screenplay by Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman
directed by Robert Zemeckis

the weakest thing about Zemeckis' Beowulf is the presentation: the graphics and Zemeckis' direction--it seems they haven't yet gotten CG 'photorealism' down quite right, and Zemeckis still appears to be at the experimental stage with the form, not really knowing what to do and what not to do with it. in fact, his hyperkinetic direction takes away from the true brilliance of the movie, which is the story Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have crafted from the otherwise sparse narrative (i don't mean the language of the original poem, some of which Gaiman and Avary leak into their screenplay, i mean the actual details of the story). true, the dialogue itself can be a bit clunky, but the story is fuckin' brilliant (nods to QT and Avary's Pulp Fiction). contrary to what you may have heard, as far as i can tell A&G have been perfectly faithful to the original. where they do depart from it are in places that allow exactly the kind of liberties they have taken to subvert and, paradoxically, realize the full potential of the tale as a narrative.

certainly the departure has an almost kitsch-y comic-y zing to it--the slinky, sexy femme fatale of Grendel's mum, f'rinstance--but that only seems right considering what we've always had with Beowulf: a particularly zippy piece of Archeo-Pulp entertainment.

but i digress. i'd meant to talk about the weaknesses of the film, and how CG doesn't have to be as clunky as it seems to be in Zemeckis' hands. i'll let you see for yourself. first, go watch Beowulf. you've seen it? then check out this vid:

(thanks to cloudedOne over on YouTube; clips from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. music by Tool--Wings for Marie, pt. 1 from 10,000 Days. note to self, get in on the Final Fantasy series.)

the eyes are still a little creepy, but don't they seem warmer to you than Wealthow's were, even in her tenderest moments? and the action...if you're going to go all hyperkinetic about it, that's how it's done.

now don't get me wrong...i entered the theater a bit uneasily when i went to see Beowulf, and a good number of scenes at the beginning had me cringing in my seat for all the wrong reasons. but as i've said before at the other life, i walked out pretty happy with what i saw. although admittedly, most of it had to do with the reasons stated above.

the odd thing is, the Pixar people seem to know exactly how to handle this sort of thing. why can't the rest of Hollywood seem to get it?


Moonlighting, Season 3 Episode 11: Blonde on Blonde

written by Kerry Ehrin
directed by Jay Daniel
series created by Glenn Gordon Caron

(i had decided long ago that i wouldn't write reviews. but, hell, this deserves something as excessively overwrought as everything that follows. if you have a low tolerance for bad puns, melodrama and cliche, steer clear of this post.)

ever since the show went off the air, i always assumed that when i ever found my way back to the Blue Moon Detective Agency, my fave episode would be Atomic Shakespeare, Maddie (Cybill Shepherd, in full-on Cybill Shepherd mode) and David (Bruce Willis as we'll never see him again: with a full head of hair at the start of the series--which, btw, he lost progressively with each ep) taking on the roles of The Bard's Kate and Petruchio. ('Didn't think I could pull it off, did you?') but four episodes later (with, admittedly, a couple low-fizzlers in the mix), they knock my socks off with Blonde on Blonde, and a better summary of the show's conceit i have yet to find (or only rediscover).

we start off with what looks to be a pretty straightforward pea-in-a-cup mixer: a couple hot blondes playing off each other in alternating scenes to Janet Jackson's Nasty, both of 'em drop-dead gorgeous lookers. remember when MTV was edgy? already we have an idea where this is all headed: by the end of the show, both bombshells will have dropped killer secrets, but only one of them will have dealt Dave a fatal blow. (see?!? melodrama!)

the show always excelled in subverting all the cliches of hardboiled detective fiction (and other genres besides), and this ep does it better than most. in one scene, after having tailed Maddie to the neighborhood grocer's, we get an extreme close-up of Dave: almost flush with the slightly fisheyed lens, almost filling the screen, his cold, damaged eyes looming in the foreground. the perspective further diminishes Herbert Viola (Revenge of the Nerds' Booger, Curtis Armstrong) who stands earnestly behind him. Bert tells him some people in the office think there may be a 'personal thing' between their two bosses. does that have anything to do with what they're doing here?

