Month: February 2016

The Other Sinbad – Craig Shaw Gardner

The Other Sinbad by Craig Shaw Gardner

In the tradition of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS???

The Other Sinbad is both a parody and sequel to the legendary seven voyages of Sinbad, as told in the Arabian Nights.

The ‘Other’ part of the title derives from the fact that the protagonist is a simple Baghdad porter also called Sinbad, who is taken under the wing of his more famous counterpart after the legendary sailor’s lavish lifestyle renders him bankrupt. Together they go on an eighth journey to replenish that fortune. As if the original Sinbad being an adventure magnet wasn’t bad enough, a mysterious yet easily thwarted djinni periodically tries to kill him.

Gardner avoids the confusion that having two characters sharing the same name would usually cause by making one of them the narrator, and it is the porter Sinbad’s droll retelling of the bizarre events he experiences that make this novel. Besides being a straight man in a fairy tale, it is gratifying to see how accustomed this Sinbad becomes to the dangerous scenarios he finds himself in.

Characterisation is one of Gardner’s strength, as this novel is populated with a cast that is both distinctive and memorable. It is revealed that while the meat of the famous Sinbad’s tales are true, he omitted a number of embarrassing incidents. Despite his venality and tendency to dominate conversations, he remains a sympathetic character. His child servant, Achmed, deliberately skirts the limits of the sympathetic with his subversive attitude towards his elders, but makes up for it with his preciousness. Another memorable character was Jafar, who runs the legendary sailor’s household, and demands to be beaten whenever he makes a mistake – basically what Dobby the House Elf would be like if he was taller and had a better dress sense.

Plotting was the major weakness of The Other Sinbad. Like many mythical maritime voyages, characters lurch from one surreal crisis to another. But I felt that they had too many miraculous escapes that bordered on deus ex machinas, like when the crew encounter an argumentative wizard able to clear storms just when they’re in one, or whenever the protagonist is rescued by one of the two supernatural women who are apparently in love with him. The conclusion was also another letdown, although apparently this is the first volume in a trilogy.

The Other Sinbad is a novel for adults and teenagers who enjoy comic fantasy, or who are particularly fond of The Arabian Nights. More specifically, I’d recommend it to those who enjoyed the Diana Wynne Jones novel Castle In The Sky and the Discworld novels that focus on Rincewind.

Out Of Their Minds – Clifford D. Simak

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Horton Smith is a foreign correspondent who, upon returning to his hometown of Pilot Knob to write a book, finds himself in a mess beyond his wildest imaginings. An old professor has been assassinated by a mysterious archer, and from him Horton inherits a tattered manuscript boldly claiming that mankind will be replaced by the fictional characters it invented. This is apparently a form of evolution. Over the course of the book Horton will drink moonshine with Snuffy Smith, be attacked by Don Quixote and deal with the Devil.

Despite the literary cameos suggested by this premise, Horton only spends a small amount of time dealing with imaginary characters. Most of the time he is courting a local school teacher, fishing, and reminiscing about his childhood in a backwater town. While all this does a good job of setting up Horton’s character, I wanted more time with the imagination characters. Perhaps this book should’ve been more than 191 pages long – at least 300 could contain this amount of background development and all the public domain wackiness I expected.

And the some of the references were very dated, betraying the fact that this book was published in 1970. Everyone about the Devil and anyone who reads for a hobby can probably tell you something about Don Quixote, but do you know who Snuffy Smith is? I had to Google him; turned out he was comic strip character from the early twentieth century, a moonshiner. I guess some of these characters being forgotten by later generations was inevitable, so you can’t really hold it against Simak.

I like what he did with the Devil. Simak’s Devil certainly isn’t a nice guy, but he’s reasonable and he tends to have a point. There’s been funny depictions of the Devil going way back to medieval times, but Simak’s version seemed like something out of a contemporary animated sitcom. I’m thinking Krampus from American Dad.

The main conflict behind the book didn’t make much sense. The imaginary characters are apparently sick of being insipid – Charlie Brown is cited on this point – and they want Horton to make people think of them doing something more interesting. But how would insipid characters know they’re banal? Wouldn’t it just be normal for them? I don’t get it at all.

Chapter ten was torn out of my copy of the book. I only paid twenty cents for it so I don’t have much to complain about, and it didn’t seriously impact on my understanding of the story. I think.

I found Out Of Their Minds an unsatisfactory read that did not fully exploit its intriguing premise. If you want to a read something that involves protagonists interacting with characters from classic fiction, I recommend Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

Blue Blue City – Peter Kelly

Blue Blue City cover

Click here to download a special edition PDF of my book Blue Blue City.

