Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Last Midnight

One of the reasons people try to revoke my gay card is that I proudly announce that I really don't like Sondheim. I find much of his music and musicals trite and annoying, There is one he wrote that I did enjoy though... Into the Woods. Even then, I'm not sure it was the musical itself as much as the plot that made me like it. (Because, really, I almost walked out after the first act. Then the second act started and I was all like, "OK, I kind of like the idea, even if the execution sucks.")

For those who've never seen it, the First act is a retelling of several fairy tales. The second act...well, the narrator dies and suddenly, the characters no longer have any guides to what they're supposed to be doing.

Like I said, loved the idea.

I bring this up, because a similar idea is at play in Death's Apprentice, what is evidently the first book in K. W. Jeter and Gareth Jefferson Jones' new Grimm City series. According to what's available on the book jacket and in blurbs, the unnamed city the book is set in is supposed to based on all of  the Grimm Fairytales and other writings by the Bros. Interestingly, while I recognized elements that might have been part of a Fairytale at one point or another, the only out and out storyline I actually recognized in this was Rumpelstiltskin.

We start with Nathaniel, Death's Apprentice. Nathaniel's dad sold him to Death at a very young age in exchange for 10 more years of life. Sadly, daddy sobered up, realized what he did, and jumped off a bridge. Anyway, after witnessing Death claim the soul of a drug addled lawyer in a nightclub bathroom, Nathaniel passes out in pain.

Then we meet Blake, who's come to the nameless city, seeking The Devil. Blake's looking to pay back Lucifer for a rather nasty trick the devil played on him in Afghanistan that ended with Hank getting trapped in the Devil's Overcoat. Said coat more or less makes Hank immortal, although Hank can be wounded quite severely.

And Hank, who gets hired by a dwarf lawyer who works for Lucifer. (Don't they all?) Hank is a man with no fear, making him a fairly unstoppable hit man. Hank gets hired to kill the 3 champions prophesied to kill Lucifer. This gives him carte blanche to pretty much kill anyone he wants.

Lucifer himself sits atop a large tower in the center of town, refusing to extend people's contracts and generally proving Milton right again. (Which is to say Lucifer is probably the most interesting character in this.)

The stories coalesce around a woman who made a deal with the dwarf to get answers to her law exam to make her parents happy. The dwarf ends up stealing her baby. (Not exactly spinning straw into gold, but...) 

This is one of those books I finished and felt really at odds about what to think. There's a lot of Christian allegory in here (not quite as obvious as say, Left Behind, but still present in a Narnia type way), and there's also a lot of fate vs. free will discussion, particularly towards the end. There are also a few parts that feel like The Seventh Seal.

By the time I finished and found out what the heck the point of all of this was, I felt cheated in some ways, although there really was no other solution to the whole mess.

Interesting read, but you may want to bookmark a page with the Grimm tales for reference.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


(Note: This is a concurrent post with Candy-Coated Razor Blades by my friend Bob. He's covering movies. I'm covering the writing.)

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

I'll confess, I'm a Cthulhu groupie. (There used to be cultists, but since Cthulhu went mainstream... It used to be one had go diving beneath the waters or go hit up profane cults in isolated places to get icons. These days, one can go to a store and buy all the iconography you want of he who lies dreaming.)

Like this.

 Or this.

I'll also confess I'm not fond of H. P. Lovecraft's writing. It's a bit like reading Hawthorne, if Hawthorne had Hester giving birth to alien babies after Dimmesdale himself found out he was a hybrid of normal isolated New Englanders and underwater fish people.

Seriously. That's Baby Pearl up there.
(This must just be a Southern New England thing. Writers from Northern New England tend to write like a tabloid reporter. "Captain Trips is taking out 99.4% of the world's population, and Frannie's pregnant!!")

Lovecraft is quite a bit like Bob Dylan. I much prefer his stuff when it's done by someone else.

(I'll be citing examples here in a sec.)

