Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Crooked Little Vein

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (2007, William Morrow & Company)

For those not familiar with the man, Warren Ellis is the creator of reknown graphic novel series Transmetropolitan, Planetary, and The Authority, among others. While he has published a couple of non-fiction works in addition to his sizable writing credits in the graphic novel world, Crooked Little Vein is his first fiction novel— and what a debut it is!

Imagine, if you will, that some shadowy government organizarion has created a child spliced from the DNA of William Gibson and Chuck Palahniuk. Now imagine that this child has been raised on nothing but Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, Japanese monster movies, and internet porn. Continue to imagine that shortly after this child has come to late adulthood in a post 9-11 climate, he has been taken to a remote one-room shack containing a table, a chair, and a typewriter, illuminated only by a bare 60-Watt lightbulb. He is promptly injected with a solution of Red Bull cut with the ashes of Hunter S. Thompson and told to write a novel capturing the current American zeitgeist. That imaginary novel would only begin to approach the sheer strangeness of Crooked Little Vein.

Down-and-out private eye Mike McGill has always had strange and horrible luck. With a little more than three dollars in his bank account, Mike is given a job he can't refuse: retrieve a magic book written by the Founding Fathers— a backup Constitution and mystical reset switch for "American" values. As he pursues the elusive text, Mike's bizarre luck never lets him have a moment's peace. From movie-night with a group of Godzilla bukakke fetishists, to his new polyamorous tattooed goth-punk assistant/ love interest, to strangely illuminating conversations with serial killers on airplanes, Crooked Little Vein will hurtle you through the deviant underbelly of America and confront you with practices so offensive that you never even though to want to be disgusted by them.

Though Ellis makes Palahniuk look like Barney, his severely twisted prose is more than just pure shock, it is undercut by a feverishly strong intellect. Crooked Little Vein poses societal questions on par with such great names as Orwell and Huxley, while truly leaving the reader to draw their own meaning from the story.

Readers should be warned, though, that this is not a story for everyone. If you are easily offended or "grossed-out," you would probably do best to move on. If, however, you have a twisted sense of humor and a proclivity for the bizarre, you don't want to miss out on what will hopefully be the first in a long line of novels from Ellis.

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Author's Website

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Midnight Side

The Midnight Side by Natasha Mostert (2001, HarperCollins Publishers)

Mostert's fourth novel, Season of the Witch, holds the honor of being the first review, as well as the catalyst, for Libram X. The Mignight Side was her debut novel, and illustrates that her work started off strong and only got stronger.

The Mignight Side is the story of Isa de Witt, a South African architect who receives a cryptic phone call late one night from her cousin Alette, who currently resides in London. Not long after, Isa is contacted by an attorney who informs her that Alette was killed in an automobile accident. The only problem is that Alette was dead when she called Isa. Thus, Isa travels to London to attend to her cousin's estate, and the three mysterious envelopes left to her, and is pulled into a world mystery, lust, and revenge from beyond the grave.

Like Season of the Witch, The Midnight Side is a tale of obsession, and uses many similar themes of duality, reflection, and balance, all topped off with a supernatural twist. The novel, however, stands on its own, blending the stock market, patent law, lucid dreaming and post-mortem communication into a masterful tale of suspense. The Midnight Side is at once wonderfully tense, psychologically horrifying, and obsessively romantic, and is full of excellent plot twists.

A few bits of ungainly dialogue and occasional repetition creep in here and there, but readers of her later works can see how strong her brilliance was even in her debut. The Midnight Side is a definite must for those who love a good supernatural suspense.

Rating: 4 Stars

Author's Website

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Soon I Will Be Invincible

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman (2007, Pantheon Books)

Superheroes are a big industry these days, what with the multi-million dollar box office blockbuster franchises from both Marvel, DC Comics, and plenty of smaller-press companies. Not to be outdone, video game designer Austin Grossman pens Soon I Will Be Invinvible, a unique yet eerily familiar novel about superpowered heroes and villains.

The story alternates between the point of view of incarcerated supervillain Doctor Impossible and amnesiac cyborg superhero Fatale. CoreFire, the world's most popular hero, has disappeared and the remaining members of his now defunct superteam, the Champions, set aside their differences and reform the team to solve the mystery. Fatale is recruited for the new team along with other newcomers, including the enigmatic figure of Lily— a former villain herself, and known associate of Doctor Impossible. Meanwhile, Impossible himself escapes from prison to put his latest and most diabolical plan for world domination into effect.

Grossman knows his comics lore, and Soon I Will Be Invincible is thickly layered with familiar comic book plot and character archtypes. He does an admirable job of balancing these traditional archtypes with a bit of realism that makes his heroes and villains much more than just two-dimensional personas. The whole falls somewhere between classic Golden-/ Silver-age comics and more "realistic" popular sources like Alan Moore's Watchmen and the fledgling NBC hit Heroes.

While the story does suffer from the occasional lapse of logic (even comic book logic) and confusing prose, it is a commendable first work. Throw on some tights and a cape, lock yourself away in your own Fortress of Solitude and give Soon I Will Be Invincible a read.

Rating: 3 Stars

Author's Website