orange all-caps text of the word "review" on a black background

book review: you

YOU: A Fiction is a second-person narrator story about you, a guy named Leo Evans who does your best to be a good servant. A necessary one. The story starts with you getting a library book stolen from you and then things escalate. There are weapons and photographers that use film (ptui digital!) to stop time and destroy bodies, love is commodified and there’s a weird doppelganger made of mint. It’s full of weirdness and relationships and weird relationships. I liked it.

Greg Stolze is one of the creators of my favourite roleplaying game, Unknown Armies and You is set in that world. That gives the reader a bit of a grounding in the thoughts motivating some of the characters, but I think as a story it works better for a person who doesn’t know the universe (I found some of the explanations a bit on the nose and would have appreciated a bit more vagueness about how things work since I know the rules, but whatevs).

Good weird book. If you read it and like it let me know, ’cause it’s been years since I’ve run a game.

book review: injection (vol. 1)

The first volume of a Warren Ellis-written comic is always interesting as he sets up a weird future filled with smart competent antisocial assholes saving the world from things worse than themselves. Injection is the first novel of just such a book.

Jordie Bellaire does the colour and Declan Shalvey does art and both are great. There’s an AI that’s mining myth to make the future weird and the border between our slightly in the future world and the otherspaces being created and invading are dramatic and beautiful.

Basically it’s a story about a thinktank that’s trying to make up for creating this future. There’s a deductive genius, a hacker, a spy, a magician and the Ahab/Nemo. Because it’s volume 1 it’s hard to get a sense of characters beyond their roles, but the reason I read Ellis stories is for the ideas and Injection has some neat ones around AI and magic as math. I liked it.

book review: the sixth gun (vol. 1 & 2)

My librarian friend Jamie picked up the first two volumes of The Sixth Gun on a whim recently and recommended I read them. Very glad I did. They’re set just after the American Civil War and the titular guns are basically forged in hell demon weapons that are bound to their wielders.

In Cold Dead Fingers we meet Drake, our badass antihero who’s been hired to look for the guns. The last owner of one of them (the one that let the wielder see the future) had been killed and hidden on sacred ground, but his old posse (with guns that spout hellfire, or plague, or grant eternal youth, or summon golem armies from the people they kill) kill all the priests and dig him out. The future-glimpsing gun gets bonded to the daughter of a preacher who’d been hiding it. Lots of crazy action happens, culminating in Drake being bound to the other four guns.

The second volume, Crossroads, has Drake down in the swamplands looking for information about the guns and what to do with them. There we discover what a magnet for trouble weapons forged by the devil are and how vodoun spirits would also like to get their (metaphorical) hands on such things. More crazy action happens.

These books have an excellent melding of crazy action, magickal weirdness and characters you care about. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (both of which do sound like fake names) are telling a pulpy tale that’s worth following, especially if you’re a fan of the Weird West (and stuff like Deadlands) like I am.

book review: birds, bees, blood and beer (wormwood, gentleman corpse vol. 1)

I love Ben Templesmith’s work with Warren Ellis on Fell, and his art is really cool in 30 Days of Night (even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the story). Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse sells me on Templesmith as a writer (well, this and his Twitter feed).

In Birds, Bees Blood and Beer we meet Wormwood and his clockwork genital-less companion. An ex-girlfriend of Worm’s is supposed to be guarding a portal between realms and stuff keeps on sneaking its tentacly way through and erupting out of people’s bodies. Wormwood has to get things sorted out to keep his beer supply and the rest of reality intact the way he prefers it.

I love Templesmith’s art. It’s got this rough, yet digital nature to it that a lot of people try to imitate, but man, he’s just good. And then i loved the characters. Because Wormwood is possessing a corpse, terrible things can happen to the body with little serious trauma to the character (he gets his head blown off and his body ripped in half in this volume). I love that kind of posthuman type stuff, even when it’s dressed up in magickal garb instead of nerd-rapture accoutrements.

Lots of blood and cussing and strippers so probably not a book destined for the shelves of younger readers, but it works really well for tough-talking neo-noir magicky stuff (for my money this is similar to and better than Sandman Slim)

book review: sandman slim

I’ve heard about Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books but never paid much attention to them. I think I expected something more like When Gravity Fails: a gritty cyberpunk type thing. So I was surprised that it was all magic and ass-kicking, not clever understated detective work.

Stark is a man who just came back to Los Angeles from 11 years in hell and he’s looking for his old magical friends who turned on him and sent him there. I loved how the book throws you right in, like you’ve missed something that would explain how Stark wasn’t dead when he went to hell. Instead of worrying about that Stark just steals money, uses a hell-coin to make decisions and basically cuts a swathe through the magickal underworld.

It was fun, but had less oomph to it than I’d hoped. Good popcorn reading.

book review: setting sun (hellblazer vol. 13)

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.

book review: king rat

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.