But, the real reason I'm writing this has to do with The Lovecraft Anthology Vol. 1, edited by Dan Lockwood, that turns HP Lovecraft's words into illustrated graphic novels. Or graphic short stories, to be more precise. This particular collection includes " The Call of Cthulhu", " "The Haunter of the Dark", "The Dunwich Horror", "The Colour Out of Space", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Rats in the Walls", and "Dagon". It makes Lovecraft's words much more accessible to the readers who may have run across Cthulhu in other places and tried to find the source.

But then, based on what I've read, Lovecraft never really set his pantheon in stone, preferring to use it as  background noise, for lack of a better term. What does emerge from what he wrote (usually based around Arkham, Massachusetts, or Miskatonic University, or some isolated New England backwater) is the idea of the Outer Ones (Like Azathoth, the blind idiot god at the center of the universe), Great Old Ones (like Cthulhu, sunken in his house at R'lyeh), and lesser horrors (The shoggoths, more or less used as slave labor and the Mi-go, who either worship Nyarlathotep or are at war with the elder gods. Given how many people who have worked in the mythos, this kind of confusion is bound to arise. However, just keep in mind that this is like Alien vs. Predator. Whoever wins, we lose.)

We also have what generally remains a pattern in Lovecraft's fiction. The narrator reads someone else's mad ravings, investigates, then goes mad himself. Mind you, if I, like our narrator in "At the Mountains of Madness" ran across 5 foot tall penguins being used as cattle for either the shoggoths or Cthulhu himself, I think I might go a little mad as well.

Cthulhu has become a cultural icon of sorts the farther from the original writings we get. From the RPGs The Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Tech to movies, books and graphic novels...

Cthulhu shows up briefly in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. Cthulhu shows up fighting beat poets in Nick Mamatas's Move Under Ground. An entire graphic novel series entitled The Fall of Cthulhu concerns The Harlot fighting Nyarlathotep as the latter tries to wake up Cthulhu.

We have Brian Lumley's non-vampire series concerning the Dreamlands. (I liked these a bit better than Necroscope. That one got a bit confusing after a while, what with time travel, psychics, vampire planets and all. Fun to read, but I really needed a damn flow chart to keep up with it.) 

There's also Mick Ferrin's very wonderful Victor Renquist Quartet, where Cthulhu shows up in Book 2, Darklost. In that appearance, Cthulhu ties in with the vampire mythos Ferrin created as something of an enforcer the Nephilim created to keep the Nosferatu in line. Mind you, Merlin shows up in book 3, and book 4 concerns Nazis in the Hollow Earth, but the series itself is a wonderful read. The vampires aren't mindless antagonists, nor are they Twilight sparklers. (Seriously. Find copies of The Time of Feasting and keep reading.)

If you like a little humor with your insanity inspiring pantheon, there's The Eldritch Pastiche From Beyond the Shadow of Horror by Christopher Welch (from the Blood Lite anthology. This one gets a shout out, since I've felt much like the narrator on more than a few occasions.)

There's even a Dr. Seuss version of Cthulhu out there.

And of course, more recently, there's The Six Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher, which I reviewed previously on here.

In all honesty, as bad as his writing is, H.P. Lovecraft's influence is felt far and wide in contemporary horror. And really, if you can find a good introduction, the writing gets easier to plow through.

I leave you and your sanity with the following.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why anyone would live in small town Maine is beyond me.

If fiction is to be believed, coastal Maine has a very high homicide rate.

Which brings us to Leslie Meier, who's Lucy stone seems to stumble into a murder on almost every holiday.

In this case, Easter.

Easter Bunny Murder is the 21st book in the rather long lived cozy mystery series. Lucy, her husband, and 2 of their 4 children live in the same house in the outskirts of Tinker's Cove, Maine, that they lived in way back in Mistletoe Murder. (One child now lives with his wife in a subdivision not far from Lucy, the other child not at home lives in Florida.)As we open on the week before Easter, Lucy is taking her grandson to the annual Easter Egg hunt at the Pine Point Estate. Only to watch the Easter bunny come out, fall down, and die in front of all the children.

