Sunday, June 26, 2005
Author: Robert Reed
Black Milk is the third book by Robert Reed that I have read, and I suspect that it is the first that has not been based on a short story. Or at least, if it is, it is a sequence that I have not read. It is also the most contained, in a narrative sense – Sister Alice and Marrow spanning hundreds of years over the course of each book. While for the most part Black Milk is set over the period of a couple of months to a year.
Ryder is one of the first generation of children who have been genetically engineered. An experimental generation only just coming of age. His parents don’t know what to make of him, and some would like to take advantage of him. But he has a good group of friends and does his best not to get lost in his memory, an expansive ability to recall everything he has ever encountered in formidable detail.
Dr. Florida is particularly responsible for the changes that have come about. Setting up a community, Ryder and his friends all live in the same area as Florida, creating a kind of cultural support group in terms of schools and parents. Each year Florida has a kind of egg hunt to celebrate his work. Over the years what he has released for the children has escalated. Until now, the 50th year of this game, and he releases a genetically engineered snow dragon. At the media event for the release of the mother dragon, Ryder and his friends catch Florida’s eye.
Black Milk is kind of a strange novel. Narrated by Ryder, who is a child, but also comes across a little funny – one of his teacher’s suggestions that he is a little autistic perhaps accounting for that feel. The story reminds me considerably of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. With Ryder as Charlie, and his friends, and the different family relationships they have representing the other children. Which makes Dr. Florida Willy Wonka, with the released snow dragon and promised prizes taking the place of the golden ticket and the trip to the chocolate factory.
Of course for all that, there is more to Black Milk. The last third of the narrative turns the novel around entirely. Which is what I would tend to consider spoiler territory – though the description on the back of book goes some way into that range. Just as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory has sinister undertones, so does Black Milk – Dr. Florida cast as benevolent genius, loved by everyone, but also mad scientist.
For me, this was the tightest and most fun read of the novels I have read by Reed to date.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Title:The Wild Shore
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: Harper Collins
Henry is 17-years-old and lives with his father in a windowless hut. His father makes a living stitching clothes together, and Henry brings in fresh fish every day working with the local fishermen. In his spare time he hangs out with his friends, dreaming of the world and having adventures, thanks particularly to the lessons he gets from old man Tom. Though the swap meets are the highlight of community life, where various villages get together and trade their excess produce.
However life changes for Henry and the residents of Onofre with the arrival of two agents from San Diego, who have arrived come by "train", looking to recruit for the American Resistance. In 1984 America was destroyed. Nuclear bombs were driven into 2000 cities and set off all at once. Since then the United Nations has had America under quarantine, and off the coast of California Japanese ships enforce this order.
The Wild Shore would appear to be the first novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, which is quite a remarkable thought. Especially when considering Ice Henge, a more "genre" orientated novel, that seems to have been published a year after The Wild Shore. Ironic given that The Wild Shore so clearly defines the voice of Kim Stanley Robinson, the themes so evident in the bulk of the work he has done since.
The Wild Shore is the first of what is considered to be a trilogy, though in the most nominal sense - published over a period of 10 years, interspersed with other work. The Orange County or Three Californias trilogy all focus on an individual vision of the future of America using Orange County as an example. The only other contribution to this series that I had read previously was the third volume, Pacific Edge, which looks at an America where corporations have been dismantled and people have control on a more community and environmental basis.
To a degree The Wild Shore provides a similar result, people living in self-contained and self-sustaining communities. But this result is not a voluntary one; America has been hit by a terrorist attack. An idea, in a novel from 1983, that has a particular resonance, given the current world climate. To a degree there is a certain element of the novel that is dated, a couple of references to the Soviet Union - but those are beside the point, with quarantine being enforced by Canada and Japan at the behest of the United Nation, with speculation as to who is actually responsible for the act touching on Africa and Russia.
In fact, the idea that there is no real answer to who attacked America is one of the things I find the most interesting about this novel. The narrative being, to some degree, about identity, both personal and cultural. The characters are faced with the question of what is America, what was America, what should America become? The San Diegans talk of America as god's country, coming out with a jingoistic and patriotic spiel. Which in some circles is met with sympathy and support, but for others the idea of being able to feed yourself each day is more important than that of striking back at a remote world. While some authors might be content to paint pictures of America's greatness, KRS is prepared to argue with that, offer contradictions - the old man in the community is one of the few that remembers life before the explosions, and he paints the picture of America as both a great nation and a selfish, consuming monster.