'You have been laboring under a severe delusion, my friend,' Dave tells Bert in a pitch-perfect Bogeyesque deadpan. 'What we're doing is simply covering a fellow operative without said operative knowing what we're doing here.'

who does he think he's fooling? but he pulls a spook story about some terrorist escaped from a jail in Cairo who's heading out to La-La Land, pulls it right out his ass, fully formed like, as if he had Borges' library somewhere deep inside his bowels, and reels poor Bert in.

nevermind that Herbert 'Smaller than a cello, bigger than a violin' Viola eventually gets left behind and forgotten by Kerry Ehrin when, almost exactly halfway through the ep (if not halfway exactly) the switcheroo is pulled, and Dave ends up tailing the wrong blonde.

we saw this coming, we see this sort of thing pulled all the time, and if you don't take too kindly to knowing jabs in the ribs from the off-camera crew (even from castmembers throwing winks across the fourth wall), the whole thing will no doubt seem, well, laborious. as per the requirements of any ubermensch of the hardboiled genre, Dave has one of the worst nights of his life, waking up next to a dead body, jumping down two stories into a garbage bin, even landing himself in the joint. and in the end he'll be left standing in the rain.

for those of you who haven't seen the show, well, i'm not spoiling any more of it for you. but even for those like me who know how it will all end, there's a lot more to be found on a second, maybe even a third viewing. Glenn Gordon Caron hated detective shows, once even had his characters say there were too many of the kind on TV those days, but you wouldn't know it from the way everything is done here. the show is the perfect homage to the genre, taking the most familiar, most facile elements of hardboiled detective fiction, of pulp, using cinematography that harks back to the heyday of noir...takes it all and uses it as nifty packaging--that's right, damn pretty gift wrapping is what it all is--and it somehow isn't insulting at all. despite the pastiche/parody treatment, the genre is somehow elevated, and in the end the show uses those kitschy and cliched elements to tell an almost excessively romantic (despite always keeping its head down, low-key and, unlike this post, anti-melodramatic), startlingly humane--and yes, still somehow immediate--Story.

but maybe that's just me. i've been in love with Maddie and Dave since the first time i laid eyes on 'em, one dark and stormy Sunday* night.

*the show aired Tuesdays in the US, but i remember it was past bedtime Sunday nights back home.


Caitlin Kiernan's Alabaster

Ms Kiernan's writing sits comfortably on the shelf between Poe and Lovecraft, perhaps leaning with her ear held close to Lovecraft; albeit the stories she tells are character-driven, with non-kitschy prose and sans unpronounceable horrors with not enough vowels or too many consonants or both (or have i got it the wrong way round?) and without a hint of the word 'eldritch'. (i don't think i've encountered it yet, but you never know.) on a table (the sideboard loaded with sweetbreads and cornbread and raw fish and foie gras and tarts and gorey puddings and jellybeans--and is that a bottle of absinthe?) with Neil Gaiman seated at one end and M. John Harrison at the other, Ms Kiernan sits beside Neil, waving, perhaps, at Edward Gorey leaning in to say 'Halloo'; Elizabeth Hand is also at the table--she sits closer to Mr Harrison. the two ladies seem to be somewhere between the two, but that might only be a trick of perspective. they might be holding hands beneath the table one moment, or arguing over matters of natural history the next. Ms Kiernan might also have a place at Angela Carter's knee--Ms Carter's very modern, very hip teenage daughter, who just so happened to be raised in that strange land across the Atlantic. Michael Moorcock creates a whole other tangent with her work, though who sits on the other end of that particular line it's hard to say; maybe it's only Moorcock again, in Mother London rather than Eternal Champion mode. William Gibson, in Goth drag after listening to Robert Smith and Tom Waits all night, coated with the dust of paleontology rather than the junk of technophile sociology, might also be peering from some tenebrous corner.

of course, Ms Kiernan's voice is also very much her own; this taxonomy, or genealogy, is all mine (and, probably, subconsciously stolen from the literature map though i haven't been there in a while): a lazy way to describe what should better be experienced. i could drop quotes, but, like i said, i'm lazy, and while one line seems as good as another spoken in Ms Kiernan's beautiful voice, i'd rather you went and found them yourself.


