A fantastically dark tale with some really disturbing images

Neonomicon - Alan Moore, Antony Johnston, Jacen Burrows

It was like watching the Russian Roulette scene from "The Deerhunter". You know what's coming but you continue to read, simultaneously rapt with delight and revulsion.

The Hawkline Monster

The Hawkline Monster - Richard Brautigan Brautigan indolently saunters his way through this wonderfully playful novella like a mischievous puck. Love this:

The voyage from San Francisco to Hawaii had been the most terrifying experience Greer and Cameron had ever gone through, even more terrible than the time they shot a deputy sheriff in Idaho ten times and he wouldn't die and Greer finally had to say to the deputy sheriff,

"Please die because we don't want to shoot you again".

And the deputy sheriff had said, "Ok, I'll die, but don't shoot me again".

"We won't shoot you again", Cameron had said.

"Ok, I'm dead", and he was.

The Elder Gods

The Elder Gods - John W. Campbell Jr., Don A. Stuart A cute little morality play on "better the devil (or god) you know" from the godfather of modern sci-fi. You can tell it was written in 1939, though, the language was a little stolid and the characters a little thin. Good fun, all the same.

Wolves of the Calla

Wolves of the Calla  - Bernie Wrightson, Stephen King This is actually a 4.5 but I'm being generous cos Mr. King went seriously geekballs meta on our asses. C'mon - Dr Doom robots wielding lightsabers and tossing death-dealing sneetches! And although the entire Dark Tower story so far has seemed like a series of campaign missions culminating in a grande finale, this book was really strong as a story in, and of itself. I'll admit, I'm not a fan of the Susannah/Detta/Mia plot, and I secretly wish that I could skip right to the Dark Tower now, but I'm also intrigued by what SK is going to do with in book 6. I was lukewarm about The Gunslinger, and then The Drawing and Wastelands hooked their insidious little claws in me. Let's see - I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised but I won't be destroyed if the next book is just meh.

The Waste Lands

The Waste Lands  - Ned Dameron, Stephen King Oh my soul, I loved this. I never wanted to leave Lud. What a fantastically horrific place.

And after a brief cameo in book #1, RF returns. Oh, there is going to be some industrial-grade wanton ultra-violence soon.

This is so much fun, can't wait for #4



The House of Souls

The House of Souls - Arthur Machen this a test

The Drawing of the Three

The Drawing of the Three  - Stephen King Phew. Sweaty brow. Crazy story. Crazy characters. Hooked. Bring on #3!

The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger  - Stephen King Every fibre of my being wanted to fall in love with this book.

Reading it was like the first time meeting someone after weeks of flirtation on a dating site. They're smart, funny, you get each other's jokes, like the same stuff, travel in the same circles, and you both don't see the point of cucumbers.

So the big day comes along, you're nervous as hell, and you've booked a table at a pretentious, over-priced restaurant because there'll be no hipsters or rap music. You smile dully at some girl waving to one of her friends behind you, while you picture what your date's going to look like in person. It's only when the girl starts calling your name that you realise that she is your date.

Intellectually you appreciate all the things that drew you together in the first place but no matter how many glasses of wine you use to manage your expectations, you still wish you could be at home cataloguing books.

But, like the good little Calvinist that I am, I will go an a second date with "The Drawing of the Three" and hope that I am slightly more taken with my date. Or for a damn good cellar.

The Hangman's Replacement: Sprout of Disruption

The Hangman's Replacement: Sprout of Disruption - Taona Dumisani Chiveneko The author very kindly sent me a copy of this novel to read without any expectation from me. I finished reading it in October and posted my review... or so I thought. It has seemingly disappeared so I am going to post an abbreviated review because I feel it is the least the author deserves for his kindness.

The good:

Amazingly inventive, dark, surreal, intriguing, intelligent, captivating in bursts, tantalising, absurd, so very absurd...

The bad:

Long, very long, too much aimless dialogue, characters seem to be speaking with the author's voice a lot of the time, after the first quarter the plot is neglected in favour of (overly caricaturised) character development.

