Monday, October 31, 2011

Rick's Story

Rick's Story is the 12th phone book of the epic Cerebus graphic novel by Dave Sim. I'm really getting there now. I think there are only 3 or 4 phone books to go.

Rick's Story is one of the shorter collections, only comprising from issue 220 - 231 of the comic.

In his introduction Dave Sim is at pains to once again state that Rick is not him, nor is the character based on him. I can see why people may have thought he was at one point. Rick, when he first entered the book, did bear a passing resemblance to the artist/writer, but that's all it was. I don't think it was conscious. Dave can only draw so many characters, and that was just how Rick looked to him. It is kind of interesting that he states this, though. At point in the story the Joanne character actually compares the Rick in it to a writer she knew called Dave, Rick reminds her of Dave, and this Rick is also a writer.

Rick is the only customer in the bar, and while he looks bigger with a beard, he's still Rick. A little older and wiser, but as far as Cerebus is concerned he's the same shiftless wimp that was once married to Jaka. Cerebus still refers to him as 'girly-boy', although he doesn't do this to Rick's face, just when he's having his endless internal conversations.

After the Cirinists took he and Jaka prisoner and then released Rick he became a writer of Reads and to hear him tell it, quite a successful one. This may or may not be true. Rick liked to tell a good story and he's become rather good at embellishing them. He hasn't forgotten what the Cirinists did to him, though. The breaking of his thumb for hitting Jaka is a regular nightmare.

When Cerebus actually banishes Mrs Thatcher from the bar Rick starts to wonder if the Most Holy talk was just that, or whether Cerebus is the real deal and does have some sort of divine wisdom or power. Cerebus has found a way to exploit the Cirinist's mind link, but he doesn't have any special power as such. He wouldn't be still stuck in the bar if he did.

Cerebus is happy when Rick meets and woos Joanne, in fact he prays that Rick won't screw it up. If Rick isn't there in the bar then Cerebus has no reason to be there either and he can leave. Rick comes to believe that Cerebus is something other than just a cranky, alcoholic bartender. He starts writing this biblical collection of Cerebus' wisdom. The artwork during these long slabs of faux archaic text is quite extraordinary; detailed pictures of stained glass frescoes featuring characters and motifs from the book.

Rick does leave, presumably with Joanne, although this isn't spelled out. He places a spell on the bar which prevents Cerebus from leaving. Cerebus can't decide if it's a spell to contain him or expel him. It's highly possible that Rick just got into the aardvark's head. Cerebus himself isn't sure if that's the case. I did find out one thing during that period though, the bar is on the Wall of Tsi, which I think is in the T'Capmin Kingdoms. Readers had heard about this in the early part of the book, but this was the first time we ever actually saw it. Unfortunately it's fairly unremarkable.

While Cerebus wrestles with himself about whether to stay or go and what spell Rick has possibly placed on the bar a new customer enters. His name is Dave. Yes, this is definitely Dave Sim. He has a conversation with Cerebus, which he steers, and then leaves as mysteriously as he showed up. He leaves a package behind on the bar.

Cerebus knows that this was Dave, THE Dave. The one that spoke to him and told him who and what he really was. Cerebus doesn't know what's in the package and he's afraid to open it. What if Dave's boss or his readers got sick of reading about Cerebus tending bar and arguing with himself and wanted him to start having adventures again and doing fun stuff and told Dave to kill off Cerebus, what if all the package has in it is paper reading THE END and then WHAM! Something flattens Cerebus? What if Dave had to kill off Cerebus and retitled the book Rick's Stories and it was all about Rick going off and having adventures and doing all the fun stuff that Cerebus used to do? What if Rick met Elrod and the Roach and they went off and had adventures and did fun stuff instead?

Eventually Cerebus opens the package reciting to himself: Alone 'CHECK' Unmourned 'CHECK' And Unloved 'CHECK'. This bit was both funny and touching. Evidence that even in the dross and the endless arguments and internal monologuing Dave still had the capacity to move readers...well he moved this one. Actually the whole thing about what was in the package was pretty funny at times.

Package open Cerebus stares down at the object in his hands. Missy. Jaka's doll. At that moment the door opens and in steps a beautiful blonde lady. What the fuck? It's Jaka. She takes in Cerebus sitting by the bar, Missy cradled in his hands and runs to him, tears streaming down her flawless cheeks and throws her arms around him.

