My Year In Books: February

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Two down, ten to go. And I don’t want to think of how many books that is. I know I’ll be struggling towards the end of the year when I was reading like a maniac. Anyway, the idea is to review all the books I read this year, and I wanted to go back to January even though I reviewed those books when they were still in my mind. I’m also going to try to put the reviews up on Amazon and Goodreads (well, I’m putting an emphasis on the bizarro books, because they’re the ones that benefit most from the reviews). I’m changing them slightly so that they make more sense as stand alone reviews, and censoring the reviews I put up on Amazon, because apparently I’m not allowed to say “Zombies and Shit” whilst reviewing a book called “Zombies and Shit”, or “Night of the Assholes” whilst reviewing “Night of the Assholes”. I got most of them up, I just need to censor Night of the Assholes a bit more before they’ll accept it. Those bastards. Anyway, I only got around to reviewing the first couple of books from this month before I kind of got real slack with my reviewing and put more energy into stuff like reading and, um, studying, and writing, and shit. It’ll be good to get around to reviewing stuff I haven’t reviewed yet. There’s a lot of great stuff here I’ve been itching to talk about. I kind of want to do some real in depth reviews, but I’ve been keeping things to one paragraph, and focusing not on what happens in the book (as you can read that anywhere online), but rather, focusing on the quality and style and stuff I think is important (or because I forgot what happened, which is something that happens to me more often than I’d like to admit).

February:

13) V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore & David Lloyd.

Genre: Graphic novel, dystopian sci-fi

Length: 265 pages

This was the first proper graphic novel I read. I liked the movie and heard about the graphic novel and I saw it when I was holidaying in Melbourne and so I bought it and read it on the plane back home. Alan Moore is fantastic. I really love this story. It’s so dark and clever and pulp dystopian sci-fi and it did things I didn’t really expect from a comic book. It got right in under my skin and told a brilliant story like what I’d come to expect from a good novel. It’s completely different, but the storytelling is superb. I never really read many comics growing up. Occasionally stuff like the Simpsons Comics or Richie Rich or Donald Duck or Archie, and the stuff I used to read in Disney Adventure magazines. Kid stuff. Superheroes never really appealed to me much. This right here. If I’d known about these sorts of comics sooner I would have read a lot more by now.

14) 10 A Boot Stomping 20 A Human Face 30 Goto 10, by Jess Gulbranson.

Genre: Bizarro

Length: 151 pages

I remember when I bought this, I was holidaying in Melbourne, the same time I bought V for Vendetta, and I was wandering through all manner of quirky book and music shops. I found this one, as well as numerous other bizarro books, predominantly Eraserhead Press and Legume Man books in a shop called Polyester Books. Needless to say, I was very excited. I’d heard a little about this book beforehand, and it looked interesting, and I was probably going to buy it anyway, so I got it at the shop. It was the only thing I got from there. And I brought it home and read it, and really enjoyed it. It’s got a lot of music references, lots of weird, conspiratorial stuff going on, and I think I remember something about a group of autistic kids in some secret government building. It’s pretty crazy shit, spirals out of control, people leading the protagonist astray in order to fulfil their own crazy plans. Great sci-fi bizarro. It’s really like nothing else around.

15) American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis.

Genre: Transgressive fiction, ultraviolence

Length: 384 pages

I’d been meaning to read this book for a while. I read Less Than Zero last year and loved it. And I’ve got a couple of Bret Easton Ellis’ other books I’ll eventually get around to reading, but at least I’ve read this. I remember quite distinctly, I read a good portion of this while I was holidaying in Melbourne. I was there with a friend and we were staying at backpackers accommodation. We were mostly over there to do a bit of shopping, a bit of tourist things, really just get right into Melbourne, the city and the inner suburbs. And because we’re both bookmen (avid readers) we also spent a fair bit of time between doing things, just reading at the backpackers. Now, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Less Than Zero. I love the self-destructive youth culture of that book, where yuppie culture is much more foreign to me. But it is a fantastic book. Patrick Bateman is a brilliantly psychotically fucked up character. The attention to detail, the nonchalance with which he goes about his killings, it’s a fantastic portrayal of a culture in excess, it is so saturated that Patrick seems numb to everything around him. I’ve still got to get around to watching the movie, but at least the book lived up to my standards.

16) Neuromancer, by William Gibson.

Genre: Cyberpunk, sci-fi

Length: 317 pages

I’d been meaning to read some William Gibson/cyberpunk for a while now. A couple of years ago I had my first real foray into steampunk, and since then I’ve been in love with the aesthetics of sci-fi “-punk” genres. Up the top of my list was William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s “The Difference Engine”, one of the earliest steampunk books when steampunk was an actual thing (ie, ignoring stuff like Jules Verne and H.G. Welles, as they weren’t really part of the movement, but rather, they were just straight up sci-fi back then). Now, one thing I notice about cyberpunk from the ’80s, as opposed to the cyberpunk of now is that back then, it was total technobabble. Neuromancer is difficult to understand. It’s kind of like A Clockwork Orange in the way it uses language we’re unfamiliar with. The thing about Neuromance is that it’s uncannily close to the sort of stuff we’re seeing today. The technology and the terminology sounds both familiar and completely estranged at the same time. I loved the book while at the same time failing to understand what exactly was going on at any one time. And I find a lot of time, cyberpunk tends to be like that. Where steampunk can be less overwhelming, sometimes it’s just a pure aesthetics thing, cyberpunk has a massive scope and many, many opportunities to fuck with the mind. I love that sort of shit.

17) My Fake War, by Andersen Prunty.

