Thursday, July 25, 2013

#52 Books - June

More from my doomed mission to read 52 books for the year.  Leaving aside the initial cost of the kindle, ebooks are ridiculous value for entertainment hours at the moment.  The Herbert I picked up for 20p as part of Sony's (or someone else's) plan to take on Amazon (not too bright: you want to sell it for 20p?  Sure, we'll sell it for 20p too).  I also picked up most of Sinister Grin's backlist for less than a quid each as Shane McKenzie put on a promotion the weekend he went to the World Horror Convention (A smart move - I'll be checking out more of their books based on what I've read so far.)

#13: China Miéville – Embassytown

Miéville is one of my favourite authors.  If I had to pick a favourite book of all time it would probably be Perdido Street Station, although The City & The City might technically be the better book.

Embassytown is... tough.

Embassytown is Miéville’s foray into the type of science fiction concerned with space and alien planets, although the book is primarily concerned with language.  The eponymous Embassytown is a human city on Arieka, a planet right at the edge of known space.  The planet’s inhabitants communicate through two voices and the only way humans can speak back is to raise twins to speak simultaneously.  Then the humans try something different with catastrophic results...

Miéville’s great strength is the ability to write about the alien as if he’d actually been there.  Embassytown is no exception.  Unfortunately the book is very arid and a little too academic in style.  It is very slow-paced at the beginning while he sets up the world and background.  Most of this detail becomes important later, but I suspect a lot of readers will find it a little too dull.  The book was left half-read on my kindle for a very long time before I forced myself to finish it.  When it comes together towards the end it is very good—there is a real sense that the planet and the previously almost ephemeral narrator have undergone epochal change—but it asks a lot of readers to get that far.

#14: Shane McKenzie – Muerte Con Carne

It’s a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with Mexican luchadors instead of chainsaws.  Or rather a huge, fuck off, pound-you-into-mince-and-serve-you-up-in-a-taco luchador.

McKenzie’s book is a solid slab of splattergore featuring a family of crazed cannibals picking off illegals crossing the Mexican border.  There’s nothing really new here, but it’s executed well.  Marta and Felix, the hapless bickering couple dragged into the carnage, are imperfect human beings trying to do the right thing.  There’s enough to provoke sympathy from the reader, but also enough flaws to make you fear they won’t get through this.

Of course the key part of this type of book is the Grand Guignol ending and McKenzie doesn’t disappoint with plenty of splattered organs and some gruesome imagery to test the stomach.  Recommended for gorehounds everywhere.

#15: James Herbert – Ash

The last novel from legendary Brit horror writer, James Herbert, who tragically died earlier this year, and it’s madder than a box of frogs.  This reads like his revenge fantasy on the establishment as he blends fact and fiction into imaginative conspiracy theory.  There are fictional explanations for Lord Lucan’s disappearance, Dr David Kelly’s suicide and a host of past scandals.

I’ll drop an important caveat that this is a very British novel.  I suspect the use of real-life political scandals and establishment figures might leave a lot of non-British readers completely nonplussed.

Paranormal investigator David Ash is sent to investigate a spooky Scottish castle by a secretive and powerful organisation.  Similar to the cult British TV series The Prisoner (remember that one), the castle is a dumping ground to allow wealthy, well-connected individuals whose lives have been blotted by one criminal scandal or another to escape jail and live out their lives in luxurious exile instead.  Until now, because dark supernatural forces are rising and James Herbert is here to dish out the justice their real-life counterparts never received.

Herbert’s style is never going to win awards, but he’s always had a flair for the set pieces and one, with Ash and his love interest being threatened by a pack of possessed wildcats, is effectively tense.  Unfortunately the book suffers from trying to do too much.  Herbert’s secretive Inner Court organisation comes across as too venal and incompetent to be truly terrifying adversaries.  Even the dark supernatural forces set against them seem reduced to little more than bit players in an explosive climax that doesn’t really ignite.  It’s a fun read, but ultimately gets a little too silly near the end.

#16: Nate Southard – Down

Cool, another monster book and one that zips along at a ferocious pace.  A rock band’s chartered plane goes down in deep forest and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the survivors are menaced by a creature in the darkness.

I love monster books, so I was always going to like this.

The book is short, but gives the impression that’s because it’s been sent down to the gym and worked out until there’s not an ounce of fat left.  No flab to slow down the pace here at all.  I read it in two tasty gulps and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I was also pleasantly surprised when the explanation for the monsters turned out to be different, more supernatural, than I’d been expecting.  There is a Lovecraftian touch to what’s happening, but from first principles and without the usual how-many-Great-Old-Ones-can-I-reference baggage.

As an aside, I did chortle afterwards when I remembered the page at the start indicating the book’s events took place in 1993.  I wonder how tempted Southard was to write “i.e. before every fucker had their own fucking mobile phone to ruin good horror plots everywhere” underneath.


  1. China!

    Yeah, he's getting harder to read as time goes on. Kraken, I almost put down and never picked up. Got sick of his indie neologisms and the fucking prefix ab-. But Embassytown I think about every now and then; and Kraken, too, come to think of it. Guess he writes books that are hard to get through but that are very rewarding to have read!

  2. Great Job on 207; the increased length to add in explanations, character deepening, and foreshadowing really adds to the flavor of the storyline. Definitely one of my favorites! Oh and the scene was hot too! If this is the way of your future writing it is better than ever!

    1. Cheers. I'll be posting a little piece on 207 with some more background tidbits here in the next few days (maybe - writing has gone a bit scratchy again of late).

  3. Regarding 207, Cerulea mentions about how all Earths will eventually suffer the fate of being reclaimed by hell. Is that a terrible fate for humans when it happens or is it something that happens billions of years later from our perspective?

    1. It's not good for the inhabitants. Cerulea's concept of time is fairly wayward, so eventually can mean an extremely long time. Plus Cerulea is a daemon, so her words might not necessarily be 100% accurate (aka my getout clause if I get stuck)

  4. Hey for the next SS chapter, can we have one of Phil's succubi actually participate in the sex with Phil? When I read the summary, part of me was hoping Cerulea would also get in on the action.

    1. Next chapter is Cerulea (or rather, one of her personalities that hasn't been seen before).