out of the rut?; or, At Last, Something Without Anything By M. John Harrison In It

Elizabeth Hand has always impressed me with her prose, and yet apparently never enough for me to get through more than a few pages of any of her novels. still, whenever i find something of hers, though admittedly from secondhand bookshops, i've rarely been able to resist getting a copy. i've enjoyed a page or two or maybe a bit more each of Waking the Moon and Glimmering, still have no idea why i passed-up getting copies of Winterlong and Aestival Tide when i found them some months back - oh wait, yeah, i'd been saving up for the change - and still occasionally wonder why i never just finish reading either of her books in my library.

Saffron and Brimstone is the first brand-spanking-new copy of an Elizabeth Hand book i've ever gotten, and i'm relieved to be enjoying it as much as i am. thus far, i've made my way through Cleopatra Brimstone and Pavane for a Prince of the Air, and while i was initially uncertain of the rather pulpy, predictable, almost cheap twilight-zone-ish premise behind the first story, and the wearyingly detailed examination of suffering, ritual and magical ephemera comprising the bulk of the second, in the end, i found i couldn't easily dismiss either story. these are 'uneasy' stories, not least because they are strange without (particularly with Pavane) necessarily submitting to the all-too-familiar models of 'fantasy'; however, Ms Hand's use of language makes them anything but unreadable; her prose makes these stories the fascinating studies of inevitability that a thoughtful slow motion sequence might make of a film.


John Constantine must have one of the rawest deals in the history of serialized (anti-)heroes; i thought he had it bad with Garth Ennis' run on Vertigo's Hellblazer series, what with the cancer and the having-his-heart-ripped-out-and-stomped-on and all that, and with Warren Ellis' relatively breezy run, allowing John to just be the cheeky, smirking hard-boiled bastard for a change (i'd missed and have never been able to catch up on Azarello's run), i woulda thought he'd seen the worst.

well, maybe he had; but Mike Carey's run makes a strong argument against that.

like Ennis' run, Carey's Hellblazer story arc is a veritable downward spiral for John Constantine. the raw intensity of Ennis' run is easier to grasp, even though his politics, for a non-Englishman, might drop accessibility down just a tiny notch. Carey's run is far more complicated, more cerebral; does this make any of it less raw? less intense?

hard to say, because John Constantine gets it pretty bad; at the start of Stations of the Cross, John is pretty much at the bottom of the barrel, and Mike Carey is utterly unforgiving here: sure, John gets a few licks in, but it's hard to see anything substantial in these little victories (although if Carey's run is to be considered notable for only one thing, it may well be for surprising you with the significance of little throwaway details he gets in under your radar), and the only glimmer of hope we have at the end of the story arc is the fact that John gets to be his wily old bastard self again.

if i have one complaint about Mike Carey's run, it's this: he doesn't give John much of a chance to really shine as a character. every writer has taken a different slant on the character; Jamie Delano's John Constantine had a definite slant towards being a magic user, if an unconventional one; Ennis and Ellis showed John to be more con man than mage, though Ellis seems to let John use magic more than Ennis; Mike Carey somehow manages to strike a balance between these two aspects of the character, but unlike previous writers, he seems to have gotten John much too busy to really be himself. my fave John Constantines are the ones in Ennis' 'Forty' from the Fear and Loathing story arc, and from Neil Gaiman's 'Hold Me' and Books of Magic. these are the stories that really let John be a *character*, and not simply a device to drive the plot.

still, Mike Carey's Hellblazer story arcs are some of the best in the series, with each story arc setting the bar higher with a cliffhanger ending that promises even bigger things; so far, Carey has managed rather well, and though the one-shot All His Engines is still my favorite Mike Carey Hellblazer book, i'll definitely be following his run through to its end; and then, it's off to the Denise Mina story arcs.

John Constantine with empathy? Holy Hell-freezing-over, DinkMan!

er, right.



whenever M. John Harrison writes cats into his stories, the four-legged critters always steal the scene. always. whether perched on the shoulder of Michael Kearney in Light, refusing to get off Pam Stuyvesant's couch and window in The Course of the Heart, or streaming down the streets of Saudade in Nova Swing. real cats can't seem to help but be the most graceful metaphors, and this seems to suit Mr Harrison's particular slant on literature just fine.

so it was that i was totally enthralled by his 'straight epic fantasy' novel, The Wild Road, for, in case you didn't know, Gabriel King *is* M. John Harrison. did i just let the cat out of the bag?

sorry. couldn't resist.

only i never finished The Wild Road. strongly suspecting that Mabel - who fell in love with SF Said's Varjak Paw and who i seem to remember enjoyed the black cat's insouciance in Neil Gaiman's Coraline - would enjoy Tag's adventures as well, i left my copy with her when i left for Spore City. i got a copy of the sequel, The Golden Cat, and have been resisting the temptation to continue Tag's adventures, never mind the crucial abridgement of Road's latter half.

the Gabriel King books somehow manage to take Mr Harrison's skill with language, his sharp eye for metaphor and detail and his own understanding of nature both human and otherwise and employ them in something (for M. John Harrison) surprisingly straightforward: pure, unadulterated storytelling.

just one of the many reasons i can't wait to get back home.


unreviewed: M. John Harrison's Nova Swing and others

it's been awhile, and i've honestly lost the stamina to do a review, no matter how utterly blown-away impressed i was (and am, come to think of it) by the last book i read, M. John Harrison's Nova Swing. (well, technically, the last book i read was Victoria, the first novella in Paul Di Filippo's Steampunk Trilogy, but as it comes in an omnibus that includes the other two novellas, Hottentots and Walt and Emily, and as long as *i'm* making the rules for this thing, that dun don't count until i get through them other two. then, after all, there's Michael Moorcock's Mother London, which i started reading and vowed, to my chagrin, to finish within the next two years.)

among all the things i've been scrabbling through these past few months (finished or not) were, most notably: Simon Ings' The Weight of Numbers, Avram Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory and Gabriel King's The Wild Road; not quite notably: Jim Younger's High John the Conqueror; even less so Eva Hoffman's The Secret and Dean Alfar's Salamanca. i read all the shorts in the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, and have opinions on each, and am sure i dipped a toe or two in a few other things.

that's all i'm saying for now.

except: while reviews are, indeed, forthcoming, i can't say this is a promise to review all the things i've enumerated here; however, having said all that hopefully will spur me on to them anyway. you never know.

i'm a right lazy bastard these days