Charlie Swift just pumped three .38-caliber [sic] bullets into a dead polar bear in his taxidermist girlfriend’s garage. But he’s a gun monkey, and no one can blame him for having an itchy trigger finger. Ever since he drove down the Florida Turnpike with a headless body in the trunk of a Chrysler, then took down four cops, Charlie’s been running hard through the sprawling sleaze of central Florida. And to make matters worse, he’s holding on to some crooked paperwork that a lot of people would like to take off his hands. Now, with his boss disappeared and his friends dropping like flies, Charlie has got his work cut out just to survive. If he wants to keep the money and get the girl too, he’s really going to have to go ape…
That little scene was enough to make me pay out some cash for this title. Gangsters and polar bears? I thought, I gotta have me some of this.
I came to read Gun Monkeys via Twitter of all places. I ‘Follow’ the author, Victor Gischler simply because I find his Tweets amusing. He has a slight acerbic tone laced with humour, writer rants (don’t we all) and glimpses into his family life (such as which film he will be watching with his young son). I’m late to the show – as you can see by the publishing date – but better late than never.
Gun Monkeys has been called by some, a Florida comic crime caper, and Gishler’s love of Noir, crime, gangsters and history of comic writing comes through in this novel.
I usually take longer than most people I talk to, to read a book these days (weeks), I seem to be slowing down as I get older, but the pace of writing and regular action kept me moving along, so I completed it in three days (a record for me!)
Charlie Swift is one of the gun monkeys of the title, he works for crime boss Stan as an enforcer. He is a stereotypical anti-hero – bad guy with redeeming qualities. Many of the characters fit the expected Film Noir tropes – gangster with a heart and a ‘Ma’ he loves, a sassy, intelligent female, Marcie, whom Charlie falls for because, like Charlie, she can she the necessity for plastic sheeting and the multiple uses of duct tape, “I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.” A lumbering, huge muscle guy, Lou, and sleek-suited mob boss, Mercury. Despite being set in the present day, the lingo used often sounds a little like that spoken by gangsters in the 40’s and 50’s movies – BUT – it doesn’t feel dated, or clichéd. Instead, it moves along at a cracking speed, as Charlie attempts to help his boss, track down the ‘other’ bad guys and deal with consequences that keep springing up.
Charlie is a crack shot with a gun we are told, yet he doesn’t have it all his own way. To be honest, Charlie has a hell of a time. I don’t know if I’d ever want to be friends with Charlie Swift, but I didn’t dislike him, ever, even when he pumps a bullet into some guys knee (and worse).
I found Gishler’s writing and characterisation to be solid, and although the territory – Noir Gangster-land – is very familiar to me, I found a freshness to this writing, which I reckon is pretty difficult to do without slipping on the cliché banana.
There are some nice comic touches, although as the story progresses the comic elements lessen. There is a lot of violence, but nothing stomach churning. There’s a high body count, but meh, isn’t that the world of gangsters? It’s pulp fiction, it’s fun- despite the violence, it’s overflowing with swearing, it’s contemporary hard-boiled, it’s not Raymond Chandler, but it was an enjoyable read, enough so that I will be taking a further delve into the work of Victor Gischler.
Genre:Crime Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dark fantasy, Urban fantasy Pub First Date: 2014 Publisher: Titan Books Length: 305pages Paperback: Bookdonors on Amazon (£3.72)
” Mick Oberon may look like just another 1930s private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he’s got pointy ears and he’s packing a wand. Among the last in a line of aristocratic Fae, Mick turned his back on his kind and their Court a long time ago. But when he’s hired to find a gangster’s daughter sixteen years after she was replaced with a changeling, the trail leads Mick from Chicago’s criminal underworld to the hidden Otherworld, where he’ll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper and solve the case.”
First off, I have a confession to make – I’m one of those people who rolls their eyes when others mention certain themes of TV/Film/Book whatever, that I deem ‘stupid’ or ‘unbelievable’, you know what I mean? Conspiracy theorists, fantastical creatures roaming modern cities, and so on – except, I do read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, so where do I draw the line? Hard to say.
So, when I read that Ari Marmell‘s book was about a Private Investigator who is a Fae, I almost turned tail.
I discovered this book through entering the world of Dieselpunk/Decopunk writing, researching some titles. I read the opening 5 pages and… ordered it!
