Tuesday, 30 April 2019

My Amazing Adventures with the Sex Pistols

Dave Goodman My Amazing Adventures with the Sex Pistols (2006)
As may be obvious from the title, this is written in a conversational tone by someone for whom writing books doesn't come naturally, so it reads a little like a footballer's autobiography - no actual descriptions of how I opened the door and who should be stood there but my famous friend, Joe Pasquale, but we're skating pretty close; and yet in spite of this, Goodman's book threatens to be the best thing ever written about the Pistols for most of its page count - keeping in mind that I'm yet to read Steve Jones' Lonely Boy, and it's been at least a decade since I read anything by Rotten or the Vermorels. Dave Goodman was the Pistols' sound engineer, arguably their first producer, and a staple of their entourage in the early days. Amazing Adventures therefore differs from a great many of the other books - fixated as they seem to be with pound shop Situationism and layers of irony attributed to something which was actually pretty straightforward - in being an account of gigging with the Pistols before anyone had heard of them, back when it was still fun. As such, it dispels most of the mythology, not least the one about them being unable to play, and constitutes an amiable, even heart warming ramble through a much misrepresented period of rock history and even MacLaren comes out of it quite well.

If you've been in a band of even vaguely punky disposition, and if you've recorded in a London studio, you will almost certainly recognise Dave Goodman as one of an archetype. I've known at least two Daves, former hippies more through a love of booze and space fags than ideology, always a bit older than anyone in the band, working class and very, very funny. In my limited experience, the best thing about going into the studio is usually the engineer.

All the same, this isn't to say the engineer should necessarily consider writing his memoirs, hilarious though those tales may be. Goodman comes across as a likeable bloke, but one with a slightly inflated understanding of his own importance, and clearly one who has gone beyond the veil when it comes to the consumption of recreational substances - gone beyond the veil and decided to live there judging by the final ten or so pages. Somewhere near the end we begin a page with something or other about the legal arguments surrounding The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, then finish the next one reading about Tony Blair and George W. Bush conspiring to suppress the release of Dave's Wedding Day single, fearing that the knowledge it reveals will bring western capitalism crashing down around their ears - just as soon as the kids hear the song and decide they've had enough. Wedding Day is described as Anarchy in the UK re-recorded with new lyrics written by Goodman. I had a look on Discogs, but they don't seem to have any copies, or even to acknowledge its ever having existed. It's a shame the book ends as it does, but is probably consistent with this being the same guy who made those pointless Ex Pistols records.

So I went from recognising the type from studio engineers I've known, to feeling as though I've actually been in a band with this guy, which is a bit tiresome given a couple of the nutcases for whom I've squozen an accordion over the years.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Sea of Love

Simon Morris Sea of Love (2019)
As lead singer of the Ceramic Hobs, I'm very happy to report that adventures and escapades are part of my daily routine, and I just had to write and tell your readers what happened to me the other day. We had just played a pop concert, and I was heading to the dressing room in happy anticipation of the usual entourage of leggy lovelies who follow us up and down the country. I opened the door, and imagine my surprise when…


I'm joking, although I suppose that's how it will read to someone, somewhere. Whilst repeating certain themes - not least being the shagging - Sea of Love marks the continuing development of Simon Morris's writing. I wouldn't say there's necessarily more structure here, but the flow is more organic, more confident, and with less of the weird sticky out bits. He's always had plenty to say and he's getting better at saying it with each new title, to the point that this one approaches mainstream writing, although keeping in mind here that by mainstream I'm not really talking Da Vinci Code. We still have the incongruous listing of product as a springboard for memory, but at a reduced level of focus. My understanding of the work of Guns N' Roses was increased quite considerably by Civil War, whereas I'm still pretty much in the dark about the novels of James Herbert after reading this, which I mention so as to indicate shifting emphasis rather than as a criticism.

Sea of Love deals with relationships and is, again, loosely autobiographical. Vaguely knowing Simon, I think I know a few of the names tactfully omitted, although the knowledge doesn't make much difference to my understanding, such as it is, because this isn't Confessions of a Ceramic Hob.