Along with these kind of questions The Wild Shore is an adventure story, with something of the Boy's Own Adventure story cropping up. Henry getting to travel on a train for the first time, making daring escapes, searching through ruins, and spying on the "enemy". Which makes for some fun reading, but at the same time he is stopping and asking - is this stuff that is happening to him, or stuff he is making happen? With this comes the idea of story telling, and how that fits into culture - the community sitting around the fire telling stories, scraping together the remains of an old culture to save books, and to print new ones again. There is even a passing reference to creation myth, which is coupled with the idea of radiation born super heroes.
The Wild Shore is a post-apocalyptic novel, though it fits more into the category of what is currently being called Mundane Science Fiction that some of the other comparable material that comes to mind. Kathleen Ann Goonan's Queen City Jazz has the same kind of post-event feel, though it comes more from a technological singularity, tracing backwards to Crescent City Rhapsody and an extra-terrestrial "first strike", the kind of effect that can also be detected in Greg Egan's Quarantine. By comparison The Wild Shore is more man made, in what could be thought of as the classic Cold War mode.
I enjoyed The Wild Shore, more so than some of his recent work. Though Forty Signs Of Rain had some of the potential that this has, and I am looking forward to the follow up Fifty Degrees Below to see how that goes.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Author: Charles Stross
Accelerando is the latest piece from Scottish SF writer Charles Stross, while i was disappointed by Singularity Sky, Accelerando takes some of my favourite short story work by him and builds it into a whole. So I am looking forward to reading Accelerando which is currently available as a download.
Download: Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town
Author: Cory Doctrow
The third novel by Canadian SF writer Cory Doctrow, now available for download like his previous novels Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom and Eastern Standard Tribe, both of which are worth reading.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Title: Low Down
Title: Low Down
Author: Carlos G
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Author: Paul McAuley
Was pleased to come across a Paul McAuley novel I hadn't read while going through a second hand shop. But there was something niggling me about why I had never heard of it. The reason of course is that Of The Fall by Paul J. McAuley is the US edition of the UK novel Secret Harmonies by Paul McAuley. The last time I got caught out like that was when I bought Evolution's Shore by Ian McDonald having just ordered Chaga, because I thought they were related rather than the same novel.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Title: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper Perennial
There are clear parallels between Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto and Ian Banks’s Canal Dreams. Canal Dreams follows a Japanese woman who is a world famous cellist, who because she doesn’t like to fly only travels by sea, resulting in her being caught in a hostage situation while waiting to get through the Panama Canal. With Bel Canto we have a Japanese man who is a big fan of a world famous opera singer, who is lured to a Latin American country to see her perform, only to get caught in a hostage situation.
Mr. Hosikawa is the head of a big Japanese corporation. The unnamed Latin American country is keen to have him invest in their poor nation. However previous attempts to get him to come visit have failed. The fact that he is a big opera fan, particularly he is a fan of Roxanne Coss, gives them an idea – spend lots of money on a lavish birthday party for Mr. Hosikawa where Coss will give an intimate performance. Which in turn gives terrorist forces in the country an idea, so as Coss finishes her last song the Vice President’s house is plunged into darkness and the house is suddenly filled with heavily armed terrorists. Unfortunately the flaw in the plan for both sides is that Mr. Hosikawa’s birthday is on a Tuesday, which is the night that the President’s favourite soap opera is on TV. So the Vice President has had to make his excuses for the President’s absence, excuses that the terrorists aren’t very happy about, given that the President was their target.
This set up comes together in the first chapter, after that we are presented with a hostage drama. The women and children and house staff are released, leaving a large house with 40 hostages, plus the Roxanne Coss, along with 18 terrorists. The only contact with the outside world comes through a member of the Red Cross, who was in the area on holiday. Every day he comes in and ferries demands back and forth from the terrorists to the authorities – but neither side is willing to budge, leading the situation to extend out in a seemingly endless manner.
