Monday, June 19, 2006

Title: An Unfortunate Woman
Author: Richard Brautigan
Publisher: Canongate

An Unfortunate Woman is Richard Brautigan’s last book – documenting his best attempts to avoid talking about an unfortunate woman. We know at the start of the book that Brautigan has turned 47, and that the woman of the title has hung herself in the house where he sometimes lives. Originally hand written in a 160-page notepad, Brautigan wrote to fill the pages, to form a kind of journal. Following the first 6-months or so of 1982, following his travels – from San Francisco to across the bay depending on his money, on random journeys to Hawaii or Canada reading tours and book promotion. All the while reflecting on life, on being 47, on the rift between him and his daughter, on being more interested in graveyards than beaches. An Unfortunate Woman is the most personal novel by Brautigan I have read, while his other books are mostly fiction, this is strongly autobiographical. Though throughout the book there are those odd little observations that make his novels as quirky as they were – part beat psychedelia, part magic realism. Two years after writing An Unfortunate Woman, after strenuously avoiding talking about her suicide, Brautigan killed himself.

Title: Flow my Tears, The Policeman Said
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Gollancz

Jason Taverner is a six, one of a few people born of a secret genetic engineering program. This makes him especially charismatic and popular. As such he has become world famous – a singer and the host of a light entertainment show that gets ratings of 30 million every week. So why is it that waking up in a dingy little hotel, with no ID, no one knows who he is?

In an America become police state after a second civil war, students are detained in underground campuses, while dissenters and rebels are sent to Forced Labour Camps. A man with no ID will not get far, so before Taverner can do anything else he needs some kind of ID. Unfortunately a trail of police informers bring him to the attention of a police general. But there genuinely is no record of Taverner – only something someone really important and powerful could achieve. So the general wants to know – who is Jason Taverner?

Flow My Tears is one of a handful of Philip K. Dick’s novels to be included in Gollancz SF Masterworks series, and one of perhaps a dozen of his novels I have in my “to read” pile which I am working through gradually. Every time I go for a while without reading one of his novels and then read one I am always taken aback. There is always something more to his writing than I expect, always a degree of not knowing where he is going to go with a novel. Sure, he has recurring themes – police states, paranoia, and drugs – all of which feature here. You can usually make some comparison to other works, Flow My Tears shares aspects with The Penultimate Truth and Now Wait For Last Year. Even so, he keeps taking me by surprise.

Title:Shockwave Rider
Author: John Brunner
Publisher: Orbit

The arms race is finished. But America is, belatedly, involved in the brain race. Catastrophe has struck, vast swathes of the country came apart. Now government wants the best brains on the planet, to build a better country, better control, and be prepared for the better brains out in the rest of the world. The result is a plug in lifestyle, ultimately flexible and all made possible with wide scale use of super computers. It should be kind of wonderful. It isn’t. Most people will experience some kind of massive breakdown at some point in their life.

Shockwave Rider is the story of one man’s attempts to remain stable, to fight the system. Unfortunately after many years he has been captured – the novel unfolding through a series of flashbacks and interrogations. Which builds a character that was recruited for the brain programme, where he learned how to disappear, how to ride the shockwaves and create new lives to plug into. Though even with these abilities he has been finding the fight increasingly difficult.

Written in the 1970’s John Brunner’s novel was something of a precursor to cyber punk. Computers and telephone technology are widespread, with our central character hacking the system in order to create each of his new identities. The ideas of natural disaster are something the show in the fiction that followed as well with the like of Bruce Sterling (Distraction and Heavy Weather) or Kim Stanley Robinson (Orange County trilogy and Science In The Capital trilogy) – though with what happened in New Orleans last year there seems to be a real parallel with Brunner’s fiction and recent reality.

