Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

ready player one

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

WARNING – MAJOR SPOILERS

For awhile I wasn’t sure if this was a subtle work of genius or a badly written pile of cak, and having finished it I’m sorry to say it’s the latter. Spielberg might be able to make a kick-bottom film out of this, but the work as it stands is bubbling over with flaws. Mind you, I’m in a small minority here, as everyone seems to love this, but here we go anyway.

First up, it’s written in the style of a nerdy virgin 17-year-old virtual reality spod who spends most of his time in The Oasis, an online world created by a techno-wizard who has hidden three keys to three gates which, when all are found, will unlock billions of moolah for the discoverer. So far, so average. We’re playing the bog-standard three act setup, which considering Cline is a screenwriter by trade is about as surprising as finding Trump in a brown shirt.

If you can get over the fact that, if the literary style were a human being, you’d get the urge to flush its head down the toilet, we come across the second hurdle, which are the characters. We get every cliché in the book. Nerdy virgin hero who’s super cool really, but with quirks – mainly his freakish obsession with pursuing the spiky shit-hot heroine with her own quirks (apparently a birthmark is a character trait now). We also get the evil-nasty-cackling bad guy who tries to bribe the hero into joining his Megacorp in his pursuit of the keys, and then blows up his family when that doesn’t work. What a bastard! Plus, there’s the bog-standard Gandalf, who pops up to save everything at the end. Yawn.

If you can get over the bad writing and the god-awful characters, we have the next hurdle, which is the 80s nostalgia. Now, the main selling point of this book is the main character’s obsession with the 80’s, but only one particular type of 80s. Mainly, the mainstream 80s – the world of Rush, Bryan Adams, Back to the Future, WarGames and everything else which made a shit load of money. Nothing off the charts here. No Evil Dead or Jello Biafra or cheesy Italian Mad Max rip-offs. That would actually require a good working knowledge of an 80’s that wasn’t rammed down our gullets by mainstream culture. This, in a cloyingly cynical move, is an 80’s culture which is designed to shift copies, where middle-aged readers can go, “Blimey, I remember that really popular thing! How warm and cosy I feel in the embrace of this nostalgia.”

If you can get over that then there’s the bastard-awful plot, where every twist and turn is telegraphed in advance. Oh, look, a stack of papers has fallen over in the apparently secret online virtual reality chat room which you can only get too by invite only. I wonder if they’re being watched by an invisible force? Fuck me, they are! There’s even a bit where the main character gains a coin after playing a Pacman game, and you KNOW that bastard is turning up at a crucial juncture later on.

Then there’s the pacing. We have whole chapters dedicated to the lead character’s living quarters, and then a massive battle is passed over in three pages. Because of the piss-poor characters and telegraphed plot lines we get no tension whatsoever. The lead is great at every game, knows every 80s pop-culture reference, and weaves ultra-complex plans to thwart the enemy which pay off without anything going wrong.

Worst of all, because it all takes place in an online reality, there is no threat to compel the reader. If you die then – no worries – you just lose all your points and have to start from the beginning. To be fair, one player is actually physically killed by Main Bad Dude, but nothing is made to ratchet up any tension around the idea that other players might be for the chop. And the dialogue! Jesus wept! Everyone says ‘dude’ and talks as though a middle-aged man with no memory of being a teenager and has nabbed all his dialogue beats from shit teen films.

The whole project reads like a virtual reality version of Sucker Punch. If you wanted to take it further it’s like a literary version of the video games Saints Row 4, which also took place in a virtual world, and which also trawled through the history of video games, albeit in order to spoof them. Also, Saints Row 4 was bloody hilarious!

A minor point of contention amongst all this – why does everyone, regardless of their fucking age, personality, or situation, smile sheepishly if they get caught out/say something wrong. These characters don’t act like people but cardboard cyphers to be kicked around a playing box full of toys.

For a book which has received so much hype it’s a deflating, frustrating experience. After this I started reading The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway. I’m 20 pages in and it’s bloody awesome! Amusing, believable dialogue. Interesting characters. Engaging writing and situations. Everything a good book should be. And that’s only in the first ruddy chapter!