My guess, or at least what I take from this book, is that it's about memory. The novels of James Herbert spark memories of youth and, by association, formative sexual fumblings, the sort of details which still blaze in the memory for having been recorded in such primary colours; and the history is echoed in the present day to the point of the past and present becoming the same thing, sort of. Once beyond a certain age, our early years come to resemble a foreign country and so require a more intense form of scrutiny through having sunk below the background noise of daily existence; and in being subjected to a much harder form of recall, they inhabit the present.

At least that's what I think is happening here, along with Morris's efforts to make something useful from the process.

Some children, maybe not all of us but many, do experience very strong and intense sexual feelings during childhood and one thing I cannot stand is any interference in this from adults. It is for children of a roughly similar age only. Attempted interference with it by generation after generation of bullying adult puritans on one side and the fucking paedophiles on the other. If we can even remember it properly it's almost impossible to talk about rationally. The memories come back and we push them away. 'My dreams are low and sick and must be addressed: they're a young girl's dreams.'

Despite elements which might preclude Sea of Love from publication as an extended letter to Fiesta, never mind anything with a gentle pink cover, the tone of the book is profoundly compassionate, much as it is with a good few of the other Amphetamine Sulphate books; which is something I'm not sure anyone could have predicted this time two or three years ago. This imprint has transcended the horror and novelty we might have anticipated and is becoming something quite vital, and something which at least suggests the history of literature is far from over; and Simon Morris's books - admittedly possibly by virtue of numbers as much as anything - seem to exemplify this most. His progression has been such that I can hardly wait to see where he ends up next.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Fantasy & Science Fiction 345

Edward L. Ferman (editor) Fantasy & Science Fiction 345 (1980)
Freed from the tyranny of the to be read pile, I find myself at liberty to scour my shelves for anything which escaped the net first time around, titles I may have owned for a while without actually noticing my failure to have read them. This is one of a dozen or so issues of the digest magazines - a category also including issues of Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Amazing Stories - mostly excavated from the crappiest of thrift stores out of a sense of pity in the belief that, being magazines rather than books in the normal sense, their existence is on a more ephemeral footing, thus requiring that I rescue them. Of course, being arguably more ephemeral than your regular book store novels, such magazines seem to present an elevated possibility of weird obsurities by persons who only had one decent story in them, or whose work never made it into an anthology. On occasion I've bought these magazines from news stands as they were published - mainly just for the sake of poking a thermometer up science fiction's bottom in order to assess its health at time of purchase - but I've never been a regular subscriber, because I've always had too much waiting to be read as it is without asking for extra homework.

Anyway, here we are. In February 1980, I was a regular reader of the Star Wars and Doctor Who comics, plus 2000AD, and Tornado; I bought Sham 69's Hersham Boys album and was thinking about buying Never Mind the Bollocks; and I received a Valentine's Day card from the girl I fancied at school, which turned out to have been sent by her friends in jest, prompting me towards a period of bitter introspection. Fantasy & Science Fiction was a long, long way off my radar.

This is probably the most underwhelming issue of the magazine I've encountered, although to be fair, it has been a nevertheless pleasurable delve even if the rewards aren't what I had hoped they might be. Most of the book is taken up with the final quarter of Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle, published in instalments for some reason, which is readable but dull as fuck. I've read Silverberg before, and if not consistently amazing, he wrote well when it suited him. Lord Valentine's Castle is possibly symptomatic of the late seventies upsurge in fantasy fiction, the stuff against which Gibson's Neuromancer was supposedly a reaction just as the Damned had been a reaction against Pink Floyd, should you subscribe to that reductionist and not entirely workable theory. To me it reads like Silverberg going to see Star Wars, noticing the success of Frank Herbert's Dune, then deciding he wants in on the action.

Unfortunately I am no more able to read fantasy than I am able to attend renaissance fairs dressed as a fucking minstrel. As soon as I read a sentence suffixed with my Lord, my brain shuts itself down. For this reason I managed only three pages of Tanith Lee's Cyrion in Bronze - also in the issue - then gave up. I made it through Silverberg's contribution, but without much enthusiasm. I have a theory that fantasy is mostly written by and for dunces. They lack the skill to describe the existing world with any sort of insight, and, lacking imagination, are only able to compose using a well established cast of characters and ideas already found within the public domain - elves, wizards, castles, magic by which plot can be moved forward without the need of complicated explanation, vampires, imps, plucky young farmhands, and so on and so forth. Successful fantasy, what little of it there may be, is either exceptionally well written or else does something unexpected with its staples - which I suppose leaves us with Simak, Tolkien, Clark Ashton Smith, and maybe a couple of others. Lord Valentine's Castle, like much of the genre, may as well be a novelisation of the drama imagined by small boys playing with action figures, my Lord.

