Thursday, July 05, 2012

June books round-up

Comeback Tour, Jack Yeovil (aka Kim Newman)
Elvis Presley tries to prevent the end of the world.  Set in a parallel reality in which Elvis, discouraged from his musical career by a series of violent anti-rock'n'roll protests in the 1960s, rejoins the Army, gets the best pharmaceuticals Uncle Sam's money can buy and ends up as a mercenary in a nightmarish near-future Deep South.  A light read - highly entertaining, with a few full-bodied chuckles along the way.

Planetary, vols 3 & 4, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday
Library books.  I gave up on this series back in the day, because there was a three year hiatus between issues at one point, and because it became clear that Ellis wasn't going to stop at the 24th issue as planned (he ultimately stopped at 27).  Now at last I've read the back half of the story, and it's a shame I didn't catch up sooner.  The series is a patchwork of (mostly good) pastiches of different types of adventure story (mostly pulp magazine), with a secret history storyline woven in that looks like a cheeky parody of the mainstream comics industry.  Vol 4 also contains one of the most brilliant theories about superheroes ever devised.  It was worth pushing through vols 1-3 to get to that.  Now I have to consider whether or not to rebuy the trade paperbacks, if I can find them.

Doktor Sleepless, vol 1, Warren Ellis & Ivan Rodriguez
Library book.  What Warren Did Next.  A new sciffyish anti-heroic finite series in a similar vein to Transmetropolitan.  Looks like the old trouble's rearing its head, though - there's already talk of a years-long hiatus after production of the issues due to comprise vol 2.  Tra la la.  The story revolves around a scientific genius who saw his parents swallowed up by Lovecraftian abominations when he was a child and who is apparently trying to bring about the end of the world.  His motives for doing so remain ambiguous.  There's a lot of promise here, and I'd love to be able to pull the rest of the series out of the library, but that may not be possible for quite a while yet.

Apparat: The Singles Collection, Warren Ellis & various artists
Library book.  Four single issue stories that try to imagine what comic books today might look like if superheroes hadn't taken the market away from the old pulp comics.  There's the SF anthology story, the detective story, the uncostumed Shadow-style vigilante story, and rather strangely an aviator story.  I think the SF story is probably the best (well, Ellis has form in the genre - it's basically Transmet plus about another 20 years' worth of future shock), but it's a little nasty for Sir's tastes, and I kind of prefer the detective story.

The Red Star: Collected Edition, Christian Gossett & Bradley Kayl
Library book.  I tried the first third of this book (aka the original Red Star, vol 1) when it first came out, but couldn't get along with it.  It's a kind of industrial fantasy story set in the United Republics of the Red Star, a Soviet-style power bloc ruled with magic.  I was expecting a lightly skewed Soviet Union, or at least something written with more resonance with (dare I say awareness of?) Soviet culture, and was disappointed.  The old Roman-letters-backwards-look-a-bit-Russian schtick didn't help matters.  Second impressions this time round... not much different from the first impressions back then.  At least I can better see what the comic's creators are doing, but it still doesn't do a lot for me.

The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy, vol 2 (1997), ed Jonathan Strahan & Jeremy Byrne
A couple of stories I'd read in other collections (a Greg Egan, a Lucy Sussex), a couple of other good stories, and a lot of mediocre stuff.  Looks like there was a strange outbreak in Australia in 1997 of stories about teratology (or "pointing at freaks" if you want to call a spade a flat diggy thing).

The Drawing of the Dark, Tim Powers
Ah, Tim Powers, where have your books been all my life?  I suspect that this is another in the aborted series of novels about King Arthur's returns through the ages (see also Morlock Night by Powers' old mate KW Jeter, published the same year).  A mercenary in the sixteenth century finds himself in Vienna just ahead of the siege of the city by Suleiman's Turkish army; his special job, it turns out, is going to be to guard a pub built over an old monastery, where a dark beer with mystic properties is brewed.  If the pub cannot be defended until the beer is ready for the Fisher King to drink, the West will fall to Suleiman.  Just to be on the safe side, the Fisher King has summoned forth the reincarnated King Arthur.  Considering how early in his career Powers wrote this, it's an extremely accomplished bit of writing, and a pleasure to read.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller
Classic tale (well, three tales stitched together) of Catholicism keeping the flame of human knowledge alive in the aftermath of a nuclear war.  It's funny, you can actually see Miller getting more Catholic as the years pass.  Not that this damages the book at all - the rough, brutish Catholicism at the start fits the rough, brutish post-holocaust world, and the more confident, sophisticated Catholicism in the final part of the book fits the high-tech world in that part.  Somewhat of its time - an author might not get away with the cod African American massa-talk or the inclusion of the Wandering Jew in this day and age - but the ideas of cyclical history and whether or not human development is teleological are still worth a look.  It's a pretty good read.
I couldn't help wondering whether similar stories might be playing out in non-American parts of Miller's world - An Adhan for Abdullah? A Koan for Tensing?

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