Genre: Bizarro

Length: 112 pages

After my first exposure to Andersen Prunty (with Jack and Mr. Grin), I braced myself for the bizarre, psychotic horrors I’d find within this next book. I was actually fortunate enough to get this book as a bonus with my signed preorder of the Sorrow King (listed below). This book was one of the first bizarro novels one of my friends bought and read right when we came across the genre and were picking out a few titles to entertain us. I remember him telling me a bit about it and being really into it. It’s not as disturbed as Jack and Mr. Grin. It’s more bizarro, less horror, and all-out crazy about a war that doesn’t exist.

18) Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest.

Genre: Steampunk

Length: 400 pages

Here we go. Steampunk. This genre really kickstarted my writing a few years ago when I wrote the first draft of my first novel. While I mentioned earlier that cyberpunk has a massive scope, and that steampunk can sometimes just come down to aesthetics, that can come off as sounding a bit limiting to steampunk. But if handled properly, steampunk can be a wonderful, brilliant thing. Dreadnought is the third book in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, and while I’ve only read this and the first (Boneshaker), I can say, without a doubt, that Boneshaker is much better. While the world she has created is rich and fantastical, a real fresh take on alternate history narratives, the pacing of this novel is what really threw it off for me. I started reading this book around the same time as I bought Scott Westerfeld’s Steampunk novel “Behemoth” in… November 2010 I think it was. It took me a while to get through this, basically because the concept and pacing wasn’t as thrilling as Westerfeld’s Behemoth, nor Priest’s Boneshaker. The Clockwork Century is all about retelling the civil war, with a poisonous drug passing its way through the country, and strong female protagonists trying to deal with personal issues while navigating around all that’s going on in the country. In Boneshaker, the drug is all consuming, suffocating, and the characters are stylish and interesting. Dreadnought is about a nurse working on the front line who leaves her duties to go visit her dying father, and she catches a train (the Dreadnought) across country, only to find it’s carrying dangerous cargo that could change the outcome of the civil war. It’s an interesting concept, and the nurse finds herself in circumstances spiralling out of her control. It’s a decent read, but for a story about a war train, it just seened to drag too much, suspended in travelling and strung together by pieces of action meant to bring her closer to the end of her journey.

19) Doom Magnetic, by William Pauley III.

Genre: Bizarro, space western

Length: 129 pages

It’s a space western. Do I need to say any more? Well, yeah. It’s written by the demented mind that came up with the Brothers Crunk. This aint no Star Wars. This is insanity of the highest caliber. There’s a man with a cue-ball eye with the powers of the Doom Magnetic, and a man being hunted through space all the way to planet Japan. It’s ridiculously fast-paced bizarro madness, and William Pauley will be releasing the Doom Magnetic Trilogy in the near future. Get excited.

20) Hearing Voices, by Brian Andreas.

Genre: Art poetry

Length: 74 pages

This guy is really awesome. His art is like a little child’s and his poetry is a bit like that too. He does an amazing job of getting inside the psyche of the fragile human mind and pulling out something a little strange, quirky, and always enjoyable. His work is special.

21) Lights Out in Wonderland, by DBC Pierre.

Genre: Literary fiction

Length: 315 pages

This book was clearly my pick of the month. It’s probably my pick of the year, for that matter. This book is so fucking good. I love how completely it captivated me from the moment I read the first sentence and kept me captivated. It starts with Gabriel deciding to kill himself. Then he decides that he doesn’t have to do it right away. Whoosh! DBC Pierre writes so well, and works in some wonderful motifs that grow and develop throughout the book. From the point of this realisation, Gabriel goes on a journey to find out what exactly he wants to do with his life before he ends it. The existential journey takes him to Japan, and then to Germany, where he learns things about himself that he never expected. His best laid plans don’t turn out as expected, and while it’s very much a realist novel, it feels very surreal and fantastical, and the tension of Gabriel’s suicide builds throughout the book with a little more subtlety than, say, something like “John Dies in the End.” A truly captivating read, the characters are rich and fascinating, and Gabriel’s mind is a dark and beautiful thing.

22) Mostly True, by Brian Andreas.

Genre: Art poetry

Length: 74 pages

What I said about his other book can pretty much be said about this one too. More of the same style and content, good quality, entertaining, fun to read.

23) Eeeee Eee Eeee, by Tao Lin.

Genre: Literary fiction

Length: 211 pages

Ah, Tao Lin, where to begin… It’s like this: the story is just weird and it feels pretty pointless. But the point seems to be that it’s just random shit spouting off the top of his head. I mean, stuff happens in some form of order, and there’s some form of narrative going on, but it’s got sad hamsters and dolphins and bears and it’s not about this or that. It’s a social commentary type thing, I think. There’s a few boring things, a few pointless things, a few random things, and some things that make no sense at all. But it’s amusing because of the style it’s written in. It’s a third person unreliable narrator, and I know I shouldn’t really care that this bullshit story is kind of total garbage, but it’s like young people these days when they go to tell a story, they don’t give a shit. It’s all like, whatever. Or that one guy you know that can’t tell jokes worth shit, and he does it all the time and fucks up all the time, but he’s still entertaining because his jokes are so shit. It’s a bit like that, too. I loved this book.

24) The Sorrow King, by Andersen Prunty.

Genre: Bizarro

Length: 291 pages

This is my favourite novel by Prunty so far. He’s brilliant at handling surreal, psychological horror. I picked it up on preorder because the title and the cover intrigued me. And I’m so glad I did. The story is about a recluse teenage guy, his attraction towards a teenage girl, and some sort of paranormal legend going around. Teenagers are killing themselves and there’s this mysterious figure called the Sorrow King. It’s dark, surreal, at times disturbing, at times sexually disturbing, but it’s nightmarishly compelling.

Pick of the Month: Lights Out in Wonderland

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