapment by poverty and circumstance, of a hierarchy shaped by greed and envy and sociopathic will. The world of the novel is a suspension of decency, of humility, of anything noble or compassionate. And he is trapped within it. It’s why the book comes across as claustrophobic, relentless; I deliberately use repetition, deliberately exert the power of the horrid paintings as a subconscious force, to try and entrap the reader within this perception of the actual world as an unrelenting horror on every level.

Not a day goes by when I am not just aghast at my own species: life and mankind is the stuff of horror. And for so many their lives become an unrelenting horror on every level. So horror fiction is a legitimate reaction to the world, and affecting horror in a reader is as legitimate as affecting any other kind of emotional response in a reader.

You’ve mentioned that, in an early draft of the novel, Apartment 16 did not include Apryl’s storyline. Can you elaborate on the initial idea/version of the novel? Was Seth’s role the same throughout, or did that change over time as well?

Originally, it was just Seth and his dialogue with himself and with the unseen presence that may/may not have existed in the building. Imagine just those chapters? And there were many others I cut out of the later versions that were stream-of-consciousness, or prose poetry. One friend read that version and, fearing for my mental health, offered to come and save me from London. Then I added a female art historian in a later version. But her subplot became too academic and dry – in effect a reimagining of 20th century art, like an alternate history plot. It had to go. I kept bits of that material for Miles Butler and his book, but then added an innocent, receptive, sympathetic girl – Apryl. It was the right decision because her ordinariness then amplified the horror, while also serving to open a window for the reader to breathe some unpolluted air that was overburdening earlier drafts.

So far you’ve given two hints about your next novel. One is that it’s a “great outdoors” novel, the other that it would be awesome as a movie with Rob Zombie. Care to fill in a few more details for us?

The book begins at a moment of crisis just beneath the arctic circle in Sweden, in Europe’s last great wilderness. It features a walking holiday that has crossed the line from recreation and leisure to survival and horror. It’s almost entirely set in a wilderness scenario, and nearly every facet of character and story arises from the action, as in a film. I mostly eschew flashback etc. The story arises from reactions to an unfolding crisis as it unfolds. Very much written in a modern cinematic, thriller idiom too; my Edwardian overtones are absent, but the poetry remains. I also love the Rob Zombie film, The Devils Rejects, and both versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and how horror cinema is so often inspired by an urbanites terror of rural backwaters. It’s a horror staple, but one I wanted to reinvent with more McCarthy and Dickey aesthetics. I’d like to see Rob Zombie’s dark humour, rock and roll sensibilities, and character camaraderie used in a film with a strong supernatural horror element, as opposed to a human element. I like his music too; his overall vision, in fact.

We’ve got the perfect movie adaption covered, but that still leaves music. If your dream band came to you to ask if they could do a song or album based on your fiction, who would they be?

What a great question! I’d love to see American metalcore band Throwdown, conceptualise a book. Their Deathless album is loosely conceptual and a classic work. My gut says a power metal band like Nevermore would be perfect for a collaboration too. Marilyn Manson’s musical take would also be superb. Iron Maiden of course, for a song. Avenged Sevenfold of late also.

What’s your opinion on cover art? Is it the first taste of the novel’s atmosphere, or just a marketing tool? What do you think of the cover art you’ve had so far and how much say did you have in designing it?

My take is that I have been very lucky, and that cover art is vitally important. For the PS hardback limited edition of Banquet for the Damned, I had a superb Edward Miller painting; for the paperback, a very talented young designer at Virgin, to whom I only gave key words and a photo of St Andrews skyline, designed a cover that I loved, and that also caught the spirit of the novel.

For Apartment 16, Pan Macmillan scored perfect marks with the first design I saw. It captures both the supernatural element and the literary element I strive to achieve in my writing, as well as depicting the perfect building. It was perfect. The cover for the next book, is possibly the best cover I have ever seen on a horror novel.

Every publisher I have had has consulted me, but I have been pleased with their ideas straight away without any arguments whatsoever. That must be unusual. I blanch and gibber at the thought of having a terrible cover on one of my books. I’ve seen some shockers out there, though British publishers are pretty good. I’d say British publishers are the world leaders in book cover design. It’s the foreign editions and US covers that often confound me.

But writers do need to listen to their publishers. As an editor, some of my authors would want to design their own covers, which were always unacceptable. The sales force of a publisher knows the trade and its book buyers better than an author does.

Let’s say you meet someone who’s never read horror, but is curious about the genre. If you had three books to try and convert them, what would you give them?

World War Z by Max Brookes

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Any advice for new writers?