I’ll be upfront with you and confess that Blue Blue City is crap. I was inspired by deliberately incomprehensible books like Finnegan’s Wake and Codex Seraphinianus, as well as intimidatingly obscure texts like The Voynich Manuscript and Oahspe, to create a novel-length stream of gibberish using a series of top secret collage techniques known only to myself. The project was a success, but I cannot imagine a situation in which I can make a novel-length stream of gibberish profitable.

This special edition is the result of my attempts to teach myself desktop publishing using a trial version of Adobe InDesign. So far I’ve figured out how to automate text flow within text boxes, how to use master pages to place page numbers and my name on every page, among other things. If I get the time and if my computer doesn’t die, I want to learn how to organise chapter headings and a table of contents, but I think I’ve got enough to come across as mildly impressive in a job interview situation. And Blue Blue City is more fun to play around with than an entire book of Lorem Ipsum.

I’ll loudly acknowledge that the cover is pretty mediocre. I was more focused on the placing and the colouring of the letters than what was going on in the background, which I just needed to be dark. Manipulating pictures in InDesign is a pretty tricky business, although less aggravating than in Word. And it’s difficult to think of an image that adequately conveys the gist of Blue Blue City. You need something blue, chaotic, and alien. The night sky is has at least two of those three.

I have three dreams for this project. The first is a small print run, presumably after I’ve won the lottery and have money to lose on idiotic ventures. The second is to bring a copy of the book back through time to 1930s France, where I’d show it to the local surrealists who’d be so impressed with me that Andre Breton would declare me their king. The third, and least likely, dream is for the book to somehow earn me money.

For anyone still reading this post who remains on the fence as to whether Blue Blue City is worth downloading, I’ll dedicate this paragraph to being an excerpt which will hopefully persuade you either way. ‘Cone the trace sing blue fee braded, on more braded, on sing chive sing bricks. Sing heaven. Sing late sing fine by bazillion cone hero by bazillion cone cone by bazillion coneflower. By bazillion Conestoga by bazillion cone more by bazillion cone chive by bazillion cone bricks. By bazillion cone heaven. By bazillion conflate by bazillion confine by bazillion blue hero by bazillion blue cone blue blue city by bazillion bluegills by bazillion blue more by bazillion blue chive by bazillion blue bricks. By bazillion blue heaven. By bazillion blue late by bazillion blue fine by bazillion gherkin by bazillion ghettoes. By bazillion bluebush by bazillion ghettoes. By bazillion ghettoes. By bazillion breeching by bazillion goldbricks. By bazillion heavenward by bazillion cheater. By bazillion fee fine by bazillion more hero by bazillion more cone eased, on by more blue by bazillion more house by bazillion more by bazillion more chive by bazillion more bricks. By bazillion more heaven. By bazillion more late by bazillion more fine by bazillion chive hero by bazillion chive cone by bazillion chive blue by bazillion chive by bazillion chive more by bazillion chive chive by bazillion chive bricks. By bazillion chive heaven. By bazillion chive late by bazillion chive fine by bazillion bricks. Hero by bazillion brick mason!!’ And that’s just the beginning.

The main reason I’m uploading this special edition is to demonstrate my limited InDesign skills, so if anyone reading this notices that I’ve made some hideous design error, please say something in the comments! And I won’t object to any praise, either.

 

The Hundred Headless Woman – Max Ernst

458142How do you read a book without words?

With your imagination, of course.

Smug jokes aside, Max Ernst’s The Hundred Headless Woman  does have words, in the form of French and translated captions. They don’t help much. This really is a funny old graphic novel, with one picture per page, and none of them ever make any sense. Here’s an example:

immaculate conception

The might-have-been Immaculate Conception.

I think Max Ernst made this image with collage techniques. I don’t think he used scissors and glue, I think he had some kind of lightbox. That little cherub is pulling the same face Australia does whenever Tony Abbott says something. And take a squiz at the bottle, talk about your wonky perspective.

There’s some kind of demented story here, and although I cannot understand it I can detect it through the presence of recurring characters.

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Germinal, my sister, the hundred headless woman. (in the background, in the cage, the Eternal Father.

So it looks as though Morticia Addams had a wardrobe malfunction while playing with her giant doll’s head. Which is actually creepy, for once. I don’t know who this Eternal Father character is, but he shows up a few times.

eternal father

The Eternal Father, his beard laced with continuous lightning, in a subway accident.