Cerebus and Jaka spend the rest of the night talking and laughing. This is how they always wanted to be. Maybe this is how they would have been if Cerebus had gone to her when he remembered. We'll never know. There was one very clever bit. One of the jokes was about Missy and how she was a terrible gin soak. Jaka and Cerebus are in bed together. There's a bottle of Uncle Julius' (Lord Julius seems to produce all the alcohol that is served in Cerebus' bar, in fact he probably produces all the alcohol that the Cirinists use to drug the population) Ring Around the Bathtub Gin, complete with a picture of the master bureaucrat in the bath, sitting on the bar. A full glass is next to it, and Missy is propped up face down on the glass, as if she's drinking it. Highly amusing.

Jaka inadvertently breaks the spell of containment (I think Cerebus settled on that) that Rick had placed in the bar, so he and her are free to leave.

The epilog concerns the return of Marty, who looks no different, Bear, somewhat older and balder and wearing only his underwear for some reason, and George Richard, who is much fatter and has not been treated well by time. Bear and Marty have left their respective partners. Initially Cerebus looks to fall back into his old useless life with them, but then he remembers Jaka. He tells Bear to take care of himself and wishes him good luck, then he runs out of the bar and catches up with Jaka.

The final panel is Jaka and Cerebus wandering down the road away from the bar hand in hand.

Dave could have ended it right there. Yeah, I know it's only issue #231, Cerebus has Jaka, Jaka has him. He seems happy. What more is there to say? Oh yeah...alone, unmourned and unloved. Sigh.

Even more than 200 issues since Jaka danced into Cerebus' life and storyline her reintroduction still has the capacity to light up the book. I keep hoping Cerebus won't screw it up this time, even though I know he probably will.

The artwork was, as I'd come to expect solid and accomplished. Dave had grown so much as an artist over the years, and it shows in this book as it has previously, there's also those different styles and the stained glass panels were stunning. The lettering changes a lot in this, barely two letters are the same. That must have been a major pain in the behind, but it was done very well and stands out.

Next: Book 13 Going Home.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ready Player One

Ready Player One's author Ernest Cline is a geek, there's not doubt about it, and it is not meant as an insult. Prior to his debut novel what he was best known was as the mind behind the 'geek' film Fanboys.

Ready Player One is a love letter to the 1980's in all it's geeky glory.

The story is actually rather simple. Computer whiz kid James Halliday created the OASIS; a huge interactive online experience that would one day eclipse the internet itself. The name OASIS is what future generations use to refer to being online. By the middle of the 21st century the economy has collapsed and global warming has all but destroyed the environment. The youth of the century live largely online, as an escape from the depressing reality of what is around them. OASIS is their lives.

Halliday passed away in his late 60's, and did so without any heirs. He left a will of sorts and said that he had hidden an easter egg (a part of a computer program, genuinely a video game that programmers insert as a personal vanity card) in the OASIS and the first person to find it inherits everything, his personal fortune and GSS (the company that Halliday and his partner set up to run OASIS). However to find the egg hunters must first locate 3 keys and pass 3 gates. It's rather Willy Wonkaish, at one point the eccentric confectioner is actually mentioned in one of the novel's countless and highly entertaining pop culture references.

The hunt for the egg inspires a whole new counter culture. Those poring over the OASIS and Halliday's life to find it, being obsessed with the 1980's; the decade he grew up in, Halliday mined the decade's culture extensively to hide the egg, become known as gunters, a corruption of the words egg hunters. The gunters team up in clans or search solo, their opposition are what they call Sixers, employees of GSS' only real competition, the giant multinational IOI, who wants to gain control of the OASIS so that they can exploit society's reliance on it for further profit. IOI pretentiously call their egg hunters oologists.

The hunt continues fruitlessly for half a decade, then a previously unknown gunter by the name of Parzival finds the first key.

Once the first key is uncovered the hunt is on well and truly, as other gunters and the Sixers start to work it out and the slots on the scoreboard fill up with a mixture of gunters and Sixers.

The book is the story of Parzival and his hunt to find the egg, the aliiances he makes with other gunters on the way and their fight to prevent the Sixers from getting their hands on the keys, through the gates and retrieving Halliday's egg, fighting to stay alive in the real world and the OASIS every step of the way.