As a final note, Ready, Player One reminds me of The Girl With All the Gifts – a piece of work designed to be sold to a film company, rather than an actual book in its own right. As a consequence, it’s soulless and empty.

splatter capital

Splatter Capital by Mark Steven

It’s easy to link horror films to societal complexes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a comment on the nuclear family, Hostel as a study of the global effect of torture in the War on Terror, Dawn of the Dead as an attack on consumerism, but what Mark Steven tries to do is link horror – and, more succinctly, Splatter – to an economic dialogue; as a reflection and attack on capital in the 20th and 21st Century.

A few small gripes first. Steven needs to be more finickity about his facts. In one segment on body horror he describes the scene in Videodrome where Convex gets shot by Max Renn and ‘his innards try to burst out of his body’. However, if you read Cronenberg On Cronenberg you know they’re actually tumours. Also, Mark comments on Hellraiser and how the fact that half of the cast are dubbed into American as a critique of the US dominance stance in European finance, where it’s actually because the studio flogging the film were trying to make it as palatable to the American public as possible, which also explains why everyone drinks Coors.

Apart from these sections, Splatter Capital is a pretty incisive book. Steven loves his subject, which shines through in the text, and clearly has a boot to kick into the groin of capitalist economics. He manages to come up with some good examples of how Chainsaw represents industrialisation and commercial collapse, and how Hostel is a shout against the rich subverting the poor by literally turning them into an economically disposable item.

Saying that, some of the time this doesn’t work. Sections on capital and splatter seemed shoe-horned into the corner and tend to jar, and the fact that Steven thinks The Devil’s Rejects is a work of art, rather than a tiresome load of old self-indulgent wank it is, count against him. Plus, he’s a bit squeamish. In one chapter he describes a scene in Saw 3 where a lawyer gets pig guts dumped all over him as one of the most hideously revolting scenes he’s witnessed, yet it’s actually pretty mild compared with some of the other incidents in the film.

Films, for me, are a reflection of society as a whole, so to narrow it down to capital alone seems a bit reductive, although it does make an interesting argument, and Mark should be applauded for trying to take a different angle on the subject of horror. Plus, he gets massive kudos for mentioning Splatter by John McCarthy, which is one of the few works out there devoted to the history of gore.

A good chin-stroker for those who like their horror critiques with a bit of meat on its bones. And off its bones, come to think of it. And maybe with an axe in the head. And a face in the blender. And don’t forget the pliers! And (etc, etc)…

Carr-Fortress-Europe-Revised-Cover-final-web

Fortress Europe: Inside the War Against Immigration by Matthew Carr

Originally when I bought this book the person behind the counter gave me a look which said, “One of them Daily Mail readers, are we?”, and you can understand why from the title. This is not the sort of title – or cover photo (massed crowds with the gendarme in the foreground) – which inspires people to believe the reader is of a left-leaning political viewpoint.

The contents, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely.

You hear so many anti-migrant voices in the world these days, from the clod-hopping arseholes in the right wing press, ramming their uber-race ideology down our throats and promoting an intolerance to anyone of another culture looking for refuge, to the scabby anal warts which propagate on Twatter, slandering migrants as cockroaches and celebrating when a boatload go over, to the mouth-pieces down the pub who posit the idea ‘how do you know they’re not economic migrants’ without once bothering to consider the idea that how do THEY know they’re not. It’s like this proliferation of angry faces all clamouring to see who can be the biggest bastard when it comes to migrancy, whether the cause is economic or as refugees, and you hear so few voices saying “Hold on, ya massive twats. Maybe we should consider what it’s like from their perspective for a bloody change, rather than knee-jerking a reaction just because you don’t like the colour of their skin/where they came from.”

If, like me, you think those anti-migrant fuckers should clam the fuck up and fuck back off to bastard land where a suppurating, bigoted arse spawned them, then this is the book for you! (Let’s see that quote on the dust jacket!)

It’s divided into two halves, with one half showing the reaction of Europe against migrants, and how their restrictive and bigoted actions go against a charter they themselves drew up, and the second half which takes you through the various routes, trials, tribulations and shite the migrants have to put up with just to get from one country to another.