Read the best in your field; work at the craft, struggle with the craft; find a mentor on a creative writing course – and I’d suggest a good poet - to improve your actual writing, and get them to show you how to rewrite i.e. how to really think about the choices you make with descriptive language, and with syntax; take at least a one month break between all drafts, and never ever post first drafts to agents or editors. Also, try going ‘deep’ and writing something that makes you really uncomfortable and ashamed, and don’t let self- consciousness interfere and don’t self-censor at all, don’t worry about style, don’t mimic other writers, just let it flow from your core. And that might unlock your voice as a writer and point you in the direction of how affecting and original your own work can be. Nothing is written in stone; you can then work at it at your leisure.

Thank you once again for the interview, Mr. Nevill, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for having me, and for your gracious reviews! My hat is raised.


Nevill has done several other interviews, including one at Kamvision and one at Horror Reanimated.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading in August

When it comes to reading, August was an absolutely excellent month. Among those books are several for the Breaking New Ground challenge, both graphic and urban, but I'm not going to tell you what I think of them yet. Why not? Simple: the image of y'all practically salivating at the thought of knowing the results of my personal challenge is one that I find very amusing. Of course, it's not actually happening, but I intend to pretend. As for the rest of it:

Seeing as this was the first half of a monolithic super-novel, I wasn’t surprised to find the pace slower than usual for the first half. By the halfway point, though, the various arcs were all picking up momentum and, to my surprise, I actually thought that the cliffhanger ending was the perfect place to end the novel. At the moment, I’d say that this is my favorite Malazan tome behind House of Chains and Toll the Hounds.

I’ve often heard it said that Gaiman is a better short story writer than he is a novelist, so I was very interested in checking out this collection, and I’m glad that I did. Though there are a few weaker pieces, the entire thing flows beautifully, and Gaimans ideas are, as always, an incredible pleasure to be immersed in. Review on the way.

My first foray into Urban Fantasy for the challenge – and it went well, thankfully. Review here.

The first two thirds of this novel were absolutely impossible to put down, the self aware grace of 20th Century Ghosts put aside for a razor’s edge of cutting suspense and horror. And then someone popped the balloon and the tension zipped on out with the hot air. Review on the way.

Though I think that Ship of Destiny was, without a doubt, the weakest of the three Liveship books, it did bring the trilogy to a good conclusion in the end. More information (hopefully) coming in a review before too long.

Reading Thomas Ligotti was like reading Lovecraft for the first time, and that is not something that I say lightly. These stories were surreal, dark, metaphysical, beautiful, and terrifying on a level that few other things can ever be. I read a lot of books this month, but this is, hands down, the best of them. Well, except for maybe

...this one. Yes, that’s right, I read this book twice. Back to back, the first time I’ve ever done anything like that. And it deserved it, and I grasped infinitely more of Ligotti’s genius and inner workings on the second read. Expect more content when I’ve stopped huddling in the corner and praying for the (non?)reality of my own existence.

Hmm, I wonder...

Yes, this is a graphic novel, but not one of the challenge ones. I picked it up on a whim because I was bored and because it was cheap. The tale was entertaining, and I enjoyed the framing device, but, like with pretty much every non-Lovecraft Lovecraft story (except for, debatably, some in that book one or two above this one…) Lovecraft’s ideals are mouthed and then forgotten in favor of a fun horror story. An okay read, but nothing special.

This is by far the easiest of McCarthy’s reads, but the quality doesn’t dip in tandem with the difficulty. Like everything else the man has written, this is highly recommended. Review forthcoming.

Yay, uh, mercenaries! Not the month’s favorite read, though it did have the distinction of having me read seven other books while in the process of reading it. Those aren't easy lengths for a book to push me to, you know. You’ve got to really grab someone for that. Review.


I still haven’t found the novel that really sells me on Pratchett, but this one was quite enjoyable, nonetheless. Review.

Despite some similarities in theme and content, this was the opposite of Gravity’s Rainbow in every way. Often light hearted, and occasionally laugh out loud funny, this was a quick, though certainly not breezy, read that was quite entertaining.

A children’s book for adults? Alright, I’ve got to see that. To my surprise, is actually lived up to that concept, being decidedly hilarious at all three endings. That being said, however, I’m still not sure if a scant few minutes reading justifies the twenty dollar price tag on amazon. I guess everyone’s level of thing-under-the-bed love will have the determine whether they purchase their own copy.

This book has a gigantic polar bear that scared me shitless in a scene or two, but I think the best measure of its success is that the polar bear wasn’t half as scary as the omnipresent arctic. Oddly enough, it’s this, not Hyperion, that’s convinced me that I need to read everything that Simmons has written.

VanderMeer, as usual, makes the absolutely bizarre feel like something I run into every day and makes the most pedestrian of things absolutely ethereal. The Third Bear contains several of my new favorite stories from the man (The Situation, for instance, is excellent) , and, though I’m not sure if I’ll do a review of my own, the Third Bear Carnival is something well worth checking out for anyone who’s read the collection.