Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mind Games IV

When I initially saw that this was another Mind Games chapter I was hoping I’d get to see some more of Suenteus Po. I like the vague infuriating mystic and I’ve always enjoyed his amusing and rambling conversations with Cerebus. I believe Po featured in all 3 of the previous Mind Games chapters, so I was a little disappointed to see that he was not in this one.

Cerebus isn’t actually unconscious this time, so the story deviates between what he is currently doing (mostly drinking) and the conversation he’s having with himself.

The aardvark has become intensely frustrated with his sham of a marriage to a woman he doesn’t like, his overbearing monster-in-law, playing at being Prime Minister while actually doing nothing and the feeling that he is a pawn in some master game of a crazy man in Weisshaupt.

He seeks solace, as he always done, in alcohol. A good bit of the chapter reads like an alcoholic going through the various stages in their own mind when they go on a bender. If it wasn’t obvious before, this chapter points out quite clearly that Cerebus is an alcoholic. Only his iron constitution has prevented it from taking a higher toll on his body and mind prior to this. Dave had confessed prior to this to some decent all nighters and I wondered if he too hadn’t had battles with the bottle, and was drawing from personal experience. The original Mind Games came from an LSD trip.

The chapter ends with Cerebus receiving the news that he has been chosen by Bishop Powers as his preferred Eastern Pontiff and believing that he only thought he heard that because he was so drunk. It’s also the final chapter in the 2nd book of this volume of Church & State. It is to be hoped that the 3rd part is not full of short, pointless chapters that give the readers small, but unnecessary windows into Iestan society and do not advance the story.

The artwork was interesting in that Dave seemed to playing one of his artistic puzzle games by using bits of the title as the background throughout the length of the chapter. It’s quite clever and I can only guess at how he does it and still keeps the story straight and comes in at the right length.

Monday, January 25, 2010


A proper chapter! It's about 20 pages. Stuff happens and everything! Thank God! I mustn't get too excited, though. Dave giveth and Dave taketh.

In style it's much the same as many of the preceding ones. Focus is generally on the speaking character and backgrounds are minimal to non existent.

It begins with Therese speaking to Weisshaupt. Astoria's former protege has plenty of juicy gossip about the political player's past history. Astoria was at one point a committed Cirinist, she was to take over from the Matriarch and even married Cirin's son Sir Serrik. This is where things got interesting. They married before the planned lavish state ceremony and once Astoria was pregnant she disappeared. She returned without the child and refused to confirm whether or not it was born and what in fact she did with it. All the hints seemed to suggest that she was guilty of infanticide and if the child had been female of killing a mother, which in Cirin's church is the most heinous of all crimes. During her conversation there is an interesting, well drawn scene of two bird fighting outside the window. One is a white bird and the other is black with white wings. We don't see the conclusion to the fight, but I think it's symbolic of something, although knowing Dave he may have just felt like drawing birds.

Before Therese can finish the story Groucho and Chico Marx....sorry Dukes Julius and Leonardi enter. As usual the two men speak complete nonsense, mostly to each other and frustrate Weisshaupt. Therese leaves with her story incomplete.

While Weisshaupt tries to dismiss the two men Scorz (he of Famous the Aardvark from High Society) enters trying to lobby for the sewage contract in Iest.

Weisshaupt is soon forgotten as the other three babble to each other. Weisshaupt bellows for his butler to find out how Scorz even got in and is informed that Bishop Powers has announced the candidate for the Eastern Pontiff and it's the Prime Minister of Iest, Cerebus the Aardvark.

Now the cat's among the pigeons.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


A title like that gives you hope that this will be an explosive chapter. Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

Again there are no backgrounds and it's longer than they have been. Not proper chapter length, but longer. It's a meeting between Weisshaupt and Cerebus.

You realise that Weisshaupt is slowly slipping towards insanity. The clincher for this is that he shows Cerebus a cannon he has on the roof of the Presidential Palace and then fires it. No concerns about or who or what may be in the path of the ball. The look on Cerebus's face after Weisshaupt has done this says it all. I've hooked up with yet another dangerous lunatic.

Tarim! Why Cerebus?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shades of Grey

The year in fantasy started for me when I walked into the bookstore and saw Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey sitting proudly on the new arrivals shelf.

The largely white cover looks a little bland when compared to the riotously colourful jackets for the most recent editions of Fforde’s Thursday Next series. On a second look Shades of Grey’s cover has a few splashes of colour; red, yellow, green and blue, the rest of the images have numbers in them, like an old paint by numbers picture and that is a tantalising hint as to what lays within.