So overall the Eternal Father isn’t someone you envy. I’m guessing he’s God, or maybe Zeus. Possibly an aged Thor.

Lop Lop

Loplop, dumb with fear and fury, finds his bird head and remains motionless for 12 days on both sides of the door.

This Loplop bloke seriously freaks me out. Someone is going to die after twelve days. Ernst refers to Loplop as the Bird Superior, but I seriously considered him to be an avatar of Nyarlthotep before the door motif made me decide that he works for Yog-Sothoth.

At the mountains of madness

Continuation

Cthuloids? I know that it’s trite to make Lovecraft references when confronted with bizarre imagery, but that octopus makes it inevitable. This picture is probably set in Antarctica.

So yeah, if you’re over eighteen and Terry Gilliam’s animations from Monty Python’s Flying Circus don’t scare you, I think you’d enjoy Max Ernst’s The Hundred Headless Woman.

Diary of a Wimpy Vampire – Tim Collins

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Nigel Mullet is a teenage vampire. He has been for almost a century. But his condition doesn’t give him stunning good looks or superpowers, and talking to girls is as difficult for him as it for any awkward teenage boy. Will he be able to win the heart of Chloe, the girl of his dreams?

If the cover hadn’t clued you in, Diary of the Wimpy Vampire is a comedy, and pretty funny one at that. Nigel Mullet’s earnestly self-pitying narration brings to mind the pathetic hippy Neil from The Young Ones. Much of the book’s humour relies on the fact that sucking blood is like sex for Nigel Mullet. An example of this is his extreme irritation at his mother entering his bedroom while he stares at a picture of the human heart. His fangs also come out whenever he is aroused by the thought of blood. Other sources of comedy are Nigel Mullet’s angry reactions to the vampire stereotypes he sees on television, and his poetry is so terrible that it would put Cairo Jim to shame. My favourite was The Hunter on Page 24.

At first glance, the most noticeable thing about Diary of a Wimpy Vampire is its somewhat unconventional page design. Under all the writing there are faint horizontal lines, like in an exercise book, and there are also pen illustrations drawn by Andrew Pinder. I don’t know if we’re meant to think that Nigel Mullet drew these pictures into his diary, but either way they nicely provide some excellent characterisation. This book draws heavily from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I’ve never actually read, but the page design is good even if it is derivative.

The thing that bothered me the most about Diary of a Wimpy Vampire was the bit where Nigel Mullet listed the way in which his experience of vampirism differed from its popular media portrayals. Every single vampire in literature seems to do this sooner or later, expositing to the reader whether or not they can go outdoors during daytime, turn into a bat, and eat garlic before calling Dracula silly. While I appreciate that authors need the freedom to tweak the rules in order to tell an effective story, I think that by now most readers are familiar enough with vampires that they can be shown which particular rules apply, not explicitly told. But seeing how overtly expository vampires are a problem in the entire vampire genre, it’s unfair to hold it against this particular book.

I also caught two typos, and I’ll demonstrate how uncharmingly pendantic I can be by describing them. The book’s back cover contains an excerpt that refers to the object of Nigel Mullet’s affection as Della, while within the book the same scene plays out with Chloe. The second was a page break inside the word ‘I’ll’, which I guess is excusable seeing how it’s meant to be teenager’s diary. Neither typo significantly disrupted my reading experience, so I’m really just mentioning them to show that I’m a perceptive reviewer.

Diary of a Wimpy Vampire is a perfect book for lovers of Twilight who have a sense of humour, horror fans who are sick of vampires and kids who love Halloween. For some reason, I’m convinced that this would be the perfect book for anyone who is too sick to go to school today. This a great little novel for readers of all ages.

Flight 714 – Herge

Flight_714_Just as Tintin and his friends are about to board a Qantas plane to at an Indonesian airport, Captain Haddock inadvertently befriends an irascible and corrupt millionaire. They choose instead to ride his private jet, which is hijacked by the minions of one of Tintin’s old enemies and crash-landed on a small island near Macassar. Extra-terrestrial help, of the Chariots Of The Gods school, proves necessary.

The aliens felt like a cop-out and I didn’t find the jokes made at the expense of Professor Calculus’ deafness amusing. Captain Haddock was a relatable character as always, but Tintin remains a frustrating enigma.

You might ask why I’m reading all these Tintin books if I’ve never really connected to the franchise. Recently I’ve gained access to an almost complete collection of the series, so I’ve been choosing random volumes to get a taste for the thing. I can see why people love the detail and clever plots of this series, but it just isn’t my cup of tea.