Category Archives: Reading

Johnny’s New Job, by Chris Beckett

Having just had a week off work I’ve been catching up on the last few issues of Interzone. #227, the March-April issue, contained a story called ‘Johnny’s New Job’, written by Chris Beckett.

It’s a scathing, damning criticism of the media, government and mob mentality that always forms in the fallout of mass hysteria caused by particularly tragic circumstances. In this particular case Chris is dealing with the reaction to the death of a child and how, in a desperate attempt to lay blame somewhere, anywhere, it usually ends up with a scapegoat being selected and ritually sacrificed, while the core problems remain unaddressed. As a theme it resonates not just with child welfare but also the reactions to religious extremism, terrorism, copyright infringement and just about anything else that humans like to get irrationally militant about.

It’s written in a joyful, sing-song adventure kind of way, it’s horrific irony dripping from every sentence – reminiscent of V For Vendetta, in places, I thought. The whole story plays out like a bad joke, leading up to an inevitable conclusion. It makes its points without having to belabour the point and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

‘Johnny’s New Job’ should probably be required reading to school children – not to mention Daily Mail, Fox and Sky News editors.

I don’t believe the short story is online anywhere, but you can find out more about it and the author at his own website.

Comics you might enjoy

Although I’m by no means an authority on comics (in fact, quite the opposite) I have been reading them for many, many years now and have uncovered quite a few gems. A friend recently mentioned that he’d like to read more comics, so I thought this was a good opportunity to make a few recommendations.

I’ve generally gone for stuff available in graphic novel form as it makes the purchasing and reading considerably easier, rather than having to wrangle hundreds of individual issues.

Batman stuff

I like Batman. He’s my favourite of all the spandexed men. Some of these comics are so good, however, that you’ll probably get something out of them even if you’re not a Batman fan.

Gotham Central is the pinnacle of stories set in Batman’s world. Intriguingly, Batman hardly features, with the book instead focusing on the Gotham City Police Department and their (usually impotent) attempts to deal with the super-villain nightmare that Batman’s helped to create. It’s a fascinating tale of how normal men and women struggle to stay relevant when they’re surrounded by superheroes.

The Dark Knight Returns is more standard, featuring Bats facing up against The Joker and Two-Face, among others. It’s notable for being Batman’s last case – this is his last hurrah, as he desperately tries to leave behind a legacy that doesn’t just consist of violence and despair. It’s harsh, unrelenting stuff and has several genius surprises up its sleeve.

The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum, meanwhile, make everything else look like Saturday morning matinee stuff. These two focus on the side of Bruce Wayne’s psyche that is decidedly cracked, neatly examining how Wayne is every bit as lunatic as those he fights, and that him being a hero is more a quirk of fate than due to inherent heroism. Arkham Asylum is a particularly tough read, coupled with abstract and disturbing artwork – it’s not lightweight reading.

Superman

I’ve never been into Superman all that much. On his own I’ve never found him particularly interesting, due to his unlimited strength rendering most drama moot. That’s why he’s always surrounded by characters like Lois Lane, who can get into trouble like some kind of peril proxy. There is one book in particular that I enjoyed, though:

Red Son is a brilliantly cheeky book, taking a simple, highly amusing concept and exploring it to its logical conclusion – what if Superman’s spaceship, sent from a dying Krypton, hadn’t landed in the middle of Kansas but instead had crashed to Earth somewhere in Soviet Russia? Brilliant alternate reality stuff.

Marvel stuff

Other than my Batman obsession, I’m a Marvel guy through and through. I’ve read a ton of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Thor, and the Civil War cross-over was great fun if completely confusing in its structure. If I were to recommend a single book, though, it would simply be…

Marvels, a beautifully painted re-telling of the entire Marvel comics history from the start, from the point of view of a photo journalist who lived through it all. He chronicles the arrival of the Fantastic Four, the mutants, Spider-Man, even gigantic events like the Galactus storyline. Although it resonates more if you have a familiarity with the source material, even without it offers an intriguing look at superhero stories from the vantage point of ordinary people. In that respect it’s similar to Gotham Central, although this is far more whimsical.

Other stuff

The best stuff is found when you move away from the big DC and Marvel universes. When you do, this is what you find:

Y: The Last Man is my all-time favourite comic. It follows a guy called Yorick, who find himself actually being the last guy on the planet after all the others mysteriously and simultaneously die. He finds himself having to traverse an entirely female world as it struggles to reconfigure itself. What could easily have been crass or one long joke in fact is a hugely moving, hugely funny and hugely compelling adventure. I really can’t recommend it enough. Start with book 1, and keep going until you finish. And don’t let anybody drop spoilers.

Midnight Nation is a much shorter proposition, an urban fantasy tale of a guy that slips through the cracks to find the underbelly of America, populated by all the people that go unnoticed in the world.