Jack Massa's The Daydream Enhancer and Robert Grossbach's All Things Come to Those Who Weight are okay, at least short and sweet; and Fud Smee by Connor Cochran - writing as Freff - is mostly great but for an underwhelming conclusion. Cochran is better known as an illustrator, but Fud Smee seems like the best thing in here by some way, so it's a shame he didn't write more, or at least have more published.

Actually, the best thing in here is probably Asimov's The Finger of God, an essay on why Hitler lost and why the US bombed Japan even though the war was pretty much over. Asimov's writing is well suited to this sort of analysis, and this essay capably illustrates why he enjoyed such a stellar reputation. I only wish I liked his science fiction novels as much beyond the one or two which were exceptional.

The rest of the magazine comprises reviews, notably by Joanna Russ who made her name with The Female Man, which I still haven't read. Her reviews are insightful if a little dense, and she clearly had no fear of naming names when some beloved science fiction sacred cow curled off a stinker, doubtless accounting for the small ad in the rear of the magazine campaigning for her removal from its pages. I expect she opined something harsh but fair about Heinlein. That said, her better reviews don't inspire me to rush out and buy anything any more than Baird Searles' amusingly withering review of Nicholas Meyer's Time After Time has me looking for the DVD on Amazon.

I've read better issues of this magazine, but this was still interesting and has left me well disposed towards Joanna Russ on the grounds that she was probably doing something right in annoying the mysterious TDC of Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Fantastic Four: 1234

Grant Morrison & Jae Lee Fantastic Four: 1234 (2002)
This is pretty much Morrison doing a Dark Knight on the Fantastic Four, safistacated storytelling, inner demons, lots of rain and lightning, familiar superheroes as mysterious, mythic, even Godlike, and I guess it does it very well in so much as that I didn't not enjoy it. Yet at the same time, it reminds me of all those other things Morrison wrote that I can't be bothered to think about, Batman and Green Lantern and the rest - elegant, efficient, beautifully crafted, but…

I'm presently buying back a whole shitload of American comics I bought in the eighties then got rid of in the nineties, five or six a week from an online shop seeing as they're inexplicably still pretty cheap for the most part, and generally seem to have stood the test of time - keeping in mind that they weren't pretending to be anything other than kid's comics. One of those I've not yet read is an old Fantastic Four annual which I picked up mainly because it ties in with the Days of Future Present story which ran though a couple of the X-Men books. I had a quick look at the thing when it came in the mail: the Fantastic Four are back from some previous adventure to discover the Baxter Building mysteriously transformed, and this isn't even a Fantastic Four with which I am familiar because the line-up includes the She-Hulk, a female version of the Thing, and Ben Grimm back in human form. I'm sure it will prove to be be ludicrous, brightly coloured, and with far too many thought bubbles and villains announcing what they plan to do, but even now I'm more intrigued to find out what goes on in that story and why the Thing has tits than I was by anything in 1234. Back when I was a full-time Marvel zombie, I recall Grant Morrison getting misty-eyed over the weirdness of comics in the sixties, notably that one where the Flash spends an entire issue of his own book as a paving slab; and in comic book terms, 1234 leaves me longing for the weirdness, not to mention all the stupid, colourful fun, of the late eighties.

It's not a bad book, but - well, you know…

Wednesday, 17 April 2019


Arthur C. Clarke Earthlight (1955)
I hadn't really planned on reading any more Arthurs, but there I was in Half Price, and - for the first time in many years - without a to be read pile higher than the Empire State waiting for me back home, and thence did my eye come to rest upon a triumvirate of Arthurs, and the other two had great covers; and thusly didst I then recall the pleasure taken in previous Arthurs I had read many years ago, specifically taken in the economy of his prose, cool and clear as spring water lending an unexpected frisson of novelty to subjects which might be deemed a little dry under other circumstances.

