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book review: locke and key (complete series)

Last year I tried reading Joe Hill’s first novel Heart-Shaped Box and couldn’t finish it. It was horror but to me felt like an Eli Roth movie or part of the Saw franchise where it was just sort of unremittingly shitty to its characters, kind of revelling in the power that the writer has to play god with the shits under their command. I hated that book.

I love Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke and Key.

Maybe there’s a bit of a softening to how Hill portrays people, but damn did I ever give a shit about the Locke family and their myriad not-great decisions that let terrible supernatural things happen to them.

The story starts off with the violent death of the father of the Locke family. He dies trying to protect his wife and kids from a murderer. He’d always said though that if anything happened to him the family should move back to his family home in Lovecraft County.

In the first volume (which I’d read a few years ago without following up) that kind of cutesy naming thing (“See, it’s in New England and it’s horror, so the county is Lovecraft! Like the writer! Get it? Eh?”) bugged me. Everything felt very on the nose and wink-nudge nerdculture nodding (the gym teacher named Whedon and stuff). It was a little less annoying this time (especially after having recently dealt with all the Dark Tower self-referential bullshit) and once you get past the first volume the story really settles into itself and gets good.

The hook to the story is that in this family home there are all these magickal keys and locks and doors that the kids find and have to protect from nefarious forces. It’s a great hook and as it goes along the “stupid rules” make sense. The villain has an actually interesting endgame and uses one of the traditional horror tropes that gives me the screaming habublies to achieve it.

So yes. It won Eisners and all that so the book isn’t some undiscovered gem; it doesn’t need my praise but it has it.

book review: company town

Madeline Ashby’s scifi novel Company Town is on the shortlist for Canada Reads 2017. Though it’s very specifically Canadian, it doesn’t feel like CanLit, and I am interested in how it will be championed.

Company Town is set on a futuristic city-sized oil-rig of the coast of Newfoundland. The protagonist, Hwa, is a bodyguard working for the sex-workers’ union when she gets hired by the new owners of the city/rig to bodyguard the young heir. She takes the new job and then her friends start getting murdered and disappeared, so she’s trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.

A couple of the Canadian bits include there are comments about universal healthcare (and how that doesn’t cover Hwa’s chronic health issues), and when the first sex-worker is found dead they mention the authorities immediately implementing the standard Missing Murdered Disappeared protocol, and Hwa’s Newfoundland accent coming out in times of stress.

Otherwise it was a good techno thrillery kind of thing, with a mostly genetically enhanced population (who still have to work in the resource extraction industry, go Canada) and an outsider protagonist that dealt with things like post-traumatic stress pretty well. I noted while reading that it felt a bit like Charles Stross’ books (most notably Halting State in my mind) and then Stross was in the acknowledgements for getting the manuscript to an editor.

book review: the last days of new paris

I’ve been waiting to read China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris since it came out. I own a copy. It’s in one of the boxes of books I still haven’t unpacked. After reading about Hitler I was ready for something beautiful and this book was.

It’s mostly about Paris and Surrealist art. Because it’s a Miéville book we’re following Paris’ 1950s resistance against the occupying Nazis in a city where art and demons fight in the streets. It’s about how art can’t be controlled and about secret agents and heroism and discernment.

I loved it, and loved that the appendix has a list of most of the artworks referred to in the novella so if you wanted to study up on surrealism, you have a good launching point.

book review: hammers on bone

Hammers on Bone is a monstery noir story by Cassandra Khaw. The 100 or so pages was exactly the right length for this kind of detective tale. A PI gets a job, to kill this kid’s father, who’s doing monstrous things. The PI is a mythos creature wearing a human skin. The PI investigates. The scenes are all exactly the right length and the straightforwardness of the plot allows the language to evoke a weird world. I especially enjoyed Khaw’s use of Lovecraftian mythos to tell a story that had a different feel from, say a Delta Green technothriller. It’s got a lighter touch, without being silly.

One of my colleagues thought this might be the first in a series (and research indicates the series is called Persons Non Grata) but it looks like this is the only one out so far. I will keep my eyes open for the next.

book review: normal

Normal is by Warren Ellis and is a story of a futurist who starts off the tale being admitted to a mental institution for futurists. “Stared a bit too long into the abyss” is the phrase they use to deflect from the details of why they’re there. I liked the setup because it was a way to get different mad ideas together, not quite bouncing off each other but at least in proximity. They’re not supposed to be there to synthesize some great model of reality but to individually deal with their madnesses and get better. It turns into a collection of thoughts on surveillance and the mad world of the 21st century. I liked it, though at times it did feel a bit like the story (of a murdered patient) was simply an excuse to bounce from one idea to the next. Selah.

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book review: the triumph of human empire

I’m reading more nonfiction this year and stuff like The Triumph of Human Empire by Rosalind Williams is why. I mean, this is a good justification for the trend unlike the dopey baseball book I also just read (but that gave me the difference between a 2-seam and a cut fastball in a way that feels like it’ll stick, so maybe I’m too harsh).

Williams compares the writing and other work by Jules Verne, William Morris and Robert Louis Stevenson with the frame of how the three felt about and responded to the massive shift in how the world worked at the end of the 19th century when Earth’s maps were getting filled in and human empire was everywhere. Williams argues that these writers were sensitive to the idea that the imperial west and its technology was now on its way to pushing up against each other more and more and relying on interconnections and brutality in dealing with those connections. Density was going to build and things were going to get much more complicated and these three wanted to resist the way things were going. Williams doesn’t make them unvarnished heroes or anything; they were still privileged white dudes and were racist and sexist and otherwise problematic in their own ways, especially in regards to colonialism.

The idea that we’re now in a similar kind of era, when we’re anxious about the end of the world through climate change and that it’s something we caused because we couldn’t stop digging coal out of the ground so we could cross huge distances easily, made the whole thing hang together really well. It’s clearly written and doesn’t plod. It’s also nice to have words for some of what I love about Verne and science fiction in general (the distancing mechanisms for the heroes in his geographic romances). I didn’t know as much about Morris or Stevenson, but I was glad to learn.

I had to get this as an interlibrary loan, because our public library doesn’t seem to grab random University of Chicago Press books, but hooray for the interconnected apocalypse we live in where it was possible to snag.

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book review: y: the last man (complete series)

I read the first couple of trade paperback collections of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerrera’s Y: The Last Man years ago, and I think the only reason I didn’t continue reading it was the usual library dance of the next volume not being on the shelf when I wanted it and blah blah blah laziness. At my new library, all five volumes of the omnibus edition were just sitting on the shelf when I was wandering by and I decided it was time to fill in that gap.

Y: The Last Man is pretty good!

I knew I liked the premise but in my head since I’d never completed the series it was just a cool premise. I didn’t remember much else about it. I was a little worried it was going to feel very heavy-handed or that it was going to devolve into bullshit (which is my impression of what happened with Fables, though I may be wrong about that). But Vaughan writes really good dialogue (and you can totally hear how Saga is by the same writer). There’s a lot of good weirdness and I like how the story isn’t a slave to its premise. Other males are born; there’s acknowledgement that all sorts of species will go extinct; there’s jokiness through the action scenes. It gets a bit more globe-trotty than I expected in the later volumes and I like the eventual sidelining of Yorick as the key to everything and focusing on how he’s dealing with his very changed life as the object of humanity’s quest. I’d also say it stuck the landing.