Tag Archives: gonzo

review – the filth

filthSo I’ve finished Grant Morrison’s The Filth. This work, I think, has been one of the most profoundly, mentally dissociative though unique reading experiences I’ve ever digested. Note that this is not an easy book to read or even finish, despite being a limited run comic. Nothing is easy about it. Not main character Greg Feely aka Ned Slade and his ubiquitous employer The Hand. Nothing is easy about the disturbingly sex-infused settings and the sticky, meaty bio-tech permeating throughout each issue. Even the story, if there really is one, is difficult to follow. Is it about an escape from paranoia, pornography, or just the need for a balance of justice to depravity in society? If you want it easy, just call it gonzo sci-fi and wash your hands. But sorry, it still ain’t that easy.

Now whether the inspired reader can figure any of all these elements out, a tip of the hat will be gladly offered. I suppose though, that the whole point of all this as I see it, is that it’s all relative to nothing. The massive fragmentation, of bizarre storylines, the grimy human/superhero/secret agency trinity, the shock of life’s absurdities and its depravity, and the need for depravity and to feel clean from so much filth is constant. This fragmentation and duality hence, is THE constant. That the reader doesn’t have a definitive clue about Slade’s true identify or even the work’s finale is the point. Life is abrupt, aggressive, violent, absurd. It goes on and we react.  Sometimes in bright suits with bizarre wigs in automobiles looking like biogenic garbage trucks.

PS – I liked it.

review – king city

I never thought I would be comparing Brandon Graham’s King City to Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, but alas, I feel the similarities are sound. Each are set in a future within an arguably pulsing beast of city, filled to the gills with an impunity of common alien interaction and even baser though humdrum human depravity. Places where the expectation is that the graffiti outnumbers the tabula rasa by magnitudes.

Where Transmet excels in propelling humanity’s collective neuroses in a bubbling, angst and drug-fueled supernova against our impending future failures of corruption and over-consumption, Graham shrugs, writing a softer, more rounded-edged comic. King City is quite a finely balanced, smoothened world-building of urban locale and inhabitants over the importance of story itself (as Graham will honestly explain). At first glance it’s a future candyland of youthful crime syndicates, secret sasquatches, and homages to Street Fighter and Dumb Donald of Fat Albert lore. But what’s more interesting is the subtle social commentary: Graham introduces a future that belongs solely to youth; where at least in this city, no one above age forty is to be found anywhere. Where technology is based more on moving organic parts, not necessarily gears. A city where the economy is based on the exchange of goods and information between a myriad of local weirdo coteries.

Perhaps Graham’s work is an echo of the gen-x slacker ethos represented through no better avatar than the cat. Joe is his main protagonist, Catmaster extraordinaire, just a regular guy though always within arm-length of his bucket of cat-in-waiting death vortex. When not casually “paint bawlin” or couch-slouching with friend Pete observing the latest ninja swarm, the duo is performing their next score for an unknown employer, paw-picking locks, or slinking through every inch of King City unseen.  Yes bad dudes are afoot (the menacing Eye Focus cadre is well depicted), but Graham’s preponderance upon the cat is a fascinating juxtaposition against a future feline domination of say of Paolo Bacigalupi.  Not necessarily gods, but furry receptacles of menace and utilitarian potential, cats symbolize for Graham a yin-yang of slack-action, “slacktion” if you will, a perfect balance of pacific naptime and frenzied claws to the face. Wielded in the right hands, the cat-and-master hybrid is a fascinating conception of domestication redefined.

In addition to Graham’s compulsion to deftly drop pop-culture wordplay (pun times, man) in nearly every panel, King City is a setting where Joe (and even Pete – whose side-quest is just as noble) can choose sit out the current apocalypse to lend a hand to help a friend. There will always be another one to fight, as Graham places heavy emphasis on small acts of decency that are too easy to dismiss amid a festering saucepan of urban future-crazy.  This compiled edition is excellent as it contains bonus stories and supplemental material as Graham provides needed background on his Catmaster history (Mudd is an intriguing and too underwritten character in my opinion), as well as stellar guest contributions.  Amid a gonzo future-culture critique, King City is a surprisingly insightful and deep comic collection.

review – museum of the weird

Amelia Gray‘s Museum of the Weird is concisely that. This little compendium of curios doesn’t mess around; nay, it’s a sucker-punch of surreal hurled straight to the breadbasket. While some of the stories in this collection are a slow time-release of quirk into the bloodstream, others are a full-on mainline of weird cooked freshly from Gray’s meth lab of imagination. But in a good way, I assure.

