book review: roughneck

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is, like his classic Essex County, a story featuring a hockey player. Derek Ouellette had a stint with the Rangers where he was aviolent goon, and now he lives in a small shitty town in northern Ontario working at a diner and beating people up. When his sister comes to town to get away from a terrible boyfriend things change. Sort of.

What I love about this story is its handling of violence. It’s not a hugely complicated story, but the resolution shows exactly the kind of earned change I want to see in fiction.

The thing I feel weirdest about this book is that Jeff Lemire is a white guy telling stories about indigenous people. In this article he says:

“For me, these were a way to educate myself, that’s what it comes down to. And I hope my experiences up there allowed me to create something and reflect what I saw and show other people.”

For me that makes sense, but like Lemire I need to work out my thoughts in writing and I’m not from a community that has my story told for me, so I’m kind of primed to be sympathetic. I understand that it’s shitty to have white dudes in all these spaces. Don’t read white people’s writing about indigenous people: read (and pay) indigenous people telling their own stories. If you like comics a good anthology for finding some new creators would be Moonshot (here’s an article with some blurbs and examples of artists featured in that book, and Moonshot vol. 2 should be coming out soon).

But as far as Roughneck goes I do like this specific story, even if it’s a symptom of greater terribleness in the world.

book review: infidel

Years ago I read God’s War by Kameron Hurley and then went a long time before reading anything by her again. Then last year I read The Mirror Empire and was blown away and have become a Hurley fan. Our library doesn’t have her new space opera book yet, but I do have the rest of the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy so I gave Infidel a whirl.

It had been a while since I read God’s War, and I was a little unsure if I’d be able to slide right back into its sequel, but the uniqueness of the setting hooks right into the details you’d thought forgotten and I was right back in it. I love how brutal and gruesome the world of this series is. Nyx is still a ruthless assassin who is hard to kill, but she’s getting old and doesn’t have the kind of team she used to. There’s a lot of action, tonnes of bugs stitching people back together and getting shat out as bloody waste. In Infidel they go to a less war-torn country where the brutality of the characters plays in huge contrast to the polite bourgeois society that’s profiting off the war tearing everywhere else to shreds.

It’s great, pulpy action and I won’t be taking as long before reading the end of the trilogy.

UPDATE: I finished the trilogy with Rapture and yup it was similarly good.

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book review: game-day gangsters

I don’t read a tonne of nonfiction books. I tend to leave that to internet articles and blog posts and maybe some professional stuff. But generally short bits. Game-Day Gangsters (PDF link) by Curtis Fogel is longer than a blog post but it’s a short book and one I quite enjoyed.

See, the thing I like about journalism in general is the feeling that you’re dipping into another world that actually exists. In good nonfiction you might even understand a bit more of it. Game-day Gangsters‘ subtitle is: Crime and Deviance in Canadian Football, and that was a world I only knew the tiniest bit about.

In the book Fogel examines legal issues in football, specifically around violence, hazing and performance-enhancing drugs. The key idea he uses to pull these issues together is consent. What does it mean to consent to risk to have your legs broken at work? How do players see consenting to being humiliated in order to bond with a team?

It was a very clear book for dealing with legal issues. Fogel interviewed players and administrators from junior, university and professional levels of Canadian football (identified by position – this is not a tell-all book of who’s juicing) and for an outsider like me it seemed well-argued. The realities of capitalist exploitation and the precarious labour situation of the professional (or aspiring professional) football player solidified my appreciation (possibly by appealing to my own biases, selah).

I’m working on a fiction project that deals with violent sport, so this was a bit of a research material book for me, or I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s good though, and if you have any interest in the area, it might be worth your time. I got mine from the library but it’s Creative Commons licensed and the PDF is available from the Athabasca University Press website.

book review: gun machine

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.

book review: the drowned cities

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities is a sequel to Ship Breaker, but not a direct one. It features Tool, the half-man war machine from Ship Breaker, but also two new characters who live in what was once long ago the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Now Washington DC is underwater and being fought over by myriad warlords after an interlude a bit more than a decade previous when Chinese peacekeepers were on the ground trying to keep a lid on the fighting.

Mahlia is a cast-off war baby, disliked because of her obvious Chinese descent, and her friend Mouse is another scavenger. When one of the factions of soldierboys end up in their village chasing Tool, everything goes to hell.

The book does a great job in exploring how you negotiate a life in a violent world. Tool was built for war but Mahlia and Mouse weren’t. Mahlia’s mentor is a doctor who is kind and mollifies the people who irrationally hate her for her Chinese father. But when she gets the chance to ally with Tool and let violence into her house, she finds she likes the power it brings. Mouse gets turned into a child-soldier and learns to do terrible things to be a part of a terrible world. Very good stuff.

It feels less YA than Ship Breaker did, and more like a regular science fiction novel that happened to have young protagonists. If you’re into stories about war that don’t glorify it, this’d be a great choice.

book review: ten monkeys ten minutes

Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes is a small collection of science fiction stories by Peter Watts. One of the stories was a chapter from his novel Starfish. Another was about rationalizing racial violence with genetics. A story about environmentalists negotiating with orca to feed both sides of a conflict was kind of funny, but I think my favourite story in the book was about the storms that are an alien malevolent force in the narrator’s life, much like his teenage daughter who’d never known a world where the sky wasn’t trying to kill you. It’s a small book, but well worth the read.