With this Bel Canto has something of the farce to it, wittier and more easily ironic than Canal Dreams. The shifting relationships between the hostages and the terrorists, particularly as days become months. The role Hosikawa’s translator Gen takes on, in a house filled with people speaking different languages he is forced to facilitate all communications – from finding a pianist for Coss, or kitchen help for the French ambassador, to expressing a deep felt love in Russian. Of course the starting point of a president who doesn’t turn up for an important function because he is too busy watching soaps kind of sums up the approach of this novel. But it is also about the kind of self-assessment that comes from isolation and stressful events, following what the characters miss about life, and what little happiness they can get from each day that they are still alive.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Title: Days Between Station
Author: Steve Erickson
Publisher: Owl Books
Steve Erikson is a write who was recommended to me some time ago. Of course I thought of Steven Erikson, which is an entirely different proposal. From there I did a search, and came across as extract from Days Between Stations, which I enjoyed. However, when I set about actually trying to find material by Steve Erikson I discovered that he is not what you would call readily available in the UK. Luckily I recently came across an American import copy of Days Between Stations in a local second hand shop, so I picked that up.
Lauren meets Jason when she is 17, and without much ado they fall in love and get married. But Jason isn’t around much, as a world-class cyclist he is always disappearing for races. He is also unfaithful to Lauren; as a result of his latest betrayal she goes a little bit mad. She has a hazy encounter with a man in a blue coat, but afterwards she can’t remember it at all.
Michel wakes up one morning in Paris, with no recollection of who he is, or how he got there. The only things he has are his blue coat and his passport. Returning to America where his passport says that he is from, he moves into a building in LA. Where the woman upstairs is the first person he seems to recognise.
The basic core plot from there is a love triangle between Lauren, her unfaithful husband Jason and the neighbour Michel. But that is a description that doesn’t really sum up what happens in Days Between Stations. There is a good chunk of the book flashes back to Michel’s grandfather, and an epic film that he made. The lives of all the characters entwine throughout, little elements recurring and having an impact.
There is a somewhat apocalyptic tone to Days Between Stations. Over the course of the narrative LA is buried by brutal sand storms, Paris becomes so cold that buildings are burnt on a daily basis, and as spring comes around the canals of Venice dry out. Add to that regular power cuts and the increasing difficulty with travel to round out the sensation. With that, it is perhaps unfortunate that Erikson ends up dating the novel – though he doesn’t give us a date for the present, he does take us back to the end of the world war one, in such a way that places the body of the work in the 1980s.
The feel of Days Between Stations, the dreamy kind of end of the world scenario reminds of the main novels by Kathleen Ann Goonan, and one wonders whether she has been particularly influenced by Erikson. This side of things also invites comparisons with the environmental themes of Kim Stanley Robinson, particularly his most recent work 40 Signs Of Rain, which warns of deteriorating weather conditions.
Days Between Stations also has odd little undercurrents. Elements of the weird woven into the daily. The kind of thing that I am particularly partial to – the way that Lauren has an affinity for cats, the way in which the trio live in a street which can be found on no map, even the way the cyclists in Venice vanish to haunt the night. To a degree this side of things reminds me of Jeanette Winterson, particularly her novel Passion – which like Days Between Stations spends some time in both Paris and Venice.
As a novel Days Between is elusive, flitting through a sense of unreality, through tangents and obsessions with film or the colour blue. Layering stories of family, of twins, illusion and isolation into a novel about relationships.
Listen: Blood Of Angels
Listen: The Lonely Dead
Just online, a reading by Michael Marshall from a recent promotional date for his latest novel Blood Of Angels, followed by link for previous recording from when he did the same for The Lonely Dead. Reading as MP3 file, as well as video clips and photographs from the reading.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Link: Tom Vater
Tom Vater is probably my favourite travel writer. I've posted links to various articles that he has written in the past. This is usually the result of periodoc searches to see who has posted his latest material now. The latest search has turned up the fact that he now has his own site. He seems to spend a lot time living in Bangkok, using it as a base for travelling and writing about Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, UAE and Vietnam.
Kraftwerk seem to have been touring pretty solidly for the last year or two; they played Glasgow last March, which was a fun night. To go with this tour they are releasing a live CD/DVD, the UK website has two streaming live videos, as well as clips from a number of the tracks included.
Friday, June 10, 2005
"She didn't say anything at all? Like why?"
"No, I told you. She dashed in through the door in a bit of a state holding an opium pipe, glared at me, said, 'I've done him in,' ripped off her dress, and disappeared upstairs. Fortunately, there were only a couple of farang in the bar at the time, and the girls were fantastic. They merely said, 'Oh, Chanya, she goes like that sometimes,' and gently ushered them out. I had to play the whole thing down, of course, and by the time I got to her room, she was already stoned."
"What did she say again?"