The great thing about this work is the quality, as a majority of the stories, each contained within just a few pages, can easily be novellas or even larger works in scope.  And while the sentiment typically flows from the wellspring of psychological insecurity of her characters, Gray’s talent shines from the reserved awkwardness in their behavior. A waiter serves an entrée of hair but it’s a matter of for whom, not if it’s eaten; the work required to maintain a modern snake farm of the highest professionalism; the un-reciprocated dedication to a bag of frozen tilapia or a paring knife; or even the uneasy barroom conversation between a penguin and armadillo.  Gray makes it work, no matter how strange the situation and delivers feeling, regardless of how absurd, creepily gothic or awkwardly sweet. 

The downside to the work is that it’s too bloody short. There’s a great spectrum of stories to sample, but they’re over too quickly. Throw in a couple of Gray’s intriguing writing exercises to fatten it out a bit and the reader will soon enough finish the book, noting not only the thoroughness of her weirdview but perhaps a hunger for something more.  Museum of the Weird is a freakishly well-written book, ideal for those geared for a reread in order to fully savor.

review – take the all-mart!

For such a concise story, there’s a lot of stuff thrown together in J.I. Greco’s  Take the All-Mart!. An amalgam of mainly The Road Warrior, Fallout 3, Shaun of the Dead and others, All-Mart! is a thoroughly gonzo, strangely quirky story utilizing many of the popular themes found in serious and not-so serious sci-fi: post-apocalyptic wastelands, artifical intelligence & human interfacing, quasi-cyborgian drug use, and deification of William Shatner, along with a few merciless though good natured, large chested nuns, nanochines, and zombies thrown into the mix.

Terrifically linear, the story lacks the depth for the reader to fully contemplate Greco’s futuristic design. Instead, the reader hurtles along with our heroes Trip and Rudy through a haze of hot scrubland interrupted by dusty shantytowns, where the worship of beer is the raison d’être. Heading east and armed with no less than a full arsenal of sawed-offs and nipple-regulated THC infusions, our intrepid opportunists meander into nothing other than adventure, drawn inevitably toward the all-consuming mecha-tentacled maw of the mother of all convenience stores.

A character-driven work, All-Mart! revolves around the roguish Trip and sidekick Rudy, wastelanders looking for their next big score, whether beer, money, or other easily accessible drug. Priorities are rearranged when Trip meets Roxanne, belonging to The Sisters of No Mercy, adherents of charity work, environmentalism and polyamory, all in good proportion. Therein adventure ensues.

It’s not until nearly halfway through the work where the characters’ eccentricities and proclivities give way to the ominous All-Mart and its zombified inhabitants.  Needless to say, it is a clever though unsubtle imagining of America’s megastore problem, but one not distracting from the story itself.

In sum, Take the All-Mart! is a fun, fast-paced story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and expects the same of the reader. “Sure as Shatner”, it delivers some chuckles along the way and makes things seem more tolerable in this hot summer readng season.

review – shades of grey

Glad I’ve finally come around to Jasper Fforde. Lumped into something like a royal triumvirate of wacky British satirists that include Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, Fforde has been constantly recommended by legions of fellow geeks-in-the-know, though I’ve been wary. Wary because just a little of the former goes a long way, and overload can swiftly ensue.  Don’t get me wrong, the authors are great and genre-bending, but the story can get often lost in the wit.

So unconsciously or not, I may have been looking for a reason not to like Fforde. Giving Shades of Grey a try, I’ve come away appreciative and challenged in many respects. Yes, Fforde’s detached cleverness is distinctly overwhelming, and while my irritation with the work was that it contained 3/4 clever dialogue opposed to the 1/4 action/plot oriented writing I waited for, I’m glad to have pushed through, for what had emerged was not only a typically wry tongue-in-cheeker, but a more nuanced approach in post-apocalyptic/dystopian musings.

Pointless to give the details really, because Fforde plays his cards fairly closely; he loves to preserve the mystery, you see, as this is but part one of more to come. The setting is ambiguous, though presumably in the distant future. Color perception has divided humanity into its own social hierarchy, very interestingly I might add, and perception as we all unfortunately know, is everything. As are spoons, loganberry jam, and the semi-invisible apocryphal people who occasionally tinkle wisdom upon dinner parties as well as just tinkle upon themselves. But Fforde spends the majority of this work detailing the hierarchy among the colors, as seen through red-tinged eyes of swatchman-son Edward Russett’s introduction to and subsequent manipulation within the Outer Fringes, and maybe even to the perilous reaches of High Saffron.

Patience pays off for the determined reader in Shades of Grey. In itself it’s a rewarding read written in the ham-on-wry tradition, but ultimately proves quite a thought-worthy and perplexing commentary on color and how we view ourselves, filtered through a sci-fi monocle.

review – the sad tale of the brothers grossbart

In all my recent page turning I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more adventurous, weirdly pensive and violently juicy work of speculative or historical fiction than I have from Jesse Bullington’s The Sad Tale of The Brothers Grossbart. As a chronically slow reader, I’m amazed with the rapid rate at which I cannibalized the literature.

