Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Infamy

Infamy by Lenny Bartulin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly entertaining romp through the wilds of the early Hobart settlement with the requisite cast of scumbags, reprobates, opportunists and good men lost in moral quagmires. Bartulin has a deft touch with character and inner voice and imbues even the over-the-top cartoon figure of the book's nominal bad guy, Brown George Coyne, with believable and understandable motives. But nobody really comes out of this novel looking rosy: even those who attempt to tread the moral path, such as the main protagonists Burr and McQuillan, do so from blatant self-interest or opportunism, and as their various sub-plots merge and collide the waters only grow increasingly murky, until thye reader is swept along by the sheer volume of viccisitude. This is adventure writing with just enough historical accuracy to give the book thew whiff of verisimilitide: good, clean dirty fun, and all the more welcome for it.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


It's my Dad's 70th birthday today.

It's an odd occasion in many ways: as I've spoken about before, we have a friendly relationship if not an overwhelmingly close one, and he really is the last link between me and what I think of as my 'old' family: that traditional family structure of my birth-- my mother is dead, I am estranged from my brother and see no way of going back, I have never been close to any cousins or grandparents and never see them beyond the occasional visit from overseas relations or bumping into each other in the shops, which suits me fine. Dad is it, and even though we live no more than thirty kilometres from each other, we're far from in each other's pockets.

I've never thought of him as old. Perhaps you never do with parents-- I don't know. Mum died when she was 61, which certainly is not old, so I've no experience in the mind set. But there's no denying that 70 is an age where the average lifespan begins to loom on the horizon: certainly, there's got to be a point where every year begins to feel like an extra year, one you've been granted rather than taken as your right. Or perhaps I overstate the age thing because of my own particular phobias. Either way, I find it difficult to associate my old man with an old man. There's the understanding, at the back of my vision of him, that one day he'll be gone and that somewhere along the line I'd better start preparing myself for that eventuality.But not now.

For now, he's only 70. There's plenty of kick in the old bugger yet. I'll drop in on him after work today: the kids have made him cards, and I have a present and a hug for him. We may not be in each other's pockets, but he's still my Dad.

Happy birthday.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Hellblazer: The Devil's Trenchcoat

Hellblazer: The Devil's Trenchcoat
Hellblazer: The Devil's Trenchcoat by Peter Milligan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Better than the previous Milligan Graphic Novel I read-- Hooked-- but still reads as if Milligan can't be arsed coming up with his own ideas and simply settles for retreading as many Delano ideas as he can cram onto the page. We even get a cameo from Blathloxi and a supporting role for the First of the Fallen in the second of the two arcs that make up the book,'Another Season in Hell', which is at least superior to the titular tale: 'Another Season in Hell' takes Constantine on a journey into the dark heart of his own family, finalising threads begun when Delano was helming the title and delivering the suitably nasty comeuppances that Milligan hands out without much in the way of logic because that's what Hellblazer is all about, right? Never mind that the narrative climax is hastily assembled, too easily accomplished and makes a mockery of what's come before last time Constantine braved the rigours of Hell it was a journey that cost him his body, mind and split his post-mortal soul three ways, this time it's a jaunt and a flippant wager and over within a dozen pages; whereas 'The Devil's Trenchcoat' is a bloodied frippery wherein the coat of the title gets over being separated from our hero by going on a killing spree. It's all rather tired and mundane, and there's nothing here to get the blood pumping. Standard Peter Milligan fare.

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Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island
Shutter Island by Christian De Metter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Passionless, obvious adaptation of the Lehane novel, with any elements of surprise leached out of the narrative. Spoiled by some of the muddiest and least clear artwork I've seen in a graphic novel in years. Given that the book is widely available and the movie is on every DVD shelf in the Universe, there's absolutely no reason to spend time trying to plough through this mundane, second-rate adaptation.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: Hellblazer: Hooked

Hellblazer: Hooked
Hellblazer: Hooked by Peter Milligan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Standard Hellblazer plot in which Constantine, despite his best efforts at reaching towards some sense of normalcy, ends up damaging everyone around him with terminal effects. Peter Milligan's pretty much the fag-end of the British comics revolution, lacking the intertextual genius of Gaiman, the balls-to-the-wall nastiness of Delano or the sheer bugfuck insanity of Morrison, and here he manages to portray Constantine's entry level bastardry without any of the deeper puckishness or frantic roguishness that makes us love the character instead of wishing he'd just get his fucking act together. All the elements are present, without the-- pardon the pun-- magic that makes them all stick together.