Rising Stars is an epic trilogy taking a look at what might really happen if superheroes existed. In that respect it’s something of an alternate take onWatchmen, but ends up going off in a very different direction. Great characters and story, although the artwork is unfortunately pretty shoddy in places – don’t let that put you off, though.

Preacher is another epic; a dark, twisted, macabre tale of god, religion and all sorts of other taboos. It’s black humour at its blackest and not for the faint hearted. If you’re easily offended, don’t go anywhere near it. If you look past the abrasive, debauched, unpleasant facade, though, there’s actually a story that’s all about love and friendship and doing the right thing even in the face of complete corruption. Not for Daily Mail readers.

Fables grabs a whole bunch of fairy tale characters – all of them, in fact – and deposits them in modern day New York, where they’ve been forced into exile due to a dimension-spanning war. It’s witty and endlessly imaginative, although some of the later books lose their focus a little. As with Marvels, if you’re familiar with the source material you’ll get lots out of this.

From Hell is written by Alan Moore and has him tackling the truth behind Jack the Ripper. It’s black and white, unrestrained and an incredibly hard read. Which also means it’s hugely satisfying. Nasty stuff in places but, then, that’s Jack for you.

Enjoy. ;)

It’s common sense!

Euro elections coming up, which means political stuff is being dropped through our letterbox everyday. We’ve had the Tories (I think that ended up in the bin before I had even seen it), we’ve had Labour, we’ve had the Greens. Today we had the BNP.

There’s something inherently unpleasant and offensive about receiving BNP literature. With Tories, Labour, Green and any of the other parties there’s a chance that I might be interested. Sure, the chances of me ever voting Tory are extremely slim, but they at least are capable of arguing their points in intelligent and rational ways. I could sit down with a Tory and have a good chat. The suggestion that I might consider voting BNP, however, is a plain and simple insult.

Moving past that, though, it becomes speedily apparent that the BNP leaflet is actually incredibly funny, albeit in a tragic-comic kind of way. First there’s the whole “British People” obsession, which is as absurd and ephemeral a notion as it has ever been on an island that is historically populated by people from all over the place. “Putting British People First” exclaims the front of the leaflet. But no, not you, or you. You’re a bit too different and don’t fit into their arbitrary definition.

I’ll ignore the decidedly icky colour scheme of the flyer – red and white BNP logo with big fat blue text on gaudy yellow paper – because the material from the other parties was similarly rubbish. Bad graphic design knows no political borders.

It gets really good on the inside. Check this out:

BNPtastic

Yes, that is genuinely a major part of the BNP leaflet, prominently and proudly displayed in the top-right of the inside. Just next to it is listed – without any particular explanation – “Trafalgar, The Somme, Dunkirk, D-Day, The Falklands.” I kid ye not. I would scan the rest of the flyer for entertainment value, but I wouldn’t want to inadvertantly give them any additional exposure.

What this WW2 reference neatly indicates is that the BNP are most certainly aiming at stupid people. We’re talking people that have not heard of the word propaganda. People that believe everything they’re told at face value, without seeking corroborating evidence or alternate viewpoints. They believed their parents no matter what they were told. They believed their religious leaders and disgruntled teachers and chip-on-the-shoulder work colleagues at every stage of life, never pausing to consider matters and form their own rational conclusions. In other words, they are pawns waiting to be played. Manipulation of such people is simple, requiring only a few casual pushes of their ‘fear’ and ‘change’ buttons.

To anybody that has even a passing understanding of history, media or advertising the image is a clear piece of manipulation. It’s ludicrous and so melodramatic in its attempts at inspiring patriotism that it is actually very funny. It’s firmly in the realm of parody. This is politics by Spinal Tap. Taking the edge of the joke a little, though, is the knowledge that lots of people will absorb it dumbly and believe the other misinformation in the leaflet.

Extremists would be hilarious and cute if it weren’t for the fact that they often have a large number of zombie followers.

What else have we got?

Well, there’s a supposed quote from some unnamed soldier, whose image may well just be a piece of stock photography for all I know.

It goes like this:

“The BNP will bring our troops home…”

Yes, fair enough, nothing wrong with that. They’re involved in things they shouldn’t be anyway.

“…and ensure that British soldiers are not abused…”

Yep, I can go with that. Nobody should be abused, soldier, British or whatever.

“…on the streets of our cities by Muslims.”

I’m sorry, what?