There is a certain irony with the Shockwave Rider, it is suggested that the main character is the shockwave rider. But for all his ability it doesn’t seem like he is actually coping all that well. Only when he really starts to lose his way does he meet people that might actually make a difference – the people who can really ride out the shockwaves and come out the other side.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Learning The World - Ken MacLeod

Title:Learning The World
Author: Ken MacLeod
Publisher: Orbit

Orro has been working on developing flying machines. Which has earned him scorn from his peers - after all, if god had intended us to build flying machines he wouldn't have given us wings. Darvin is interested though and does all he can to help Orro along. Though one night returning to his own lab and going through the latest slides from the lab he finds an anomaly. At first he thinks it’s a comet, but with the help of Orro's maths, they are able to determine that it is something different altogether. Studying all the data gathered through history it is clear that the number of green stars has increased over the centuries. With that the object they are seeing is slowing as it comes into their area of space, and that its trajectory comes from the green stars. There can be only one conclusion - aliens! But before they can say too much the secret services are recruiting them and signing them to secrecy - they must have all the information they can before the aliens arrive.

But The Sky My Lady, The Sky is a world ship. A colossal ship that travels through space, developing a world inside, training a new generation of humans in all the skills necessary for colonising new worlds. Adding new green planets to the string of Civil Worlds that humanity have added to their domain. Four hundred years they have travelled, and now they reach their journey's end. Except that the anomalous electrical signal coming from one of planets round the Destiny Star clearly aren't natural. In millennia of human culture, through a string of colonised planets, we have never encountered intelligent life. Till now.

Learning The World is the 9th novel by Ken MacLeod, which seems incredible, his debut novel The Star Fraction doesn't seem to have come out that long ago. But regardless, he has been writing steadily, pretty much having a new novel published once a year for the last decade. His first handful of novels were retrospectively put under the banner of The Fall Revolution, his next three novels were a deliberate trilogy - The Engines of Light. So that his previous novel, Newton's Wake, was his first really stand alone work. Reading Learning The World I did find myself wondering whether it was the start of something new or stand alone. Given the way it progresses I had a real suspicion that it was going to end in a cliff hanger. In the end though it is stand alone, which is for the best, as MacLeod is always at his best when he is tackling something fresh and from the beginning.

On the other hand, the way Learning The World gathers speed, only to be given a quick resolution does actually make it a little anti-climactic. Also, on reflection, many of the characters/situations could have been explored with more depth. The title of this novel - Learning The World - comes from a biolog; the text based documenting of life on But The Sky by one of the youngster preparing for colonisation. But despite the fact that the novel alternates between the planet and the ship, and every ship chapter has extracts from Atomic Discourse Gale's biolog, she doesn't actually feature that much as a character - not nearly as much as she could have.

Other than that Learning The World steams ahead at full speed. Providing a First Contact experience from both sides of the contact. Following the ideas of science/learning and how they expand/develop - especially with an impetus like contact to drive them. At the same time it wouldn't be a MacLeod novel without a bit of politics - adequately covered by the planet side secret police and the struggles between crew, first born and ship born on the ship itself. The result is a little bit like China Mieville's Perdido Street Station meets Robert Reed's Marrow. Overall a fun read that had me charging towards the end, even if it was an anti-climax, it was still neat enough.


Title:Doll Master [Inhyeongsa]
Cast: Yu-mi Kim, Eun-kyeong Lim, Hyeong-tak Shim, Ji-young Ok, Hyeong-jun Lim, Yu-mi Jeong, Ka-Yeong Lee
Director: Yong-ki Jeong

A group of young people are invited out to a remote house in the country. A novelist, a photographer, a sculptor, and an energetic school kid. Then there is the male model who has heard about the special project and invited himself along. The guests are there to model for dolls - intricate and startlingly life like items - made by the wheelchair bound doll maker. Of course on arrival at this isolated and creepy house they find that they have no reception on their mobile phones and that every room contains at least one life-size and worryingly sinister doll.

Call it classic or cliché, whichever you prefer, The Doll Master uses established tools of the genre. The house in the middle of nowhere, the group of young folk, who get picked off one by one. The effectiveness of the film is just how creepy the dolls are - women's bodies thrust through walls, or hanging from the ceiling, fingers reaching out of the dark, eyes following your movement. Add to this the talk of objects attaining souls and you have the set up for a chilling little number, for all that it isn't so different from a dozen other Korean horror films.

kebab connection

Title:Kebab Connection
Cast: Denis Moschitto, Nora Tschirner
Director: Anno Saul

King of Kebabs - for two fisted kebab action! That’s the punch line to the advert Ibo has made for his uncle's Kebab shop. An action packed trailer where two men are kung fu fighting over the last kebab, because they didn't go to King of Kebab's. His uncle hates it, at least until it’s shown in the cinema and the people are lining up outside for kebab. Ibo is convinced that this is his big break, and with his girlfriend preparing for her audition for drama school, things couldn't be better.