I confess to really loving this book. Like James Halliday I too am a child of the 80's, so I got most, if not all of the references. I'm also a bit of a geek, so I picked up most of those too. I'm not a gamer, and a lot of the book was about gaming, but I had friends who were, and things are explained well enough that I had no problem following those sections of the book.

The main protagonists were also well done. The gunters of Wade (Parzival), Aech and Art3mis are engaging and interesting characters. They all have histories and are believable as people that prefer to live their lives online behind the anonymity of their avatars. Wade is an atypical overweight loner, Art3mis' intellect and flip manner hides a secret about her appearance, and Aech is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. The Japanese duo of Daito and Shoto I found a little too stereotypical. The leader of the Sixers; IOI executive Sorrento, was also a total black hat, but I enjoyed having a defined bad guy to hiss at. The shades of grey that permeate SFF at the moment are all very well, but there are times when it's nice to have it laid out in black and white. There is another main character in Ready Player One, and that's one that has been dead for a number of years when the story starts; James Halliday. Ernest Cline has very skillfully woven the story of the eccentric genius into his narrative, this serves the multiple purpose of making Halliday into a character, exposition about the world and the OASIS and also gives enough information about the game or movie scenario to the uninitiated so that they are not left in the dark.

Unsurprisingly with his background Ernest Cline writes in a rather cinematic style. Ready Player One would make a great movie, and at times it has the feel of one of the classic 80's teen films that were so beloved of James Halliday. There is a hint in the authors note at the back of the book that a movie may be coming our way soon. I certainly hope so.

I had a ball with Ready Player One and it's jumped into my list of favourite reads this year!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


When readers left the soulless Alexia Tarabotti at the end of the last book she was about to be married to man...uhhh...werewolf of her dreams and had accepted an appointment as a supernatural liaison from none other than Queen Victoria herself.

Changeless finds the former Miss Tarabotti now known as Lady Maccon and married to Lord Conall Maccon, the dashing Scottish werewolf, she's also being ravished on a regular basis and despite her protestations to the contrary, one gets the impression she rather enjoys her husband's attention.

The life of wedded bliss is interrupted by all manner of things. Something is disrupting supernatural activity; werewolves are unable to change, vampires have lost their bite and large numbers of ghosts have been exorcised. Her Majesty is not amused and exactly what is Alexia going to do about it. Connal's pack has returned from active duty overseas and set up camp on Alexia's front lawn, it's terribly inconvenient and the odious Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings telling her that they've always done it, does not make situation any more bearable. Most importantly Alexia's best friend Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, she of the horrid hats, has become engaged!

Without warning Connal takes off on urgent pack business to the wilds of Scotland and Alexia has no option, but to jump on a dirigible with her annoying younger half sister Miss Felicity Loontwill and Ivy in tow, being mooned after by Connal's claviger (a potential werewolf, the vampire version is called a drone) Tunstell, she's also shadowed by a possible French spy, Madame Lefoux, who runs a hat shop, invents things and affects masculine dress, and go to Scotland.

Alexia will discover more about her husband, her mysterious father, Madame Lefoux and her servant Angelique and get to the bottom of the supernatural disruption. Will she do so in time to avert disaster, though?

The style of the Parasol Protectorate books is absolutely delightful, and Alexia is one of the more entertaining heroines I have ever encountered. Her insistence on remaining polite in the face of the most extraordinary situations is endearing and incredibly British.

The steampunk influence is far more in evidence in Changeless than it was in Soulless, and some of the more complex descriptions of the technology could have been excised without affecting the story. It was rather unfortunate that those passages tended to involve the urbane, flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama, because his italic laden appearances were one of the highlights of Soulless and they were affected in this one, although it is fun seeing just how many completely inappropriate names he can come up with for Alexia.

One thing that I really loved about Changeless was that we got to see a lot more of Miss Hisselpenny. I like Ivy, she comes across as totally clueless, her comment about the range of bang on hunting rifles was priceless, as was her lack of assistance to Alexia when she was literally hanging by a thread on the side of the dirigible. The talk of her hats and how horrible they are becomes a little tiresome, but her habit of fainting whenever there's a loud noise or the mention of blood is very funny.

It may have been authentic, but I also found the regular references between Alexia and Connal to each other as 'husband' and 'wife' a little jarring. They did this even in private, yet it was apparent that they are both deeply in love, so I thought they would have used each other's first names or some sort of endearment more often.