I'm not sure why I've written that first paragraph in Marvel Shakespearean, but the point is that I've bought some more Arthur C. Clarke, of which this is the first. Naturally it's hard science-fiction - as the genre has come to be known - meaning speculation based upon scientific principles which are already fairly well understood, and nothing straying too deeply into the realms of aliens, time travel, hyperdrive, or anything too severely hypothetical. That said, our tale is set upon the moon, with colonies established on both Mars and Venus, Earthlight having been written before data from the Mariner or Venera space probes somewhat dispelled the possibility of the latter.

Earthlight is mostly speculation pinned on some story about a dispute between the Earth and moon which loosely alludes to the European colonisation of the Americas and the subsequent declaration of independence. The characters aren't very interesting because it's basically a novel about nerds, squares, Poindexters, and Brainiacs living on the moon with war breaking out because someone returned someone else's compass late and had quite clearly been using it to play darts, or summink. In fact, the central third of the novel is almost entirely unreadable, being mostly nerds, squares, Poindexters, and Brainiacs discussing vectors. Thankfully, Clarke really comes into his own when describing a weird and unfamiliar environment, such as are the lunar surface and outer space itself, so the first and final third of the novel are surprisingly gripping, even evocative for something so otherwise dry; seemingly suggesting the possibility of Earthlight being Clarke's attempt to transpose E.E. 'Doc' Smith style space opera into a working universe of known science; and certainly it foreshadows Stephen Baxter more than almost anything else I've read. Some twit on Goodreads described it as appallingly sexist due to the complete absence of female characters, but it seems a bit of a redundant observation, all things considered, and this would be a generally amazing book were it not for the big chunk of espionage landfill clogging up the central section.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Happy Days

Jason Williamson Happy Days (2018)
Gave up after fifty pages without so much as a sniff of the Fonz...
Possibly in the way of a joke which gets better with each telling, Happy Days inhabits the same territory as Williamson's previous, substantially slimmer collection, but is somehow more convincing, more satisfying - if that's quite the right term. Where Slabs from Paradise was a short and sour belch in the reader's face, but probably in a good way, this one settles in and builds up enough momentum to say something beyond what may initially have seemed like an improbably harrowing version of Tom Sharpe. It's rich in the sort of working class detail that I'm not sure anyone else is bothering to record at the moment, and so much so that I felt as though I'd lived in a couple of these stories, albeit without the cocaine and swingers; and Happy Days goes further, becoming more than just a smellier Mike Leigh, as we see in Dolled Up wherein grown men take to transvestitism specifically for the purpose of getting into fights with dangerous shitheads. I expect Garth Ennis tried something similar at some point, and it would have been rubbish, whereas this is actually weird and amazing.

Naturally, it feels a little like reading Williamson's stream of consciousness from a Sleaford Mods record, but it's nevertheless impressive how well all that bile translates from that medium to this one, still side-splitting, yet still appalling.

Martin and Zanna start fucking as Dolly looks on and tries to remember all the things he thought he would be feeling when he finally got to do this but the fantasy's edge doesn't materialise. The house stinks, the carpet stinks, the sofa stinks and most who are in attendance look way past their best years, with Zanna being the exception.

It seems the title, Happy Days accompanying an image of a graveyard, isn't quite so ironic as it might have seemed at first. These are tales of it being as good as it gets under predictably dire circumstances - Liveable Shit, as the song goes; and somehow the tone is ultimately uptempo, which should be impossible given the details of all that goes on here. I am seriously impressed with this one.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes

Neil Gaiman etc. Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (1989)
I was quite excited by Gaiman's Sandman when it first appeared, and not least because of Dave McKean's covers which I regarded as amazing. I said as much to Charlie Adlard seeing as he was sort of my comics advisor at the time, and was a little surprised when he made sniffy noises. His objection, as I understood it, was that McKean's work failed to live up to the hype for a number of reasons, and I realised that he was right, much as it pained me to admit it. McKean's art is necessarily impressionistic because his drawing ability is fairly limited. He's good with lighting, which compensates for a multitude of sins; and he tends to favour certain colour combinations which create a striking effect regardless of what one does with them. It's mostly shorthand and distraction, but no-one notices because they're too busy boggling at electrical components and scraps of underwear stapled to the page. Bill Sienkiewicz did it first and did it better, but Bill Sienkiewicz really can draw and his visual experiments are conducted through choice rather than necessity. Of course, McKean's work isn't bad by any means, although it's certainly not wildly original. He has a wonderful sense of design, but as such has more in common with Vaughan Oliver than the aforementioned Sienkiewicz.