"She was tripping on the opium, totally delirious. When she started talking to the Buddha, I left to call you and the Colonel. At that stage I didn't know if she'd really done him in or was freaking out on yaa baa or something."
But she'd snuffed him all right. I walked to the farang's hotel, which is just a couple of streets away from Soi Cowboy, and flashed my police ID to get the key to his room. There he was, a big muscular naked American farang in his early thirties, minus a penis and a lot of blood from a huge knife wound that began in his lower gut and finished just short of his rib cage. Chanya, a basically decent and very tidy Thai, had placed his penis on the bedside table. At the other end of the table, a single rose stood in a plastic mug of water.
Title: Over Compensating
Author: Jeffrey Rowland
Thursday, June 09, 2005
The young man turned his head. 'I can't believe this is him.'
Jim realised he was talking to the other stranger, who'd suddenly appeared by his side. That worried Jim a little, someone being able to get that close without him noticing. It made him feel old.
'It's him,' the man said. 'You remember me, James?'
Jim turned in his own sweet time, and yes, of course he did. It had been a long time, and the man had aged but only on the outside. The eyes were the key, eyes that looked fine at first but soon revealed themselves to be devoid of genuine warmth, emotion or life. Jim had been cold in his time, no doubt, but this man looked like he'd never been anything but: as if he'd slid out of his mother's womb silent and calm and with bad thoughts already in his head. Jim didn't know his name, but he knew who he was. He was a man Jim had hoped - and come to believe - he would never see again.
He was the Forward-Thinking-Boy.
Blood Of Angels
She took a sip of her Mohito and looked around. Dusk Junkie’s was filling up slowly, the crowd gradually moving around her and Kristin as they sat on their own at the end of the bar. On the far side of the long room, the floor-to-ceiling iBoards glowed on the bar’s walls, blaring with videos and ads. On one of the screens, Esh saw the boys from FMCG prancing around in the video for their new single, ‘PollyGonnaRocka’, a tie-in for the latest Sneaker Store campaign. She watched, stunned as ever by how mystifyingly crap the video was and how successfully FMCG sold their product. They’d been so perfectly styled to bring out the Sneaker Store endorsement, the entire video synched to enhance the ‘Sneakers’ motif.
by Robert Collins
The dreaming world, they'd think we were crazy. Those people still in bed, they'd be asleep another hour, then washing their faces, under their arms, and between their legs, before going to the same work they did every day. Living that same life, every day.
Those people would cry to find us gone, but they would cry, too, if we were boarding a ship to start a new life across some ocean. Emigrating. Pioneers.
This morning, we were astronauts. Explorers. Awake while they slept.
These people would cry, but then they would go back to waiting tables, painting houses, programming computers.
by Chuck Palahniuk
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Publisher: 4th Estate
Alice Butler was head hunted by PopCo, the third biggest toy company in the world. As a specialist in creating cross words she was never quite sure why, and even though she has been with the company for two years, she doesn’t feel like she fits in. To be honest, she has pretty wilfully made an effort not to fit in. So she feels a bit weird about this weekend corporate convention that she is going to. Though it isn’t long before she has been corralled into a special group, who are going to remain in residence for 2 weeks – the elite creatives from PopCo assigned to come up with the product that will sell to teenage girls. On top of that, someone has started sending her coded messages.
Over the course of the novel we follow Alice Butler as the tries to come to terms with the ideas of branding and marketing that a company like PopCo use and how she feels about that. Interspersed with flash backs to her childhood, how she was abandoned by her father shortly after the death of her mother, to be raised by her grandparents. The kind of problems this led to at school, mixed with the interests this gave her – her grandparents having been prominent cryptoanalysts and mathematicians. Of course there are also relationships, how does she feel about her attraction to her boss, and is the involvement with Ben, who she has just met more than just sex?
PopCo is Scarlett Thomas’s sixth novel, following on from the Lily Pascale trilogy, Bright Young Things and Going Out. With her last couple of novels it could be said that she has a habit of isolating her man characters as a starting point, and building the narrative from there. In Bright Young Things a group of characters wake up on an isolated island, while in Going Out we have a character who can’t go outside. With that PopCo starts by taking Alice Butler out of her daily life, putting her on an isolated country estate and pretty much keeping her there, barring the flashbacks and rare side trips.