It’s one of those books which leaves you stunned at the amount of deaths which are reported, which would only be the tip of the iceberg. We’re talking thousands each week. And then there’s the despicable way migrants are treated when they reach Europe, and the bigoted and racist reaction from the society they come into, pushed by xenophobic governments small-minded, jingoistic national media which seek to demonise.

The first draft of the book was written between 2010 to 2014, which was before the full impact of the Syrian conflict had taken effect on the European mainland. A postscript for the updated version talks of the surge of nationalism which is sweeping Europe. But, thank fuck, it offers some notes of solace, about how some of the population of Europe has banded together to help migrants, regardless of the position of the Powers That Be. It’s a small shining light in the midst of a massive dark cavern full of hate, but it’s better than nothing.

A very effecting, thought provoking book.

Zero K by Don DeLillo

Posted: July 25, 2017 in Books, Uncategorized

Zero K

Zero K by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo really wants to be J G Ballard. “I can do dystopian with a touch of distanced sociology – you see if I can’t!” He also wants to be David Cronenberg. “A somewhat emotionally flat, studied view of transgressive situations? I can write that with my bloody eyes closed!” Maybe a touch of Brett Easton Ellis in there as well. “What? Characters which are empty, and yet carry on studied conversation is seeming non-sequiturs? I wrote that when I was on the toilet!”

I used to like Donny boy back in the day of Libra and End Zone. He was genuinely interesting back then, but since he’s got a brace of awards coming out of his jacksey he seems to have ditched the humanitarianism and satire for these cold empty books which try VERY, VERY HARD to be about something deep and meaningful, but come across like he’s cribbing from other – and better – writers.

Zero K is about a company which preserves your body and blah blah blah, bits about mortality, a few nods towards the brutality of war and conflict, yadda yadda, conversations which appear to be cherry-picked at random from a hat and thus don’t follow any logical narrative, etc etc. We get the usual crap about ageing and families, and there’s a few slightly surreal moments, and a non-twist at the end which seemed to be tacked on at the last moment, as if to go “ah hah! It’s NOT just a load of wibbling shit! It had a point, see!?” Actually, it’s not even a twist. It’s just A Thing That Happens.

Donald seems to be trying too hard to say something important, without figuring out what exactly he’s trying to say. Is it about mortality, or death, or acceptance of death, or the need to be remembered, or family, or religion? Or maybe something else. It seems too disparate to really nail its cards to the table, so ends up becoming a bit of a mess. Mailer used to be able to write this with his knob! He’d grasp whatever hellishly complex moral philosophy he wanted to strangle, and then kick the living shit out of it for seven hundred pages. The quality may have varied (looking at you, Gospel According to the Son, which was UTTER CAK!), but at least you got the point. Wanted to talk about death? Bosh! Executioner’s Song. Relationships as political subterfuge? Wollop! Harlot’s Ghost. He knew what he wanted to say, and was damn well sure you’d get the picture, even if he had to personally slap you over the head with his balls.

DeLillo seems to mimsy around his concepts. He tries hard, bless him, but he never quite nails it, and just skips around his concepts without having the gumption to get his hands dirty. You can be esoteric (see David Foster Wallace), but at least make sure your central conceits are solid. Ya twat!

Still, the writing is lovely, with some great use of language in some of the sentence constructs, and from a purely technical point of view it’s a fairly nice read, and about as deep and challenging as the rubber ball which bounces around in Donald Trump’s brainbox. Personally, I feel he needs focus, and should stop trying to be someone else. Ballard, Ellis and Cronenberg have done Zero K before, and much better.

Rook & Tooth and Claw

Rook & Tooth and Claw by Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton made a name for himself in the seventies horror market by delving into ancient myths from the Native American past, and returns to those roots with his Rook series. In fact, Tooth and Claw is more or less a re-write of Charnel House, delving into the history of the spirit Cayote, who popped up in Masterton’s early years to eviscerate a few unsuspecting urbanites.

I used to love his early stuff. They were always packed with action. Masterton seemed incapable of writing a scene without it having some relevance to the plot, which was a great relief as a lot of horror books around the time seemed to stuff their books with irrelevant details to flesh out the page count (I’m looking at you, Halkin and Straub). With Masterton, you’d get a bit of a taster of the horrors ahead in the first chapter, a few chapters later someone would end up dead in a hideously mangled fashion, and before you know it, Bob’s yer uncle and an ancient demon from the past is seeking revenge/to take over the world just because it bloody well can!

