Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder

He…hello? Are you all still there? No. I thought not. Excellent. This means no witnesses to my jolly rusty leap back into this blogging business. I have read a number of books since my absence, one of which was promised to be an exciting thing which never happened and which would take too much energy to try again any time soon. I have formulated a new plan. I have decided to come back to you with a review of a book the follows one I was very fond of and got very attached to. Its sibling is a different creature and correspondingly it has a different blurb! HURRAH!

A clockwork man is abandoned in Trafalgar Square. A ghost displays a craving for diamonds. An aristocrat returns ten years after being lost at sea and instigates riots in London. The Rakes are indulging in seances. The Technologists are growing giant insects and transforming them into steam-driven vehicles. The British Empire’s capial is in chaos, and in the midst of it all, Sir Richard France Burton and his wayward assistant, Algernon Swinburn, are beginning to suspect that someone, somewhere, is up to no good!

The links to the previous book are present from the beginning which in my brain makes this more of a sequel than part of a series, which I really prefer. I find books that are just interchangeable blocks on a vague timeline less impressive somehow than ones that weave themselves together over a series. We hear of John Hanning Speke, malaria, Africa and the rest. Like the last book too there’s a surreal blend of stuff that actually existed and stuff I’m really glad didn’t. The Tichborne Affair was a vague note somewhere in my head, as were most of the book's secondary characters. Irritated as I am with Victorian London (apparently) being the place to be, I can’t help but be absorbed by some of its most interesting facets. World history is mentioned more frequently too, with an Ireland apparently over-run by Triffids and Europe being hit by the technologists as London has been. It has all the gorgeous familiarity of history and all the wonderful chaos of flux. It’s as satisfying in this book as it was in the last, but not at all repetitive or formulaic.

Burton is undoubtedly the main dude (or protagonist as I believe some people insist on calling them) but he never appears to have been forced into the plot simply because of that fact and is never determined for the spotlight. This is usually the case with protagonists, and can be either really irritating or really funny, even if it’s done deliberately or well. The balance is rarer. That is I’m rarely not annoyed by a protagonist at least a bit (because everything is always about them, isn’t it?) but Burton isn’t irritating. He’s cold, a little distant and maybe hard to relate to (I suspect why there are so many loveable secondary characters) but he’s not a tit. This fact makes for rewarding reading. 

The good things about the last book remained so in this one. There were the continued insane (and gross) inventions as Albertian Britain gets to grips with its shiny new Eugenics, The Rakes getting into their amoral japes (the scamps) and real life geniuses getting a bit fucked up. There is also finally the recognition in print that Babbage sounds quite a lot like cabbage, and for this alone the book is worth the cover price. The technology is fucking mental and stops just short of being actually horrific because it’s so cartoonish. Focusing too much on hollowed out animals brings a chap down, you know. Describing the eugenecists folly with cartoonish horror rather than just horrified horror made it clear that this is a morally dubious endeavour but not so clear that you wonder why Burton isn’t dropping everything to ensure that no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture uh…Albertian caper.

The bad things actually got worse. I distinctly remember reviewing the last book and ranting about a nurse with a gun who was the exotic eye candy for our recently single protagonist. Somehow Michael Madsen got involved. Look I don’t know, okay? I talked of how wonderfully the most downfally downfalls of our hideous imperialism had been smoothed over and changed so that society was just a tiny bit less prejudiced than it had been. However, I said, the women were contributing but treated as decoration. And, I said, this would not do. Ah, said the author, I’m mimicking the ways of the time. Fair enough, said I, but still, you know. And so it was that I addressed the issue of the sexism in the last book. WOULD that I had the content to cry sexism this time around. Would that I could, dear reader, but I cannot. The reason being is that there are a handful of women mentioned in this book in any amount of detail. One of whom is Mrs. Angell, Burton’s housekeepery housekeeper. The second is Florence Nightingale who has been kidnapped and therefore appears as a plot point and only once as a character with dialogue and Miss Mayson, a swan breeder who again is mentioned most often by other characters rather than appearing herself as a character. Madam Blavatsky features prominently later on, though in what capacity I cannot say for fear of spoilers. She is a wonderful character, and I would analyse her further and pick apart interesting morsels of gender related issues but it would be a MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER. Suffice to say, that despite her being a fine character she does not negate the fact that I spent quite a lot of my time thinking “Does Sir Richard Francis Sexpot Burton EVER speak to women?” There are some prostitutes, a housekeeper and a nurse. I hate to be the person who bangs on about “what about the women?” I realise it gets dull and wearing and that not everybody cares. However, I only ask where the women are when there are no women. We are fifty percent of the earth’s population and there are about 8 of us in this 400+ page book. What the ACTUAL fuck? Like, really. Actually really, what the fuck?

