Simon Morden’s Equations of Life is a pretty good Gibson-esque near future SF-noir book. Samuil Petrovich is a PhD student in London after Armageddon (which was not religious in nature, just a global catastrophe that sunk Japan, rained poison and generally made the world suck). When the story starts he interferes with a kidnapping and then things spiral into quantum computing, riots and eloquent gangsters threatening clueless American programmers. It’s a quick moving book and Petrovich is a very competent protagonist, who rides luck and resources he doesn’t explain till late in the book.
The thing I liked least was Petrovich’s cursing in Russian. It seemed manufactured and didn’t fit the rhythms of the rest of his dialogue. I kept on picturing the author asking his Russian friends for really vulgar curses and then consulting the list whenever he needed to make Petrovich look tough. Which is fair enough I guess. It just brought me out of it.
But generally it was a good little book. I enjoyed how Petrovich had a very weak heart, so all of his Russian cursing and bad-assness was not paired with any real physical impressiveness.
Setting Sun collects the end of Warren Ellis’ run on Hellblazer. It’s an assortment of short horror stories, all of which I liked. John Constantine is such an arrogant bastard he seems made for Warren Ellis to be giving him words. One of the stories in the book was about a guy who thinks he’s stumbled onto the great conspiracy, and Constantine just feeds him more and more and then disappears, all for the sake of a laugh. The idea that magic is real combines really well with the idea that believing in any old thing because it says it’s magic is completely stupid.
One of my favourite things about reading Hellblazer is that I’ve never felt the need to start at the beginning. Storylines just kind of float around and work. That makes this just as good a starter volume as any.
Angelmaker was my first Nick Harkaway book. It’s about superspies, the clockworking son of London’s criminal king (but the good kind of crimes that are all about sticking it to society’s betters), a corrupted cult of technologists against mass-production and a globe-spanning swarm of mechanical bees. It’s pretty amazing.
In a lot of ways it reminded me of a more pulpy-fun Thomas Pynchon novel, though Neal Stephenson might be a bit more apt a comparison. Joe Spork doesn’t fall into the Stephenson-ultracompetence trap though. He’s just a guy caught up in things too big for him to deal with on his own. There’s a murder and torture and with the support of his lawyer and some revelations about himself and his ancestry there’s a plot to save the goddamn world. Very good book. Lots of fun.
Two-Step is a light little story about a Zen gangster and a woman who gets paid to walk around London and look at interesting things (with all her cameras she wears). It’s a really colourful book, collecting a three issue miniseries (and the script to the first issue, which is an interesting document in how little there is to it, making comics-writing look super easy).
It’s a science-fiction kind of story, with a bunch of banter and a stolen giant penis and an enforcer who fucks cars because they’re so sexy. It feels closest to NEXTWAVE as far as Ellis’ other work. Fun. Fluffy. I liked reading it but am glad I didn’t buy it.
I love love love the first two volumes of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the ones where the league of fictional characters are assembled into a team of literary Victorian superheroes and thwart badguys. I also really liked the Black Dossier too, mostly because of the variety of forms of fiction they used in it.
The third volume is called Century and deals with more modern happenings and I’m sorry but I didn’t really care for Century 1969.
Because the characters are immortal they’re in London in 1969 trying to head off the summoning of an Antichrist by a magician who’s swapping his consciousness across bodies. Mina and Allan are having relationship issues and then there’s some astral plane tripping and it’s over. I never got really engrossed in the story. Maybe it would have helped if the famous people involved didn’t have to be obscured because they might still be alive/protected by copyright. There might have been something great in there, but it never made itself known to me. This is probably my first dud of an Alan Moore book (I haven’t read everything he’s done, obviously).
Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cinderry Island is the story of a London constable in 1830 who tries to solve the murder of a fellow Peeler (or Bobby as the police are sometimes known) and gets mixed up with pirates in a flying electrical ship.
Written by Warren Ellis, it’s filled with cursing and scientific emancipatory exultation. Raulo Caceres’ art is dark and bloody. I liked it a lot. One of the cool things they do is have pages with the pirate captain discoursing in prose (over schematic engravings) explaining all sorts of history and background. It’s more effective than putting it in as expository dialogue, and enhances the notion of this being a document of secret history.
I haven’t read enough of Doktor Sleepless, but the two books feel connected. I’m unsure how deep that connection is.
I liked Niklas Asker’s Second Thoughts. It’s a comic about a writer and the way relationships slowly end. She’s writing a story about a relationship and it mirrors the relationship she’s in. It’s kind of your traditional literary fiction and doesn’t do anything really new, but it’s very well-crafted. I really liked the opening sequence of P.O.V. panels that included phantom images of the woman the P.O.V. character was talking to in the scene. By the end the person who inspired the story buys it in a bookshop and reads it, and the universality of the whole story comes around. Very well done.
King Rat was the China Mieville book I hadn’t read (apart from his thesis which is a Marxian analyis of some economics topic I can’t remember). It is unread no longer.
Basically the story is a Pied Piper retelling set in late-90s London in the Drum & Bass community. When Saul’s father dies he’s brought into the police for questioning, but then King Rat shows up, tells Saul he’s part rat and part human and he needs to escape right now. King Rat has plans for Saul in his age-old feud with The Piper, who is fucking terrfiying because he can make you do whatever he wants with his music.
While Saul is learning to move through the city like a rat, his friends are disappearing and being turned into pawns of the Piper. There’s also some cool stuff with the Loplop, the king of the birds and Anansi of the spider realm. These urban animals have all dealt with the Piper before and been defeated.
I loved the descriptions of how moving like a rat through the world worked for Saul. He’s a human and doesn’t simply shapeshift or anything. He just does impossible things. The book is set very specifically in London and it feels far from generically urban in its fantasy.
This is a much darker book than The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, another reimagining of the Pied Piper tale. People die horribly violently in this book. You can see a lot of themes Mieville came back to in his later novels, but this one doesn’t have any of the real mind-blowing craziness I love in his work.
Close Quarters is the fourth book in Andy Diggle and Jock’s The Losers series. While the previous volume was side trips and flashbacks, this book is straight up Cayman bank heists (in England), motorcycle chases and stealing helicopters in the process of high-seas plutonium piracy. Have I mentioned what a fun book this is? It’s like the A-Team but not nearly so dumb. I have nothing more to add.
I didn’t really like Jeanette Winterson’s children’s book Tanglewreck. It’s about a young girl, Silver, who has to find The Timekeeper because the world is being subjected to Time Tornadoes and other anomalies that are fraying the fabric of space-time. There are a couple of villains who want to use Silver to find it. One uses magic and one uses science.
There’s a side story of a couple of thugs searching her house (which is called Tanglewreck) that seems pointless, and there’s a veneer of quantum physics slapped on the notions of time, but they feel like very unconcerned with science interpretations. And [spoiler alert] one character escapes death in a black hole because “love is faster than the speed of light.” It seemed like such clumsy phrasing trying to reveal some great truth. In the end Silver is clever the way the story needs her to be and she’s in 11-year-old love with a boy who lives underground.
All in all a very meh book. Read A Wrinkle in Time instead.