Most superficially, this tale is a bloody romp through the carnage that’s burned, crumbled, or spurted in the wake of a pair of medieval entrepreneurs, Hegel and Manfried Grossbart.  Just two brothers sensibly trying to stay on task pursuing their utmost grave robbing quest. They’re not to be confused with those silly protagonists we call “heroes”,  “honorable men”, or perhaps even “likable persons”.  Nay, I think Bullington says it best when he aptly heralds his brothers as “bastards at large”.  Their tale is as straightforward as gnawing roast mutton, or perhaps even live mutton, from its fleshy, dripping chop.

Bullington’s tale is settled within the fourteenth century, specifically the bubonic plague and it’s equally carnal wreckage across Europe.  The Pestilence, vividly depicted through pulsating, pus-filled buboes and projectile vomiting, is fictionalized through the demoniac spirits initiating such attributes; the plague itself is not propped against the Grossbarts as some boring good vs. evil dualism, but possibly a metaphorical pondering for the reader, forced to consider which may be a greater evil, life’s external diseases or those internal ones exhibited in our worst manifestations. It’s a fleeting observation, to be sure, carried behind the entertainingly violent whimsy with which the story progresses, however looming and ultimately reaching its cathartic coda in the sands of Gyptland.

Progress it does though, mainly through unabashed beatings, cleaving, projectile spray of every fluid imaginable, and just about every other way to incur slow maiming. A refreshing touch of equanimity, as no one is spared from perpetual suffering in this spew-fest, not even the protagonists Grossbart. Just as engaging is Bullington’s clever use of dialogue, both between the brothers and outwardly directed.  Sparse, rational musings brilliantly balanced between the almost piously pragmatic and the foul-mouthed; incidentally, the use of the curious term “mecky” is sure to cultivate a resurgence, if it truly ever existed prior. The narration is equally leveled between a quick pacing and an academic adherence to the milieu, as evidenced by an extensive bibliography. Similar to Jeff VanderMeer’s careful and documented treatment of his fictitious Ambergris, this trend of quasi-academic application within speculative fiction is something readers need more of, showing that authors actually care about the details and accuracy of their worldview. Finally, treatment of the fantastical is eerily earthy without falling upon ubiquitous or popular description. Possessed pigs, “mantiloups” and witches, especially the story of Nicolette, is tremendously unsettling though unavoidably engaging.

In sum, The Sad Tale of The Brothers Grossbart is literally, in every sense imaginable, a smashing, gross, and fun read.

review – a confederacy of dunces

I suppose it is no coincidence that as I decide to read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces that the horrendous Louisiana oil gush would erupt in the Gulf of Mexico.  Both are perfect indictments of the incompetence performed by those around us who would have us believe that they should be in charge and know what they are doing. Like the wreckage of the oil gush, this work by John Kennedy Toole is an ingenious novel that illustrates the incompetence and corruption that will ceaselessly flow when initiated from a broken valve.

Toole’s work is a masterpiece of language and satire, centering, or perhaps orbiting around Ignatius J. Reilly, one of the more interestingly conceived characters I’ve ever read. A semi-educated giant of a slob in every sense imaginable and with no redeeming qualities, Ignatius waddles throughout the work, influencing typically for the worse anyone and everyone coming within his obese sphere of decay with his unfocused intellect. Unable to relate to anyone in New Orleans or society in general, Ignatius latently creates an intricate path of destruction in his avoidance of any type of employment while plotting social revolution on various fronts. That is, only after finding change for the movie theater. Ignatius is a contradiction of sloth and intellect, using his education to further his avoidance of reality. Whether forced to file the most menial of papers or selling hot dogs on the street, Ignatius would rather stage a worker revolt to have an afternoon off at the movies. Eerily similar in character to W.C. Fields, he is a bumbling spark that ignites the lesser incompetence and avarice all around him.

A Confederacy of Dunces is a work of slapstick in dialogue, where the patois of the New Orleans cops, office workers, exotic dancers, hot dog vendors and “vagrants” found throughout the city clashes with that of the “learned”.  Where whispers of lurking perverts or “comuniss” can get one arrested, the novel is a commentary on irrelevant intellectualism versus the reality of class struggle in the American South. As hilarious as the work is, it is a brilliant yet skewering glimpse at the plight of the so-called educated in everyday life, where people manipulate others into obeisance, even if they themselves don’t know to what end.

review – trans-continental hustle

It’s hard to continually raise the bar on a genre that you create for yourself and yet still remain fresh or creative.  That said, there’s something missing on Trans-Continental Hustle that was so eye-opening on Gogol Bordello‘s Gypsy Punks, so explosive on Super Taranta! that it’s hard to pinpoint.  The energy is here, Hutz is still Hutz, the pace is frenetically balanced between traditional punk, gypsy, and Carnaval atmosphere, with the immigrant-centric worldliness still representing the core of the band.  And despite the difficult task of incorporating a more discernible Latin sound tied to punk, there’s still something missing.