The cover reviews are the same as last time, and I pretty much agree. Also, it won an award. Obviously 4 mell-heads from me can only send it to ever higher reaches.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Tales From Manky Valley by Frank Peña

This is the second book from the BecauseInter.net guy.


The BecauseInter.net guy! C'mon!
His first book Pyromaniac Pooka is just as adorable/wrong, but only has ONE story. Gawd. What the actual fuck is that (awesome and adorable) shit? In Two Tales from Manky Valley you get TWO. Holy shitballs. I know Frank, and so he sent me a free e-book for my reviewing pleasure. Usually this would have made me cry from my eyes (No trees died for this? What is wrong with you?) but because it’s illustration heavy it is actually really fun to read on a screen. Maybe I was so used to reading web-comics that it didn’t phase me, or maybe I’m cured of my Ludditeitis. Either way, I can vouch for the readability of the e-book. There is no real blurb (except the little ones I found on the website) so I will instead allow the author to describe himself to you.

Frank Peña is a raggedy old hobo who lives in North Carolina with twenty cats. 
If you see a guy in a bathrobe and fuzzy bear-feet slippers dancing to the overhead music in the produce section of a grocery store, that is probably him. 
Approach with candy.

Perhaps that's actually more informative than a blurb for telling you exactly what you can expect from Manky Valley. It is silly. I’ll talk about each story separately:

The Prettiest Pony and the Atomic Death Cannon
Follow The Prettiest Pony and her pals, Butterface and Brownbagger, on an epic adventure into a haunted castle, that results in a chaotic trail of rainbows, cake and charred skeletons all across Manky Valley. (From Becauseinter.net/mankeyvalley.html)

The main themes in this piece appear to be sexist talk of anthropomorphised horses, and death cannons. Largely the themes blend together to create something brightly coloured and vaguely repulsive, both visually and ideologically. Freud says the castle represents a vagina, so I guess bestiality as well, cause they go inside of one of them. LESBIAN bestiality. I mean, my word. The juxtaposition of The Prettiness of the Pony and the castle-shapedness of the vagina confuse our ideas of what is sexual and what is just a castle, or something. Maybe we all want to sleep with our parents, or each other. Maybe we all have genitalia that resembles listed buildings. It is very meaningful. 

Li'l Stabby Goes on a Hug Rampage
Learn valuable life lessons about what happens when Li'l Stabby--everyone's favorite hug-addicted, magically animated butcher knife--is set loose in a forest full of snuggly critters. Can anything stop his cuddly reign of terror? Probably not. (From Becauseinter.net/mankeyvalley.html)

Unlike the gritty realism of the sexy pony story, this tale is overflowing with glittering whimsy.

Having seen the first twenty minutes of Pinocchio, the Plant-Watering Fairy followed standard magical-meddling protocol by rifling through the Lonely Old Lady’s possessions for something to animate.

*sigh*
The kindly aim of a passing fey to ease the suffering of an old woman begins one kitchen implement’s quest to learn more about life and himself. We learn valuable lessons like “Don’t piss on knives, especially if you’re magic!” and “Don’t hug knives, what the fucking hell is the matter with you?” I found myself moved to tears and a little bit of fear by just how carefully Lil’ Stabby’s rampage has been imagined. Freud probably thinks the knife is a penis, I’m pretty sure he says that. This is basically about a magical death orgy, if you’re Freud. Although I guess so is everything, if you’re Freud. So…why WOULDN’T you want to read it? Sort yourself out.

Really though, as far as ridiculous fun and sinister fairy tales go, these are super examples of both. They are also an excellent cautionary tale for loved ones about the dangers of too much caffeine. You could also perhaps point them in the direction of my twitter feed. 

There are reviews on the site where you can (and surely must) buy it rather than on the e-book I recieved, here they are:

"It's basically a hate-poem to vaginas...[Frank] is like a modern Jack the Ripper, only with cartoon ponies."- Reverend CDAAAH
  
Apart from the fact that it's actually prose, nobody died and certainly certainly nobody was disembowelled on the streets of London, this is correct.

 "If a psychologist were ever to read this, he would lose his shit." - Frank's Mom

As I discussed, Freud would have a field day. Momcho is ever wise.

"O__________O...I don't wanna be a derp face" -Lady Gracington von Holtburg


Well, quite.


In summary, I agree with everything I said and whatever else I said I agreed with, and it will make you laugh. Buy it!

5 Mell-Heads, though one was recently taken away to be examined.