Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The very, very long-delayed book post

Why, look at this - someone's left a blog lying around unattended.  I'm sure it won't be missed.  Ahem.

At this point, attempting to catch up with all my unblogged reading is not even worth considering.  Here, however, are a few notable items to bring things up to date.

The last month or so has been pretty much taken up with Hugo Award nominees, but I think I'll hold off on writing any of those up until after voting closes at the end of July.  Readers may or may not be aware of The Shit That Has Befallen The Hugo Awards This Year, and if not, it's a rant best left for another time, but let's just say reading the nominees has been more of a chore than a pleasure this year.  Sneak preview: *ech*.

Assorted crime novels, Gladys Mitchell
Back in the midst of the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction (the '30s, more or less), Gladys Mitchell was considered one of the Queens of Crime alongside Sayers and Christie.  Today, she's all but forgotten.  A little while back, however, there was a TV series based around Mitchell's detective, Mrs Bradley, which starred Diana Rigg; according to reviews that mentioned the books at all, the resemblance was close to non-existent.  I determined to track down those books and see for myself, which proved to be no easy task - most of Mitchell's novels have spent decades out of print.  Fortunately, a lot of them are now available as ebooks (some of them legitimately!).
Mrs Bradley is a wizened crone - generally described as resembling a crocodile, occasionally a vulture - as well as a qualified psychologist and never, ever an entrant in Diana Rigg Lookalike contests.  She makes her debut in Speedy Death (also adapted as the first episode of the TV series), which must have been a hell of a racy book at the time it was published - young buck discovered, dead in the bath, as a female cross-dresser, and her frustrated suitor overcome with a murderous rage that is explicitly described as sexually motivated.  No particular secret is made of the killer's identity, with the bulk of the plot taken up in trying to contain her and explain her actions.  I've seen it suggested, quite believably, that this and others of Mitchell's works were intended as spoofs of the cosy detective novel.
The blatantly obvious murderer, with emphasis on motive rather than mystery, crops up again as a feature in subsequent books - Mitchell herself was a psychologist, and I imagine the pseudish shenanigans of Hercule Poirot and his "little grey cells" in Christie's novels must have driven her to take this approach by way of rebuttal.  Even if she doesn't come right out and name the murderer early on, Mitchell does often telegraph them pretty clearly; more rarely, she plays with the reader's expectations and provides a last-minute twist.  The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (blatant genre parody throughout) and The Saltmarsh Murders are good examples of the former category, while Death at the Opera is a stand-out example of the latter.
Having read 8 of these in succession, I thought it best to take a break - finally got Mitchell fatigue a couple of chapters into The Rising of the Moon, which is widely recommended and probably deserves my more focussed attention.

SFFANZ review books:
Bird Box, Josh Malerman
It's OK.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, Neil Gaiman
It's good, but probably overpriced.
The Chimes, Anna Smaill
Good but difficult.  Suited my tastes, but probably more artsy than most readers would like.

Ack-Ack Macaque, Gareth L Powell
Hive Monkey, Gareth L Powell
First two volumes in a series of cyberpunkish adventures starring a technologically uplifted monkey who was created to provide the brain of the chief non-player character in an online game set in a parallel WWII, but who breaks out of captivity and goes on the warpath against the corporation that made him.  Let's face it, given this set-up, Ack-Ack Macaque is clearly and absolutely the correct name for the protagonist.  Well played, Gareth L Powell, well played indeed.  Come for the wacky knockabout concept, stay for the surprisingly well handled characters and action adventure.

Doctor Who and Race, ed Lindy Orthia
A collection of essays concerning racial issues in DW.  We all know those issues are there, and sometimes it does us good to stare them in the eye.  Uniformly well-written and thought-provoking.

Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Louis Niebur
An extremely thorough biography of the BBC department that, for some four decades, was tasked with coaxing SF soundtracks out of junk and cheap electronics.  At some point I'll go back through the DW music blog and add in details from this damn fine book.  (Just... not right now.)

Dial H, vol 2: Exchange, China Mieville, Alberto Ponticelli & Dan Green
Alas, this series was cancelled after a scant 16 issues - this bumper volume completes the set.  At least Mieville was given warning and was able to wrap up his story in the few issues that remained.  (Actually, it might even have been a blessing - things start to drag around the middle issues, with a definite picking up of pace in the last few.)
Here the concept of the H-dials becomes an allegory for copyright infringement, with the creators of the dials essentially exposed as entertainment pirates.  There's a suggestion that our heroes are morally in the clear since the original templates for most of their stolen superhero identities are either dead or freely available generic types, although it's not absolutely clear cut.  Conceptually a very rich series.

Chew, vols 1 thru 9, John Layman & Rob Guillory
Image Comics are my new favourite comics publisher.  They're bringing out a lot of quirky non-superhero titles right now, and this one was the first of the current batch to catch my eye.  It's set in the near future after a food scare has led to the outlawing of chicken as a foodstuff; the human population has clearly taken a hit of some sort, but there's a strong suggestion that the food scare was a cover-up and that something else is going on with the chickens.  In any event, the Food and Drug Administration is now America's most powerful law enforcement agency, and investigating crimes relating to food and/or poultry is their top priority.
Oh, and several of the characters have weird food-related abilities.  Just thought I'd mention that as casually as possible.
The protagonist is Detective Tony Chu, who has the ability to psychometrically "read" the history of any object, provided that object a) is, or has been, living matter, and b) is in his mouth.  He works on homicide cases and has a boss who hates him, so of course cannibalistic shenanigans ensue.  It's all played for laughs, folks - it's macabre, but it's a good kind of macabre.
Story arcs still unresolved at the end of book 9 include: Tony's cat-and-mouse pursuit of a serial killer with the same freaky ability as himself; the appearance in the sky of fiery alien glyphs, how this ties in with the booming trade in "gallsaberries" and whether it means the world is going to end; and just what that chicken ban was really all about.
The art style is cartoonish and Guillory loves to pepper the pages with tiny comedic details (and big comedic details!) so even in a low-incident issue there's plenty to enjoy.  The runaway star of the series, though, is a bionic luchador rooster called Poyo, who has gone from being a plot detail to making surprise return appearances to having his own spin-off one-shots; it's got to the point now where the main action in every issue will pause while someone speculates on what Poyo might be doing, just so that we can indulge in a double-page splash of Poyo's latest outlandish adventure.  He's one bad-ass *-*ing bird.

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