Anyway, I kept on buying Sandman, month after month, even past the point at which I was buying it in the hope of it eventually getting better again, which it didn't. Then in 2009 I flogged the lot, having decided I'd rather have the money, although I always remembered those early issues as having been something good.

So here we are again, and yes, I still enjoy those first issues, but not so much as was once the case. I've read too much Gaiman to ever get myself back to factory settings. He pushes buttons in the same way that Dave McKean pushes buttons so as to distract from the inherent weaknesses of the structure, which is probably why those covers seem such a good fit. He's doing an Alan Moore in the same way that McKean was doing a Bill Sienkiewicz. To be fair, he does more than just push characters through some Alan Moore algorithm, and he writes dialogue beautifully - at least some of it - but everywhere else, all I see are tricks, shortcuts, and sleight of hand distracting from what feels as much like recycled material as anything by J.K. Rowling. The mood suggests something specifically written with fans of the Cure in mind, all cobwebs and bits of antique jewellery; and allusions to literature come and go as props, like a James Joyce held open at no particular page for minute after minute as you wait for a certain someone to come through the door and be duly impressed; and then every once in a while, it pushes the weird horror button just to keep us on our toes

Somewhere in Basildon a maniac with a bacon slicer has made ice cream out of his own arse. He's serving it to little kids.

Shocked, aren't you?

Narrative works by pushing buttons, but it really shouldn't be quite so obvious if it's done right. Even just the fucking title, Preludes & Nocturnes…



Additionally, the art isn't overly great either, and the one thing in Sandman's favour is that it is at least consistent for the run of these first eight issues. It may have been drawn as an expressionist homage to those same horror comics which eventually led to the likes of Swamp Thing - and most of this story rummages around in Alan Moore's version of the Swamp Thing mythology, seeing as I didn't already mention that - but to me it looks like, at best, a promising eighties fanzine, everyone with massive wonky heads like Thunderbirds puppets, and facial expressions last seen drawn in biro on the back of a school exercise book amongst the logos of late seventies heavy metal bands.

Having said all that, I still enjoyed this one, and almost as much as I probably enjoyed it back in 1989, but I enjoyed it as an efficient impersonation. It's good, but if Sandman changed your life, that says more about your life than it does about the power of Gaiman's writing. Preludes & Nocturnes, my arse...

Monday, 8 April 2019

Second Person

Gabi Losoncy Second Person (2017)
Gabi Losoncy was one of the names with which I was not familiar from that first splurge of Amphetamine Sulphate titles, hence my only just getting hold of Second Person now, having figured I may as well bag the lot given the standard which has been established. It's a bit of an oddity even as an Amphetamine Sulphate book, novella, chapbook, whatever you want to call it - one of those monologues habitually labelled intensely personal when we're not quite sure what else we can say, but actually quite broad in its aim in so much as that Losoncy seems to be addressing each and every one of us individually in hope of establishing the sort of relationship which might almost categorise Second Person as self-help literature. At least that's the first thing that came to mind.

Losoncy is also, broadly speaking, an artist working in sound, performance, or somewhere in between, so I gather, although I'm unfamiliar with her work, of which Second Person seems to be both an account and an instalment. The text is precise, but unusually dense, written in long, long digressive sentences packed tight with information. Read at normal speed one experiences information overload whilst accumulating an impression of understanding; so it works, for me, a little like A.E. van Vogt of all people, although coming from the opposite direction - a rush of information rather than too little or deliberately vague. If possibly not absolutely essential, there is nevertheless something to be gained from a slower, more measured reading, thus reducing the manic word salad to more easily digestible details. Whether read as a literary waterboarding or as introspective analysis at the lesser velocity, meaning is transmitted, and transmitted in sufficient quantity as to make it worth reading, even if I wasn't always clear on the import of what I had just read; which, oddly, also reminded me of trying to read A Brief History of Time; and while a cynic might equate the above analysis to I didn't understand a fucking word but I should probably say something nice innit, I would refute this by pointing out that not once did I find myself bored, or inclined to skip to the end in search of an explanation. So yes, I found the narrative so intense as to render it quite difficult to translate in a literal sense, but it was obviously doing something which I liked very much.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Trespasser

