In media res

But it hasn’t all been writing about maps, travelling to Brisbane and vomiting in the Rydges toilets down here.

I’ve also been reading! And (shockingly) watching TV! So let’s talk about that for a bit tonight and throw some recommendations your way.

NOS4R2

Jesus christ, this fucking brainstabber of a book. This book tore my fucking head and heart out and showed them to me.

…that’s a positive recommendation, just so we’re clear.

The latest from Joe Hill – whose comic series Locke & Key I have gushed about before – is a massive doorstop of horror, a book that by its sheer size invites comparison to the work of his father. But other than a couple of ever-so-slight background Easter eggs for some of King’s novels (including Doctor Sleep, which I plan to read in Europe when I’m there), NOS4R2 is entirely its own beast, and what a terrifying beast it is, a smiling child with a mouthful of fishhook teeth that will cut your fingers off and laugh innocently at your pain.

I won’t bother reprising the plot – you can find that anywhere. But if I can just talk about craft… god, this book is amazing. The relentlessness of its thematic beats, the implications of its horror worldbuilding, the emotional stab-stab-gouge of what characters go through… it’s a masterwork, it really is. And an audacious and unpredictable one at that, one that flies in the face of much storytelling logic. The first 250 pages cover 20+ years of story; the next 300 or so cover about three days – but this lurch in pacing actually works to build up tension slowly and inexorably and then drive the book into your eyeballs like a wound-up spring.

INTO YOUR EYEBALLS. YES, EVEN IF YOU’RE ON A PLANE FROM BRISBANE AT ARSE O’CLOCK.

Read this book. Read everything Joe Hill writes. Let Christmasland and scissors-for-the-drifter sink hooks into your brain.

It’ll be fun. Horrible fun.

River of Bones

I went into the blood bank yesterday for a platelet donation, which my new job actually specifically provides as a form of paid leave. Whoots! And what better way to spend two nauseated hours with a giant needle sticking into my elbow vein than pulling out the old Kindle and gulping down a horror novella!?

Yes, yes, probably plenty of ways but shut up and bear with me.

I’d seen many recommendations for River of Bones on the internets, but wanted to get NOS4R2 finished (and back to the library) before starting it – and that was a good plan, because it meant that I moved from a sprawling and expansive horror story to a tight, narrowly-focused one. This is a fragmented, hallucinatory story about bad places and bad people, garbled memories and sexual danger, ghosts and men in black and the relentless heat of the Australian countryside – a terrific little gem with gleaming and poisonous edges.

It’s not perfect – I would have liked it to be 2-3000 words longer and have slightly better proofreading – but it’s a very well-crafted, very spooky piece of work, one that hints at larger, darker pictures but leaves you wanting, one that refuses to take the easy way out. You can get it on the Kindle Store for very little money and that is something that I think all of you should do right away yes now is good now yes.

(And as an aside, I met author Jodi Cleghorn at GenreCon and she’s just an excellent human. And one who understands the value of karaoke.)

Lazarus

This is the new comic series from Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, and if that isn’t enough to send you directly to the comic store to pick up the first low-priced trade then I don’t even know why we’re friends, I mean GOD.

Anyway, Lazarus is a powerful cyberpunk thriller from two creators at the absolute top of their game. It’s about a world of haves and have-nots, where a handful of wealthy Families divvy up the world, and everyone not related to them is either a Serf or meaningless, disenfranchised Waste. It’s a story of Forever Carlyle, the genetically-enhanced enforcer of her family, the unkillable Lazarus that punishes their enemies. And it’s the story of what happens when a killing machine doesn’t want to kill; when she starts to realise that the people she loves don’t actually love her back.

The first collection of this series just dropped and it is terrific (and really goddamn cheap to boot). Rucka is one of my favourite comics writers and he is doing great work here – creating corrupt, venal systems but leaving it to his characters to find their own way within them and make their own judgements. And it’s a story wonderfully suited to Lark’s realistic art style and dynamic sense of storytelling – grounded and tactile while still dynamic and engaging.

This is great comics. No lie.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Um… yeah. This thing.

Like all nerds I am incapable of watching any kind of TV show connected to my tribe, hoping against hope that this 40-minute chunk of video would validate 35-plus years of dreaming about the Justice League fighting Starro. Heroes broke my heart; Smallville pissed on my heart giggling; Arrow turkey-slapped my heart yelling stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself. But Agents of SHIELD would change all that! Joss Whedon! Avengers spin-off! The rich setting of the Marvel Universe!

As it turns out, my heart is unbruised but is considering just quietly drinking itself to death on Wednesday nights instead. Because this show is just bland bland bland; it’s just a whiter, duller version of Fringe with less imagination and more mediocre one-liners. All the crazy potential of the Marvel Universe is just ignored, with nothing but the occasional mention of ‘Stark’ and ‘Romanov’ and a couple of afterthought cameos, and what’s left is yet another procedural about attractive Americans solving not-especially-interesting crimes.

Hmm. Okay, I’m being a bit unfair. The show’s been steadily improving, and last night’s episode had a decent modicum of tension and energy. And next week’s has actually superhuman antics and a modicum of special effects at last! I just wish it wasn’t so unambitious and easy, so reticent to embrace the innate craziness of the genre. Because even the edges of the superhero genre are rich grounds for imagination – Powers and Gotham Central showed us that – and drilling a bit further down into that ground would give Agents of SHIELD a much-needed lift.

Oh well. It’s still going to be better than that young-Commissioner-Gordon-with-no-Batman series that’s apparently going to be a thing. Boy, that sounds like fun.

NOT.

One thought on “In media res

  1. I <3 your recommendations, especially since I've wanted to get Lazarus and hadn't got around to it yet, even after Rucka plugged it on War Rocket Ajax.

    I liked River of Bones, but I think you nailed it – I never quite got the full connection on the mysterious science lab stuff. Jodie was lovely enough to introduce me to a whole bunch of horror writers before the Saturday night dinner. That was just about the highlight of my GenreCon.

    SHIELD seems to be getting better episode by episode. I'd like to think, like Fringe and Dollhouse before it, we'll get to episode 6 and be able to look back and say "Just ignore that first block, it's rubbish, start watching from mid-season". (Not that Dollhouse ever really hit its stride, but it stopped being tedious and obvious around that point).

    The Commissioner Gordon thing sounds shit, and that's even if they are ripping off (or riffing on) Gotham Central. Unless they get Patton Oswalt for Cobblepott, I don't think I'm on board.

    As for NOS4R2 I have nothing to say. It's literally propping up my entire to-be-read pile. I'm trying to figure out what I need to do to justify rewarding myself with it.

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