I enjoyed the first quarter thoroughly, I loved the Kafkaesque surrealism, I loved the elastic prose, I especially loved the way the author played with the words and phrases and idioms, imbuing them with a playful wit.

However, it was too long, at least by half. This book would have garnered 4 stars from me, easily, if most of the aimless dialogue and musings had been excised, and certain characters were treated with a bit more gravity.

I look forward to the second book in the series (of seven, apparently) and will gladly review it.

Apocalypse Now Now

Apocalypse Now Now - Charlie Human There's a lot of great speculative fiction coming out of South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, at the moment. Charlie Human's debut continues that trend and he does so with the gusto of a wrecking-ball, albeit one glowing with occult cyphers and imbued with the sardonic wit of a libertine at a church bazaar.

This is a relaxed and self-assured debut. Cocky, the envious might say. The kind of debut that saunters nonchalantly into the seediest bar in town (ahem, the Kimberley, ahem) and asks to see the winelist. And gets one. And everyone goes about their business.

Yes, there will be those who begrudge Charlie his Cabernet Sauvignon, and complain that he didn't have a beer first. They will gnash their molars and low, rattle their wattles and crow, but one cannot aver oneself from the evident:

Charlie is a f*ckin' good writer, this is a f*ckin' great book, and he's got a f*ckin' bright future as a novelist ahead of him.


Risk - Jason Staggie Few people outside of South Africa, or indeed the Western Cape, or indeed under 30, will know much about Rashied and Rashaad Staggie, the author's uncles. At a time when the country was undergoing massive social upheaval and the transition to democracy was constantly on the verge of imploding, all eyes were focussed on the black townships where the situation was at its most volatile.

Scant heed was paid to the coloured* townships because it was traditionally accepted would not get involved because they occupied a murky socio-political-racial no-man's land.

So few people noticed when the Cape Flats descended into a drug and gangsterism inferno, in no small part fuelled by the power struggles between the Hard Livings and Americans gangs. Rashaad and Rashied Staggie formed the head of the powerful Hard Livings gang, and they operated with impunity under the eyes of the security forces.

Rashaad was eventually the victim of mob justice - beaten, shot and burned to death by members of PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism And Drugs). PAGAD started out as a community policing forum by members of the community who were sick and tired of the gangsters acting with impunity and peddling drugs to their children. Initially their tactics involved picketing drug houses and houses of known gangsters, but they became more radical, to the point where they would set a gangsters house alight and shoot them as they fled the burning building.

Rashied Staggie was later convicted of (a successful) burglary of a police station armoury and is due for release later this year.

PAGAD's activities were eventually stopped by the security forces but they still operate in a very diluted and (supposedly) legal fashion.

Why tell you this?

Well, Jason Staggie cannot escape this shadow looming large over his family and himself and it is apparent in this novel which is a barely disguised memoir, despite the fact that it is fictionalised and that he takes pains to not project too much of himself onto the central character. It is also telling that (very short) Chapter 2 is dedicated to describing how and why his character has been named after the messianic figure of Nelson Mandela

The story revolves around the cycle of catharsis, redemption and The Fall. These themes manifest themselves, and represent, several things that, one feels, the author regards as being pre-destined and inescapable. Coloured identity, drug-use, love, friendship, all these things fall under his microscope, although whether intentional I don't know. I might be doing him a grave disservice but it feels like this novel forms part of his own personal catharsis and everything else is incidental.

His central character seems tainted by his circumstances, as though none of it is his fault, and falls prone to cycles of depression and lucidity. The best way it seems, to get out of this hole, is to go on drug-fuelled bender and commit any number of salacious, hedonistic acts with his equally fucked-up tjommies.**

Eventually, he realises that the real kick he gets is from the risk-taking. And so he devises this game which is essentially the ultimate game of dare, and convinces his friends to participate. The higher the stakes, the more enjoyable the rush.

The game goes well until he falls off the wagon when his girlfriend admits to having a one-night stand and he proceeds to go on the mother of all benders lasting several weeks. When the money for the drugs runs out he is forced to return to sobriety.