D.H. Lawrence The Trespasser (1912)
This was Lawrence's second novel, and the one with the reputation of being his worst, seemingly on the grounds of nothing much happening in physical terms and of being derived from Helen Corke's diary rather than Lawrence's direct experience. Helen Corke was a colleague with whom Lawrence worked as a school teacher in Croydon, and I gather our boy would have quite liked to have had sexual intercourse with her, but it wasn't to be; so doubtless some frustration informs this novel, or - more worrying still - it may even have been Dave trying to show that he really, really, really understood - not that any of this necessarily works to the detriment of the novel in my view. Helen had been having an affair with a married music teacher. They went off to the Isle of Wight together for an extended naughty weekend, following which the gentleman topped himself immediately following his resumption of married life. Corke recorded this much in her diary, and then Lawrence worked his magic, expanding and embellishing.

The most obvious flaw of The Trespasser is that not much happens for a long time, it being primarily focussed on Helena and Siegmund's stay on the Isle of Wight, which mostly gushes with emotion seasoned by the awareness that the two of them are not particularly well matched, and that their time together is limited. In other words, it isn't anything which is likely to survive in the real world. This section, which dominates the book, drags a little in places, but on the other hand, it's not a particularly long book so the repetition doesn't really have space in which to become a nuisance; and the language is meanwhile nevertheless engaging, giving rich and poetic description of nature, the island, and love with particular emphasis on flowers as a recurring motif. There's almost certainly some shagging going on in here, but the language is of such florid composition that it's difficult to tell, which is probably for the best as it would doubtless disrupt the flow, which seems stylistically rooted in Symbolist literature, or at very least definitively belongs to that era.

As he leaned on the Embankment parapet the wonder did not fade, but rather increased. The trams, one after another, floated loftily over the bridge. They went like great burning bees in an endless file into a hive, past those which were drifting dreamily out, while below, on the black, distended water, golden serpents flashed and twisted to and fro.

Ignoring frequent references to Wagner - which were apparently quite trendy at the time, much as are references to the Smiths these days - Lawrence's primary theme here is his fixation with nature as an ideal, something from which we should not stray too far. It underscores the entire narrative, expressed in recurrent references to flowers, the lunar cycle by which we are notionally bound to nature, and quite a lot of sheep. The lovers watch Isle of Wight farmers dipping their flock, inspiring this conversation, for one example:

'In an instant it makes me wish I were a farmer,' he laughed. 'I think every man has a passion for farming at the bottom of his blood. It would be fine to be plain-minded, to see no farther than the end of one's nose, and to own cattle and land.'

'Would it?' asked Helena sceptically.

'If I had a red face and went to sleep as soon as I sat comfortable, I should love it,' he said.

'It amuses me to hear you long to be stupid,' she replied.

'To have a simple, slow-moving mind and an active life is the desideratum.'

'Is it?' she asked ironically.

'I would give anything to be like that,' he said.

'That is, not to be yourself,' she said pointedly.

He laughed without much heartiness.

He laughs because he knows he's fucked, hence the dearth of heartiness, perhaps even because he knows that his aspirations aren't fooling anyone, least of all himself. He returns to London, to marital misery, and hangs himself; and as seems to be the general consensus, this last part of the story is where the novel really finds its feet, possibly due to Lawrence being obliged to imagine that which Helen Corke could not have known. Siegmund's marriage really doesn't seem particularly terrible - which is nice given the frequency with which Lawrence is accused of misogyny - so the inertia which Siegmund finds so loveless and so difficult to endure is down to him rather than the long-suffering Beatrice. He is a trespasser in his own existence.

'Don't look at the moon, Miss MacNair, it's all rind,' said Mr Allport in melancholy mockery. 'Somebody's bitten all the meat out of our slice of moon, and left us nothing but peel.'

'It certainly does look like a piece of melon-shell - one portion,' replied Vera.

'Never mind, Miss MacNair,' he said. 'Whoever got the slice found it raw, I think.'