That minor criticism aside Changeless was a hoot and the cliffhanger ending makes me very eager to read the third book in the series; Blameless.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Magicians

The Magicians is the 3rd book by TIME magazine journalist and literary critic Lev Grossman. This caused a bit of a stir when it came out in 2009 and won the John W. Campbell award for it's author at the 2011 Worldcon.

I'd been meaning to get to it for a while. The premise interested me; a gifted young man gets the chance to attend a magical university and discover an entirely new world where the magic is out in the open. It was often described as an adult Harry Potter.

The story is fairly simple. Quentin Coldwater is a talented, if somewhat unlikeable young man who is invited to test for Brakebills; a magical university. He passes the test and finds himself at the college. Brakebills is rather like where I could see the kids from Hogwarts going after they'd graduated from the English school.

Quentin meets and makes friends with other students, he learns magic, even falls in love. At the end of five years he graduates and finds that while a graduate of Brakebills never wants for anything (they look after their own), it's a rather pointless, and in fact joyless existence. In fact one of Quentin's friends, another former student; the unflappable Eliot, actually confesses to Quentin that if life had continued the way it was going, he would have drunk himself to death out of sheer boredom.

Another graduate, the punk loner; Penny, reappears and announces that he's found the way to another world. The world of Fillory. Fillory is the world in a series of children's books. All the Brakebills kids, and at times it seems like everybody who can read, have read the books. Quentin is mildly obsessed with them. They follow Penny to Fillory and found out that yes it is real and maybe it was best left undiscovered.

The Magicians is quite readable, but it has flaws. One of them is Quentin. He's both unlikeable and unremarkable. This makes it hard for readers to connect to him and believe him as the hero. It's pretty obvious that Grossman's influences were Harry Potter and Narnia. The book is often rather derivative of both these sources. Brakebills is like an Ivy League version of Hogwarts. Quentin's love interest; Alice, is so close to Hermione Granger that I'm surprised Rowlings hasn't sued. Regarding Fillory and Narnia, Grossman should have just dropped the pretence and called Fillory Narnia, and changed the surname of the kids in the Fillory books from Chatwin to Pevensie.

The book is rather oddly paced. Often it reads like a series of loosely linked vignettes. There's also a couple of story threads that go nowhere and are just left flapping in the wind by the end of the story. A sequel (The Magician King) has just been released, so it may tie those up, although I got the distinct impression that The Magicians was definitely a standalone book. There will be large sections where the book just meanders along and then all of sudden there's a big action sequence, where the participants miraculously discover some hitherto unknown power. It felt it also went a chapter or two longer than it really needed to be.

At times it's rather like the author had an idea he just had to get down, but didn't really have a complete story around it, or a way to satisfactorily resolve it, but it just had to go in there, because it was too good to not write down.

Having said all that, it's not a totally unenjoyable reading experience. The concept is good. Most, but not all the characters, are fun to read. My two personal favourites were Alice and Eliot, although I also developed a soft spot for the party girl Janet.

Lev Grossman has some great ideas in this. The pixie teacher at Brakebills was one, although this too was one of the things I thought could have been explored in greater depth and was never really resolved. The mystery of what happens to the Fourth Year students for a semester was really good. The story of Emily Greenstreet was also very well done, although it seemed kind of out of place and was one of those loose threads. I really liked the idea of the caco demon, that was handled very well.

I did like the sprinkling of pop culture references throughout the narrative, which gave it a sense of time. Somehow even the legendary line from Scarface got an airing. Cheekily the most oft referred to idea was Harry Potter.

The Magicians is a good idea, but unfortunately a handful of ideas held together by a whiny protagonist doesn't really make for a totally enjoyable reading experience or establish the work as a classic. It was an easy enough read, but it doesn't inspire me to want to read the sequel. I think everything that could possibly be wrung out of the concept is in this volume.

Friday, October 14, 2011


My recent interest in steampunk continues with Gail Carriger's Soulless, the first book in her Parasol Protectorate.

My wife first discovered Ms Carriger at the 2010 Worldcon and ripped through her books (she had 3 out at the time). I'd been meaning to read them and when they were listed as a recommendation for people who liked Phoenix Rising - Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I decided to try them out.

Alexia Tarabotti suffers from a few disadavantages in life. She's half Italian on her father's side, at the age of 26 she is still unmarried and she doesn't have a soul.