Many have noted the now infamous photo of the band wearing matching garb promoting the release of the TCH, a ominous sign of something completely antithetical to the core of GB and punk itself, a band comprised of wildly diverse elements too unrestrained to be coerced into uniformity. It could point to the more polished nature of the album as a whole.  For since this album is under the purview of mega-producer Rick Rubin, I suspect that GB’s talents, and perhaps its greatest asset, raw unpredictability, may be sacrificed for family-friendly airplay.  Take the songs Uma Memina, Last One Goes The Hope, Rebellious Love and To Rise Above, for example. The backup singers sound distinctly bored with their restrained wailing. Gone is the occasional though necessary explicit lyric, and less prevalent is the evocative gypsy violin from Sergey Ryabtsev in favor of the strumming of acoustic guitar.

That’s not to say there are unworthy tracks here.  Rebellious Love, My Companjera, In the Meantime in Pernambuco, and the epically momentum building When Universes Collide are all worthy of addition to the elite GB songs.   GB’s songwriting has always been intelligent, fun and belligerent, and it doesn’t deviate much on TCH.  In fact, the lyrics are probably as tight as they have been on previous albums; the fever to which they’re musically set simply isn’t as wild or spontaneous.

For the handful of standouts in this album, for me it doesn’t match the intensity of Super Taranta! and Gypsy Punks.  I don’t blame the band for going in a more polished direction; it was bound to happen that someone influential with the promise of a big payday would try to latch onto GB.  I’m thankful that it didn’t detract too much from Trans-Continental Hustle, and that it happened after two supremely powerful releases.  Trans-Continental Hustle is a fine, if perhaps too well-produced album that while not as overwhelmingly definitive, continues Gogol Bordello’s recognition in the realm of worldly punk.

review – shriek: an afterword

In both setting and character, Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris is an enigmatic destination. It’s just fantastical enough for the reader to suspend their belief in the existence of the murky and unnerving gray caps, while just as believable as an obscure and unstable, equatorial locale reminiscent of perhaps a newly colonized (relatively) New Guinea. Either way, Ambergris is an immersive epicenter of weirdness that’s completely engrossing as depicted in VanderMeer’s Shriek: An Afterword.

The story revolves around the lives of a pair of siblings, Duncan and Janice Shriek, and their absorption into Ambergris, particularly its academic fabric, as told by means of memoir and revision. The stories are of their successes and failures in a time of warring academics set within a warring city known for its tendency to inexplicably implode. On the surface, it is a city possessing a magical element that lends an unnerving flavor to its mystique. When the annual and oft-terrifying Festival of the Freshwater Squid is in repose, the battle for both literal and literary dominance of the city is viciously fought through scholars and their powerful publishing houses. Beneath the surface, the ever elusive, cryptic and unfathomable gray caps are waiting.

VanderMeer superbly creates a multidimensional depth for all his characters while clearly delineating the protagonists from the antagonists. The only drawback was his over indulgence with Duncan’s relationship with the character Mary Sabon; more time could have been spent on the relatively peripheral but intriguing characters of Sybel and Sirin. Otherwise, his pacing between the emotive narrative and the omniscient description (especially of all things fungal) is flawless. His movements between the mysterious, mundane and the insanely horrific are precisely paced as well. Shriek: An Afterward is a thrilling and frightening work of modern weirdness and quasi-steampunkery.

review – the vesuvius club

One of the more fascinating things about the cleverly written The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss is that the story’s protagonist, Lucifer Box, is a renaissance man extraordinaire.  Forget that the story takes place in Edwardian England, or even that Lucifer is a second-rate portraitist and secret agent; note, rather, how his inhibitions and peccadilloes know no gender.  That the reader will start the adventure around Box’s womanly indiscretions and lead somewhere…else…is simply the sheer flippancy of such a piece of fluff, as subtitled by Gatiss. Box is perhaps an anachronistic anomaly, parading around and performing his HMS duties in a spirit of glam that would make David Bowie proud.

Said somewhere else covers a time and place when audiences weren’t surrounded with formulaic, contrived villains trying to conquer and/or destroy the world.  No, The Vesuvius Club is something different. Box’s work for His Majesty’s Service is more of a satire of what Bond and Bourne were combating when things were simpler, when your average villains had something smaller and more bizarre in their sights, like say, a volcano.  Apart from the setting, Gatiss excels in his descriptions of eerily misty London cemeteries and runaway hansoms, hazy and writhing opium dens and slightly off antagonists.  From London to Naples, the reader is carried swiftly in bewilderment in an overly witty, bizarre, and humorous adventure.