Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Roy of the Aztecs

As about three people in the entire universe may remember without too much wincing, I was once a regular contributor to Brian Moore's Head, the award-of-some-sort winning Gillingham F.C. fanzine, drawing a regular four page continuing strip called Roy of the Aztecs which appeared in issues 59 though to 79, running from late 1996 to October 2000. Brian Moore's Head, so far as many were concerned - myself included, was one of the better football fanzines more or less regardless of personal investment in Gillingham F.C., or even in the game itself, which I personally never quite understood, and it was a pleasure to be involved, and to feature in the same vessel as the mighty data correlation of Professor Tarquin Zoological-Garden.

Roy of the Aztecs was a ripping boys' tale of ballgames and human sacrifice in ancient Mexico - essentially Roy of the Rovers with more pyramids, tortillas, and creaking puns - the tale of one young Mexican's rise from obscurity to becoming the star ball player for his theocratic city-state; and now it's all collected together in a single volume with a fancy painted cover.

In case this all sounds vaguely familiar, I've spent two years trying to load this thing up to Lulu, each time managing to print out a single copy before the Lulu book generator throws a wobbly and tells me that my masterpiece is flawed. Anyway, I've finally worked out what I was doing wrong (I had black and white images set to default rather than grayscale, which apparently is terrible) and so at long last, you can buy the thing should you wish to do so.

It may not be Watchmen, but I know at least three people who laughed at the jokes; and it's reasonably cheap, and you can buy it here:

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Andrew Hickey on Against Nature

Tepoztlan, 2005.
This time a review of my leaflet from Andrew Hickey, posted originally on his excellent blog Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Full disclosure before I start this - I am friendly with the author and the publisher, and I also potentially have a book coming out from this publisher. I don’t think that this has biased my opinions in any way - I became friendly with them because we shared a lot of tastes, so it's unsurprising that I would then enjoy this book - but it's only fair to point out up-front.

I've been putting off reviewing this one for quite some time, because as I've said before I've not been thinking very well for the last few months due to ill-health, and this is a book that deserves a more considered, thoughtful response than perhaps I am able to give. However, I'm still not fully well, and don't know how long I would have to wait otherwise, so this is my best assessment given my limited faculties.

Against Nature is a fascinating, difficult book, that makes no concessions to the reader but is all the better for it. It's dense, allusive, and expects its reader to think - but it gives plenty to think about. This is Faction Paradox in big, important, thoughtful mode, rather than light adventure mode - think Newtons Sleep or, especially, This Town Will Never Let Us Go rather than Erasing Sherlock or Warlords Of Utopia. I've read it twice, and I still haven't got all of it, but that's a good thing - this is a book that absolutely rewards rereading.

I loved it.

I'm mistletoe, Todd thought, I was living on that tree, and now I'm cut off, just moving forward until I sputter out. He wondered if this life might present him with other obvious symbols for his consideration, truths revealed in the everyday details. It felt a little like this whole world was all for his benefit, so maybe.

Against Nature is about sacrifice, and the nature of sacrifice, about dying-and-resurrected gods (and ones that die without resurrection), about what it means to be cut off from one's culture and one's past. It's a book that could only have been written by someone profoundly disconnected from his own culture - and it's no surprise that between writing the early drafts of this, and its final publication, Lawrence emigrated to the US.

The same injustice had befallen Europe a few centuries earlier, barbarians at the gates and so on, swords turning out to be mightier than pens despite the proverb. It was always the stupid idea that caught on, the story that even the village idiot could follow without giving himself a headache. Human history was a ratings war, and people would always choose the flashing lights, special effects, and generic hero pleading you don't have to do this! over things of value.

One of the ways in which Lawrence creates this effect has been misunderstood by several of the readers, particularly on some Doctor Who forums (Faction Paradox still has a residual connection to what Lawrence refers to as Magic Doctor Who Man Telly Adventure Time). The book is set in multiple times, in multiple locations, with multiple cultures. Two of those cultures - the Great Houses and the medieval Mexica people (the people we think of, wrongly, as the Aztecs) are ones which are very, very different from the likely cultures of any of the readers, not only in behaviour and attitudes, but in language.

Lawrence throws us in at the deep end, cutting rapidly, every two or three pages, between wildly different locations and time periods, with stories that parallel and comment upon each other, but do not link up until near the end. Each of these different cultures is presented to us without comment or explanation, so our first glimpse of the Great Houses' culture comes with:

The blinkers were fashioned from the clothing of the deceased, specifically a pressure suit once belonging to Herrare, the material cut to form a collar of hide curving around the eyes in the manner of goggles. Emioushameddhoran vel-Xianthellipse adjusted the knotted strips of fabric which kept the blinkers in place and took a moment to inspect herself in the cheval glass.

while the Mexica strand of the story starts:

It was the day Ome Ozmatli of the trecena Ce Izcuintli as reckoned by the Tonalpohualli calendar of the Mexica - Two Monkey, presiding Deities being Xochipilli, Xipe Totec and Quetzalcoatl. This was hardly an auspicious combination by which to embark upon travel, but there being only nine days left before the occasion of the impending New Fire Ceremony, Momacani was left with little choice.

The cultures involved are ones which Lawrence has an expert understanding of - he has been studying the Mexica people for decades, and has been involved in Faction Paradox fandom (for want of a better word) for almost as long. The result is that he can write about these cultures fluently, from the perspective of someone who lives there, because he does, at least internally.

Several readers complained about the fact that they had to keep track of unfamiliar names like Emioushameddhoran and terms like Ce Izcuintli, and there is no question that this does make the book many times more difficult to read than it otherwise would be. But this seems to me to be entirely intentional - the reader experiences a miniature culture shock every two to five pages, and has to assimilate everything with no background. One is as rootless as Todd, the closest thing to an audience-identification figure in this book.

But I'm making this sound like it's a hard slog, something to read out of a sense of duty, and it's anything but. It's a clever, thoughtful, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking book, and will almost certainly prove the best novel I read this year.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Obverse Books in Starburst Magazine

Well, technically it's on the website, and I'm not sure if that translates into the print edition, or even whether a print edition exists in these days of eBooks and virtually entertainment as it is known to youngsters; the point is that Against Nature gets a plug in Starburst, and a plug which even provides a sample of the first chapter, so woohoo.

I still remember buying the first issue of Starburst from Martin's newsagent back in 1722, an oddly sphericular painting of assorted Star Wars in Colour! characters on the cover, and inside exciting news of all sorts of great films I would never get to see - Message from Space, Laserblast, and The Manitou. I kept on buying for the next couple of years, and then stopped for reasons that escape me, probably because I'd discovered Throbbing Gristle or something. Anyway, the point is that it's quite exciting to get a mention in the magazine which first alerted me to the existence of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky.

Funnily enough I did actually watch Message from Space on Netflix only yesterday. Turns out it wasn't that great.