I think I have mentioned before that I enjoy crime writing, all kinds and in all forms (I have a huge collection of magazines about serial killers – yeah, publishers, you might want to bear that in mind next time you refuse my submissions!!) And this, I would say, is first and foremost a detective story. The protagonist, Mick Oberon is, as I mentioned, a Fae, living and working in 1930s Chicago. But the thing that hooked me is Marmell’s use of language, particularly the language of America, in that time period. The lingo is not only relevant to the time period, but has the humorous yet threatening quality of such well-known characters as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade –
“One, I don’t chisel my clients, Archie. Ain’t good for business…And two, get your hand off me before I make you eat it.”. M.O.
This isn’t just a detective story, it’s Noir, one of my favourite film genres.
Mick Oberon explains that he is obliged to speak in this manner in order to function in his present day. I love this style of speech. Watching the old Humphrey Bogart films I didn’t always understand what was being said, but I sure as hell got the inference. Gangster speak is used throughout ‘Hot Lead, Cold Iron’, but not so as you don’t know what characters are talking about.
The story is written in first person – Mick Oberon’s – and so we get a pretty thorough explanation of Fae. Marmell has actually given some thought to magic and how it is used; Oberon’s magic is not the same as another type of Fae’s magic for instance. The world of the Fae – the Seelie Court (and it’s darker counter-side, the Unseelie Court) are almost copies of the real world, brilliantly explained by Marmell, as a result of Fae lacking creativity but being excellent mimics.
No matter how unusual some of the plot-line or characters or environs may seem, Marmell has written with psychological realism, thereby ensuring the story does not fall apart due to some random shit he wants in there. Though I did struggle somewhat to visualise some of the setting of the Seelie Court in Elphame, my impression of size kept shifting, so I was unable to get a clear understanding of the size of structures or beings. And I did enjoy the time spent in our world more than in Oberon’s home world.
Oberon is a likeable, milk-drinking, wand-toting good guy with a hard-boiled attitude that he wears like his coat. We don’t, in all honesty, know too much about his background – he’d tell you to mind your own business. And this is another aspect of the writing I enjoyed, Oberon often directly speaks to the reader, he gives you enough to understand the world you are entering, but also enough to pique the interest for further reading – “My name is Mick Oberon, or at least it is now.” He says things like – “You Joe’s.” Referring to humans and the reader alike, he doesn’t always reveal the whys and wherefores of his actions, you are being introduced a bit at a time to his way of living – “And if you think it all went easy for me, you ain’t been paying attention.”
This kind of story, with these kinds of fantasy elements, could easily have fallen flat – or worse. It’s success rests on the main character’s voice; as much as the plot and setting need a certain amount of historical accuracy, it is how Marmell has written Oberon’s voice that makes it work well. And it’s not just (if you like this kind of language) the gangster speak, Oberon is an intriguing character and charismatic too.
If you get gangster speak and understand a little about the world of faeries, you get the title – Lead as in bullets – Iron as in faeries hate it.
Hot Lead, Cold Iron is action-packed fun, well-written with wisecracks enough to satisfy Raymond Chandler fans, it is the first in a new series by Ari Marmell – ‘A Mick Oberon Job’ or Mick Oberon #1.
And I will be purchasing the second book – Hallow Point.
The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction
It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.
It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!
Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)
I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;
“An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”
“You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”
Damn! I thought.
“Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”
“Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.
Genre:Science Fantasy/Crime Pub First Date: 2009 Publisher: Pan Books Length: 373 pages Paperback : Local Library (£7.39)
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.
China Miéville is perhaps best known as a writer of ‘weird fiction’ [self termed], of science fiction, fantasy, urban fiction – a number of genre terms have been applied to this English writer who has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times and the British Fantasy Award twice.
Years ago, I dipped into a story by Miéville and was confounded by the twisting, corrugated way he wrote. I don’t think I reached the end. What the hell was that all about?! I wondered.
Then I tried again – ‘Looking For Jake and Other Stories’, and the same thing happened. Was I stupid? Is my command of the English language so infantile and undeveloped? Most recently, I read ‘Embassytown‘, I say read, I got half-way through and abandoned it.
So why, you may ask, did I bother to continue?