What follows is a really ugly story of elder abuse (already covered once in an earlier book, but here warned about in terms of identity thieves posing as lost heirs [and no, that has nothing to do with the plot. Due to the central abuse going on, Lucy ends up discussing other forms of abuse]), families squabbling over inheritance, and two accidents that Lucy are convinced are homicides.

As in most of these Holiday murder books, the plot is fairly straightforward, with a look at a particular social issue tucked in with the older reader in mind. (I'm under the impression that a 30something gay man is NOT the target audience. I am, however, a sucker for a decent mystery, and I've held on for 21 of these bloody things.) And, really, after 21 mysteries with only one really going well far afield (New Year's Eve Murder, in which we wound up with Jessica Fletcher meets Phillip K. Dick), it's not a bad way to spend a few hours. Lucy's fairly likable, and several of the books include recipes for the holiday involved. (I do not recommend the one for the cookies made with Cool Whip, though.)

Oh yes. Tune in  Wednesday for a special event as Bob from Candy-coated Razor Blades and I do a trope crossover.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bon Temps roulez

For those of you who watch True Blood, I'm sure you're aware that the series is based on books, but given how much of what goes on the show came from somewhere other than the book... (Billith? Really?)

I'll admit, what I've seen of the show is good, which admittedly is about 3 episodes from the first 2 seasons. (I haven't really watched Showtime since Queer As Folk, and even then, I wound up having to download the last season or 2 just to find out what was going on.)

From what I've seen, about the only TV show that's remaining fairly faithful to the source material is Game of Thrones on HBO, and maybe The Walking Dead on AMC. (The latter did a switch up on one of the bigger surprises in the books though.) (I also won't mention Lifetime's adaptions of Blood Ties based on Tanya Huff that ignored the fact the vampire was bisexual in the books or SciFi's The Dresden Files that only ever got into the source material for one midseason episode.)

None of which is really related to Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (aka the next to last Sookie Stackhouse book, although the last one is aupposed to be more or less an extended epilogue). I just tend to go off on tangents occasionally.

There have been some rather ugly accusations leveled at Ms. Harris about how unenlightened and sexist Sookie is, but really, it rather fits the character. Sookie is at heart, a fairly sheltered white trash woman in a remote part of Louisiana. To expect that kind of character to behave like an urbane socialite would be rather silly. Even if Sookie has dated just about every kind of "super" in the universe. (Vampires, shifters, weres...don't think she dated a fairie, mainly because most of the ones in the books were relations...)


This, the latest book, starts off in Mexico with some plotting to get a major artifact from Sookie that got used in the last book, the Cluvial Dor. Mainly, it involves the father of a recurring character and his bodyguard selling their souls to a devil (not The Devil, he rarely goes above ground anymore). When they find out the artifact is no more, it instead sets off a rather convoluted plot to get revenge on Sookie.

Sookie, completely clueless to all of this, is dealing with the aftermath of using the Cluvial Dor. Namely, Eric moving to Oklahoma, and Sam (her boss who turns into a collie on occasion) being alive and not being all that talkative with her.

What follows is almost like the Quantum Leap series finale, wherein just about every character who's appeared in the series but hasn't died, makes a cameo at the very least. Arlene, last seen going to prison for trying to get Sookie crucified for her choices in supernatural bed partners, get released by the conspirators and tries to get a job at Merlotte's, the bar Sookie works at and partially owns. Needless to say, she doesn't get her job back, and in fact gets found garotted with Sookie's scarf in Merlotte's dumpster the next morning.

Which of course ends up getting Sookie arrested on murder charges. Making it more akin to the Seinfeld series finale, actually.

Anyway, with Sookie out on bail (paid by Eric, who of course has a few ulterior motives), many recurring characters show up to help clear Sookie's name.

Which, given the book has a semi-happy ending,  they end up doing.

