Genre: Science-Fiction/Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
REVIEW Sometimes it is difficult to classify a work of fiction. One my enter into it with a genre in mind, but once the reading begins it becomes confusing because it does not follow the rules. Through the years there have always been those who claim that breaking the norms of classification is bad and that has always been the battle between the old guard and the young lions when it comes to culture. Brett Savory’s new book is a perfect example of how one might break the norm.
A Perfect Machine opens up in an unknown city in an unknown era, in an unknown universe. To be perfectly honest there are quite a few details in this tale that are unknown and that is one of the strengths. Henry Kyllo is a runner, part of a ritual that has been played for a long time in the city. A sort of hunt that usually leaves him laid out riddled with bullets, but that doesn’t really matter since he always bounces back. That is just one of the strange abilities afforded runners, that and the fact that they cloak the entire affair to those who happen to experience it, very much like a memory that fades away. The healing comes with a price and every time new bullets penetrate him Kyllo’s body is altered. One night Kyllo goes overboard and gets his final dose of lead, while his best friend Milo is decapitated, the only way to kill runners apparently.
Kyllo, thought to be dead by his nurse girlfriend Faye, begins to change instead and turn into a monstrous machine and Milo turns into a ghost, following his pal around.
At the same time the head of the runners, a man by the name of Palermo, has his own issues. A young man named Krebosche is looking to expose the gang and traditions of the run and exact revenge on those involved in the death of his sister and girlfriend. A girlfriend who happened to be Palermo’s daughter. The stories cross as everyone ends up at Faye’s apartment where Kyllo is turning into something completely new.
There is a lot going on in Savory’s tale and yet the reader is often times left feeling that they do not know what is happening. The plot is easy enough to follow, as are the various characters that come in and out, but it is all those things that surround the story, the setting and background that may leave you wanting more. A Perfect Machine is billed as a science-fiction, but lacks several of the qualities that belong to the genre, or at least it would appear so. We are never, initially at least, informed of what the runners and their counter parts the hunters are; the next step in human evolution, robots or aliens, there is no mention of year or parallel universe and the setting seems to be quite similar to our own. Question is if this is necessary or if it would remove focus from what is important or if it is a conscious measure to make the book lighter on technical jargon and speculative motifs that might alienate most readers.
There is something slightly absurd about A Perfect Machine, despite the language being strong in its simplicity, and the suspension of disbelief is difficult to set aside. There are so many things that happen; men turning into machine, ghosts in the vein Patrick Swayze, vengeance as found in the works of Mickey Spillane and humans hunting each other like Surviving the Game, at times it feels like you’re reading a Golden Age comic with better writing. Savory does make it work on some level, but one might ask if sticking to just a couple of speculative aspects wouldn’t have been better.
Our interview with Sebastian A Jones of Stranger Comics from almost two years ago
In the competitive world of comics it is important to stand out and get noticed and that is what happened when The Untamed was released at the end of the 00’s. It received accolades from the likes of Clive Barker and early on talks of a live action version were rumored. Now a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to support a printed copy of the graphic novel and we spoke to the brains behind it; Sebastian A. Jones.
Jones launched Stranger Comics in 2008 together with some friends.
‘We felt there was a lack of dark fantasy epics in the comic genre, and we felt we had a fully baked world we could tell character driven stories in’ Jones explains. ‘We wanted to protect our creative visions we had worked very hard on’
Jones, who moved to the States twenty years ago from England, had run a record…
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One of the worst things, probably worse than being alone at Christmas, is when the holidays just don’t turn out the way we though they would. That building anticipation that ones goes through for weeks, just to be let down when it finally arrives. The turkey is dry, the family gets too drunk, you just didn’t get that present you were hoping for or you don’t arrive at your destination. That is what Nick Lowe contemplates in his tune Christmas at the airport.
When Nick Lowe, born in 1949 in England, wasn’t thrilled when his record company approached him to release a Christmas album, but according to himself he didn’t have to consider it for long and gave in to ‘tawdry and vulgar commercialism’. The result was Quality Street – A Seasonal Selection For All The Family, complete with covers of various seasonal tunes, but also two new songs, all done with Lowe’s special brand of irony and humor.
Christmas at the Airport is one of those new songs, relating how Lowe is stuck during Christmas Day and how he decides to spend his time, all alone. It is a interesting ditty, maybe not an instant Christmas classic, but it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks in The Terminal and it tells us to make the best out of every situation, no matter how bleak.
