Saturday, 16 May 2015

Nemo: River of Ghosts

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Knockabout / Top Shelf)

In a world where all the fictions ever written coalesce into a rich mosaic, it’s 1975. Janni Dakkar, pirate queen of Lincoln Island and head of the fabled Nemo family, is eighty years old and beginning to display a tenuous grasp on reality. Pursuing shadows from her past — or her imagination — she embarks on what may be a final voyage down the vastness of the Amazon, a last attempt to put to rest the blood-drenched spectres of old. With allies and adversaries old and new, we accompany an aging predator on her obsessive trek into the cultural landscape of a strange new continent, from the ruined city of Yu-Atlanchi to the fabulous plateau of Maple White Land. As the dark threads in her narrative are drawn into an inescapable web, Captain Nemo leads her hearse-black Nautilus in a desperate raid on horrors believed dead for decades. Through the exotic spectacle of an imagined South America, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill steer their fifty-year-long Nemo trilogy to its remarkable conclusion, borne upon a River of Ghosts. 

And with this volume - the third - the story of Janni Nemo comes to a close and the next inheritor of the mantle takes their place.

This time out  it's a much more straight forward read - particularly in comparison to it's immediate predecessor for which you needed a handy German to translate large swathes of the dialogue.  Here, the aged and dying Nemo sets out on one last adventure to investigate the apparent reappearance of Ayesha despite having killed her in the previous volume's Germany of Adenoid Hynkel.

As ever the references abound and as ever I'm missing loads of them but a few of the more obvious ones include The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Stepford Wives, Desperate Dan and The Lost World.

This isn't Moore at his most engrossing it's simply Moore cutting loose and letting the grand lady have the blood and fire send off and decisive conclusion she deserves (and desires).  O'Neill is, as ever, flawless.

An explosive final chapter to an excellent series.  Hopefully not the last we'll see of the League though as it's easily one of my favourite things.

btw - Jess Nevins' always invaluable annotations to this volume can be found here

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Scarlet Traces

Ian Edgington & D'Israeli
Dark Horse Comics

It was the cover of the first of the two Scarlet Traces books that caught my eye.  A Lovely deep mottled green, the blood splattered title, the small blue planet sat neatly within a square frame and most crucially of all the D'Israeli.  That one name meant I was sold but reading the sentence across the top of the cover, 'A murder mystery sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds' certainly didn't put me off.

I've been a fan of the artist since way back when he drew the Warren Ellis book 'Lazarus Churchyard'.  I'm a sucker for nice cartoony art which is something that delivers in spades and never more so than here.  The writer, Ian Edgington, is someone I've been reading on and off for years now mostly through his work for 2000ad.  He's not someone whose work I seek out but is someone who I generally enjoy when I do find something.

Scarlet Traces

The story in 'Scarlet Traces' takes place 10 years after the events of the classic H.G. Wells novel, 'War of the Worlds'. The after-effects of this war are obvious throughout the course of the story, as alien technology is evident everywhere you turn.

Scarlet Traces is a steampunk romp set some years after the Martian invasion.  It tells the story of Major Robert Autumn and his batman Colour Sergeant Arthur Currie as they investigate Currie's missing niece in a world where the Martian technology left over from the war has been reverse-engineered to make England the most affluent and powerful country in the world.  Their investigaton leads them inevitably to a corruption within this brave new world worse than they could have imagined.

The world, it's technology and it's denizens are rendered beautifully and the story flows effortlessly to it's conclusion.

The War of the Worlds

In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the genteel tranquillity of Victorian England is shattered by the arrival of an invasion force from the red planet-Mars! Methodical and merciless, the Martians are intent on nothing less than the conquest and subjugation of the human race.
Told from the point of view of an ordinary man caught up in the carnage and chaos, we witness firsthand how the then-greatest empire in the world is brought to its knees by the Martians'cool alien intellect and the implacable heat ray!

Following S.T. the pair went the prequel route and told the story that triggered the whole thing.

