Summer is almost over. The schools are back in session, the Bake Off is on the telly, politicians are taking a break because there’s nothing important going on, and the café I work in is getting the Christmas decorations out of storage (seriously). Time to fight the end of summer blues with a good book. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently:
Daughter of Titan #2 by Richard Mooney
At the beginning of the year I interviewed comic creator and author Richard Mooney about his indie superhero comic Daughter of Titan (you can read our chat about superhero fatigue and ‘comicsgate’ wankers here). Back then it had just been funded on Kickstarter but now it’s finally here!
Student Alena Amar discovers she has superpowers after a brush with muggers and, now donning a mech suit, issue #2 sees her beginning to fight crime. We also delve into the psyche of a shady former policeman called Brenner, a violent and fragile man suffering hallucinations due to experimental body augmentations. These make for some of the most arresting panels – artwork by Monika Laprus-Wierzejska is sharp and clean but not lacking in detail. The cartoonish style of the first issue has been replaced with something more akin to what you expect from mainstream comics, which suits the tone of the story better.
All in, another great series to follow in the exploding DIY comics scene in Scotland enabled by crowdfunding. The downside to this model is a lengthy gap between issues, but when the quality is this good, I’m prepared to wait.
(For anyone wanting to get in on the action, Richard Mooney wrote an excellent article on the cost of making your own comics which you can read here. It contains some hard truths but it’s better to go in with your eyes open.)
The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)
I love all kinds of Oates – overnight, porridge, Hall &, and now Joyce Carol. Surprisingly, this is the first book by Joyce Carol Oates that I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. The Doll-Master is a collection of six creepy horror stories, each one brimming with barely restrained malice.
There aren’t any ghosts and ghouls here. In fact, ‘Soldier’, the tale of a white man who shoots a black teenager and claims he did it in self-defence, feels all too real. The way the story is peppered with Tweets – some are death threats, others are from white supremacists declaring him a hero – adds a neat satirical touch to a story that is a perfect allegory for the current racial tension in the US.
Title story, ‘The Doll-Master’, in comparison, feels like a throw-back, something altogether more gothic, crawling into the disturbed psychology of a killer. If, like me, you’re obsessed with Mindhunter on Netflix at the moment, you’ll love this one!
For my money, ‘Big Momma’ is the scariest of the collection, though I’m an easy target because (without spoiling too much) I already have an intense, paralyzing, panic-inducing phobia of snakes. This story did not help.
Snakeskins by Tim Major (Titan Books)
Thankfully for me (see reasons above), Tim Major’s latest novel, Snakeskins, does not feature any actual snakes. The ‘Snakeskins’ of the title are short-lived clones created spontaneously every seven years by certain special people called Charmers.
The story follows Caitlin Hext, a teenage Charmer whose first snakeskin doesn’t vanish in a puff of smoke as expected, leading her to uncover some disturbing truths. Excellent characterisation – I’d expect no less having read Major’s wonderful short stories in Shoreline of Infinity – and a thrilling plot deliver an engaging study of identity and elitism.
One of my favourite aspects of the book is its setting: an alternate present where Britain has isolated itself from the world. Mobile phones are rare, the internet a myth from beyond the sea. The government is a cabal of Charmers granted longer lifespans due to their shedding, using this luck of birth to hold onto power, operating under a veneer of democracy. There’s definitely an interesting Brexit analogy to unpack here, which would be fun if the bleak reality of it wasn’t right around the corner.
(Extra points awarded for featuring a dachshund!)
Instant Karma by Todd Morr (Fahrenheit 13)
Have you ever seen an 80’s action film and thought there could be more violence, more gunfire, and more nunchucks? Probably not, but either way, Todd Morr has delivered just that.
Instant Karma is a relentless shoot-em-up of a novel. A short book made all the shorter by its foot-to-the-floorboard pace and blunt, unadorned prose, the story follows ex-cop Hondo as he gets tangled up with the Yakuza and a company of hitmen for hire called Instant Karma, Inc. Thought to be a gangland myth, these guys arrive straight from 1999 in sunglasses and black trench coats, wielding a gun in each hand.
The bloody violence is tempered by pop-culture jokes and an almost sweet need to expose the flaws and frail egos of the hard men trading bullets and one-liners with each other. A John McTiernan blockbuster on an indie director’s budget, Instant Karma delivers the kind of thrills that only pulp can.
(Also, the cover is awesome!)