Tag Archives: sci-fi

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 – mean machine (real mean)

meanThis is one curious graphic novel. Perhaps a compilation of the essential stories detailing the everyman-turned-headbutting-mechanical maniac, Real Mean is a typical 2000 AD Mega-City excursion into one of the more obscure though perhaps genuine characters in the Dredd-verse. And if anything, this book is all about character development…or not. It’s hard not to choose the correct option (presented in You Are the Mean Machine) that involves some variation of the sound effect “BOK” and a good amount of head flinging based on Mean’s thought procession. Nay, this could be a higher meditation on the plight of the underprivileged common man of the science-wrought future, his metaphorical chains being only his anger unraveling within. But probably not; Mean Machine is an antithesis of Dredd, with poor grammar.

 It’s not as if Mean’s demeanor is wishing-well deep, for he is not a ponderous creature. When asked a question or faced with an unfamiliar situation his typical fallback response is either the ominous “izzat so?” or the click of his forehead dial “straight to 4″, set to vicious. It matters not, as both lead to his signature head-butt, preferably “down to a greasy spot” if given the opportunity. And don’t let his overcompensating mechanical claw (apart from his missing, nubby left limb) distract you; his head plate is the thing, and his aim is true.

And that’s basically it. Nothing other than mayhem accompanies him, whether his fault or not. Ever pursued by the judges, Mean propels through the pages in all locales both temporal and physical. In the ubiquitous back alley, stolen and bullet-riddled transport vehicle (windowless, of course) or even the odd time machine, to impersonating nuns in the local hospital’s surgery unit, Mean is nothing more than a whirlwind of gristled nastiness best avoided on its blind trajectory elsewhere. Whether exacting revenge, fatherly frustration, even the bliss of unexpected matrimony or just a good “buttin”, readers are given significant pause of his weird state of samadhi.

What makes this compilation intriguing is the detailed art accompanying the sparse, often breakneck pacing inevitably ending in loose teeth and oozy puddles. Apart from the longer, more colorful entries scripted by John Wagner and drawn by Richard Dolan, the ones written by Gordon Rennie, especially The Geek, are just as (if not more) brilliant. One part dumb bludgery, another comic satire, and a third tragic noir, Real Mean makes a bizarre and provoking (thoughtfully or otherwise) reading experience indeed.

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 – cardanica

Reading Dario Tonani’s Cardanica has been a pleasantly unsettling experience. This novella is a perfect choice for those wishing for a greater daily dosage of pulpy gore in their literary diet, especially if read in the claustrophobic confines of an airport or plane.

It’s the story of a cargo ship’s crew inching through a harsh and remote desert world with little to control save their own psyches. Not much is known of their purpose except their eventual progression across the uneven sands, powered by a lumbering mechanical caterpillar of a vessel.  Conjoined with the vehicle is a semi-sentient, self-sustaining and incessantly oiled “pneumoarc”, the driving force behind an inevitable and undesirable turn of events.

Cardanica is a meaty however brief story containing a good mix of sci-fi, horror, and steampunk imaginings. It’s definitely more than a work of simple shock value; rather, the story is a well-conceived peep into a dissolution of desperate events facing an unequipped crew. While leaving a fair amount of questions at its conclusion, the work justifies further exposition, perhaps best as a graphic novel, requiring a greater sense of closure. It’s hard not to think of Cardanica as an overly oozing, anachronistic offshoot of Kubrick-inspired space drama, but is there anything wrong with that?

review – sensation

Hard to classify Sensation by Nick Mamatas without describing the work like some obscure underground internet radio station. It definitely falls within the parameters of contemporary urban science-fiction, a more American counterpart to the British labyrinthine imaginings of China Mieville, while faintly echoing the finer philosophical musings of The Matrix movies. On the other hand, it confluences in wild absurdity, paralleling a strange hybrid of The Hitchhiker’s Guide with Woody Allen’s New York state of mind.

The story doesn’t have much of a center as it’s more a series of falling dominoes, beginning with an atypical breakup between lackluster couple Raymond and Julia,  and the subsequent societal fallout both monitored and controlled from forces unforeseen. Such forces reveal themselves as the interplay between two warring super-intelligent species of spider and wasp, molding our reality as omnipresent observers of “indeterminate ethnicities”, policing society’s actions in their own war of survival.

Mamatas frequently references the butterfly effect in this work, using timely and humorous popular social references to illustrate the torrential effect of the small actions people collectively take, whether they be defacing newly constructed mega-stadiums, driving buses into the United Nations, or enacting “Plan Z” through the perfected strategy of web-based, pseudo-bourgeois “mutually assured confusion”. With all these accumulated acts, Mamatas eagerly invokes the free will argument, whether in this highly controlled universe or that of the interweaved, yet nebulous “Simulacrum” in which our players occasionally encounter themselves.

There’s a lot going on in Sensation. With creepy subtlety and detachment, Mamatas brilliantly narrates from the view of his hyper-intelligent spider species; his interweave of our reality and that of the Simulacrum is too underdeveloped for my taste though, as he focuses on the plight of an overeducated, insipid Raymond and his ubiquitous Julia. More time could have been spent on the hive-mind of his wasp species, for it too, was left wanting in relation to his spidey sense. The absurdity emanating from and surrounding his characters in an ever insane New York is quite enjoyable though; Mamatas deftly strangles our sense of self-importance, adding a much needed humility to our unquestionably mindless endeavors. It’s also an unquestionably worthwhile read.

review – the windup girl

Paolo Bacigalupi is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. Not because he so deftly speculates on the more pressing social and environmental issues currently ignored by most of our so-called leaders, but that he does so with such an effortless ease in mixing his ominous messages with exciting and thought provoking stories. Readers like myself may just enjoy the escapism of a good, suspenseful dystopia without getting depressed that it might actually be true within a few decades.

Bacigalupi’s science fiction is odd in that there is an uneasy anachronistic feel to his near-future milieu.  His stories are set against omnipresent backdrops and/or rumors of rising seas, dissolving borders, and energy scarcity (coal,oil). The only energy available is that which humans expend or is inefficiently dissipating within their makeshift and inefficient coils and springs.

Such is the case with Bacigalupi’s novel The Windup Girl.  A longer exposition of two stories found within his collection “Pump Six and Other Stories”, The Windup Girl is a novel of totality in a new, yet stagnant-world order.  It is a story of scavenging and survival on multiple tenuous levels: of a kingdom, its government ministries, corporations, and its occupants.

It’s a story of archetypes more than anything.  Amid the wondrous, giant lolling megodonts and overcrowded towers of crime lords and suffocating tenants, The Windup Girl describes the ebb and flow of power-hungry generals and governmental ministers, the infiltrating genehacks of farang agri-corporates, the unpredictable order infused with terror by the incorruptible white shirts, the “yellow-card” immigrant Chinese fighting for scraps within a so-called welcoming Thai society, and the not-so-human consorts trying not to overheat in the incessant, sopping humidity.  It’s a story that sparks with every intermingling among these factions, inevitably bursting with the sad disappointment of human predictability, better termed samsara, that Bacigalupi has such a firm grasp of.

The genius of Bacigalupi’s writing is found not just in what is necessarily written, but equally in what is evoked by his speculation. Massive societal contractions and expansions in Asia, Finnish anti-corporate insurgence, and the ascendancy of potential seats of power in Iowa, of all places, all due rising hunger and seas. It is inspired with the tension and vision of the Blade Runner worldview, but for a new generation of science fictioneers that is entirely original and engrossing.

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.