Titzi has been practicing the audition piece for Romeo & Juliet until she is word perfect. But she knows that things aren't great, and when she tells Ibo that she is pregnant it changes everything. So the question becomes whether their relationship will mirror that of Romeo & Juliet? Living in Hamburg Ibo is from a Turkish family, one who would prefer that he didn't get that involved with a German girl. So in quick time Ibo has been disowned by his family, and Titzi had dumped him because she doesn't think he will be any use as a father. Will this mean the end of his film career? And what about Titzi's acting? Can Ibo prove his potential as a father? Or will it take the intervention of Bruce Lee to sort everything out?

One of the writer's of Kebab connection is Fatih Akin, the only person associated with this film that I was familiar with - Akin having written and directed the documentary Crossing The Bridge, following Alexander Hacke's exploration of Turkish music, that showed in Glasgow a couple of times over the last few months. Kebab Connection is considerably different from that though - a hilarious comedy, combining a mix of genres, making it a modern day romantic comedy interpretation of a kung fu Romeo & Juliet, with the community tensions being between Turks, Germans and Greeks, and kebabs. Very much worth seeing, I can only hope that Kebab Connection won't just disappear after this one off showing, presented in association with the Glasgow Film Theatre and the Glasgow branch of the Goethe Institute.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Gentleman's Game - Greg Rucka

Title:A Gentleman's Game
Author: Greg Rucka

On the morning of the 7th of August London is brought to a halt, three terrorists in a coordinated attack bring the underground to a halt. Using fire rather than bombs the death toll is in the hundreds. The British government want reprisals, but they have to identify a target first. The SIS are put on standby, the branch of the British intelligence that deal with foreign operations - each country has a station and station agents, but on top of that there are three minders, those that will carry out any specific action.

Tara Chase is Minder One. A recent promotion in an organisation that has had a high turn over in the last 18 months, and in a job where departure is usually marked by death that makes things particularly hard. Coupled with the stressful operating life of a Minder, Tara has started smoking again, she relaxes by drinking and regular one night stands. When it is decided that a prominent imam associated with the terrorist group that struck London should be assassinated in retaliation then Tara will be the one who pulls the trigger. However there window is slight, he rarely leaves Saudi Arabia - so when he makes a trip to Yemen she has to get in there quick, and hopefully back out again.

A Gentleman's Game is the first Queen & Country novel by Greg Rucka. A departure from his previous novels, which were a series revolving around Atticus Kodiak bodyguard/investigator. As far as I am aware neither A Gentleman's Game or the second novel Private War, which has just been published, are available in the UK - I picked up this hard backed copy as an import. Regardless of availability, or this being the first Q&C novel Tara is a character I am quite familiar with - Queen & Country being Rucka's successful and ongoing series of comics from publisher Oni Press.

Over the last few years Rucka has written 28 issues, which translates into 7 collected volumes, 7 individual missions for Tara and the SIS. Starting her off as Minder 3 and working up to her present rank. At issue 28 he took a break from the series to write the two novels. While A Gentleman's Game is a stand alone novel that can be read by itself, for those familiar with the series it is dense with references to what has gone before - relationships, successes and mistakes.

A Gentleman's Game could easily pick up straight from the last issue of the series. But there is a change of medium, which is a curious thing - the transformation from reading pictures for nuances, to having it all laid out in the text. We are much more aware of the tensions and politics of the SIS here, though there is much of the first half of the novel is dedicated to waiting around, to arguing over what is appropriate. Funnily that makes the first half of the novel slow at times - despite being an espionage/political thriller. A Gentleman's Game doesn't really kick off till the second half. Tara has gone to Yemen, she has made her move, and the aftermath kicks in - the excess of success, the failure, the betrayal, all leaving Tara more desperate and in trouble than she has ever been before. From that point on A Gentleman's Game becomes a sudden page turner.