Mike Carey's Hellblazer: The Gift

i may have mentioned this before, and anyone who has been following the adventures of John Constantine doesn't need me to repeat it, but here it is again anyway: every writer brings his own brilliance to John Constantine. i've never read Alan Moore's original, but there is an identifiable essence that ties each incarnation to the others.

still, each version is distinctive: in Neil Gaiman's hands, Constantine was always the Laughing Magician, a man of undeniable charm, unflappable humor and salty if obscure power, wielding a magic that seemed hardly typical of the word in fantastic fiction; in Jamie Delano's hands, he was a working class mystic, with a handyman's approach to magic, though his manipulations of synchronicity were more recognizable as the stuff of occult fantasy; Garth Ennis gave Constantine a harder edge by making his desperate entanglement in the war between Heaven and Hell more personal, more intimate, more visceral. Ennis also revealed the secret to Constantine's power: more than your typical magician, he is a confidence artist, and a bastard; Ennis' Constantine rarely cast spells, unless it were to bluff, preferring less occult means of deception. Warren Ellis portrayed a more typical hardboiled character with his almost stereotypically noirish story arcs; Azarello--i hear, not having read his run--made Constantine almost unlikeably ruthless.

i may have mentioned this before: Mike Carey struck a fine balance between Delano's mystic and Ennis' bastard confidence trickster. it is almost redundant to say that each time we run into Constantine, he is at the end of his tether, but while it may seem Ennis had done the ultimate 'John-at-the-end-of-his-tether' story with Dangerous Habits, it seems to me we feel it more acutely with Carey: while Ennis practically ground Constantine into dust during the course of his almost sadistic run in the comic, Carey's Constantine seemed ground from the get go: Carey's Constantine had already gone through everything Ennis and the other writers had thrown at him, seemed barely emergent from that dust--and he goes on to live through much more.

Carey's Constantine fit perfectly into the past--the life story--other writers had built for him. while he seemed to follow most naturally from Ennis' Constantine, it is easy to see this JC as the end result of everything he had gone through throughout the comic's life.

Carey's first Hellblazer story, All His Engines, seemed to me almost pitch-perfect in its portrayal of John Constantine and his world. from the very beginning, Carey had made the comic his own, as if he had been writing Hellblazer all his life. it doesn't seem surprising, then, that in the course of his run, it seemed at times almost as though he were only rushing through it all, racing through issues fast as he could to hit certain beats in the narrative, or only beat his deadlines and ultimately get to the end. almost as if he were bored with the comic, and only wanted to get it done so he could move on to other things--Lucifer, presumably, or his Felix Castor books. still, it pays to stick it through; if there's one thing Carey's good at from the narrative standpoint, it's in giving his readers a jolly good pay-off at the end of each story.

exemplifying this apparent impatience, Reasons to be Cheerful often read to me like a laundry-list of old characters, as John Constantine's children eliminated everyone who had ever known or only just met him--no matter how fleetingly. but more than this, as Carey approached the end of his run, he seemed almost hellbent on wiping the slate clean--in fact, he seemed headed in that direction even earlier, with Staring at the Wall, which ended with Constantine's memory wiped, the man wandering aimlessly through London without even his name.

in his final story arc, R.S.V.P., Carey even dealt a fatal blow to John Constantine's relationship with his one remaining friend, the one person who'd stuck through everything with him.

but Carey, thankfully, did more than simply 'wipe the slate clean'; with The Gift he laid down the bare bones of John Constantine the character, presenting a template for future writers; here is the 'identifiable essence' that comes through with each successful incarnation of the character. The story is now one of my three fave Hellblazer short stories--the other two being Gaiman's Hold Me and Ennis' Forty. in The Gift, Carey shows us just how well he understands John Constantine as a character, and, more than just a beautifully dark, darkly subtle coda to the tragic Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go, it is also a good place to begin for someone who has only just met the man both Heaven and Hell love to hate.

The Gift also shows us what magic is all about, what Constantine has always known magic to be all about, what--one suspects, one hopes, given the the subtelties of his Voice of the Fire--Alan Moore had always intended the character to say about magic: it isn't about casting spells, throwing bones or cheating the devil. ultimately, magic is legerdemain, sleight of hand; smoke, mirrors, turning tricks--perceptions. magic is about revealing the truth in the world by what appears to be the only truly effective means: deception.

in the end, we must face the fact that Constantine's talent for magic doesn't come from studying spellbooks, old religions, apocryphal texts, etc.; nor does it come from the blood of Nergal coursing through his veins; in the end, Constantine's good at magic for one reason: he's a right bloody bastard, innit? and the best bloody liar you're ever likely to meet.


