Monday, 11 February 2013

I Have Been Reading...

I keep starting to write reviews and then something comes up, so I'm left with half a dozen terribly pithy sentences, or a small untidy pile of comments and references, but no actual review.  However, I do hate waste, so (after a quick bit of pushing and shoving into paragraphs), Little Reviews of Things.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack - Mark Hodder

The most subtle of allusions to Star Trek's Borg and Dr Who's Weeping Angels, plus Zenith, amongst others.  Hodder's writing reminds me of George Mann or Tim Powers, but his strengths are slightly different to them.  'Spring Heeled Jack' has the same sort of sprawling plot as Power's 'The Anubis Gates', but it's more inventive even than that most inventive of novels, and it has the same wonderful steampunk cleverness as Newbury and Hobbes but isn't quite so tightly plotted.  If Newbury and Hobbes are a steampunk Holmes and Watson, then Hodder's Burton and Swinburne are steampunk Avengers (and the bad guys they fight are nothing so much as the sort of motley unlikelies that Sexton Blake might have fought in the immediate post-Word War I period).

Hunting Evil - Guy Walters.

A thought provoking but ultimately flawed history of Nazi hunting, and - if it's all true, which I couldn't say - a crushing indictment of the level of Catholic Church involvement in helping the Nazis get to South America, in addition to being a bit of a hatchet job on Simon Weisenthal.  I'd feel more comfortable about the veracity of the whole thing though - in spite of the fulsome reviews it got from the likes of the author's mates at the Telegraph - if it didn't contains quite so many 'many people believe's and 'perhaps this explains' - the sort of weasel words so beloved of Wikipedia editors with a grudge, and historians with an agenda (said agenda being to defend the Americans and catigate Weisenthal). Riddled with implication and suggestion, far too many of his incidental arguments appear built on straw.  An opportunity missed.

Doctor Who: Dark Horizons - Jenny Colgan

Just lovely.  The modern incarnations of Dr Who work best for me in the absence of the pushy, shrill and uninteresting companions, and I'm fed up with stories set in America, Cardiff and London, so having a solo Eleventh Doctor landing in 12th century Scotland meant this book started off with an advantage or two.  Some gorgeous writing (look out for the fourth doctor cameo), properly rounded secondary characters and a genuine feeling for human interaction puts this head and shoulders above the other 'celeb' Dr Who books (even Michael Moorcock's!).  If only every Who book was like this!

Resurrection Engines - Scott Harrison (ed)

Great idea, well implimented.  Putting a steampunk spin on a dozen or so traditional fairy-tales is a more than decent basis for an anthology, and Scott Harrison does an exemplary job in keeping a tight rein on an excellent range of authors.  There's not a weak story in the collection, but particular highlights for me were Alison Littlewood's take on Silas Marner (a great choice for the opening story, with something of the feel of a Pixar cartoon, for some reason I can't put my finger on), Jim Mortimore's Robin Hood (which, like his 'Center of the Earth' story for Obverse Books, takes multiple Hoods and plays narrative games with them) and - most of all - Paul Magrs' cut up version of 'Wuthering Heights' which I read several times in a row, once out loud, just because the language is so delightful.

'A Big Hand for the Doctor' - Eoin Colfer

 If only the author had ever bothered to watch any Hartnell.  Or the editor had done any actual editing.  Or if anyone spent more than two minutes writing it.  "...his granddaughter, Susan, who was possibly the only person in the universe who could make the Doctor smile at the mere thought of her" - seriously, did nobody read this story before it was put on sale?

The Hound of the D'Urbevilles - Kim Newman 

 George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series casts the longest of shadows over Kim Newman's new novel, The Hound of the D'Urbevilles. It could hardly be otherwise, as Newman takes a secondary character from one of the great fictional achievements of the 19th century (and, incidentally, a character who appeared in two Flashman novels), and then drops him into the 'real' world.  Other attempts to do a Flashman have foundered before, with even the very best (Space Captain Smith, say) weak impersonations of the original.   So why does this succeed?

Newman neatly avoids the weight of Flashman by first off admitting in the Afterword that the weight is present.  More importantly, Newman can be as good a writer as Fraser and knows as much about the fictional 'heroes' of 19th century fiction as Fraser did about 19th century imperial history. The various Sherlock Holmes' (and others') stories into which Newman slides Moran and Moriarty are tweaked and massaged by the author until the two villains seem always to have been there, manipulating and effecting everything round them.

The Walking Dead Volume 1 - Robert Kirkman

If comics and graphic novels were a tv station in the UK, they'd be ITV or, more plausibly, one of those cable channels like DMAX full of unwatchable idiots doing dull things for other idiots to waste their time watching.  Tattoo parlours full of people drawing roses and skulls and thinking themselves artists, shouty people rebuilding trucks and other weird skinny guys making dinner out of roadkill.  There's really not a lot of quality control going on.

Comics are the same.  Ignoring superhero stuff for now, since that's an adolescent thing which you either get or don't, the pile of what for want of a better word I'll call indie comics (yeah, I know they're not as such, but as a tag it'll do) is of such a low quality level that releases which are, in fact, absolutely awful get praised as works of genius (this is not a reference to Alan Moore, btw - that's a genius being praised for being a genius).

Welcome to The Walking Dead.  Witless, dull, inconsistent, dull, stupid, lifeless and dull - teenage death fantasies leavened with a hint of teenage sex fantasies all wrapped up in a bow by a writer who can't write, doesn't do actual dialogue and has no idea about characterisation.

In fact, the closest this comes to genius is the fact that nothing says Frank Darabont is one so much as the fact he created a brilliant TV series out of this mouldy old pile of rubbish.