It’s not often that I do a double-take while reading but this prompted just such a reaction. No examples, no evidence of what Generic Soldier Man is talking about. Just the blanket statement that soldiers are ‘abused by Muslims’ in ‘our’ cities. I’m sure there have been a few isolated incidents, but the leaflet would imply it’s endemic. If you are a soldier  you will be abused by a Muslim. I wouldn’t know for sure, though, because the BNP didn’t bother to include any actual facts – which, of course, is a crucial part of their marketing: for the primary enemy of the extremist is factual information.(let’s not get into the question of how often Muslims have been abused by soldiers in other cities around the world…)

One of the BNP’s key pledges is to give 10% of every MEP’s salary to a fund which encourages the celebration of St George’s Day. Good job they’re staying focused on the major issues, then.

The real, categoric truth can be found in another made-up, unattributed quote just above the signing-up form, which reads: “Because it’s not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness – it’s common sense!”

It’s an interesting sentence for a number of reasons. Firstly, it begins with a conjunction, which is, of course, highly irritating. Secondly, they actually appear to be incriminating themselves by bringing racism into their own leaflet. It’s a classic case of revealing a guilty conscience through protesting too much – if you’re having to specifically insist “we’re not racist”, chances are there’s a problem with your attitude, somewhere or other.

Finally, there’s the infamous “it’s common sense!”, a phrase that essentially serves the function of surrendering an argument. In much the same way that referencing Hitler brings any debate to a premature close, so does “it’s common sense!” It’s the catchphrase of people who realise they don’t have a legitimate point to argue, don’t have any genuine evidence, are severely lacking in sound logic and have no chance of actually winning. Instead they fall back on the supposedly rhetorical “it’s common sense!”, attempting to imply that anybody that continues to disagree is somehow being nonsensical.

If you hear or read the phrase “it’s common sense!”, you can be pretty damn sure it’s the exact opposite. While we’re at it, the same goes for “it’s political correctness gone mad!”

Anyway, bottom line is: get out and vote for whoever you want. But bear in mind that if you vote for the BNP you’re most probably an idiot.

Also, Charlie Brooker says it all far better than me. Obviously.

This is February?

A couple of days ago I realised with a shock that it was already February. Given that my deadline for an Evinden first draft is the end of February,  I experienced a moment of mild panic. Back at the very start of the year the end of February seemed a long way away – two months, in fact. All of sudden, here we are and I’ve only got three weeks left.

In other words: this is going to be tight.

In other news…

The Wire – we recently discovered this courtesy of Virgin’s on demand TV service. Having heard the likes of Charlie Brooker raving about the show, we thought we should check it out. It seems entirely inexplicable now that it’s taken us this long – the damn thing premiered in 2002, and proceeded to stay entirely under my radar for its entire duration. I can only assume that I overlooked it due to my general lack of interest in the ‘cop genre’. Which was daft, because The Wire‘s cop genre is merely set dressing: the meat lies elsewhere. We’ve finished the first season, and I can quite happily declare it to be the best show I’ve ever seen. If it carries on like this it will most likely overtake both Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica as my all-time favourite show. And it’s not even sci-fi. And doesn’t start with the letter ‘b’.

Talking of which…Battlestar Galactica‘s final episodes are proving to be quite outstanding. I can see where the remaining episodes are going, and it excites me.

Dune – Leiali got me this for Christmas. Yet another classic that has completely bypassed me, always tempting me from the shelf but never quite making it onto my bedside table. So far it’s utterly fantastic (obviously) and I’m a little concerned about what exactly Dr Yueh is up to.

Right, I’d better get on with some of that writing.

21 days to go. Eep.

95,142 – interference range

Slowly but surely, slowly but surely. Another 830 words since the last update. Not nearly fast enough, but nonetheless heading in the right direction. I’ve finished a major action set piece and am now indulging in a highly atmospheric reveal of Aviar (or its fate), a city important to the main plot thrust. There’s lots of rain and dripping leaves: I’m enjoying it.

Life continues to get in the way, though. It’s appraisal time at FXhome, for example, and this time it’s all being taken rather seriously and involves sheets and forms and stuff, so my evenings are being taken up with that somewhat. Come Tuesday that’ll all be done and dusted, though, and hopefully with me still having a job. The weekend was fairly busy, too, with a pleasant retirement do on the Saturday (attended by MP Ian Gibson and an important Army Chap, don’t you know) followed by the inevitable trip to the pub. Sunday involved an optician’s appointment where I discovered that they can now produce my contact lenses as daily disposables – marvellous! We also discovered The Wire for the first time, which is quite fantastic. Having also started watching Entourage, I’m wondering how on earth I’ve overlooked them both for so many years. The new issue of Interzone arrived and it has a superbly jaunty front cover.

So, yes. Progress, then. Just slower than desired. And the new season of Battlestar Galactica begins tonight on Sky, so it’s really not looking too good.

But I shall persevere, and I’m determined to make a completed first draft by the end of February, regardless of its actual quality! That’s what editing is for, after all.

39 days left.