In search of reality he seeks out his tjommies and the game, only to find that
his friends have developed social consciences and gone all militant, upping the stakes of the game to extremely dangerous levels all in the name of revolution. Things escalate to a point where it has to inevitably go all Pete Tong and the PAGAD analogue is complete, although, whether intentional or not, again I don't know.

Whilst writing this review, I found myself both not disliking and disliking the novel a bit more. There is nothing to like about this book.

It will not give you a warm feeling inside. Certain images will get stuck in your head and you will lose your appetite. It might even give you bad dreams.

It is also not terribly written.

But it is not Last Exit to Brooklyn or Junkie. Not that these are masterpieces, but to pull this shit off you've got to be able to write and I'm afraid Mr. Staggie doesn't have the ability, yet.

*in the South African vernacular "coloured" means mixed race although it is more accurate to describe it as a culture as you can get white and black coloureds too.


The Zero Stone

The Zero Stone - Andre Norton My 1st Norton novel and I'm not disappointed. One feels that if she was afforded the time and space to flesh her books out a bit more, she would have been regarded far more highly than she currently is. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Mr Unpronounceable Adventures

Mr Unpronounceable Adventures - Tim  Molloy Tim Molloy, you are a very unwell puppy...

One part Lovecraft, one part Kafka, one part Burroughs, one part Cronenberg, and all "out there". Not since Neonomicon has a graphic novel made me feel so unconfortable. Our eponymous hero, accompanied by his pet homunculus (a bite of whose flesh transports our hero to distant dimensions), embarks upon a series of bizarre adventures where inexplicably ends up murdering himself / being decapitated / impregnated / attacked by robot monkeys, etc.

My favourite line:

"Thrice, I engaged in forbidden congress with ravenous succubi in exchange for dominion over lower forms of insects."

Oh, and Max Planck is an interplanetary Steve Irwin.

The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes Vulnerable/damaged/feisty female protagonist with a sharp tongue and bravado to match? Check.
Ex-homicide cop of an ethnic persuasion haunted by an unsolved case, a shadow of his former self, on the wagon? Check.
Thoroughly detestable antagonist with no back-story? Check.

And that's where the clich├ęs stop.

While the above may be true, each character has a unique voice which helps drive the story along like a careening freight truck. Even the incidental characters are well-crafted and one feels play an essential part in the narrative. A strong story like this can sometimes threaten to lose its main characters and so perhaps a little bit of familiarity in the roles can be a useful thing, a bit like a road-marker indicating 15km to the next rest-stop.

The story is tightly woven, although it doesn't feel like that at first. With time-travelling being a central device, one struggles at first in trying to keep up with the various strands, however, the author manages to bring them all together quite consummately, without it ever seeming botched or manufactured.

Time-travelling stories are tricky by nature but the book deals with it in such a neat manner without there being any glaring errors, and without sanitising the dirtiness that it causes.

The last few chapters were a real treat. At some point you realise that the pace has accelerated and you are hurtling through one critical event after another without any notion of what's going to happen next. And the surprises keep coming. I thought the book had ended twice before it actually did.


S.A. Politics Unspun

S.A. Politics Unspun - Stephen Grootes I've just come back from the launch at the Book Lounge and Stephen is as intelligent, witty and and affable as he is on radio. It was a pleasure to host the lumpen proletariat launch as it were (tomorrow is the official "ticketed" Cape Town launch) and I think it's a fantastic book. Should be prescribed reading for polsci students, journalists and parliamentarians.

If You're Happy and You Know It...

If You're Happy and You Know It... - Andre Jordan Brilliant and uncomfortably honest. The author takes a rusted shovel to his own insecurities and neuroses, turfing up the fragile veneer of the human condition to expose what we hate most about ourselves, with the brutal efficiency that only his childlike doodles can fully reveal without the taint of intellectual process.

This is not Bunny Suicides or Cyanide & Happiness, it is not schadenfreude. This is Sylvia Plath in doodles.

Brutal. Brilliant.

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