In a lot of ways PopCo kind of comes from the Bright Young Things model, taking all these bright young things, these cool and distinctive characters and lumping them all together so that they interact. Though while Bright Young Things worked between its multiple leads, PopCo takes a harder focus, working entirely from the point of view that is Alice Butler. Which in some ways makes this a stronger work, because we more fully get into the mind of our heroine. And Alice Butler is a great character, as both the shipwrecked child and the bright young thing she grows into.
On top of the Bright Young Thing launching point we have a certain amount of influence from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Alice Butler has elements of Cayce Pollard, though Thomas takes the pursuit of the No Logo idea that degree further. Also because of the background detail, and the greater sense of doubts, conflict and growth we get more of a feel for Alice as a human than just a character. The comparison isn’t just something random to be read into PopCo, the phrase “pattern recognition” comes into play once or twice early on, with William Gibson being name checked a couple of times through the narrative, to the extent where Alice is listening to a Polish pirate radio station that are mixing in reading of Neuromancer and Idoru with an eclectic sound track.
If PopCo can be said to have add dose of Pattern Recognition to Bright Young Things, it comes with comparisons to Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon as well. The secret messages Alice is being sent, the code breaking toys she has created, her grandmother’s association with Alan Turing and even the flashbacks to pirates all suggest shared themes with Stephenson’s epic. Though, thankfully, Scarlett Thomas is a less wordy writer, and PopCo is a much more fun and easy going read than anything Stephenson has done recently.
Some of the math and history tangents take PopCo into heavier territory than Thomas has gone into with her previous work. I have to admit I started to feel that the Stevenson section was going on a bit long – though that was mainly because Alice was such a good character that I just wanted to get back to her story. Add to the tech background the whole “no logo” commentary and one can consider PopCo to be Scarlett Thomas’s most serious work to date. PopCo becoming something of a declaration, a manifesto.
For me, PopCo is Scarlett Thomas’s strongest work so far. Perhaps not as easily read or as much pure fun as some of her work – it took me longer to read this novel than it did the last couple of her books I read, flying through those in a day each. But there is still plenty of fun here, Thomas remains strikingly contemporary with some of the coolest characters going, she just balances it with more depth and passion in PopCo. A novel, which I hope, will allow her to get some of the attention that she deserves.
Title: Sin City
Cast:Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Jaime King, Rosario Dawson, Carla Gugino, Devon Aoki, Brittany Murphy, Nick Stahl, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Powers Boothe, Rutger Hauer
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Sin City started in a serial form, published monthly in the Dark Horse Presents showcase. Running for about 5 pages each time for over a year, it quickly became the lead story in the title. With the success of the Sin City story, Frank Millar was able to spin it out into a series of limited series – starting to give them all individual names. Going through the individual issue stage before being collected in book format that is the prevailing business model for American comics. With the move to collected format, the original Sin City became Sin City: The Hard Goodbye, and was quickly followed by A Dame To Kill For, The Big Fat Kill, That Yellow Bastard and so on.
Sin City started in 1991. Establishing Frank Millar with his own intellectual property, having made outstanding contributions to DC comics with Batman and Marvel with Daredevil. Since then he has resisted allowing his material to be made into a film, having had some experience with Hollywood as the writer on one of the Robo Cop films. Though with the approach of Robert Rodriquez and assurances that with the use of computer/digital techniques Sin City could be brought to life in a way that was in keeping with the original comics. Which is one of the truest things that can be said about the film that results – Sin City the film goes all out to duplicate the look and feel of the comic. Even the lingering full-page poster shots that I wouldn’t have expected them to go for are reproduced in an effective manner.
As a film Sin City amalgamates three of the first four Sin City collections. Stories that all had a certain overlap anyway, so that this kind of manoeuvre should work. Of course the bulk of the film, and the most striking part of it, is the original Sin City material – The Hard Goodbye, the story of Marv and Goldie. A lot is being made of Mickey Rourke’s performance as Marv, and deservedly so – it might be fair to go as far as saying that Rourke’s performance is the only one worth talking about. After over an hour spent in make-up every day Rourke becomes the ex-com, psychotic loser that is Marv – the kind of character that puts the anti in anti-hero, and does so with a capital A. Marv can’t believe his luck, this goddess Goldie picks him up in a bar and shows him the night of his life. However when he wakes up from his drunk he finds that Goldie is dead, murdered – with the police arriving before he has had a chance to do anything he knows that he has been set up. What follows is a rampage, Marv storming up the information ladder, one beating after another, gradually revealing a powerful conspiracy.