I'm not a huge fan of adaptations. I much prefer originals but this one is beautifully rendered - have a look at the sheer size of the martian capsule he's managed to convey in this illustration

- and the text has been translated to the comic medium with a delicate, respectful and expert touch.

Wells' original book was a sparse and tightly plotted novel and the adaptation is the same.  There's a lovely continuity between the books that show just how prepped Edgington and D'Israeli  were before embarking on S.T. and the little hints and references to characters featured in the previous book help to tie everything together.

The Great Game

The front line of the War of the Worlds has been taken to the red planet itself! After almost four decades of conflict, the British invasion of Mars has ground into a bloody stalemate. The nation is cracking at the seams, and liberties are being revoked as Prime Minister Spry struggles to maintain order at home while waging war another world away. What does Spry have up his nasty little sleeve? Robert Autumn, aged gentleman adventurer and hero of Scarlet Traces, is determined to find out!

The final volume returns us to future and Britain and it's colonies are fully committed to and thoroughly embroiled in the invasion of Mars.  

Major Autumn,  now much older and in drastically altered circumstances from how we left him, recruits crusading photo journalist Charlotte Hemming to investigate and expose the truth behind the seemingly endless war and the brutal government regime that maintains it.

The scope of this book is considerably wider than it's predecessor and although maybe a little too fast in the telling, probably due to it's limited page count, it is a glorious end to a very satisfying romp to Mars and back again.

BTW - should you be interested there's also a website dedicated to annotating the references and allusions contained within the series.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Death Collector

Justin Richards
(Faber & Faber)

What starts as an ordinary pick-pocketing incident in Victorian London unites three teens against a madman. Eddie is the pickpocket; George is an assistant at the British Museum; Elizabeth has a nose for trouble—and all of them are being hunted by Augustus Lorimore. Lorimore is a sinister factory owner, a villain bent on reanimating the dead, both humans and dinosaurs—and one of each is already terrorizing the streets of London. It’s up to Eddie, George, and Elizabeth to stop Lorimore’s monsters . . . or die trying.

Justin Richards is the creative director on the BBC Books Doctor Who line for which he has written a number of novels - including a fun little steampunk 9th Doctor Novel called 'The Clockwise Man'. This though is one of his own and the opening of a trilogy.

The death Collector is a Victorian set steampunk romp complete with dinosaurs and zombies. It opens with an attack on the British Museum which brings, through a series of unlikely events, clock repairer George Archer together with vicar's daughter and frustrated thespian Elizabeth Oldfield, pickpocket Eddie Hopkins and head of the museums Department of Unclassified Artefacts, Sir William Protheroe in a mad dash to discover the secret of a burned diary and to stop a quite loopy engineer and his cronies from engineering psychotic cyborg zombies and dinosaurs.

Truthfully it's a little too hectic to be entirely enjoyable. It never really sits still for longer than a page or two before their all off and running again in order to evade capture. It's exhausting.

Richards definitely has the chops, I've really enjoyed some of his others and this one was a bit of fun but I really think it needed to relax a bit and take a breather now and again.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

Philip Jose Farmer
(Titan Books)

In a delicious slice of sci-fi whimsy that sits cleverly alongside Verne's original tale, Phileas Fogg's epic global journey is not the product of a daft wager but, in fact, a covert mission to chase down the elusive Captain Nemo - who is none other than Professor Moriarty.
A secret alien war has raged on Earth for years and is about to culminate in this epic race.
A novel in the Wold Newton universe, in which characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, James Bond and Jack the Ripper are all mysteriously connected.

I'd been really looking forward to reading this. I've been curious about these Wold Newton books for a good long while but this was my first opportunity and I have to say I was disappointed.

