It’s the most wonderful time of the—No, no it isn’t. It’s still just November, despite what supermarkets and TV adverts would have you think. Therefore, there is no theme for this particular batch of reading recommendations, just a handful of books I’ve really enjoyed lately. Any of these would make a fantastic present for—
Killtopia: Volume Two by Dave Cook & Craig Paton (BHP Comics, 2019)
The break-out crowdfunded comic of 2018 is back with its second issue. Killtopia, by writer Dave Cook and artist Craig Paton, took us to a post-cataclysm Japan of the future where animal-like mechs are hunted by Wreckers – think hi-tech pro-wrestlers – until a sentient, humanoid mech called Crash flips everything on its head.
Volume Two delves deeper into the lives of some of our Wreckers, particularly King Kaiju, sold to the Kaiju Kola company as a child, now fighting as their indentured champion.
It’s a joy to once again be in Cook and Paton’s Neo-Tokyo, the lurid colours popping off the page, the backgrounds stuffed with tiny, world-building detail and plenty of jokes. Once again, Cook celebrates his influences on the page, with plenty of references and allusions for the eagle-eyed, my favourite being a fight scene featuring wrecker Stiletto, robot Crash, and long panels of disposable tough guys replicating the famous one-take corridor punch-up from Old Boy (Stiletto, of course, wielding the hammer).
It’s brash, fun, exciting cyberpunk goodness with some timely social commentary on modern pop culture fandom. Bring on Wreck-Fest!
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Bantam Books, 1992)
Speaking of cyberpunk goodness, we’re now going back to the source. To the nineties!
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson sees former mafia pizza delivery boy Hiro Protagonist go up against religious linguistic viruses which are infecting both Reality and the Metaverse – a VR representation of the internet that operates like Habbo Hotel crossed with Sim City. Honestly, this book has one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in some time: sharp, punchy, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Stephenson’s future LA – a projected vision of late capitalism where everything, including neighbourhoods and countries, are franchised and there are no laws other than ‘make money’ – is every bit as gritty and believable as Gibson’s Sprawl but is injected with a nutty sense of humour. While cyberpunk, and sci-fi dystopias in general, is often treated with po-faced seriousness (it’s usually pretty dark subject matter so this is only natural), Stephenson’s use of comedy makes it endearingly human (another thing Killtopia has in common with Snow Crash besides genre).
They/Them/Their by Eris Young (JKP Books, 2019)
For a good few years now, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside author and editor Eris Young at Aether/Ichor, a fantasy fiction webzine. This year saw the publication of Eris’s first non-fiction book, They/Them/Their: A Guide to Nonbinary & Genderqueer Identities.
Through research, surveys, and personal anecdotes, the book paints a picture of what it is like to live outside the male/female gender binary and the challenges – and, sadly, prejudices – a nonbinary person faces in their daily life. It also serves as a primer for individuals and industries who want to know more about this increasingly visible and often misunderstood and marginalised group.
The chapters on history and language are fascinating, detailing various cultures who, in both contemporary times and far back into the past, have had very different ideas about gender – even the current western binary model being a more recent development than you’d think.
In addition to first-hand accounts from nonbinary people surveyed for the book, Eris also includes their own personal experiences, giving a candid insight into their own transition as well as their mental health, which is both brave and serves as a powerful reminder that behind every statistic quoted is a human being who just wants to live their life being as truthful to themselves as they can be.
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas & Mark Olshaker (Arrow, 1995)
I’m gonna start and finish this section with the same instruction: Go and watch the series on Netflix! It. Is. Brilliant.
Mindhunter, the book, by retired FBI agent John E. Douglas and writer Mark Olshaker, charts the creation of modern criminal profiling and the formation of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit, made famous in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter books. (Harris spoke to Douglas as part of his research for his novels and it has always been heavily rumoured that Agent Jack Crawford is based on Douglas himself.)
The core of Douglas’s idea was that by interviewing incarcerated serial killers – he speaks to some infamous names including Ed Kemper, David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz, and Charles Manson among others – you could find patterns in their histories, personalities, and behaviours that would help narrow down the suspects list in ongoing cases. This, of course, means the subject matter is extremely morbid yet fascinating in the grotesque sort of way common to the true crime genre.
Douglas comes across as an entertaining lecturer, not at all the stiff G-man you’d expect from the FBI. You can picture him holding court in the pub, rattling through his serial killer greatest hits for a half-cut audience hanging on his words. He doesn’t shy away from speaking about his personal life either – there’s a fair bit of memoir involved here, including close to the bone subjects such as his separation from his wife and the brain aneurism that almost killed him.
Some of his opinions are a little on the old school side, as you might expect, and he takes the opportunity to advocate for the death penalty on quite a few occasions in the book, something I fully disagree with, though from reading Mindhunter I can understand where his views come from; it’s hard to imagine facing the horror he’s seen inflicted on innocent people throughout his long career.
The Netflix series has taken the facts of Douglas’s story – the crimes he worked on, the killers he spoke to – and added some fictional drama through its cast of dysfunctional detectives. It’s excellent, go and watch it!
Shoreline of Infinity 16 (2019)
There are few literary events in the year I look forward to as much as the arrival of a new issue of Shoreline of Infinity.
Issue 16 features some surreal military sci-fi in ‘You and Whose Army’ by Allen Ashley, where soldiers go to war against origami monsters, some funny – and very clever – flash fiction by Ahmed A. Khan (‘A Serious Flaw’), and two wonderful, hilarious poems about Captain Kirk by Rachel Plummer.
‘Flourish’ by Calum L. MacLeòid is a beautiful ode to the city of Glasgow (which I myself called home for the best part of a decade before moving to the north-east), which in his tale is fully sentient and takes care of its citizens’ every need. However, Glasgow has needs of its own. I absolutely love this story, it’s so original and well-written and there’s just something ineffably wonderful about it. Like the narrator, I too miss Glasgow.
If all that isn’t enough for you, this issue also features an extract of Vicki Jarrett’s excellent new novel, Always North, along with an interview with Jarrett and my own review of her cli-fi polar bear novel (short version: it’s ace, go read it).