Rook & Tooth and Claw were written in the mid-90s, and carry the same Masterton formula we’ve come to expect. Rook is a teacher of problem students. Over the course of the two books he ends up getting involved in all kinds of wacky demon-based shenanigans with a voodoo priest and the spirit Cayote. It all rolls along in a pretty jaunty fashion, with the students being roped into each adventure for some unknown reason. The minor characters are pretty unconvincing, but then you don’t read a Masterton book for the incisive characterisation – more for the rollicking story and the gore.

Except Rook leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth. Masterton is usually pretty sensitive when dealing with other cultures, but in the two books he seems to have a real bee in his bonnet of voodoo culture and, more openly, the rights of Native Americans. Concerns about colonisation become angry polemics from twisted characters, rather than legitimate gripes about slavery and genocide.

But it’s the main character who comes across as the most twisted. Yep, he’s meant to be the hero, but does he really have to drag his students into the demonic maelstrom? It wouldn’t matter if they actually contributed to the action, but they just stand around being a bit dim. And the most unsettling part comes when Rook is given a powder to affect the memories of people; to convince them that something which never happened DID actually happen. So, he uses it to make a teacher he has a crush on convince herself she’s fallen in love with him. It’s all treated in a jolly-chirpy manner of the ‘aw-shucks, ain’t I a stinker’ variety, but that’s some seriously dodgy shit going on, and quite rightly makes the lead character look like a massively shady, amoralistic arsehole.

Masterton may have sensed this, as she has the teacher dump his arse in the second book because she can’t remember why she fell in love with him. Which would be fine, except he then has the woman be-headed and torn in two.

Anyway, not one (well, two, packaged as one) of his best. If you’ve never read Masterton some of his early stuff – Manitou, Charnel House, The Heirloom – would be a good start, and his best work came in the 80s with Tengu, The Pariah, and Walkers. All I can hope is that the Rook characters gets a little more PC in his later books, because in these ones he’s a primo-bellend.

bridget

A Book for Her by Bridget Christie

This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, along with Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ by (The) Rik Mayall and Bored of the Rings by Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard. It’s about feminism, female genital mutilation, attitudes to rape within the media, the way women are denigrated in all strands of society, and much more, which I admit doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but Bridget Christie has a way of wringing out the humour from even the grimmest of subjects.

I first saw Bridget when she was trialling A Bic For Her, the show which won her the Heartless Megacorp Sponsorship Award or something in Edinburgh, at the local Funny Farm comedy club, and she was freakin’ hilarious. It’s interesting to read how she developed the routine over time, and the creative evolution she had to go through from her early days of eating celery on stage for seven minutes with no jokes to dressing up like a donkey to delivering this blistering hour long show on sexism, feminism, and Malala Yousafzai.

For any hairy arsed bastards out there in WordPress land who think feminism is all about dungarees, hating men, and arguing with each other about the merits of shaving your legs, then this is the book for you! Bridget tackles all those subjects, and the misperception that feminism can be lumped into one catch-all bucket, and also the reality behind the fact that some feminists ARE that way. It’s about the complexity of being a woman, and the endless, endless fucking objectification and bullshit that gets thrown your way. You don’t even have to be famous!

There’s a great section on Mary Beard which stood out for me – only a couple of pages long but a great example of why Twitter and Facebook are Sexism Inc. Mary had the temerity to be knowledgeable woman giving her views on the political bun-fight known as Question Time, for which she got utterly slated on social media. I saw the programme, and I thought she was friggin’ ace, but the level of vitriol lobbed in her direction was completely unwarranted. There’s a lot of arseholes out there, and Bridget gives a literary kicking to their collective bollocks, especially when it comes to pointing out the sheer idiocy and feral anger being a woman with a brain can generate within certain sections of society.