What we have is a retelling of 'Around the World in 80 Days' with extra bits added in to turn Fogg from a repressed Victorian gentleman into an immortalish, alien descended adventurer battling against another group of eeeeevil immortalish types; in particular against one nefarious individual who for some ridiculous reason is both Professor Moriarty and Captain Nemo. Fogg's escapades are crowbarred into the established narrative and are as pointless as they are inane and serve only really as a way for Farmer to highlight discrepancies and omissions in the original text. At the end I came away feeling well inclined towards the original as this was a smug and tedious read that was a real chore to drag myself through.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Martian Ambassador

Alan K. Baker

London, 1899 It has been six years since the discovery of intelligent life on Mars, and relations between the two worlds are rapidly developing. Three-legged Martian omnibuses stride through the streets and across the landscape, while Queen Victoria has been returned to the vigour of youth by Martian rejuvenation drugs. Victorian computer technology is proceeding apace, thanks to the faeries who power the ‘cogitators’, while the first Æther zeppelins are nearing completion, with a British expedition to the Moon being planned for the following year.
Everything seems to be going swimmingly, until Lunan R’ondd, Martian Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s, dies while attending a banquet at Buckingham Palace. The discovery of strange, microscopic larvae in his breathing apparatus leads Queen Victoria to suspect that he may have been the victim of a bizarre assassination.

This is the first in a series of Steampunk novels featuring secret agent Thomas Blackwood and psychical researcher Lady Sophia Harrington.

It's a bit of a mess. The world into which we are plunged is at first glance that of Wells' War of the World but with benign Martians helping out, computers operated via little fairies that allow contract with the Earth's akashic records and there's an evil Venusian running around killing people whilst yelling "Look at me! I'm a Martian!" so people look to blame the peaceloving and helpful Martians. Like I said, it's a mess. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, urban fantasy, sci-fi, period Lovecraftian horror, Gaiman-esque appropriation of a English fairy lore or none, some or all of the above and so ends up being a hodgepodge of each and unfortunately doesn't have it in it to transcend its limitations.

In its favour though I read this on holiday and it was a bit of fun that I could dip and drop at will and certainly helped laze away the day but I won't be hunting out the second in a hurry.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Finishing School: Etiquette and Espionage

Gail Carriger

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother's existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea--and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right--but it's a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine's certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

The author of the Alexia Tarabotti stories here returns to that world but at a slightly earlier date -about 20 years maybe - to tell the story of a finishing school for assassins.

A fairly daft premise sees the young and troublesome Sophronia packed off to an unknown finishing school where she soon learns that the lessons are a lot more fun than anticipated. She also gets herself embroiled in an escapade around an early aetheric communications device that gives her ample scope for hi-jinks and exploring.

We get to meet some familiar characters along the way and the whole thing has Carrigers characteristic light touch. It's at YA novel so it's a bit light and fluffy but on the whole it's a bit of fun.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Pax Britannia: Evolution Expects

Jonathan Green
(Abaddon Books)

In the closing years of the 20th century the British Empire's rule is still going strong. Queen Victoria is about to celebrate her 160th birthday, kept alive by advanced steam technology. London is a fantastical sprawling metropolis where dirigibles roam the skies, robot bobbies enforce the law and dinosaurs are on display in London zoo. Welcome to Magna Britannia, a steam driven world full of fantastical creations and shady villains. Here dashing dandies and mustachioed villains battle for supremacy while below the city strange things stir in the flooded tunnels of the old London Underground. When a deadly legacy returns, Ulysses Quicksilver finds himself drawn into that pit of despair known as Bedlam. With a dangerous masked vigalante stalking the streets of London, a monster from Jewish myth on the loose in the East End and rival gangs fighting for control of the city's underworld there may be nothing Ulysses can do to prevent a catastrophic metamorphosis!

It has been ages since I read one of these Pax Britannia books and it was a nice surprise just how much I enjoyed it. I looked the others, they were fluffy and silly but generally solid pulp fun. This new one continues on from the breakdown of the government in previous book (Human Nature) as the Prime Minister went postal.

The new PM and the new head of the secret service are trying to reclaim the polluted city and therefore reinvigorate the country. Meanwhile Ulysses is investigating both the appearance of a golem in the east end and the worrying number of people changer into insects hidden away in Bedlam. At the same time there's a new vigilante hero in town with distinct Batman tendencies.

Big, silly and fun. Looking forward to the next one.


Jay Lake
(Tor Books)

Jay Lake's first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.
Mainspring is the story of a young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it's not rewound. From innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge, the young man will make the long and perilous journey to the South Polar Axis, to fulfill the commandment of his God.

