Gun Machine is the new book by Warren Ellis and it is great. It’s less weird than Crooked Little Vein, but is a tight little police story you can tell is from the same guy who wrote Fell.
John Tallow is a New York City cop who accidentally finds an apartment full of guns. Not just a few shelves of them, but guns arrayed on the walls and floor like a shrine. Once they start getting analyzed it becomes clear that this isn’t just a gun nut’s shack; each weapon has been used in an unsolved NYC murder. Investigation ensues.
There’s a lot to love about this book. Tallow is a detective who is very believable in his “just going through the motions” before he starts working the case. Ellis writes likable foul-mouthed weirdos as Tallow’s sort-of assigned partners. The story (and the case) moves quickly, but it works. I bought that this didn’t need to be five seasons of a TV series (though The Wire made me right at home with the police politics on display in the story). There are a few coincidences at work that might make your eyebrow raise but Ellis is playing fair with you. It all works.
My least favourite part is the Native American history that gets bandied about, and that was mostly because I know Warren Ellis is an Englishman and this stuff is easy to get wrong. But anything here is way less problematic from my point of view than Johnny Depp as Tonto.
Though Pappa Warren writes great violence — “From his vantage, three steps back and to the right, Tallow could see Rosato’s eye a good five inches outside Rosato’s head and still attached to his eye socket by a mess of red worms.” — I think my favourite bit of pure wordsmithery was a cooking scene late in the book. There are all these details that work into Tallow’s mental state and the realization he has works so well with them, I wanted to applaud.
It’s a pretty quick read so if you’re not a huge Warren Ellis fan, you might want to go for an ebook edition, but the jacket design is great. There’s also a website with some interesting supplemental materials.
Brian Michael Bendis’ comic Powers is about police in a city with superheroes but it’s a bit cartoonier and with more of a wink/nudge to the genre than Gotham Central. I’ve read some of the series in the dark mists of time, so I’m not very steeped in the metaplot, but in Psychotic there’s a serial killer after Powers.
It’s interesting because superpowers have been outlawed at this point, but some vigilantes are coming back with them, making a stand. Detective Christian Walker used to be a Power, and now he’s coaching the new Retro Girl. There’s a great TV interview sequence where the constitutionality of a law against a certain kind of people is brought up, specifically compared to a law against being Latino, which is interesting. Detective Deena Pilgrim is being harassed by an ex-boyfriend, and neighbourhood favourite Power the Blackguard has been killed.
It’s a good twisty little investigation and stuff is set up for future volumes. If the Vancouver Public Library hadn’t cut off my ability to place hold on items for free, I would be seeking the rest of the books out right now.
Akata Witch is Nnedi Okorafor’s novel set in contemporary small-town Nigeria. It was nominated for a 2011 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book (one of the Nebula Awards).
Sunny, the young heroine, is an albino girl with a couple of brothers who’ve moved around a lot in their lifetimes. They’ve lived in the US and visited Europe but now they’re back in Nigeria. Where Sunny learns she’s a Leopard-person.
Leopard people are people in tune with magic and spirits and their true faces. Most leopard people are brought up by parents who are leopard people, but there are also some who are free agents, which is what happens to Sunny (her parents are Lambs – the equivalent of Muggles). As soon as she learns what she is, she’s bound to secrecy about it by her new Leopard peers and teachers.
It’s a good book, but way more interesting for the characters and setting than the plot. There’s a serial killer in their area and Sunny and her friends have to put an end to his nefariousness, but that only really becomes important in the last sixth of the book. Most of the book is about Sunny learning about this strange new world she’s found herself a part of. There’s a soccer match, and they watch a juju fight between experienced warriors, and they undergo a bunch of trials in which the protagonists could have died, but the difference in the stakes between those things never really come through. Even though Sunny is shocked at what the adults could have let happen, it’s hard to be really pulled into what turns into the big conflict. Too much time is spent with Sunny wanting things explained to her, but the rest of the characters feel it’s better to keep her (and the reader) in the dark.
But Sunny is a great character. The worldbuilding (of both the fantastical world and mundane Nigeria) is excellent. I loved the different languages that were used and how the cultures were differentiated. I loved that leopard people are supposed to shun worldly goods and power, but some of them don’t, but everyone has to deal with each other anyway. The politics around everything are nicely gray.
I’d gladly recommend the book for anyone who likes urban fantasy type things, but wants to see some characters and cultures that aren’t already filling the bookshelves.