INTERSTITIUM: this life, reimagined, revivified

i wouldn't have admitted it then, but when i dubbed this blog my 'other life', i had been rather obviously acknowledging what reading was for me back then: escape. while the aesthetic i frequently vocalized elsewhere never directly condemned reading as escapism, i had always consciously struggled to make more of my reading than there really was to it.

when i first decided i was probably a writer, it was because i kept finding myself dissatisfied with what i thought was all there was to read. Neil Gaiman's stories weren't as ubiquitous then as they are now, Michael Moorcock was near mythical, legendary in his abscence in our bookstores in spite of all i'd hear about Elric and all the other incarnations of the Eternal Champion; i hadn't yet even heard of either Mervyn Peake or M. John Harrison. and i'd grown tired of Tolkien and Lewis, the legion of clones they raised in their collective wake, no matter how brilliant i knew the originals were--and still are, for all that they are dead and constantly being reanimated and plundered.

like many of the decisions i've made in my life, the impulse behind the one that 'made' me a writer was at heart one of rebellion. a refusal to simply accept what i was being served.

to put it less dramatically, being dissatisfied with the great bulk of fiction i was being presented with at the time, i wanted to write things of my own, things i knew *i* would *want* to read.

as Banzai Cat once put it, i spent too much time wishing for a certain kind of fiction.

occasionally, i *would* get my wish. hence Peake in my library; hence Harrison, hence Mieville, hence VanderMeer, and Moorcock and Moore. hence even Eco, hence Ondaatje and Greene, hence Thomson and Durrell. hence James Salter, hence Jose Eduardo Agualusa, hence Anais Nin. but even then, i suppose, it's been true all along: that aesthetic, deliberately constructed though i thought it was, went deeper after all. reading wasn't all escape for me.

it was research.

it isn't that i was directly stealing ideas, though in some ways, it really *is* as bad as that. when i created, for instance, St Etienne-vaux-Grumm and Ruttage, sister cities to Troll's Vespertine from Troll's Doll--and Vespertine as well--i wasn't just re-inventing New Crobuzon, or Ambergris, or Gormenghast, or Viriconium. rather, from those cities--those writers, i should say, i.e., Mieville, VanderMeer, Peake and Harrison, respectively--i learned how i might craft my own fiction of place, structured and individualized on the most familiar landscape for a functioning autist: my own closeted imagination.

i am not, therefore, your conventional bibliophile. i cannot simply be told a story. i must be able to take more away from it than that; i must also in some way learn how to tell it the way you did, without necessarily making me a mere mimic--that must mean i must also somehow see myself in it. else there must be something in it i can twist, defile, corrupt, make my own. is it ideas i'm after? is it style? i'm not too sure, but i believe it's something subtler than that, more subliminal. in some ways, to the reader and writer who are fortunate enough to be 'purer at heart', more sinister.

blame it on growing up with Choose Your Own Adventure, if you like.

i am not, however, completely unaware that this in itself is a kind of escapism; the artist's desire for expression is in some ways another way of showing a failure to cope with--to confront and to ultimately accept--external reality. yes, of this i'm all too aware.

nevertheless, this, i've come to realize, particularly with my more recent choices, is why i read: i read for research. which is probably why it's a good thing i finished the first draft of spukhafte ferwirkungen, Sehnsucht, vom Geist der Schwere (pretentious title, ennit?) before i found Alison MacLeod's The Wave Theory of Angels, before I found Janna Levin's A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines.

it is, however, also quite probably a good thing that i found them when i did. what an embarrassment it would have been if i'd actually tried to get the shitty thing published, the state it's in!

i knew there was a lot yet to be done with the thing, but now i have a more solid idea of what i need to do, and what i've gotten myself into. sigh.

more on Ms MacLeod's and Ms Levin's books later. when i get my head around talking about them. rest assured, i *am* reading them, and though i make no promises, i *do* plan on attempting to semi-real-time review them--though it's a bit late for Wave Theory.

yup. it would appear that this other life is just about set for a revivification.


V. 1922 - 2007

no, not quite a fan, nor even necessarily a believer. but is there any particular reason i need to explain myself to you? to anyone?


Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen: first one, or maybe two stories...we'll find out in a bit

[note: this (with its subsequent clarification here ) continues to apply.]
i forgot: i also got Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen over the weekend. (yes, i know...retail therapy. what a bitch. still, it seems to have worked. i'm feeling much more chipper now, thank you very much. i, consumer.)
my introduction to Link was by way of The Faery Handbag, which i'd pulled at random from the interweb. sadly, no, that didn't get me out there hunting for her stuff, and i passed up the other samples of her work available online.
surely, however, i was missing something? so i went ahead and read bits of The Specialist's Hat from some 'Slipstream' Anthology a bookstore had sold me by mistake. (i can't remember the title of the book, but Banzai Cat will know the one. ask him.) better, imho. much. but i'd only read the first bits of it to fill in some dead space in between doing other things, and when i put the book down to continue with those other things, it promptly, er, slipped from my mind and i've never found the urge to get it back.
but i ramble aimless. where was i?
right. Stranger Things Happen.
Story the 1st: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. sigh. i can't help but feel disappointed by this story. certainly, the dead man's letters are simply lovely, and the prose and narrative and all the strange details are all successfully evocative of that same twilight described by John Singer Sargent's painting -- that precarious balance between fresh-lit lanterns and faded evening sunlight, that ethereal yet somehow ambivalent glow to the faces of the innocents, the carnations, lilies, roses, used here to magnificently subtle effect (and affect) to illustrate something like capture, or maybe entanglement in the delicate membrane between life and death.
unfortunately, the intervening omniscient voice, though most likely deliberate, strikes me as a kind of literary failure of nerve, as though Ms Link couldn't find it in herself to trust either her dead man narrator or the reader to get the story right. or, at least, not the way she wants either of them to get it.
i can't help but feel this story could have been so much better without those intervening bits, and was thus mortally wounded by them, the way, say, AI could have been so much better without being Disneyfied by Spielberg.
(ok, it isn't quite the same thing, not a very good analogy at all, but i wanted an excuse to link to this.)
so what Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose suggests to my mind is a writer with obvious talent, more comfortable with the sort of evocative yet minimalist prose that seems favored by high-minded literature these days than most other writers in the so-called genre, but who hasn't yet learned to trust either her self or her audience or both.
no, i wasn't completely happy with Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (this is entirely unoriginal of me, but can't you tell i just love that title?), but there's no way i can deny it's a beautiful piece of work.
an ambiguous start: promising, and lovely, but fatally flawed and, by itself, ultimately disappointing.
Story the 2nd? no, not yet, i think. not here, from work. i'm currently (perhaps wrong-headedly) trying to draw up some vague parallels that seem to be lurking between Water off a Black Dog's Back and James Salter's lovely My Lord You, and while i'd like that to manifest in the next post, i have to admit it might not.


fiction comma electric

in case i wasn't being clear -- and a recent conversation with Banzai Cat seems to indicate as much -- i have dropped all pretense towards 'critical' review on this blog. whatever i may say by way of 'comments' (such as this here set of so-called 'reviews'), until further notice, is purely reactionary; none of this from-the-hip 'criticism' (for lack of a better word) is meant to stand up to critical deconstruction, and if any of it does, i'll be more surprised -- if, i'm sure, more pleasantly so -- than anyone.

anyhoo, that out of the way...

today i picked up James Salter's A Sport and A Pastime, Iain Sinclair's White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, and The New Nature of the Catastrophe, ninth volume of The Tale of the Eternal Champion, the latter as a result of my crusade to track down and obtain every single piece of published fiction i can find by M. John Harrison (not to mention the fact that, yes, Jerry Cornelius is cool).

though i'm still wholly engrossed in Rupert Thomson's Death of a Murderer, i dipped into Catastrophe for M. John Harrison's 'The Ash Circus', which starts after the death of Jerry Cornelius, and, about which, this seems the best way to describe my feeble-minded reaction:

I read anyone who electrifies me or seems to be doing something I don't understand

-M. John Harrison, Disillusioned by the Actual, interview by Patrick Hudson, here, at The Zone.

(which also happens to go some way in leading me closer to a solution to certain investigations i have been conducting in my increasingly malcontent little headspace.)

a better way to celebrate Easter all by my lonesome, i can think of none.


here comes the rooster

so. The Road beats all the other competitors to a spit-roasted pulp and takes the Rooster. more meat for the roast, i presume. a bit disappointing for being a most predictable end to my first experience of the Tournament of Books.

no, i haven't read it. sure, ever since Paul raved about it on his blog, i'd been curious about it, reading the first few passages everytime i step into a bookstore. but somehow, i never felt the urge to take it with me out of the bookstore. if the reviews are to be believed, this book has everything going for it: post-apocalyptic setting; check. heavenly writing applied to descriptions of Boschian hell; check. the 'intimate in the face of the cataclysmic'; check. enough gloom to last a lifetime; check. brilliant minimalist *black* cover, great quality paper, etc.; check.

i *almost* got it yesterday. instead, i got Rupert Thomson's Death of a Murderer.

so far, it's working out rather well, pulling me out of Thomas Disch's bathetically cool 334.

