I’ve finished two good books recently, A Memory Called Empire and Hammers on Bone. They both deserve more than a passing mention, but I’m only going to talk about Hammers on Bone right now—I’ve struggled to find good ways to cover A Memory Called Empire without spoiling things, and I’m taking the easier way out.
I read Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone through the same bundle of four novellas that brought me to The Ballad of Black Tom and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. I’m glad to say that this book deserves its company. Reading this has inspired me to tell my own investigative horror stories again, through its good example and obvious love for the material; for comparison, these days Lovecraft only evokes that kind of reaction for me by way of spite and a fierce desire to do better than he did.
Perhaps that’s what drove Cassandra Khaw. Whatever the case, they succeeded.
Evocative, punchy, and more full of body-horror and gore than I’d expected, this book wears its love for the stylings of noir on its nicotine-stained sleeve. Seriously, I haven’t read about this much smoking in years. But it’s a story that comes with all the scummy details and twists I expect from old PI noir, alongside the horror of the Cthulhu mythos and a grasp of descriptive language that leaves me reeling in envy and admiration. Not everyone should try this style of evocative, nearly synesthetic detail, but DAMN does Khaw make it work for me. Their prose lays on atmosphere so thick it’s like drowning, mashed face first into the yellowed pages of cheap detective pulp.
And it works. The quasi-hallucinatory perspective, with its depth of detail, goes beyond merely fleshing out a character voice; it rapidly told me more than I’d realized about who our narrator was… and how Mr. Persons was not at all what I’d first thought.
It’s not a big book, not a long story. It’s a quick and potent read, much faster for me than most of the other pieces in the Tor.com novella collection. If you like horror and noir it’s practically a must. I definitely recommend it. Get it here. Or buy the whole bundle (which I’ve enjoyed so far) here.
I wrote about Scope, Scale, and Stakes recently, but I didn’t give clear examples of how they shift during the course of a story. I’ll try to give a more concrete account of that here, with a focus on one particular kind of story or genre.
Noir Body Horror. That’s the subgenre combo I got for this week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. With that in mind, I’ve left you a bit of something to puzzle out through implications and scant description. It’s in the same setting as When Dawn Broke, so brain transplants and advanced surgery and donation practices are the norm… as are criminal tissue transplant enterprises and such business establishments as “chop shops.” I’m afraid I went a tiny bit over the word limit, but it’s very nearly 2k.
No spoilers here, but a trigger warning seems appropriate. This show deals with abuse and PTSD. It’s emotionally exhausting. I haven’t seen the whole series all the way through; that would require far more endurance than I have, and less pursuit of other things that I enjoy.
But I can tell you that from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a really good show. It’s intense in the kind of way that leaves me with weird twisty knotting feelings in my chest, but without pushing me so far overboard that I can’t watch at all. It makes me want to keep watching, too.
It’s funny, it’s painful, and I think it has a far better central character and set of central struggles than did Daredevil. In fact, I think it more or less improves on Daredevil in every way. It isn’t perfect; there are a few narrative choices so far that I disagree with or which ring false to me but… it’s GOOD. It’s really good. I hope you get to watch it soon.
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig involved perusing Flickr for interesting photos. I picked this one. I haven’t put it at the top of this post because the owner hasn’t given me the right to share it, but I strongly suggest that you go take a quick look. It’s pretty, for one thing, and it’s also the image that inspired this story.
Funny note; though the character was originally nameless, in one of my attempts at writing this I quickly discovered that I was writing Carmen Sandiego. The final result isn’t about Carmen Sandiego, but I kept the name because it’s the right image to have for her. With that in mind, read on! Continue reading →
If you haven’t read the Dresden Files, this is not the place to start. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the series, I’m not quite sure how best to describe it based on this book. The Dresden Files began as noir-inspired urban fantasy, focused on the straight white male wish-fulfillment protagonist Harry Dresden, everyone’s favorite (i.e. the only) wizard Private Investigator in Chicago. According to Jim Butcher, the first book was originally written to prove just how awful formulaic genre writing could be. Lo and behold, Butcher was actually very good at following genre formulae in generally gratifying ways, and the series has been quite successful.
Thankfully, though it’s still noir-inspired urban fantasy, the series has grown and changed. Harry Dresden isn’t the same character that he was 15 books ago, and I don’t believe Butcher is still writing to prove just how terrible his writing can be. The story’s background has grown in depth and complexity, and while not every book has been totally up to snuff (and some of them have their worse sections), I’m still quite thoroughly hooked. In fact, Skin Game is probably my favorite book in the series to date. I know, that whole bit about “written to prove how awful formulaic genre writing could be” isn’t exactly the best selling point. Nor does it put “my favorite book in the series to date” in a very good light.
But the Dresden Files offers up a very specific flavor of story, and it’s one that I have found well-nigh irresistible ever since I read the first book. It’s a little like guilty pleasure junk food, to be honest, and seeing the series get better over time just makes me feel better about my decision to keep consuming it. It helps that the legacy of semi-covert noir-inspired misogyny has been slowly leeching out of the books, and I’m glad that the series has reached a point where Harry will more or less listen when his friends call him on his shit.