My only real problem was that the ending seemed rather rushed. I mean, everything gets tied up in the course of a chapter. That and I wasn't clear on how related all the conspirators were at the end. Because, one of the big surprise baddies seems to be completely unrelated to the  Devil subplot. Also, as Sookie herself points out, it would have been easier for any one of them to show up on her soorstep with a gun rather than go through all the convoluted plotting that forms the plot of the book. Of course, had they not, the book would have been a heck of a lot shorter.

In all honesty, when I read book 8, From Dead to Worse, I thought that it would be the series finale, given how many loose ends she tied up. Thankfully, 5 books down, she wound up writing something better inclined to wrap up all the dangling plot lines, and give us Karin, Eric's other daughter. Who's almost as awesome as Pam.

Satisfying, yes. But I can imagine that more than a few folks will be annoyed with the resolution. I was not among them, since it actually showed good sense on Sookie's part, which seems to be a rarity in Urban Fantasy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The sun goes down the stars come out...

So, I discussed book 1 of Sergei Lukyanenko's Watch trilogy a while back.

Today, as I waited to clock in, I finished Day Watch, which is obviously Book 2.Obviously.

Much like the first one, the book is really 3 novellas wrapped around the machinations of the Night Watch and the Day Watch, groupings of "Others" who either fight for the light or for the dark. This volume is focused on the Day Watch, the Dark Others like vampires and witches, and their perspective on things.

For the most part, the Dark ones are very survival of the fittest. Make your own destiny. Serve no one.

They're kind of like the Shadows to the Light ones' Vorlons. Because, really, the Light ones aren't much better. (Seriously, by the end of the book, when all is revealed, I was annoyed with both Watches.)

The first story deals with the witch Alisa, who spent most of the last book screwing with the protagonist Anton. In this, Alisa manages to drain her powers during a group working to save a fellow witch from the Night Watch. As such, Zabulon, head of the Moscow Day Watch, sends her for some R&R at a summer camp. (I am not all that familiar with all things Russian, but it sounds like the camp started off as a camp for young Communists.) She falls in love with Igor, they rut like rabbits, then as she regains her powers, she realizes he's also feeding off the campers because he's a Light one in similar straits to her.

The second part deals with an Ukrainian Day Watch member coming to Moscow with no real memory of who he is, and what he's doing in Moscow. His story revolves around a stolen artifact that was being held by the very neutral Inquisition (the Inquisition is made up of both Dark and Light ones. Their job is to enforce the treaty and keep the balance.) Said artifact, Fafnir's Talon, is a pretty powerful Dark artifact that Vitaly, the Ukrainian, winds up in custody of after it lands in Moscow. His actions end up having some serious repercussions for the Night Watch.

In the third story, we focus in on the Estonian, Edgar, as he is sent to Prague for the Inquisition trial of both the thieves of the Talon in the second part and of Igor for his crimes in the first part. Anton (protagonist from the first book) is also in Prague for the same trial. The two wind up finding common cause over Czech beers (in the process making fun of American Budweiser and American airmen on leave from Kosovo. This book is set in 1999, and the third part takes place near Christmas.)  As the trial approaches, we finally figure out what Gesar (head of the Night Watch) and Zabulon have been plotting over the past two books.

Which annoyed me, since the author more or less builds up how tricky the two magicians are, then has the characters figure out it was exactly what they were discussing, rather than any number  of twists I was coming up with reading the discussions.

And really, the plot revealed, which is caught in Millennial fever, kind of annoyed me. Then again, the final resolution is from a framework well outside of where I am. I won't go into detail here, merely state that Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHay would be proud. Sort of.

I'm also guessing that since I am not a Muskovite, nor am I part of Russian culture, there is probably quite a bit of allegory to post USSR life that I'm missing in the narrative. Much like Y Tu Mama Tambien, where I missed several commentary notes on Mwxican culture because I'm not part of it.

It's still a fun read. I'll eventually have to get the final book when my TBR pile shrinks a bit.