Month: August 2014

Book review: The Driver’s Seat

The Driver's Seat The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Muriel Spark is pretty much synonymous with strange stories, so it’s unsurprising that The Driver’s Seat, a 1970 novella billed as a “metaphysical shocker” is deeply creepy.

It concerns the last holiday of Lise, a suicidal and lonely woman takes a holiday to an unnamed “southern” country (swarthy blokes, student riots, a couple of languages, old architecture) with the intention of being murdered. Not of killing oneself – that would be a little easy. But of becoming a murder victim.

I’m not actually giving anything away, here. The plan is revealed very early on, though we’re left guessing how and who until the very end, much as in a Christie work. Except Christie never worked macrobiotic orgasm-fanciers into her prose. (more…)

Papo & Yo (2012)

There’s a lot of chatter online about how games merely reinforce stereotypes and play it safe with narrative. This game – albeit a very short one – takes bold steps with narrative but is let down by the actual game experience. 

The story – an exploration of how a child hides from an abusive parent and how they must learn to let go to proceed – is a strong one. It’s also rooted in the childhood experiences of game designer Vander Cabellero. It’s a serious topic, and one not really covered in the gaming world, except when it’s providing an excuse for arse-kickery. (more…)

Book review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel

The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet: A NovelThe Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d read a couple of Mitchell’s books many years ago, and it wasn’t until I picked this one up, looking for some transport reading that I realised (given its Japanese subject-matter) I was predisposed to liking it. The enjoyment it’s given has me kicking myself at leaving it on the shelf until now.

The four years of research required to create the book are well-spent; the historical verisimilitude is pretty much untouchable. Precision of detail is paramount, though it’s not forced down the reader’s throat. The Sakoku era – when foreign contact was forbidden, only ended with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s ‘Black Ships’ – is faithfully rendered. The outpost of Dejima – the only place trade was available, near Nagasaki – is brought to life without the distancing one usually finds in novels writing about the past. Some of the island’s denizens are a little more stereotypical than you’d imagine – especially the wanking monkey named after William Pitt – but nothing breaks the mood. (more…)

The Walking Dead: Season Two (2013-2014)

What's that noise?

I’ll attempt to avoid spoilers if I can, but if you’ve not played the final episode of the game yet, maybe you should come back later. 

I’ve just finished playing episode five of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead. And I’m a little disappointed with it.

Let me back up a bit. I’m disappointed with the ending. I thought that throughout the rest of the episode – and the moments of tension which cropped up in the search for shelter and the settling of scores, up until the end – was a lot more on the money than the rest of the series had been. There were a collection of “shit, no!” moments, and the dialogue (particularly around a campfire) was exceptionally well-judged in this episode. There was some levity, which is a nice surprise in a game whose stock-in-trade is the shit’s-fucked end of the spectrum.  (more…)

Book review: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

The Mystery of a Hansom CabThe Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fergus Hume wrote something close to 130 novels in his life, but it seems none had the impact of this one, which sold 100,000 copies in its initial two print runs, then went on to sell more than a million copies internationally.

The fact he was ripped off on the international sales (fifty quid for the rights? And no other cash? Why not?) possibly explains the other 129 novels. But chicanery aside, it’s worth noting how popular the book was on release. Arthur Conan Doyle pooh-poohed it but he probably would, given that it outsold the first Holmes novel. That’s how big this thing was – a veritable blockbuster, and one noted for its importance in illustrating the transition from the sensation novel to crime fiction. Dan Brown can’t claim that. (more…)

Book review: Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs

Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About DrugsTalking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs by Andrew McMillen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Drugs and musicians go together. At least, that’s the popular wisdom. A couple of the interviewees in this collection of face-to-face interviews question why this is, given the prevalence of drug use in the rest of society, but I guess the conventional view is that it’s expected.

What’s exceptional about this book is that it doesn’t seek the sort of salaciousness which marks other writings about drug habits, controlled or otherwise. There’s no exploration of the joy of getting maggoted, of being off chops. Sure, some of the interviewees speak fondly of their habits – but the book doesn’t exist to glorify the procedure or marginalise the user. It exists to spark discussion about use.

Musicians are lightning rods for drug coverage, and I believe that with this book, the author is attempting to encourage some kind of discussion beyond the basic narrative of useless junkies and redeemed-former-users into something with a bit of nuance. And let’s face it, reading about Steve Kilbey’s heroin use (and love of yoga) is more interesting than hearing it from a regular Joe. (more…)

Book review: The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

The Conspiracy Against the Human RaceThe Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve known of Ligotti’s work for a couple of decades now, but pre-Amazon it had been pretty hard going to find some of his stuff where I lived. Eventually, I collected some of his fiction and I enjoy it very much – he’s very much in the Lovecraft side of the weird. You know, the sort of Radcliffe-but-stronger feeling of the innate horror of the universe. Understandably, the guy’s a recluse.

He’s currently receiving a bit of attention thanks to the claims that True Detective‘s most interesting character’s worldview was plagiarised from this text by that series’ writer, Nic Pizzolatto. Personally, I don’t buy the accusation, and fall more on this side of the fence.

This text is non-fiction. It’s a distillation of thought about pessimist philosophy (actual, extinguish-the-world pessimism rather than “It’ll probably rain on me because life’s shitty” pessimism) coupled with some meditations on supernatural literature. (more…)

Book review: Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded MusicPerfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first came to this book because of Jarvis Cocker’s reading of an excerpt about how, physiologically, you perceive the drums in Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’. It was an excerpt – edited, as I’ve discovered, though not greatly – that ropes physics with the excitement that particular Foot-Of-God drum phrase invokes in a way which makes even non-Zep fans a bit excited.

You can hear it here. I’ll wait. (more…)

Book review: Don’t Look Now

Don't Look NowDon’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must admit my purchase of this book was dictated by the knowledge that its titular short story was the basis for Nic Roeg’s film Don’t Look Now – a favourite and one of the best weird films of the ’70s.

This title has been given to a number of du Maurier collections featuring variant stories, so it’s worth noting that my version contained ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘Not After Midnight’, A Border-Line Case’, ‘The Way of the Cross’ and ‘The Breakthrough’.

The good news is that the stories that follow the first are all as good – or better, in the case of ‘Not After Midnight’ – than the most famous entry.

The bad news is that if you’ve come looking for the text version of Roeg’s film, you’ll probably be disappointed. (more…)

New A. Dobson review

My review of A. Dobson’s Lost Broadcast has just gone live at Cyclic Defrost. Here’s a sample:

Everything is so honest a tribute to synth-heavy, jazz-kit almost-prog-but-a-bit-cooler, Kraut-it-yerself music (crossed with a little Atari ST magic, perhaps) it’s easy to imagine the album has been stuck behind someone’s couch for a couple of decades. There’s a couple of non-period sounds on the tracks which keep the ear alert – it’s not all heated-dust synth action, as the dub-squelch-cum-Barry-Adamson swing of ‘Don’t Trip’ shows – but this is as close-to-source retro for this genre as you’ll find. This thing breathes angles and neon.

You may read the rest of the review here.

I really recommend this album, especially if ’70s soundtracks are your thing. It’s available as a download only (here) and the other Rotary Tower releases look just as appealing.