There is something about Miéville’s work that keeps drawing me back. I’m not sure what this elusive thing is that draws me, but I can’t leave it alone. Am I ashamed to have not reach the end of previous novels? Hm, maybe. But ‘The City and The City‘ is different. For one thing, I finished it, secondly, it’s crime, and I’m a sucker for crime stories, and this writing I found more accessible than any of the previous I had read.
The world it is set in is familiar, though the prime cities of the title do not exist. To me, it smacks of East and West Berlin, divided by a wall – in Berlin an actual, concrete structure – in the novel, by ‘unseeing’ and – and it is this ‘unseeing’ that gives the story it’s flavour.
In the city of Beszel, where our protagonist; Inspector Tyador Borlú lives and works, the people are living in a grey, sort of post Soviet state. In Ul Qoma, it’s neighbour, the economy thrives; more or less, it’s a chic modern place with better transport, better clothing and so forth. Parts of the two cities overlap, some buildings are even shared by both – BUT – the citizens of neither place are allowed to notice the other.
Trained from childhood, and enforced by both countries’ governments and populaces, the citizens pass each other in the streets without looking or ‘unseeing’ each other.
It’s a bizarre concept. But this is more than a straightforward crime story – of course it is, it’s Miéville! It’s about how we do this ‘unseeing’ ourselves, in real life. We ‘unsee’ what we don’t want to know about – the homeless, we ‘unsee’ what doesn’t affect us directly – an attack on another’s person, we ‘unsee’ what goes on in other countries politically.
Added to this bizarre brew is Breach. To breach an area of one city to another is a crime, the details of how to and how not to are as convoluted as Cold War politics. To breach is punishable. But Breach is also a shadowy, secret and invisible, till it wants to be seen, power. When a citizen has breached the boundary in any way, these dark figures emerge at unnatural speed to ‘clear up’ the situation. When Breach takes someone, they may be extradited – or never seen again.
This is intelligent and original writing. Miéville offers us a Ballardian type world where the rules are both clear, yet unclear, it looks like reality but smells like fantasy, it’s both a murder investigation and a metaphor for our times, and Inspector Borlú is as dogged a policeman as you will ever meet.
Genre: Non-Fiction Pub Date: 2004 Publisher: Council Oak Books Length: 221 pages Paperback : Local Library (£7.39)
‘Hidden away for centuries, these rediscovered ancient texts reveal vital knowledge to empower humankind.’ Back cover blurb.
Wow, a pretty bold claim – ‘knowledge to empower humankind’.
Dr. Kenneth Hanson presents us with a number of texts; some which may be partially familiar – Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, and the less familiar (to myself) Bel and the Dragon, along with previously unknown stories about familiar Biblical figures. I say partially because, as Hanson reveals, even the Biblical texts we may be familiar with have sections missing.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, for those who have never heard of them are, briefly, scrolls – or fragments of scrolls, that have been discovered/uncovered in caves near The Dead Sea. Some date back to the 8th century BCE (Before Common Era), and are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and some in Greek; the initial discovery being made in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd. Since then around 8oo plus scrolls have been found; mostly fragmented. They are divided into Biblical and non-Biblical, with for example, 25 copies of Deuteronomy, texts on law, psalms and more.
Now, I have to make a confession here – I have not yet completed reading Secrets From The Lost Bible – It is, to be honest, taking me forever, but I do only read a bit at a time, plus, I keep re-reading sections (I also have a habit of having two or three books on the go at once). This is one of those books that you read a little at a time and absorb before progressing. It is to be sipped, not gulped – mulled over, not galloped through.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are essentially suppressed writings. Historically, Religious leaders, and possibly political leaders, have excluded them from Judeo-Christian teachings, as they do not conform to what they want society to conform to, namely, their own leadership. The texts have been called heretical by some, revelatory to others. They fit into the bracket – if one must be used – of mystical writings. Take this extract for example, sub-titled Eden’s Children,
‘This book of The Lost Bible (which I present here in paraphrase) teaches that the soul, far from being corrupt, is pure, eternal, and birthed in Paradise:
Happy is the one who came into being…In Paradise there are five trees which no one disturbs year round; and their leaves never fall. If you come to know them, you will never know spiritual death.’