One night at a party she retires to the library to get something to eat (treacle tart), and encounters a vampire, who attempts to bite her, being preternatural (the term for one without a soul) she neutralises vampires and werewolves on contact, but it is rather bothersome and in despatching him he sat on the tart she had her heart and stomach set on.

Because Alexia kills the vampire there has to be an investigation and it appears that someone is creating rogue vampires. Alexia unwittingly becomes a part of a much bigger scheme and is thrown together with the dashing werewolf about town Lord Connal Maccon. This wouldn't be so bad, except Maccon is very attractive and also Scottish, so socially unacceptable to Alexia's pretentious family.

Soulless is what Jane Austen would have written if she'd included vampires and werewolves in her comedies of manners, and I think a great deal of inspiration was drawn from the popular Victorian writer.

Although there are currently 4 books in the Parasol Protectorate, with at least one more to come, Soulless has everything tied up in a neat bow with a happy ending. If you weren't minded to read on, you don't have to, although I had so much fun reading Soulless that I'll soon be picking up Changeless as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Vamparazzi is the 4th Esther Diamond book by Laura Resnick.

Vamparazzi finds the actress starring in an off Broadway play based on John Polidori’s seminal piece of vampire fiction The Vampyre. The main reason for the show’s existence is it’s star Daemon Ravel, who claims to be an actual vampire. His crazed fans also surround the theatre before and after performances, and have been dubbed by Esther and her co-star; the improbably named Leishneudel Drsydale, as vamparazzi, hence the book’s title.

It’s not a great play and working on it has drawbacks, the aforementioned vamparazzi, Ravel himself, not to mention the sleazy tabloid journalist who is writing about him; Al Tarr, and then there is the other actress in the show; the foul mouthed, hot tempered ingĂ©nue; Mad Rachel. However it is 8 weeks of paid work and Esther has taken a liking to Leischneudel, to the extent of seeing if her agent; Thackeray Shackleton, will sign him as a client.

After a particularly trying performance Esther finds her on again, off again boyfriend, NYPD detective Conor Lopez in her dressing room. Lopez is messy and unshaven and very cagey about who he really is. Esther soon finds out that he’s working undercover, and has come to see her out of worry. One of the vamparazzi was found exsanguinated, and due to a run in with the woman outside the theatre Esther is a suspect. No one actually thinks she did it, the main suspect is Ravel. The man says he’s a vampire, he keeps bottles of what look suspiciously like human blood in his dressing room refrigerator, and he actually bit Esther one night during a performance.

To be fair to Esther she didn’t try to get involved in this one, but circumstances drew her into it. Once she informed her friend the 350 year old European magician Maximilan Zadok about what was happening, it was a foregone conclusion that Esther would be right in the middle of things. One of the occupations on Max’s extensive CV is vampire hunter, it also explains why he’s so wary about Lithuanians.

Part of the fun of any book like this is working out ‘whodunnit’ (something I suck at), and it was really hard in Vamparazzi, because it seemed at times as if Esther was the only cast member who wasn’t a vampire. The book also exploded a few myths about vampires. According to Max there are three types and only one of them is truly blood thirsty.

One thing that hurt the previous book; Unsympathetic Magic, was Laura Resnick’s tendency towards extensive exposition. That’s still present, but she’s toned it down considerably and it doesn’t affect the flow of the narrative the way it did in Unsympathetic Magic. For readers looking for more romance between Lopez and Esther, they’d come away disappointed, there are moments, but romance is largely absent. That leads me to my next point.

The Esther Diamond’s are rather hard to classify. The first of the books Disappearing Nightly (I haven’t read this yet, still waiting for DAW to reissue it), was published by a romance publisher (Luna, who were part of Harlequin), and they decided not to pick it up as a series, from what I’ve heard, it didn’t really seem to fit with their line. On the face of it, they look like straight Paranormal Romance, but they’re decidedly light on the romance, so fit more into the Urban Fantasy category, the two do, at times, tend to be interchangeable. The best way I can describe what the Esther Diamond’s is this: if Janet Evanovich’s bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, were a few years younger and working as an actress in New York and wound up investigating things of a supernatural bent, then she’d be Esther Diamond.