(wtf?!? you say? where did *those* books come from? what happened to Ballard and Pynchon and Darrieussecq and Peake? welcome to the clamor and chaos that is this facet of my life: 334 peeped out from my boxes back home and insisted i take it with me, and now Myra Hindley's quiet whispers are beckoning, and, i find, impossible to resist.)

the hunting of the snark

read this before you go on. then, if you still feel the burning need to, proceed as you will with the rest of it:

Wail of the Sun:

i admit: i’ve had it with this sort of epic fantasy, you’ve got to come up with something truly imaginative and magnificent to impress me these days with this sort of fiction; so there’s no way i can pass off saying i approached this story without apprehension, without bias. still, there’s much to be said about how this story didn’t work without resorting to ‘bah. another epic fantasy. grumble grumble’: the fantastic elements felt very contrived. some vivid imagery, maybe, but typical. the human elements were even weaker: Redenthor’s ‘flaw’ was hardly anything more than fluff, and couldn’t have been more poorly chosen; the characters in general were stereotypes, their dialogue predictable, artificial, unnecessary. the underlying sentiment of the entire piece was more melodramatic than truly affective, and while this story is supposedly meant to be a mere fragment, it also dismisses any responsibility for that connection; a king falters, a world burns; we’re meant to feel for the fact that he dies for his daughter? it can be done, sure -- in fact, i’m all for focusing on the intimate in the face of the cataclysmic -- but it certainly wasn’t done here.


this was the most fun of the lot. the sheer imaginative cheek of the premise alone is worth giving it a go, and Andrew Drilon’s well-sustained second-person execution does it justice, with just the right amount of humor -- cheeky, at times even self-effacing -- thrown in with the gore. it’s a typical zombie story, sure, and fits right in with the whole ‘Living Dead’ canon, with, perhaps, a little less of the biting social commentary. but who really watches those movies for ‘social commentary’ anyway?

and what did you expect after learning that MJ’s true legacy wasn’t, after all, certain questionable doings at a whimsical little place called Neverland? (i know, i know: we’ve all heard that one before. but it’s true, ennit?) pure entertainment.

The Middle Prince:

i’ve said much about this already, broadcast by Banzai Cat over on his blog, and i really don’t know how else to put it. an interesting premise that was not done justice; there seem to be a few too many ‘shortcuts’ in the narrative, ‘violations’ of the ‘rules’ upon which the premise relies so heavily for it to be truly
meaningful. i can’t help but feel it could have been so much richer; i don’t feel convinced this is the way the story ‘should’ have been written, what i feel is one of the ‘obligations’ of a writer to the reader. that may be utterly wrong-headed and, in the end, may have been the only problem, but still: that definitely ruined it for me.


pulpy, predictable, derivatively lovecraftian horror? hell yeah! Joseph Nacino drops one from his personal crusade to translate spec fic tropes into something that actually fits a Filipino context. i don’t think BC quite does it here -- he good cop-bad cop elements, for instance, are a little disinheriting, though i’m sure some local filmmakers would beg to differ -- but the delivery doesn’t push any such pretensions, and so neither does the appreciation of this story require it; this is a story told the way it’s told, the way it happened. period.


a friend of mine pointed out the sentimentality of this story: ‘the fifth element is love.’ while there is something, appropriately, very Filipino about resorting to such melodrama, i realized my friend was right; there’s also something about it that simply throws the whole thing off. however, i’m not sure we meant the same thing: well-written (possibly the most well-written of all the stories here), well-researched (possibly the most etc., etc., as well), i found a pretension to the tone of this story that i felt inappropriate, and while my friend didn’t agree it was at all ‘too pretentious’, it was his comment that unlocked it for me: the gravitas to this story is somehow undone by that sentimentality; suddenly the pretension is revealed to be naiveté, and the whole thing collapses on the weight of its own, er, gravitas.

obviously, i wasn't personally happy with most of the contents of this Digest, but, given my current tastes, mindset, etc. (and anyway, who am i to talk?) that should probably be taken as a mark of approval rather than a fatal judgement: Kenneth has provided a much needed avenue for the publication of stories that might not otherwise have found a home.

not all of you will be pleased, not with everything you find in this Digest; then again, isn't that part of the nature of genre?