Essentially, the Gospel of Thomas is telling us that we, each individual, is not only born innocent (as opposed to the church’s teaching on Original Sin), but that we can each find Knowledge ourselves – without the need of a Religious Leader. That alone is enough to set many conservative/mainstream Christian’s/Jewish teeth on edge, goodness knows what the Creationists make of it.The Gospel of Thomas was declared Gnostic heresy, and promptly filtered from their system – Gnosticism and the Kabbalah have been criticised by those wishing to keep their sheep on the straight and narrow – as they perceive it.
Hanson guides us through selected texts with explanations, he examines what lessons may have been lost when those who decided which books to include in the Bible and Torah made their decision to exclude these. He is non-judgemental, he does not lay blame, he simply offers us the works and a way to understand them, and why they may have been excluded. Hanson offers everyone, not just people who follow a religion, a way of understanding the hidden way to find harmony with…. well, if you do not believe in a god, it would be yourself and the universe.
I am finding the book a very interesting read. Hanson provides insights and fills in holes found in the traditional Bible. If you are a theology scholar, I recommend you add this to your reading list. His writing style is very easy and he provides us with short anecdotes of his own personal moments of realisation, and he is joyous in his writing, which can be a rarity in academic circles, certainly not stuffy.
Just because you are a ‘good’ Christian/Jew/Methodist/ETC, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question what’s in the bible, it has flaws, why does it have flaws? Because it was written by men, and moreover, men who have decided to withhold information from us.
Kenneth Hanson, Ph. D. is an associate professor in the University of Central Florida Judaic studies program and scholar of Hebrew language and literature. He is the author of Blood Kin of Jesus, Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Story and Kabbalah: Three Thousand Years of Mystic Tradition.
Whether a real or imaginary place, a certain amount of Worldbuilding is required. For example, I recently wrote a short story set in early 17th century, there’s some stuff on the internet about the history of England at that time – however – it was set in a none-existent village, in a landscape partially based on reality, with characters from my imagination – bring on the Worldbuilding – houses, the inn, the church, beehives (skeps), brewery, orchard, river, etc. etc. I drew a map, I collected pictures; of landscapes, of replica buildings, of people, I researched dialect and place-name etymology. I created the village of Hope Ghyll.
Do You See What I See?
It’s all about getting your reader to suspend disbelief – if you go too far, i.e. no psychological realism, then you have lost them and the story is senseless. Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien created worlds with fantastical creatures; a land that is always winter, or one whose dangerous element is essentially a visible, intangible evil that can call upon the heinous and chaotic to fight on his behalf. Tolkien was especially adept at showing us his creation without actually describing an awful lot. Instead of slapping a large platter of roast orc, horse sweat and forest before us, he wafted the aroma beneath our reading noses, thus allowing us to create the vision in our own minds – and yet, when we watch the films, somehow we all ‘saw’ the same thing! Now that’s genius!
Fantasy and Sci-fi writers, I believe, have the biggest job of all – pretty much EVERYTHING has to be ‘built’.
Where does your story take place? An alternative or parallel universe? Another solar system? Are you on planet Earth even? You are free to make the landscape anything you want, and for it to be any place you want, but it must be justified within the story-line. Your geographical location affects who we are – think about the stereotypes of various nations around our world, you don’t even have to look too far – Londoners are a different beast to, say, Yorkshire folk, inhabitants of Los Angeles have a different mind-set from people living in New Hampshire. Remember that quote from Ken Russell’s Excalibur, “You and the land are one.”? Well so are your characters. Which leads us nicely to…
I love maps. I love looking at the shapes of coastlines, the quaint names of places in Britain; names are very evocative, the distances between one place and another; that in times past, people travelled on foot! I also enjoy making my own. I often create a map when I DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons, there’s something satisfying in being a world creator, the Master hand, dare I say, God. If you can’t draw, use existing places – have a look at Google Earth and take a screen-shot. Not only that, have a look at how our world used to look – the Neolithic Age might be exactly what you’re after for a fantasy ‘off-world’, https://www.eupedia.com/europe/neolithic_europe_map.shtml#early_neolithic. There are templates to be found online of existing and imaginary land masses.
Different planets have differing day lengths; this will affect the character, activities and potential festivals you have in your world. If Counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer has 24 hours to solve a crime on planet Earth, how long will he have on Saturn? Not as long, so he better get a move on!