For its message of hope Christmas at the Airport by Nick Lowe is song number 23 on The Christmas List of Songs.
Christmas songs are of many styles and origins; there are the classic carols, the American form sung by crooners of the 50s and 60s and the ones hailing from the 80s. These are all part of our joint cultural heritage and we pick them up through osmosis. The past years I have become more interested in the older, folkish, Christmas tunes of the United Kingdom and one such song, albeit released just recently, is Christmas Bells.
Released in 2013 by the folk ensemble Bellowhead it follows the pattern of the St. George Christmas plays an ancient Cornwall tradition with religious subtext. The actors, dressed in traditional Morris dancer style in shirt sleeves and white trousers, illustrate several characters like The Doctor, Father Christmas, The Dragon and St. George. They then re-enact the battle of St. George and The Dragon to dance, music and much merriment.
Bellowhead was an eleven piece folk orchestra that blended traditional folk songs with a more contemporary, almost burlesque style. To see them live was truly to see a spectacle and they had very popular Christmas shows. One could claim that Christmas Bells perfectly illustrates the type of music they produced.
Christmas Bells is fun, energetic and filled with classic allusions to the folk heritage of the UK. That is why it is song number 17 on The Christmas List of Songs.
There are classic seasonal songs and then there are classical seasonal songs. Some are classics because we connect them to a movie or holiday special. Others because they remind us of family or friends and some take on a more sacred air. Yet again others, not necessarily about Christmas, just seem to tap into the season by describing those things that we link to that holiday. Winter Wonderland is one of those songs.
Originally written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Dick Smith and first recorded that same year it has been through the treated some 200 times. Over the years the song has been sung by legends like Johnny Mercer, Perry Como and new artists like Micheal Bublé. As mentioned the tune is not an overtly Christmas one, as the only reference to the season would be sleigh bells but it is widely regarded as one. The lyrics, written by Smith during his time in a sanitarium, describe a snowy landscape and express a yearning for the fun things one can do in that very scenery. Part whimsy, because of the strange references to a Parson Brown and circus clown, and part a still observation of the same.
In the version of Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall, born 1964, the song goes back to the jazzy roots that spawned it, albeit with a more modern take. Krall has been a staple of the jazz scene since she stepped onto it in the 90s and has seven been awarded the Order of British Columbia, as well as a slew of other awards. Her interpretation is a musical embodiment of the words Smith wrote while he gazed out over the snow from his sanitarium window. One can feel the sound of snow under ones feet, the sun caress ones face and the sound of children playing along the sidewalk. The enticement of joining them to build a snowman and dress it up and then just move on.
The fact that the song might actually make a person look forward to the cold of winter is the reason why Winter Wonderland is number seven on the Christmas List.
Almost as synonymous with the holiday season as Christmas songs is the subgenre of Winter songs, an almost secular alternative to the sometimes overt religious theme of the former. That’s not to say that songs like Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire or Walking in a Winter Wonderland promote christian values, but they are Christmas tunes. Songs about the winter definitely have another vibe and theme which will be evident in later installments on this list and Fountains of Wayne’s Valley Winter Song is no different.
To some the song has become very familiar due to its appearance in seasonal commercials and just recently in the first episode of the new Gilmore Girls Netflix show. This is also how most people know of the band, as one that constantly is played in TV shows and advertising, their brand of inoffensive rock seem to please the ear of most producers. The band, formed in 1995, was always viewed as a less cerebral version of Weezer, a comparison that may be difficult to deny at first listen, but this humble music reporter has always begged to differ. True that the songs of Fountains of Wayne have been more accessible than their more famous counterpart, but the tunes that Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood have turned out have all been little gems being observations of every day life.
Valley Winter Song is no different than the bands other tracks on that score. It soberly looks at how the winter months can drag a person down because of the darkness, the falling snow and the salt and dirt everywhere. It’s an homage to desire, the desire for summer and heat, but also to love between people. A love, that is symbolized through the writing of verse and reminds those who are depressed in winter that a warm body or relationships of any kind might ease us through the darkness.
At first listen Valley Winter Song may appear to be a harmless ditty about winter, perfect for a L.L. Bean commercial, but by reading the lyrics and truly listening to the emotion conveyed it is so much more; that is why it is number three on the Christmas List of Songs.