There’s so much passion and humour and anger for the subjects in the book there is no possible way I can get across just how funny and entertaining A Book For Her really is. These are merely words, and words which can’t hope to get across the comedy shenanigans behind the tabloid outrage about her routine concerning Stirling Moss falling down an open lift shaft after making some sexist comments about women drivers. And every chapter is littered with moments like that, along with some incredible pieces about the issues affecting women. And there’s bits about farts. Which are always funny.

A brilliant, genius book.

FOOTNOTE; Quick shout out to Krysti Meyer at YA and Wine who always seems to like my blogs. Obviously has fantastic taste. Go check out her website.

Shovel Ready

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Sad to say, this book is a big pile of cak. And it’s a big pile of cak for several reasons, all of which stem from the same problem, which is inconsistency. A book can be badly written and still chug along in an entertaining manner, as long as the consistency in it remains intact.

The setting is New York in the future after a dirty bomb has gone off. The dirty bomb appears to have cleared out the majority of the city, leaving it a bit of a barren wasteland, and yet everywhere the main characters goes we get bustling communities, cafes and facking bars full of people! For a city that’s been kicked in the bollocks and deserted, there seems to be an awful lot of populace around.

The main character is The Spademan, who calls himself a ruthless killer, but appears to be a big girl’s blouse. At the start he says he’ll kill anyone – ANY FUCKER – except kids, of course, because that would require his character to be a big meany, when he actually comes across like a surly teenager. If you’re a ruthless killer and you don’t care about nuthin’, man! and you’ll take any contract – don’t want to know the details, just hand over the person and location and you’ll stick a box cutter up their epiglottis – you expect them to be a bit more ruthless and dead eyed than this gimpy little shitehawk. At one point, he takes in a bunch of homeless people and buys them all takeaway pizza! What the fuck is that all about?!

The contract is to take out the daughter of a high-profile preacher (yawn – not that old chestnut again – no doubt he’ll turn out to be a massive hypocrite and etc, snore) who, in an unsurprising turn of events, happens to be pregnant (the daughter, not the preacher – that would have been far too interesting for this book). Now Spamhead, or Spud-U-Like, or whatever he’s called, decides that he’s not actually so ruthless that he’ll kill a preggers woman because, y’know, he doesn’t kill kids and if she’s pregnant the foetus will die and so we get one more logical inconsistency.

The plot mimics the characters, in that it’s totally fucking illogical and all over the shop. Case point one: Mr Ruthless-but-loves-ponies-and-unicorns-and-cuddles-probably meets the uncle of the contract in an effort to get some info about where she is. Uncle doesn’t know anything, Spunkman leaves, and then – for no fucking reason WHATSOEVER – cons his way back into the room through the butler and then cuts the uncles throat. Why?! It’s never explained! If Spankman wanted to get rid of all the witnesses he’d kill the butler as well, BUT HE DOESN’T!! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!?

Basically, Sternbergh wanted to show how ruthless Speccytwat was, so decided to have him off a minor character, even though he may have to return to question that minor character in the future if his info turns out to be wrong. Which makes Spadetrousers a complete and utter moron.

The rest of the story bears up to the same scrutiny. If Spodman is such a cold-hearted killer with no time for anyone, then how come he’s got friends coming out of his ears, chuckles along in an easy-going manner, keeps telling his smoking friends to stop puffing around a pregnant woman, and acts like a total sweetie throughout the book?

Why? Because of awful writing, that’s why. A classic case where the author doesn’t want the reader to think bad things about him, so soft-soaps the ruthlessness so the reader won’t go “Blimey, this Sternburgh chap is a bit of a meany!” The plot, the characters, the setting – everything about this book is huge mass of contradictions, which is what is so infuriating. There’s the odd flash that it could have been better, but it’s smothered by this cuddly warmth to the characters. You never get the feeling of any real threat, even when Speedopants is getting the shit kicked out of him. And we all know that no threat equals no tension.

As per usual the blurb on the front and back make me wonder what cretinous shit hawks the critics are, with lots of quotes about how imaginative and hard boiled it is, rather than dismissing it as a mimsy pile of wet blanket bollocks.

The sort of half-arsed attempt at being hard boiled you’d expect from a New York Times culture journalist, which is exactly what Sternburgh is. Hard to believe this bastard won an Edgar award.