Shades of Grey is a complete fresh start for Fforde, it is set in an entirely new world and has no characters from either the Thursday Next series or Nursery Crimes. There are however some of the quirky elements readers have come to expect from Jasper Fforde. Seemingly mundane and easily obtainable objects and substances are in short supply (jam, especially loganberry and spoons), made up fauna and flora abound (rhinosaurs and the yateveo, a particularly vicious and voracious flesh eating plant) and strange hybrid sports are popular (unicycle polo and hockeyball, although to be honest I couldn’t tell the difference between hockeyball and field hockey, including the violence.)

The setting is a post apocalyptic Britain some 500 years after Something that Happened. The residents are kept in a largely oppressed state due to a large number of bureaucratic, ridiculous and ever changing rules. People are classed according to how much of a particular colour they can see, with Greys being the lowest on the totem pole and fit for only menial labour. There are hints of Orwell’s 1984 and Big Brother, the strictly enforced colour vision system and the practice of ‘rebooting’ those who don’t fit in has echoes of Aldous Huxley. Somehow amongst all this unpleasantness Fforde still finds humour, in tone Shades of Grey is far more satirical than any of his previous work and there is an edge that has not been present before. He also takes careful aim and fires off barbs at elements of our own society such as: eBay, Facebook and texting.

The hero of this piece is Eddie Russett, an inoffensive young man with a better than average Red perception who has dreams of marrying the beautiful and powerful Constance Oxblood, heiress to a string empire and maybe even becoming a Prefect. Eddie’s life is changed forever when he’s sent to the rather sinister outer town of East Carmine and meets the strong willed Jane, a Grey with the cutest retrousse nose he has ever seen. Eddie’s search to find the answers to questions he should not have asked is gripping and compulsively readable.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Jasper Fforde before then Shades of Grey will not disappoint. If you haven’t encountered this marvelously talented writer before then you should also read Shades of Grey, you will not regret the experience. A word of warning, this is the first book in a trilogy, it’s mostly self contained, but you will want to read on for the further adventures of Eddie Russett and the ‘colour world’ that he inhabits.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The formidable churchman Bishop Powers gets a chapter all his own.

Powers is the only person in the entire 3 page chapter, shown from various aspects, mostly pontificating about how he believes he's caught Weisshaupt out on a point of law which will bring about the statesman's downfall.

The chapter ends with a full length picture of Powers, his body and face covered in light streaming down from above, fist clenched gleefully proclaiming: "I've got you now, Weisshaupt...I've got you..."

Something that had become noticeable about the art in the last 2 chapters was the complete lack of background, either Gerhard hadn't joined Dave yet or he'd just become a bit lazy. Either way it was an effective technique.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mrs Tynsdale-Clyde's tea

The return of Iest's most impressively chested society matron. It's another one pager and hails back to Cerebus's first meeting with the woman and the embarassment that was incurred when his confined tail burst free of his tight trousers.

Mrs Tynsdale-Clyde is having two guests to afternoon tea, an old buttoned down couple. She's whispering/gossiping to them and they lean in close. The 2nd panel shows her holding her hands about 2 feet apart to indicate size, much the same way a boasting fisherman does when talking about the 'one that got away'. The society couple look stunned and gasp in unison. There's little doubt as to what is being discussed.

It was a funny joke when it happened, but as to why it was revisited and given a chapter of it's own I do not know. Dave generally timed his jokes well, but he did occasionally beat one to death.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Something Cerebus Was

Yes, I'm still slogging my way though these bloody short, disjointed chapters!

This one follows directly on from the previous one (yet another thing that makes me wonder why they had to be split into separate chapters) with Cerebus still writing his memoirs. I'm not sure how many pages this book will eventually end up being, because nearly every page the aardvark writes he crumples up and throws out. This time he admits that he needed people like Astoria around, because otherwise he wouldn't have known what he was doing.

After crumpling up a few more pages he tried to make a list how to stop Weisshaupt. He keeps changing his mind and crossing things out and adding new ones. Finally he crosses it all out, tosses the book on the ground and lays in his hammock brooding.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Unseen Academicals

Unseen Academicals is Terry Pratchett’s most recent book, and the 37th in the extremely successful Discworld series.

You used to be able to rely on Sir Terry (he was knighted in 2009 for services to literature) for at least 2 books a year, but age and illness (he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers disease in 2007) have affected his once prolific output. Unseen Academicals is the first Discworld book since 2007’s Making Money.

The Discworld books can be hit and miss, Unseen Academicals is, to my way of thinking, a hit. The loose story concerns the efforts of the Wizards of Ankh Morpork’s Unseen University to play Discworld’s version of football against a team comprised of more accomplished footballers from Ankh Morpork’s poorer and less genteel neighbourhoods.

I saw one blogger say that he hadn’t gotten around to reading this, and wasn’t particularly interested, because it was about football and he didn’t much like football. That attitude can be put to rest by a quote from Pratchett himself on the back of the book: The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football. Being an avid follower of Australian Rules and a somewhat fanatical supporter of my team I can agree with that statement. Only 10% of any widely followed sport is about the game itself.