This is one for the seasoned Hellblazer reader who can recognise it is a minor addition to the canon without being turned off the work in general. Not recommended for anyone trying to find out what all the fuss is about.

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To note the Aurealis Award nomination for The Marching Dead, here's a little bonus for those of you who knew him before he went electric.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont fix is a vignette I wrote to mark the publication of The Marching Dead. It concerns the game of Kingdom, which I invented for the novels and which nobody has had the decency to licence and make me a rich man by producing limited edition gold-plated versions thereof. Or even a DOS game. The story takes place just before the opening of The Corpse-Rat King, so if you want to get the full benefit of the narrative, buy my goddamn books already. It's appeared at the Angry Robot website and some delightfully hand-made booklet versions were given to people who attended the book launch, but it appears here for the first time.


Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix

An hour ago there had been six at the table. Now there were two. Marius don Hellespont, late of His Automancer’s Court of Taslingham, even later of the cells beneath the court, took a moment to glance down at his cards before casually flicking over a stack of riner coins so they splashed across the green paper tablecloth.
“Whatever that adds up to,” he said, deliberately yawning. The fat Tallian across from him pursed his lips.
“That is bad etiquette, sir.”
“In this fine place?” Marius waved a hand at the shabby, peeling wallpaper, the warped floorboards, and the boarded up windows that surrounded them. “Where are my manners?” He nodded at the coins. “Whatever that adds up to. See it or raise, tubby.”
The fat man waited enough that Marius knew he was beaten. The game of Kingdom was a complex one, if you paid attention to the cards, and it became more difficult the fewer players were at the table. Ostensibly, the object was to build the hand most closely resembling the current ruling class: Royal family, if you were in Scorby, Council of Elders in Zerpha, Automancer’s Cabal in Taslingham, and so on. If you were paying attention to the cards. Only the most trusting of beginners did that.
Real players, and Marius was a real player, knew that the object of the game was much simpler: to take your opponent’s money. The cards were immaterial. What counted was keeping your opponent off-balance– learning their tells, their psychological weaknesses, and then exploiting them. Like all truly great sports, Kingdom was won by the one who best played the man. The Tallian hesitated the tiniest smidgeon, and Marius had him.
“Gods damn it.” The fat man blew out his cheeks, aiming to recover lost bravado. “Gods damn.” He made a show of counting the coins, then counting them again. Marius very deliberately did not leer like a greedy baby snatcher. “All right,” his victim said. “All right.” He riffled his stack, came to the decision Marius knew he was coming to all along. “All in.” He moved his pile into the centre of the table.
Marius didn’t count them. He had no need. He knew he had the bet covered. He paused just long enough to make him sweat, then casually smiled and laid his cards face down before him. “Call.”
A queen, a prince, a knight, three nobles, a peasant. Pretty close. Good enough to win most hands. The fat man stared at them for several seconds, then raised his gaze to Marius.
“One peasant.” He snapped the card onto the table. “Three nobles.” Snap. “One knight.” Snap. “One prince.” He held up the last card, turned it so that it faced Marius. “One King.” He laid it down with a grin, slid it into place with the others. “My hand, I think.”
He reached out to draw in Marius’ coins. To their right, a door crashed open.
“What the fuck?” Both players reared back from the table as if stung. A soldier was standing in the doorway.
“The King!” he roared. “The King has been killed!”
“Assassins from the house of Belchester! The King is dead!” He flung himself back out the door. The room erupted in a mad scramble to follow him: off duty guardsmen and civil militiamen hurling themselves towards distant guardhouses, to swords tucked over lintels, to scythes and halberds and sharpening wheels in front yards. As the room emptied, Marius raised a sympathetic eyebrow at his stunned opponent, and began scooping coins into his pockets.
“Tough timing,” he said, and rose before the fat Tallian could recover himself enough to object. “Still, the cards never lie.”