Crimson (after White)

Everything in this world issues fully-formed from the loins of a benign monster called manufacture; a never-ending stream of objects - of graded quality, of perfect uniformity - from an orifice hidden behind veils of smoke.
Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White
this isn't part of the chaos just yet (though it may well be in the future), but thanks to the first eighteen 'episodes' having been published as an online serial by the guardian, i've found it threatens to deform my rather malleable reading aesthetic, and may supplant one or two books from the current pending list...
only i find i'm not sure i'm *quite* in the mood for another doorstop to enter the list, what with Against the Day underneath it all...
right. 'work.'

Don't get soaked. Take a quick peek at the forecast
with theYahoo! Search weather shortcut.

unmelting, irrelevant

Two centimetres of snow since last year; not enough to wipe out our traces. No one left in a radius of four thousand kilometres, except for three Russians who are hibernating in the Vostok base. And us, of course, but how can we be counted?

Marie Darrieussecq, White

that's right. a fifth book has fallen into the chaos. but for now i've chosen to spend most of my time with Millennium People. at last, i think, i have a sequence of books i truly want to follow-through with, though i know the end of one must inevitably distort my perception, deform my plans.

nevermind. i'll gawk at that bridge when i get there.

meanwhile, Tom Waits has returned to my playlist with Alice, alternating with the manufactured comfort of Amos Lee's Supply and Demand.

When I'm dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I'm lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice

Tom Waits, Alice


tourney season?

...it is by no means an easy thing to be promoted from the rank of 'visitor' to that of 'resident. It has been known to take many years. It is difficult to understand quite how the transference comes about. It is an almost mystical procedure and is, of course, in the hands of the natives - that basic layer in the triple sandwich of island life.

Mervyn Peake, Mr Pye

Tourism is the great soporific. It's a huge confidence trick, and gives people the dangerous idea that there's something interesting in their lives.

J.G.Ballard, Millennium People
while the Tournament of Books rages on elsewhere (thanks Paul), i, too, find myself coincidentally pitting several books, if not necessarily against each other, then in a chaotic, randomly rotating tag team.

of these, Mr Pye and Millennium People (incidentally, i don't know why the cover on amazon.co.uk is in grayscale. my copy has Richard Green's cover illustration against a field of sunset-y orange reminiscent of Liz Pyle's cover for Mother London) provide the most interesting contrast: one was written right smack in the middle of the twentieth century, the other not long after the end of it. both describe a kind of parochialism and/or the struggle against it - in the Sarnians of the former, the middle class revolutionaries of the latter - and identify (or identify with) the decadence of that period, and, in their own distinct ways, constitute a rebellion against it.

Peake, though considered a 'modernist', writes in prose that feels almost archaic: his sentences are lengthy, his diction colorful and vivid; Ballard's prose is stark, a sharp if typical example of the kind of prose found in postmodern surrealist fiction. (well, the sort i've encountered, at any rate, in books that have often, if not consistently, been labeled as such.)

Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, i find, provides a nice bed for the other two to lie in, a sort of contemporary mongrel middle ground that resists categorization while nestling comfortably into either 'potential pigeonhole' (or foxhole, as we are, ostensibly, at war here.) and quite a few others, at that.

Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics fills a few unavoidable gaps in the fractured rule of my inner gestapo of 'taste'.

i've also been unable to stop myself from writing, providing a disingenuous sense of creative equilibrium.

oh, cool. The Office. and Donny Osmond, Kelly Holmes and David Baddiel on The Kumars at No 42.



the absurd answer

The middle class was the new proletariat, the victims of a centuries-old conspiracy, at last throwing off the chains of duty and civic responsibility.

For once, the absurd answer was probably the right one.

J.G.Ballard, Millennium People

i'd always found Ballard's premises brilliant, but somehow, inexplicaply, never felt a demand from any of his books to be read. not Concrete Island, not High Rise, not The Drowned World or Vermillion Sands or The Terminal Beach; not this book's predecessors, not even Empire of the Sun or Crash. but this middle class rebellion, this compellingly relevant if equally absurd anarchy, this comically tragic (or tragically comic) form of terrorism...how can i say no?


something like sark

...there she lay at full stretch upon the skyline, her attenuated and coruscated body reaching from north to south, the morning sunbeams playing along her spine and flickering upon the crests and ridges of her precipitous flanks.