This particular installment deals with class, food, cosmetics, fashion, friendship, religion and occasionally football. That’s the thing about the Discworld books, they tend to hold modern society up to a looking glass and score goals with their criticism. I’ve often thought the key to their success is that you have fantasy tropes living in their typical medieval society, but they think like 21st century people and try to solve medieval situations with 21st century logic.

The series is episodic, the reader does not have to have read any of the other 36 books to enjoy this one, although it will improve the experience if there is some knowledge of the recurring characters. Pratchett has developed a large supporting cast over the past 26 years.

Unseen Academicals reunites readers with the characters of: Mustrum Ridcully (Arch Chancellor of UU), his much put upon assistant Ponder Stibbons, the Librarian (who happens to be my personal favourite character), the inept wizard Rincewind (he started the whole series back in 1983 with The Colour of Magic) and Ankh Morpork’s unnerving and menacing ruler, former assassin Havelock Vetinari. There are also cameos from other fan favourites: Death, the Luggage, Sam Vimes and Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler. The bulk of the story follows the new characters of: mysterious young candle dribbler Mr Nutt, his best friend, the streetwise Trev Likely, the very sensible and responsible Glenda Sugarbean, who runs the Unseen University’s Night Kitchen (wizards keep unusual hours and are most likely to want a pie or a sugary treat along with a good cup of tea in the middle of the night), Glenda’s friend and object of Trev’s affections, the beautiful, but somewhat vacuous; Juliet.

As a story it hangs together remarkably well, while simply meandering along collecting the author’s thoughts on a myriad of subjects and articulated in only the way he can. I have to confess to being less than impressed by Making Money, and that was over 2 years ago. Unseen Academicals was a welcome return to form from the recently knighted author.

Welcome back Terry, you have been missed!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cerebus Was

Dave kind of outdid himself when it came to short chapters in this one. It's one page. One single drawing and about half a page of writing. It doesn't even have a proper heading. Cerebus was are the first 2 words in Cerebus' newest entry in his memoirs.

In the writing the aardvark seems to be musing about what makes people like Astoria and Weisshaupt powerful. In both cases people always assume that Cerebus takes his orders from the two, it actually doesn't matter to Cerebus that it's true, it just annoys him that people assume this and he can't understand how they do it.

It also illustrates just how little Cerebus really understands when it comes to being a statesman, put him in front of an army, tell him to lead them to victory and he'll do it. That's what he's equipped for, not wheeling and dealing in politics. Conversely change positions and Weisshaupt would fail miserably as a military commander, he just doesn't have what it takes to do that.

I have to admit that the half page drawing that accompanies the words is very well done and one of the more amusing I've seen. Cerebus, in his white shirt sleeves and pants, stretched out in a hammock, curled 17th century style wig perched on his head, perpetual scowl on his face, madly scribbling in his immense book.

Stormy Weather

I had hoped with the last of the character profiles that we were through the teeny weeny chapters, but it was not to be.

Stormy Weather is another joke chapter.

While a storm rages outside the Prime Minister's rooms Sophia trembles under the covers. Cerebus can't understand how a woman who can happily behead Borealan mercenaries three at a time can be terrified of a storm. To me this was further evidence that Sophia had gone from being a thinly veiled parody of Red Sonya to a genuine princess type who had some very human phobias.

While Cerebus lays in bed, scowling, the door flies open and in runs Henrot-Gutch in her night dress, she promptly dives under the covers joining her daughter. The last words are Sophia's saying that fear of thunder storms runs in her family.

It was actually pretty funny, but I'm not sure why Dave felt the need to bother publishing it as a separate chapter. It doesn't really illustrate anything and it doesn't deserve a chapter of its own.

Friday, January 1, 2010


This is the last of the character chapters and it curiously focusses on someone who is at best a fringe character; the Astoriaesque protege Theresa. I say Astoriaesque, because Theresa is in every way like a younger Astoria. It's no surprise as the girl obviously modelled herself on her mentor.

Like Astoria in an earlier chapter outward looks bely inward feelings. She looks perfect, but she is chain smoking and obviously under pressure.

The background is non existent. For the 5 pages of this chapter we see only the two characters in it; Theresa and Weisshaupt, never together only singly, they needn't even be in the same room as they are drawn separately. Objects such as a vase are also drawn singly, only a line to suggest that the object is not supported on thin air.

Theresa is recounting the story of how she was taken in by a high ranking official in government and eventually installed as this man's mistress. The name is never mentioned, but I kept getting the feeling she meant Lord Julius, could she have been another of his 'nieces'. Whoever she was actually talking about it was obviously an attempt to tear down one of Weisshaupt's political opponents in order to gain favour with the master bureaucrat. In the final page of the chapter, she leaves him her card and bids him a'dieu. Interestingly enough Theresa does pepper her language with French expressions. I wonder in which part of New Sepra they speak French?