# # #

Marius sat in a booth at the back of ‘The Hauled Keel’ and watched his young apprentice Gerd weave through the crowd, two tankards of Krehmlager in his beefy fists, plonking down opposite his master and passing one over. Marius raised it in salute, and took a long swallow.
“You hid the armour?” he asked, once he’d recovered his breath. Gerd took a sip, and choked.
“In a barrel on Pudding Alley.”
“Good. Good.” Marius removed a short stack of coins from a pocket and slid it over. “Your share.” Gerd accepted it without counting. Trusting lad. Stupid boy. Marius felt the weight of all the winnings secreted around his body, and took another swallow to help ignore a sudden pang of conscience. From outside came shouts, and a clattering so loud that even the seasoned drinkers within the pub were silent for a moment.
“What’s that?” Gerd stood, and turned towards the window. Marius tilted his head.
“Soldiers,” he said after a moment. “Forming up in front of Traitor’s Gate.”
“Isn’t that the…”
“Road to Belchester?” Marius nodded. Gerd slowly sat down.
“You don’t think..?”
Marius took a long draught of his lager, shook his head, and signalled a passing girl for another while he recovered the feeling in his face. Krehmlager was traditionally strong. The Hauled Keel’s brewing room deserved its own hospital. “No,” he said, finally, flipping a coin through suddenly-clumsy fingers. “And even if there’s a little skirmish or something, nothing will come out of it but opportunity.”
The new pints arrived. He picked his up and gestured to Gerd to do the same. “Drink up,” he said. “We’ve got to get our stuff and be ready to follow them.” He smiled, thinking of the riches to be had on the battlefield to come. “I’m going to teach you how to be a corpse-rat.”


Pleasant news this week, with the announcement of this year's Aurealis Award shortlists. The Marching Dead has been pinged in the Best Horror Novel list.

There's some old favourites amongst the full list of nominees, as well as a number of names that are new to me, which speaks to a local scene that's in rude health. You can see the full list here.


Only 4 days now until Universal Law, my workshop on creating believable fantasy worlds, is presented at this year's Perth Writers Festival.

I'll be talking about why unicorns are crap, how the law of conservation of energy banjaxes magic, and the proper etiquette when meeting an alien in your backyard, as well as conducting a bunch of writing exercises and throwing sweeties to the crowd by the handful.

Spaces are limited, so book now if you want to ensure avoid disappointment. All the gory details are here.

I've finagled myself some time off work, so Luscious and I will be wandering the grounds every day of the festival. If you see us, come over and say hi. Bring cola.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: Wolverine: Sabretooth Reborn

Wolverine: Sabretooth Reborn
Wolverine: Sabretooth Reborn by Jeph Loeb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stock standard Wolverine mysterious past story, with the requisite hints that all is not as he remembers it, the expected all-powerful villain from the past who wants to recruit and kill him in equal measure, the sexy redhead who... and ho and hum. There's a pointless cameo from the umptywhateverth incarnation of Cloak and Dagger, and Sabretooth is impossibly resurrected from seemingly undeniable death again and the whole thing is really just something that's all been seen before, and this time, the elements aren't really even mixed up all that hard. There's some excellent art, and Jeph Loeb's as competent as he always is, but that's all this really is: competent, with nothing in it to set the pulse racing or excite the imagination.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014


Meetings. Be on time.

"Ah, Judas, come in. I'm afraid you missed the start of the meeting. We took a vote on who should betray Jesus..."

You know, I never trusted those other Disciples. Shifty eyes, you know what I mean?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Game

Game by Trevor Shearston

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Based on the real-life last days of bushranger Ben Hall, 'Game' has an opportunity to give us an insight into the mindset of a man who turns his back on a seemingly average life to live his final years as a hunted outlaw. However, the novel is hamstrung by its obvious need to adhere to recorded history and so fails to deliver any consistent underlying thematic thread. Some of the writing is surprisingly awkward and clumsy at the line length, the dialogue is littered with affectations and comes across as stagey and unnatural, and without a strong narrative direction, all the reader is left with is the story of three unlikeable idiots riding around in circles.

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Review: The Disciple

The Disciple
The Disciple by Michael Hjorth

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Terminally snail paced, deeply unlikeable, and tedious as all fuck. It's rare that I give up on a book, but I dragged myself to page 75 and just couldn't find the energy to suffer through another 400+ pages of these unpleasant characters and mind-numbing lack of anything approaching action or interest.

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