Mervyn Peake, Mr Pye

of course, Sentosa's flanks aren't precipitous; they slope gently, their descent cushioned with thick green. however, surprised by finding myself confronted by her across the bay after having at last found a copy of Mervyn Peake's classic, how could i help but feel a certain kinship with the inestimable Mr Pye?

how perfect is that? what else could i ask for?

you know what else.



i turn the page and, suddenly, everything phosphoresces: all my insides wiped-out in a wash of substitute light, fallen from overexposure.

Everything is flat out here. No one drives themselves anymore.

M. John Harrison, Suicide Coast.

how can i help but feel this explains everything?



this past week: i've read a couple chapters of Justina Robson's Living Next-Door to the God of Love, about half of China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, a few pages of Geoff Ryman's The King's Last Song; spending more time than i should in various bookshops, i read bits of Geling Yan's The Uninvited, John Connely's The Book of Lost Things, Ryu Murakami's Piercings, David Mitchell's Ghostwritten and Black Swan Green, a sizable serving (yet barely a chunk) of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. i enjoyed some of these more than others; either way, i willingly subjected myself to their diversion, but was diverted only for as long as each book was in my hands.

i scrabbled from book to book, churning with a kind of placid desperation.

i'm no longer the voracious reader i used to be; i suppose i do still read for a sort of escape after all, but i no longer find it as satisfying to be so passive. i find it more and more difficult to be drawn into worlds painted for me, constructed entirely from another's imagination.

reading about magic and literal wonders has become, for me, wearisome: words are symbols, Alan Moore reminds us, and are thus themselves magical; the use of words to describe magic and literal wonders in the direct terms of comfortable fantasy and science fiction seems to me not only trite, but disinheriting, even unnecessary, as though one cannot help but undercut the power of the other.

and yet i cannot do without that strangeness...the weirdness of some of the more estranged books in the 'modern lit' shelves just isn't the same thing.

so what can i do? Elizabeth Hand, M. John Harrison; they seem to be the only ones in my library capable of making that translation, of successfully transcribing real wonders with as little entropy as possible.

i'm afraid they're the only ones who really do it for me these days.


China Mieville's Un Lun Dun

no, not a real-time review. not even, really, a review. of any sort.

every now and then, i read a line or a phrase from a book that makes me blink for its valuably trivially brilliant throwaway insight.

i remember how Neil Gaiman repeated the opening lines of Neuromancer in American Gods, making a keen observation concerning change from the odd vantage point of a living room sofa. and now, China Mieville:

'I wish I had my phone,' Deeba whispered to Zanna. 'I want to take a picture.' (Un Lun Dun, p. 90.)

i see the grey in my hair is actually starting to mean something.


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


M. John Harrison's Signs of Life: in the end...

if there were ever any doubts in my mind as to Mr Harrison's ability to deconstruct, demolish and degrade the most opaque, sturdy and 'dignified' (i use each of these words, particularly the last, in the loosest, most forgiving sense) of personalities, having produced his most apparently solid, full-spirited characters in Signs of Life, such doubts have been laid to rest, terminally and irresurrectibly, by the latter half of that book. though the book started out on an almost optimistic note, infused with the enthusiastic life-energy of love in its early, pre-terminal stages, the book soon enough goes dark; the stress of the book eventually begins to weigh on the apparently seamless surfaces of each character; fracture lines, old and new, begin to show; if i had not known how this book was to end before hand, the ending would most certainly have been forgone long before i reached the 'climax'.

Signs of Life is a stilted rhapsody full of eccentric but earthy melodies and odd rhythms generated by the tinkling of test-tubes, the clattering of a defective centrifuge and the diseased moaning of laboratory vermin (and, of course, Tom Waits' gravel-throated crooning); an earthquake-damaged mosaic, the most brilliantly-colored tiles falling first off the wall to shatter noiselessly on the ground, to be hidden by the grass, or to sink into the soggy earth; a collage of jarring images or a jar of collaged images, a narrative constructed from the fragments of a life, brought together by the search for meaning imposed by a tragically human perspective. in the end, M. John Harrison to my mind warns us of the dangers inherent in attempting to define ourselves with our dreams: whether we deny our dreams or cling to them, the effect is fatal; having no dreams, however, seems no better. what then, are we to make of the signs of life? what are we to make of ourselves, and how?