I don't know if The Trespasser is really his worst novel, but if so, then I can think of plenty of writers whose work I might enjoy more were they able to write something as bad as this. It's no masterpiece for sure, but its brevity is its salvation.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Peculiar Lives

Philip Purser-Hallard Peculiar Lives (2003)
At the risk of repeating myself, I sometimes find it quite difficult to maintain warm, fuzzy thoughts about Doctor Who fandom, which is awkward because I used to quite enjoy Doctor Who and would like to be able to continue to do so on some level without inadvertently finding myself reminded of the toxic idiocy practised by about 85% of the shitehawks who will inevitably turn up to pitch in at the faintest whisper of its name. When I say Doctor Who, I really mean the novels, and mostly - although not exclusively - the novels published after the show was cancelled but predating its resuscitation as an advertising franchise in 2005. As with Who itself, there was something progressive about those books, an exploration of relatively new territory, an expansion of horizons, and I vaguely recall someone suggesting that the New Adventures were intended to bring new science-fiction authors to the fore. The New Adventures ceased in 1997, but their momentum was sufficient to spawn entire series of related novels with the serial numbers filed off: the Bernice Summerfield books, Time Hunter, and of course Faction Paradox. This seemed like a positive development to me because I was quite keen to read more by the people who had brought us Christmas on a Rational Planet, The Death of Art, and others; but it seems that I've been out of step, and the thing Who fans really want is more Doctor Who, or anything which we can pretend is Doctor Who - cosy adventures in time and space reminding us of teatime all those years ago, an endless string of quirky time-travelling eccentrics having scrapes and solving crimes and occasionally cracking a joke which we'll all recognise as a cheeky reference to something which happened in episode three of The Dalek Masterplan.

Tee hee.

Did anyone here buy the adventures of the time-travelling police station? Me neither. It was like Dixon of Dock Green from when we were kids, and the building itself jumped backwards and forwards in time, and it was populated by these really barmy characters, yeah?

I have nothing specific against pulp adventures, or cliches, or corporate entertainment, or even things which - God help us - aspire to corporate entertainment, and it doesn't all have to be Crime and Punishment - which is handy because I find Dostoyevsky unreadable; but I despair at how few of those surfing this tsunami of increasingly repetitive time travel thrills and spills aspire to anything greater, and how the few who do tend to get lost amongst the many who just want to see what would happen if something a bit like the Daleks encountered something a bit like the Ice Warriors.

Time Hunter was born from a Doctor Who novella called The Cabinet of Light, written by Daniel O'Mahony and published by Telos Books. When the BBC reeled in all of its most lucrative licences, Telos elected to continue their series of novellas with the lead transferred to that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as Honoré Lechasseur. I've read both The Cabinet of Light and now this one, and I still don't really understand what the deal is, why the title identifies him as a Time Hunter, or why I should care; but it doesn't matter because Telos always seemed to favour authors with some genuine ability to write, as opposed to simply publishing anything by anyone who liked Doctor Who a very, very lot.

Nothing if not ambitious, Philip Purser-Hallard's second novel takes on the eugenic elephant in the historical room of twentieth century science-fiction, daring - where many have preferred to mumble something about people being of their time before wandering off to see whether Neil Gaiman is still signing stuff - to draw attention to certain themes common to all those futuristic Gernsbackian supermen, and the Third Reich; and in a display of prowess bordering on the ostentatious, he writes it as a sort of sequel to Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, and writes it in a pitch perfect homage to Stapledon's style, and the bad guy is George Bernard Shaw in a false beard. So there's a lot which could have gone horribly wrong, particularly given the subject, and yet the narrative is all nuance, not one slogan or generalisation, and a beautifully rendered and atmospheric period piece.

Practically speaking, the story falls somewhere between Wyndham's Chrysalids and Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human and, as befits both the subject and the genre, is mostly a discussion of morality, transcendence - a theme which runs through much of the author's other works - and how these relate to evolution and the mythology of the same. For the purposes of the reader who just really, really, really, really needs someone to have an adventure in time and space just like on the telly, this kind of leaves Honoré Lechasseur without anything much to do, arguably sidelined in his own novel, but with this being due to the novel's great success at doing what it sets out to do, no-one with a brain could reasonably object.

Even now, with Purser-Hallard's Devices trilogy on shelves in actual high street book stores, he seemingly remains a best kept secret, but one day the reading public will surely catch up, and they'll go back to this one - if they can find a copy - and realise that it was obvious all along.