One of my criticisms of the two earlier books (Doppelgangster and Unsympathetic Magic) was that Conor Lopez was too good to be true. He becomes a little more believable and acts more realistically in Vamparazzi, although he’s not in it as much as he was in the earlier novels. There was also no wiseguy action, so we didn’t get to see Lucky Batistuzzi from Doppelgangster return (seriously, he rocked), although I did like Leischneudel, and being in the acting game there’s a fair chance readers could see him again. They’re light, easy to read fun.

The next Esther adventure: Polterheist (I do love the titles) is due out next year, and hopefully by then DAW will have brought out Disappearing Nightly and I’ll know the full Esther Diamond story.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Phoenix Rising

I seem to be getting into the genre du jour, which is steampunk, at present. Over the past month or so I’ve read Devon Monk’s Dead Iron: The Age of Steam and Phil & Kaja Folio’s Agatha H. and the Airship City, both of which are classified as steampunk and now, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novel.

Because it’s referred to as A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novel I had to check before purchasing it to see if it was in fact the first of the series, which thankfully it is. It’s a steampunk romp set in late 19th century England with two fun leads: the phlegmatic and aptly named very British archivist; Wellington Thornhill Books, Esq, and the fiery New Zealand born field agent with a penchant for black powder and dynamite; Eliza Braun. The fact that one of the leads was a Kiwi was delightfully refreshing, but given that one of the authors; Pip Ballantine, is also from the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, not all that surprising. I find when authors not from the antipodes try to do characters from the southern hemisphere they come out somehow wrong. Pip has got Eliza spot on. I wasn’t totally happy that she cast the Aussie agent; Bruce Campbell (I think the name is coincidental and not really a dig at the legendary B actor, although he’s probably called Bruce as ever since the famous Monty Python ‘philosopher’ sketch, the name has been seen as quintessentially Australian. Despite that I’ve only ever known one Bruce in my entire life), as a bit of a villain.

This action packed story opens with Books being held somewhere in the wilds of Antarctica, presumably by the Ministry’s arch enemy; the sinister House of Usher, that’s about when Braun enters with guns blazing, and rescues him. The opening introduces the heroine and hero, sets the tone for their relationship and indicates that the reader had better strap in and hold on, because it does not let up from that point on. If anything, it gets crazier and funnier.

Back in the Motherland, Braun is banished to the Archives, because her tendency to blow things up brings more than it’s unwanted share of attention in the direction of the Ministry. The Ministry’s Archives are Books’ domain, and before long the two are striking sparks off each other and investigating the circumstances that threw them together in the first place.

What they uncover is an ancient and ruthless secret society that will stop at nothing to seize the power held by the British throne. The whole investigation is complicated by the fact that the two agents feel that they need to keep their investigation a secret from even their own superiors. This of course means that when they do take on the Phoenix Society they’re on their own and this adds a whole new level of danger.

The entire affair was a huge amount of fun and there’s definite chemistry between Wellington Books and Eliza Braun. Both leads have long and deep personal histories, which will be fascinating to learn more about as hopefully more Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books are released.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris have borrowed liberally from other novels of the age. There’s more than a hint of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the Phoenix Society’s mechanical warriors, and Eliza Braun’s task force of street urchins; The Ministry Seven, have a direct analog in Sherlock Holmes Baker Street Irregulars. I got flashes of Warehouse 13 from the Archive scenes and other reviews have compared the duo to 60’s cult spy TV show The Avengers, so the books could make a decent TV show. Steampunk is one area they haven't yet explored properly.

I really enjoyed reading Phoenix Rising and hope we get to see more of Books and Braun agents of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.


The revelations in Minds were going to be a pretty hard act to follow and for me there was interest to see if Dave could do so in Guys. Unfortunately he couldn’t. I think this was about where the book lost me. I did keep buying it for some time following Guys, but much of the interest and enjoyment had gone. The reread hasn’t actually proven to enhance the experience.

Guys is mostly set in one of those bars that the Cirinists set up to keep the male population happy, sedated and out of their way. Their existence had been spoken about in Minds, when Cerebus found out the truth about Cirin/Serna. The bar itself, and a good many of the conversations in the narrative are based on a local establishment Dave frequented during a period of near alcoholism in between relationships. It does have that feel about it, and the conversations that float around a regularly drink sodden Cerebus, are of the type that you can hear in places with heavy regular drinkers.