The history of your setting will have impact on the lives of characters your reader meets. If there has been a robot uprising 50 years previously, that is going to shape the politics and lifestyles of them now. If you are setting it in a prehistoric jungle infested with lizard men, how did they develop? What will their relationship to your protagonists be?
History cannot be ignored, we don’t live in a ‘bubble of the here and now’, wherever you live in the world, think about what your daily life is like, what has affected the way your country is run? Is there a ‘ruling class’? How did they get there? What about your own family, maybe there is a story from your ancestors that you can use as a jumping off point? Your hero hasn’t sprung up fully formed – unless he/she is one of those Greek Gods that emerge from the severed head of its parent! – he/she will have a reason that they’re in the position they are, right from the beginning of your story. Know their history.
Is it a flawed system? Does public transport run late, or is everything perfectly in-tune with the surroundings? Who rules? A Royal family of dragons?! What are the politics? What sort of art/music/dance/sculpture is created there? – If there is, in fact, any creativity at all – maybe you have a warrior based society only. Looking around our own planet, we can see a huge variety of differentiation between countries – education in the Scandinavian countries, for example, is regarded as some of the best, whereas in the Wodaabe culture, because they are a nomadic peoples and the land is everything, they do not have schools or an education structure that many in a Western ‘developed’ country would recognise. What about religion? Even if you yourself do not follow a belief system, chances are your society is moulded by one. There may be laws that dictate your character’s daily life, there may be holy festivals, holidays, observances that shape the mindset of this individual. Every society has a culture – the extent of it’s intellectual achievement is up to you.
You can, of course, write anything you want in your story – it’s your story. You can make up new words for an imagined language, BUT, if you make something too complicated, your audience is going to struggle to read the actual story as they will be so busy trying to work out what the Hell you are talking about! Names; people and places, are a great way of adding texture and signalling to your reader that this is ‘another world’. Baggins, Mordor, Galadriel, Gondor – words that conjure a place and time that is not our own. Tolkien was an expert on the Old Norse language, and incorporated it into his work to give his invented world a real sense of believability.
New Crobuzon, Bonetown, Sil, Besźil – another place and time; totally different to Tolkien’s, China Miéville offers us a future; or alternative reality, that is succinctly expressed with Worldbuilding mastery. If your story takes place in the distant past, again, readers are going to struggle if you write the whole thing in Middle English (see Chaucer), so select the odd word or phrase that gives a flavour to your tale; don’t have your reader struggle over every ‘daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he’.
Let’s be honest, Worldbuilding takes time. The amount of time/research/planning you are prepared to put into it will affect your writing when you begin. You should be the expert on this world you have created. You should know EVERYTHING there is to know about it. You won’t necessarily mention all the stuff you have built into your world; like how long it takes to shear a sheep, but it will have an impact on your mind-set as you write and will therefore add some element of realism. Worldbuilding can be hard work, but if you are planning to write a series, then it will definitely be time well spent.
My husband was born the same year as me. He always uses the Metric system; crucially when working on art – being precise about measurements is crucial when creating sundials, and you can’t do that in inches!
I’m always saying “Well, what is that in feet?” And he replies “Forget the feet, think in centimetres and metres.” I can’t imagine the size of some creature when described in metres – I need feet dammit!
I just can’t, my brain seems stuck in Imperial Britain!
Anyone remember that scene in This is Spinal Tap, when someone got their inches and feet symbols confused? (Just to be clear, this is 6 inches = 6″. This is 6 feet = 6′). Hilarious – because it’s true.
Years ago, my mother found an article in a British newspaper, it was a little rhyme to help Brits convert in their heads, goes like this –
‘A litre of water’s a pint and three quarters’
‘A metre measures three foot three, it’s longer than a yard you see’
There was more, but I forget it. She kept it taped up on the inside of the kitchen cupboard for years; some of it sank into my skull.
The reason this is an issue now – well, it’s always an issue, but relating to my writing, is because if I (or you) want to self publish, you better know how many inches make 16.84 x 26.01 cm, (that’s the standard size of a graphic novel in case you’re interested). There are many publishing sites online, mostly American, so you know already the measurements will be in inches! But if you are familiar with Metric, then this is a bind. If you are more comfortable with Imperial system,then some companies are going to fry your mind, as they work in millimetres!