From there, we follow Dwight (Clive Owen), a man with a new face and a past, who gets in too deep when he gets into a confrontation with Jackie Boy, an ex-boyfriend of his barmaid girlfriend Shellie. Chasing Jackie Boy from Shellie’s apartment, Dwight follows him and his gang, convinced that if he doesn’t they’ll do something nasty. This is Sin City, where an uneasy truce is maintained between the police, organised crime and the prostitutes of Old Town – the girls being armed to the teeth in order to preserve their rule. Unfortunately Old Town is where Jackie and his gang are headed, and it isn’t long before they are getting into trouble. With their bodies stacked up in a dark alley it becomes clear that killing Jackie Boy was a mistake, and that if news get out that uneasy truce will come tumbling down. And Dwight is the man to save the day, if he is lucky he can avoid The Big Fat Kill.
The film starts with the story of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a cop of the edge of retirement who is prepared to defy the powers that be to save the life of 11-year-old Nancy. This doesn’t go entirely to plan, betrayed and up against too much power. Time passes, and we come back to the story of Hartigan and That Yellow Bastard. Years have passed and Nancy has grown up, one of the dancers in the bar frequented by Marv and Dwight. Hartigan gets out of prison, framed for the Yellow Bastard’s crimes, but it is a trick, the Yellow Bastard keen to track down the girl that got away.
The narrative works in a non-linear fashion, which is most evident from the cameo by Marv in the final sequence that is obviously before the material in his story. This is approach is fine to a degree, though with the presence of Tarantino as a trainee director, it does invite comparisons to the structure of Pulp Fiction. The decision to go with these particular 3 stories is also a curious one, particular given that it involves skipping book 2, A Dame To Kill For. Talk at the moment suggests that the second Sin City film will be based on A Dame To Kill For, so the material will be covered. The problem with that is that The Big Fat Kill, which is covered in this film, is the most direct sequel to Dame. Dame introduces Dwight, provides some team up action with Marv, and explains all the vague comments made about Dwight’s new face. Perhaps it is felt that establishing Clive Owen as Dwight in Big Fat Kill was simpler than either having to put in make up or have a different actor playing the same part?
The working of the parts of the narrative and how it fits together is another of the more obvious problems with the film in the version it has been released. Though word is that the three stories will be released in a complete version on DVD that only underlines the fact that the versions in the film felt truncated. While there are some of the lingering scenes from the books, the whole at times feels rushed, the story of Marv and Goldie probably could have worked as a film in it’s own right. The way the individual stories bump up against each other doesn’t help – the skipping of book 2 is certainly part of it, but the lack of overlap, which it could have had, did make for some flow kill and abruptness.
Sin City as a film is a rarity, keeping as close to the original material as it does. Which does leave the problem of having a pretty good idea of where the story is going as you watch – though I did over hear some people on the way out of the showing I was at who had obviously not read the books – since they were expressing the idea that they had no idea what was going to happen next. The black and white feel, with occasional glimpses of colour was effective in echoing the feel of the comic material – emphasising and creating the mood to a large degree. On the other hand, it wasn’t always a flattering effect – while Jamie King was reasonably attractive in Bullet Proof Monk, the grey colouring made her look puffy and pallid, not what you are wanting from a woman who is supposed to be overwhelmingly attractive.
Despite any problems, Sin City is a stunning piece of cinema, hyper-violent comic book noir with some memorable performances.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Title: Blood Of Angels
Author: Michael Marshall
Publisher: Harper Collins
Blood Of Angels is the third novel in the trilogy by Michael Marshall, following from his debut with Straw Men and the sequel, which was known as The Lonely Dead in his native UK and The Upright Man in the US. In terms of connectivity, it feels like there are less explicit references backwards with Blood Of Angels than there were with the previous novel. Though in saying that, this is one of those trilogies which builds and ties together over the sequence in such a way that they really should be read in the correct order.
In Straw Men we were introduced to our narrator Ward Hopkins, a man who had been involved with intelligence/security work but kind of drifted away from that. However the death of his parents had really been what tipped his life upside down. Leading him to the discovery of the existence of an influential group going by the name of The Straw Men. At the same time this leads him to John Zandt and Nina Bayman, a homicide detective and FBI agent respectively, involved in a serial killer case. The serial killer responsible for these particular crimes is known as The Upright Man, the name of the American version of The Lonely Dead. After clashing with the Straw Men, the trio are looking deeper into their nature and the conspiracy behind them – though with the second novel they are brought into closer confrontation with the Upright Man.