One thing worth noting, this novel was published in 2004, and starts with an attack on the London underground on the 7th of August. Coincidentally there was a pretty similar attack on the London Underground on the 7th of July 2005, a year minus a month later than the book's plot. This makes that first few chapters something of a stranger read now in June 2006 than they would have been prior to July 2005.

Shortly after picking up this novel, and apparently the fresh publication of it's follow up Private Wars in the US, the first new issue of Queen & Country appeared. Knowing that Queen & Country #29 takes place between the two novels I made sure I held it back until I had finished reading this novel. Having gotten used to reading one media it was again weird to go back to the original, especially as each volume of Queen & Country has a different artist, so that all the characters look that little bit different every time. Reading Queen & Country #29 straight after A Gentleman's Game is particularly interesting - working as much as an epilogue as the first part of something else, after all the fall out has to be dealt with first.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Title:The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band
Venue:ABC Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
Date: 1st June 2006

the silver mt. zion memorial orchestra & tra-la-la band - apparently this was the 80th band that this montreal based band have played. which surprises me. especially since its the third time i've seen them play in glasgow. the first time i saw them i saw them as a frustrated fan of godspeed you black emperor - frustrated in that every time godspeed played i missed them. i enjoyed them a lot. much more than i did godspeed when i finally caught them live.

the first time i saw silver mt. zion was about the release of "born into trouble", their second album. it was before the album came out, so probably 2000-2001. they played king tut's wah-wah hut, with fellow constellation band frank spiro. second time was my birthday in 2004, before the release of the third album "horses in the sky", though they played a lot from the album. that time the support band were someone i can't remember, kind of sums them up. they played the basement of oran mor, a converted church - now restaurant and venue, with painted ceilings by writer alisdair gray.

a few months ago i was making a rare walk past the ABC in sauchiehall street. a fairly new venue, having recently been converted from a derelict cinema that had been sitting empty for the last few years. there i noticed a posted for a silver mt. zion, so next chance i got i grabbed a ticket. so i've been anticipating this gig for a while, keen to see them - because even though i've seen them twice before i enjoyed them a lot.

last night i arrived at the ABC. doors opened 7, i got there about 7.15. i suspected the support band probably wouldn't be up to much, but i would have hated to be proved wrong, so decided to turn up reasonably early. rather than about 9 when i would have perhaps guessed a silver mt. zion might come on. that first hour i was restless as the place filled up and no support band appeared. 8.15 and there was some movement. a band starting to get ready, and as they did so, i recognised them as a silver mt. zion. so. no support band.

they started the set with a couple of tracks from "horses in the sky", then worked through a few new tracks. ranging from the melodic and harmonious to rock out cacophany. my favourite material is the slow stuff, the stripped, raw and melancholic tracks, the ones where all seven members are singing together. its at times like that you know silver mt. zion are a live band - where you can stand there, witnessing the emotion, when you can make out each voice and pick out who it belongs to. of course its still striking when they hit the other end of the spectrum - some of the newer material being rolling rock, more reminiscent of godspeed or the "this is our punk rock" EP - when you can make out the melodies of the violin and cello in amongst the wall of guitars.

a silver mt zion played for two hours, taking their time between tracks, building us up high, bringing us down low. bantering with the crowd, dedicating the performance of new track blind blind blind to sauchiehall street where the gig was held. efrim's voice always carrying through everything. he asks the crowd if everything is good, suggesting that they are an accomodating band and are willing to sort any problems - a voice shouts "get a hair cut", the band and crowd laugh, a moment later the same voice shouts, "only kidding", efrim responds by saying he has had nightmares like this, another voice shouts "so you've been to glasgow before then". they go off, come back on, go off, finishing with another new song - one million died to make this sound. the whole set a mix of post-rock, protest-folk and a little punk rock, energised and powerful.

as i uploaded the photos from the gig i did a quick search, i found a couple of silver mt. zion concerts on the internet archive available for download.- the tracklisting to this french concert on the 1st of may 2006 looks to have been pretty similar to the set we got a month later -
which i'm listening to as i type now. great stuff.

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