Mainspring tells of a young man's quest to rewind the eponymous spring at the heart of his clockwork world - yeah, I know. His mission takes him from his home and across the US via hobos and captivity into the air on a dirigible down to the equatorial wall. Across the wall via a giant cog -yeah, I know - after having been kidnapped by flying demon things and meeting an immortal guru not wise enough to know that the guide he gave him was a bit of a dick. Across southern Africa in the company of horny, hairy Neanderthals. Africa, where the only people he encounters are the aforementioned happy go lucky little shaggers and a city of super tall and aloof homicidal magicians. Then, down across the ocean to the south pole on a super dirigible he happens across before restarting the world via the power of love. Yeah, I know.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Top Shelf / Knockabout)

Sixteen years ago, notorious science-brigand Janni Nemo journeyed into the frozen reaches of Antarctica to resolve her father's weighty legacy in a storm of madness and loss, barely escaping with her Nautilus and her life.
Now it is 1941, and with her daughter strategically married into the family of aerial warlord Jean Robur, Janni's raiders have only limited contact with the military might of the clownish German-Tomanian dictator Adenoid Hynkel. But when the pirate queen learns that her loved ones are held hostage in the nightmarish Berlin, she has no choice save to intervene directly, travelling with her ageing lover Broad Arrow Jack into the belly of the beastly metropolis. Within that alienated city await monsters, criminals and legends, including the remaining vestiges of Germany’s notorious ‘Twilight Heroes’, a dark Teutonic counterpart to Mina Murray’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And waiting at the far end of this gauntlet of alarming adversaries there is something much, much worse.
Continuing in the thrilling tradition of Heart of Ice, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill rampage through twentieth-century culture in a blazing new adventure, set in a city of totalitarian shadows and mechanical nightmares. Cultures clash and lives are lost in the explosive collision of four unforgettable women, lost in the black and bloody alleyways where thrive THE ROSES OF BERLIN.

This is the second League of Extraordinary Gentleman spinoff books to feature the exploits of everyone's favourite sub aquatic pirate goes off to Germany to rescue her daughter and her son in law, the air pirate Robur.

The book mixes in The Great Dictator, Metropolis, Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari, She and more to great effect. I've got to say though that if it wasn't for the majesty of Jess Nevins and his explanatory website - - much of it would have been incomprehensible to me as it was written in German and I don't currently have a friendly German to hand..

It's a quest book (of sorts) and as such is a little thin on plot but what there is is typical Moore and there is plenty of distraction in the always beautiful art from O'Neill who as ever brings the most absurd worlds to life in stunning, awe inspiring and eye popping glory.

Not the best of them but still wonderful.

Nemo: Heart of Ice

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Top Shelf / Knockabout)

It's 1925, fifteen long years since Janni Dakkar first tried to escape the legacy of her dying science-pirate father, only to accept her destiny as the new Nemo, captain of the legendary Nautilus. Now, tired of her unending spree of plunder and destruction, Janni launches a grand expedition to surpass her father's greatest failure: the exploration of Antarctica. Hot on her frozen trail are a trio of genius inventors, hired by the megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane to retrieve the plundered valuables of an African queen. It's a deadly race to the bottom of the world - an uncharted land of wonder and horror where time is broken and the mountains bring madness.

A very unexpected surprise when this appeared. I'd heard that they were going to do these spin-offs but I wasn't expecting one to turn up this soon.

What we have is a missing tale of the second Captain Nemo and her attempt to traverse Antarctica in the footsteps of her father. In pursuit of her and her crew is a trio of American adventurers in the employ of Charles Foster Kane and Ayesha (the Queen from 'She'). On their disastrous journey they discover various Lovecraftian locations and creatures.

It's a fairly slight (by Moore's terms) little romp but one that adds layers to the character of Janni (Nemo) and very nicely bridges the gap between the vengeful Janni of the first volume of 'Century' and the mellower mature one that turned up later.

I've loved all the League stories and this one was no exception.