With the start of Blood Of Angels, six months have passed since the conclusion of the second novel. Hopkins has become involved with Bayman and the pair are using a cabin they came across in the previous novel as a hideout – avoiding drawing attention to themselves. The Straw Men are still out there, and are still a serious group that wield real power. Zandt on the other hand is missing, feeling that they should take the fight to the Straw Men rather than hide a rift has opened up – Zandt is stalking his enemy, gathering all the information he can and killing each of their representatives he comes across.
Hopkins and Bayman are becoming restless, they have been hiding too long, and they know it can’t last. Which is when Bayman’s boss arrives, a new serial killer in a small town, tempting her back to active duty. But with that comes the news that the Upright Man is back, indicating the Straw Men are preparing something. From there, the novel works back and forward - as with the previous two novels Hopkins narrates his sections in first person, while the actions of other characters come in third person – following the explorations of the leads, while building up the plot of the Straw Men.
For the first half of the book you kind of wonder where this is going, more so than the previous novel the other strands of the story feel a little wondering. Though of course it all slowly starts to tie together, kicking off about half way through, so that we start to get the sense of something bad waiting to happen. Zandt’s investigations give a further depth to the Straw Men, building up on the ideas of this thousand of years old conspiracy that was proposed in the previous novel. While the novel works it’s way to the biggest confrontation with that enemy that we have seen so far.
While touring to support The Lonely Dead, Marshall described these novels as a trilogy, at least as far as his thinking at the time suggested. With that Blood Of Angels comes with a punch, Marshall presents this idea of evil in the shape of the Straw Men, and with this novel he sets about proving his point. The conclusion of Blood Of Angels is such that it would take some topping to go further. This isn’t a closed book ending; there is still scope for coming back to this territory in the future, though there is that requirement for a kind of escalation for that to work.
Also as part of that promotional tour, Marshall speculated that with the conclusion of the trilogy he might be inclined to do another novel under the name Michael Marshall Smith. Which is the identity he originally used to write his first three, pre-Straw Men, novels. That would be interesting to see. Regardless of whether he is writing as Michael Marshall or Michael Marshall Smith he has a definite writing ability. One that means his writing just flows easily for the reader, keeping us go through the build up to delivery, through the weird off-kilter science fiction of Smith to the conspiracy/serial killer thrillers of Marshall.
Whether Marshall returns to Ward Hopkins and co. or not, I bet that we will see much more written under that name in the future. His success, in the UK at least, is undeniable – with each of the novels by Michael Marshall getting ever more promotion, an ever-greater profile.
Cast:Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub, Mekhi Phifer
Director: Gary Fleder
From M. John Harrison’s Centauri Device to Philip K. Dick’s Impostor, a story which puts Earth at war with Alpha Centauri. A 2002 film that has been adapted from the short story by Dick having been on TV the same day I finished reading Harrison’s novel.
I guess as adaptations of Dick’s work go it isn’t too bad, though as far as films go, it isn’t particularly brilliant. The film starts with a dose of head messing that feels like it is sticking close to the source material. The middle section of the film falls into the trap that most of these adaptations do – it becomes an action film, people chasing people about, and does so in such away that it didn’t really need to come from a Dick story to achieve. The end picks the story up again, returning to some degree to the territory the film started with.
Spencer Olham is a weapons designer for Earth forces, committed to the defence against Centauri attacks, especially after they killed his father. However on the same day that he is supposed to be meeting the Earth’s leader he finds himself detained. Drugged up and restrained he is confronted by a Major from the Earth Security Agency. The Major informs him that he is not in fact Spencer Olham at all; he has murdered the real Olham and is sophisticated Centauri robotic bomb. Managing to break free from captivity and convinced that he can prove that he really is who he believes he is, he goes on the run.
The kind of device that lies at the centre of Impostor is one that has cropped up in other film adaptations of material by Philip K. Dick. Like Screamers, set on an alien planet the enemy forces have implemented robot technology to imitate humans. And more obviously, Blade Runner, Olham being called a replicant at several points, just to reinforce the idea that this adaptation of Impostor is something of a poor man’s imitation. But in saying that, I kind of like the fact that Impostor is less flashy and showy than the likes of Minority Report or Paycheck, the more obvious recent adaptations of Dick’s work.