Why COSMOPOLIS Won’t Let Me Hate It

November 27th, 2012 | stuff2012

I watched this twice, last week.  Well, maybe one and a half times.  I watched it once and didn’t like it.  And the next day I watched some bits again because, for no reason, parts of it were sticking in my head.

It’s stagey.  Stilted.  Not all the actors can pull off the Don DeLillo dialogue that Cronenberg (ever a writer’s screenwriter) transposed from book to film.  It’s short and still feels flabby in places.  The thread of a fairly simple plot gets lost.  Among other things.

And yet.

There is something almost brilliant in here, in places.  The weird back-projection of the world outside the car the film (mostly) takes place in is a great choice. There are ideas, and ambitions, and… I’m going to have to watch the damn thing again. Because it’s making me think about it.


November 26th, 2012 | stuff2012

CHANNEL SK1N is visionary science fiction author Jeff Noon’s first novel in ten years.  It shares many genetic markers with his previous work: the surreal sf of VURT, the body attack of AUTOMATED ALICE, the people being eaten by art and culture of NEEDLE IN THE GROOVE, and the linguistic experimentation of COBRALINGUS.

The latter is, for me, the least successful element of CHANNEL SK1N, otherwise a diverting, sad and lovely story of a processed pop star, and her Svengali’s damaged daughter, being eaten by television. At times, the concept plays as MAX HEADROOM via DO ANDROIDS DREAM in David Lynch’s basement, but I absolutely recommend it for the glory of the prose, and the many instances where he lifts the material into stunning human moments.  This is a virtuoso’s warm-up set: loose, occasionally flawed to my ears, but magisterial.

You can find out more about CHANNEL SK1N, and how to buy it as an ebook, at this link here.

LIVING ARCHITECTURE: How Synthetic Biology Can Remake Our Cities And Reshape Our Lives

November 20th, 2012 | stuff2012

I had the great privilege of meeting, speaking to and working with Rachel Armstrong this summer, at a think-tank in Eindhoven.  I bought this book, a Kindle Single (also on iBooks), right after.  It’s taken me months to finish it, not least because I had to sit down and think for a month after each chapter.  If nothing else, this here is probably the manual for the next five years of science fiction “biopunk” novels, (Ah, if only they would stick with “ribofunk,” too!) with protocells becoming the new nanomachines.

Rachel said to me, “biology is the new engineering,” and the book is an expression of that thought.  Put crudely, the idea is that manual-assembly construction of buildings and physical infrastructures out of inert materials that either grow more inert or corrode away entirely over time… is stupid and dangerous.  Rachel illustrates (with occasional, thrilling speculative extrapolations) how buildings could be grown, and how existing architecture could be transformed, and how this new age of living architecture could achieve astonishing things.  There is, in fact, the strong sense than even Rachel herself feels like she’s barely scratching the surface of the possibilities.

LIVING ARCHITECTURE is a wonderful read that puts fire in the imagination.  I recommend it greatly.

You can find Rachel @livingarchitect .

The Testament Of Mary

November 19th, 2012 | stuff2012

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY approaches the frisson of full-on speculative fiction in places.  It is a rigorously grounded monologue, this book, the unvoiced thoughts of Mary, mother of Jesus.  It is a short and brutal volume.  Toibin’s Mary is a rational, hardened woman, being essentially menaced by Jesus’ “misfit” Disciples for a magical narrative of her son’s life (the required Testament of the title) which she stubbornly refused to invent for them.  She holds some of the legends around her son to be hoaxes, others to be fantasies or madness.

Except for one.  And it is a thrilling intrusion of the utterly alien into the prosaic and primitive world.  The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.  A luminous manifestation of the supernatural as it should be: genuinely disturbing, almost sickening.  The flesh crawls at Lazarus jerking and kicking in his exhumed grave as the earth seems almost to need to expel him.  A raw wound of a book, told simply and elegantly, with a thorn of The Weird in its guts. 

Greg Rucka’s ALPHA

October 15th, 2012 | stuff2012


ALPHA is a little bit like someone suffered toxic levels of exposure to the bad Manly Thrillers that pollute the shelves of every airport in the Western world, and instead of just dying of The Shitty, said to themselves, “what if one of these things was actually good?”

Greg Rucka is greatly admired, in my circle of writer friends, for the absolute egolessness of his writing.  There’s no signature, no telltale quirk or tic.  Every sentence is in absolute service to the narrative and its needs.  To those of us who can’t help but cough our stylistic phlegm over our work, Greg comes off like a wizard.  The great watchmaker.  We just watch his stuff spin in its perfect selfless engineering and wonder how he did it.  I remember, after reading SHOOTING AT MIDNIGHT, emailing Greg after I finished the last page and saying, simply, “what a bloody good book,” because I was still processing some of the things he did in there.

So, his new book’s called ALPHA.  First of a projected trilogy, I believe.  And it feels like Greg’s trying to engineer a fresh start.  It’s got every cheap trick you’d expect from one of the Manly Techno-Thriller people.  The protagonist is some hot-shit special-forces shoulder, there’s a pretty ex-wife, a kid who is not only cute and has a cute nickname but is also deaf, there’s laconic fellow soldiers and a spooky Colonel, and for Christ’s sake the action is set inside a terrorist-struck theme park full of vulnerable kiddies.  You could stick six airport thrillers in a blender and pour this plot out.

And then what Greg does is he takes these pieces, and he very carefully pins them to wheels and springs and trains, and he spins them.  This is the point where ALPHA becomes very much more than the sum of its parts, and where a Dale Brown fan who picked this book off the shelf starts wondering what exactly they’ve done to themselves.

It’s a very commercial book, to be sure, and a proper Yarn, but once it gets spinning, you realise the appeal to Greg of setting it in what is basically a downmarket Disneyland.  He’s that writer who walked through a theme park, looking around, and working out all the ways in which people could be killed there.  And therefore it’s also kind of eccentric.  It’s fun stuff.

In fact, when you come down to it, it’s a bloody good book, and I hope it does for Greg what he wants it to do. 

(amazon.com) (amazon.uk)