Dave took the opportunity to reintroduce a number of characters from previous adventures. Mick (he seemed to have dropped the Prince title) was a regular, Keef also popped in at one stage, but his role was little more than a cameo. Bear was there, resuming his relationship with Cerebus. In Cerebus’ head at least, the two seemed much closer than I’d ever realised. Cerebus is almost dependent on the big bearded mercenary. Boobah also shows up, sporting some extremely impressive facial hair. The Roach has a cameo as ‘fanroach’, there’s a reference to a writer of ‘graphic reads’ visiting the bar, and that’s what fanroach turns up for. Elrod doesn’t appear, but he and Sophia are mentioned at one point. They seem to live together as man and wife. Mrs Thatcher comes back, she appears to administer the bar, she’s far less terrifying and her authority seems to have greatly diminished (I’m not sure of the dates when the book was written, but her real life counterpart may have been voted out of power by this time). Some new characters were introduced; bartender Harrison Starkey, the name is a mixture of George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and he did have a very Beatleish look about him, he also spoke with a heavy accent which was meant to represent the Liverpudlian accent of the Fab Four. A bug eyed, hunch backed character called Marty also played a part. He was very obviously based on the pop eyed comedic actor Marty Feldman. His character was one of the funniest things about Guys, although I’m not really sure why Dave felt the need to use Marty Feldman in the book.

Cerebus spends the first half of the book in an alcoholic stupor, listening to the nonsensical chatter in the bar, and slipping in and out of consciousness after drinking copious amounts of ‘scodge’. There were a few dream sequences, but they were a little different to the ones in earlier books, often being influenced by what was going on around Cerebus at the time. From the conversations in the bar readers gleaned some information about what had happened while Cerebus was floating around in space. Mind you the conversations were damned hard to follow due to the speech patterns the characters employed. Both Mick and Harrison spoke with heavy accents, and were at times unintelligible. Bear is hardly capable of stringing more than three words together without inserting ‘whadyacallit’, and when Cerebus spoke, his speech was so badly slurred from the alcohol that it was also hard to decipher. Cerebus seemed to have been out of the picture for a number of years. Cirin returned, and due to lack of opposition cemented her control even more firmly.

Eventually the other patrons leave the bar, and Cerebus takes over as bartender. No one actually ever frequents the bar after this, until a lady called Joanne comes calling. Joanne was one of the women Cerebus met in one of Dave’s futures for him. This was really confusing, because Cerebus knew her, only she didn’t know him. I’m not sure how Dave kept it straight in his own head, because it was really throwing me out. I understood it, but it was just such an odd concept. Cerebus started a relationship with her, while knowing that it was all going to end in tears, because unless Bear returned to the bar by a certain date Cerebus had determined that he was heading south, without Joanne. Joanne was the person who mentioned Elrod and Sophia, they were apparently her neighbours. When she first appeared in Minds, Joanne reminded me of someone, and it dawned on me in Guys, who that was. She looks a lot like an older version of the young waitress Doris, who Cerebus met in Melmoth.

Joanne finds out about Cerebus’ plans to leave, and walks out on him. The epilogue introduces a new patron of the bar. A big, bluff bearded blonde chap, who seems to be very confident and competent. No one knows who he is until he leans across the bar, and tells Cerebus that the aardvark once told him that he was in love with his wife. Rick?!

Rick’s surprising reappearance aside, there seems to be little reason for the existence of Guys. It doesn’t advance the story, it doesn’t tell readers anything they don’t already know. Cerebus is barely sane, he hates himself, he drinks heavily, all his relationships with women end in disaster, he’s not going to stay around. We’ve seen all this. We didn’t need it explained again and again. There are a lot of words in Guys used to say very little. To be totally honest I felt that it was spinning it’s wheels, and longed for the book’s earlier days when stuff used to happen. Maybe Rick’s Story will be a return to form, at least hearing about Rick changing from the skinny idler to this big confident bloke would provide some new information about a character.

The artwork throughout was competent, without ever doing anything astonishing. Most of Dave’s ‘people’, not Cerebus; he always looks like a cartoon, look very real and you can see the developments in inking and shading since the early days of the book. For what was at one time a very funny book, both in it’s visuals and words, there’s not much to laugh about in Guys, although I did find the labels on the alcohol served in the bar rather amusing, Lord Julius’ company seemed to produce most of them. Nice to see that no matter how bad things get in Estarcion the master bureaucrat always lands on his feet.