I first came in contact with Jay McAllister, the given name of the artist Beans on Toast, when he acted as the opening act for Frank Turner and I instantly fell in love with his brand of folkish music. Beans on Toast came on the folk scene in 2005 and has become quite the prolific song writer and has released an album every year on his birthday; December 1st. He mixes satirical, political and funny material on his albums, filled with social commentary in the vein of a true protest singer. In 2015 he and his label mates, the folk sextet, Skinny Lister released the charity single This Christmas and it is the first entrant on this Christmas List of Songs.
This Christmas is a folky romp of a song highlighting the joys of spending time with ones family on Christmas and forgetting troubles that may plague ones life, or relationships as it is in this tune. It sounds as if it was recorded on Christmas day, after the presents have been opened and the yuletide drinks have been well and truly consumed. There are sounds of joy in the company of family and friends amidst the harsh atmosphere outside, be it literal as in a winter evening or symbolic as in the state of the world.
Although it may not bring about the warm fuzzy feeling and picturesque images of a Bing Crosby special it conjures visions of a truer Christmas and it allows for something nostalgic. For some it may be the perfect description of celebrating the season with kith and kin.
Publisher: Dreaming Big Publications
Books based on role playing games are not unheard of, they might be less common today, or less of an intricate part of the fantasy genre as they were in the heyday of Forgotten Realms or DragonLance, but one does come across the odd Warhammer 40k books and for what its worth they are fairly decent. Plushinomicon is one such book, a collection of short tales set in the fantastical world of Teddy Bear Island. Teddy Bear Island is an RPG created by Orcs Unlimited and was created through a Kickstarter campaign. The world of Teddy Bear Island is very much like any old fantasy world, filled with the same old creatures one might encounter in Dungeons and Dragons like elfs, dwarfs or orcs. It is also filled with something different, something very different; stuffed animal zombies and they all live on the island, once created by a Fluffomancer. As a role playing game this concept does open up to several interesting possibilities and certainly hilarious problem solving scenarios.
Plushinomicon is in short a collection of ten short stories by a variety of authors and among them even the editor herself. The stories all center around Teddy Bear Island, it might be about getting there for one reason or another and adventures on the very isle itself. There is a wide variety of characters all typical heroes that are easily recognizable to those familiar with the fantasy genre.
It is futile to try to recap the short stories within the pages of Plushinomicon and they might just be directed to those who have played the game or who may be interested in doing so. Most of the stories are structured the same way and with a minimal amount of intrigue, in short, they are very quick reads that don’t challenge the reader at all and it comes across more like a collection of adventures that the authors have played through themselves and found funny enough to share. Unfortunately the authors aren’t given enough space to create compelling tales to excite and scare the reader and that is one of the big downfalls of this collection. Of course there is some understanding that this is all based in a strange world that maybe isn’t supposed to be taken so seriously, but there is still an overwhelming feeling that more could have been done.
Though the prospect of villainous zombie plushies sound like an entertaining way to spend some time these stories are not close to other RPG based counter parts and one would most likely be served better to pick up a DragonLance or Forgotten Realms.
IV: Anti Ordinary
Noble men gather to debate
Journalists are introduced
And speculations run wild
The gates of the dome slid open with ease and allowed the slick black speed car to pass through and enter Londinium. It continued down the main street and halted outside the Protectorate. The building was an exact replica of the historic Parliament, but where the original was made of brick and mortar the center of the Commonwealth was constructed from black steel and tinted glass. There had been a plan from the early builders of the modern union to create something that at the same time harkened back to the past yet represented the space age in which they lived. That and the fact that brick were impossible to find, seeing as no one had bothered to bring them during The Exodus and finding a method to construct new ones was too arduous a task.
It was the seat of the governing body of the Commonwealth and sat at the heart of Londinium, a constructed capital that only housed official buildings. No one lived there and at night a skeleton crew of guards or officers inhabited the dome. Just like the Protectorate Londinium was the hub of the Commonwealth and the nations that were part of it were spread out around very much like a wheel across Venus.
Lords Wilcox and Moore stepped out of the vehicle, straightened out their suits and gave the driver, a rudo dressed in a black uniform with the Commonwealth crest stitched on his lapel, and walked towards the black building. Londinium was the smallest of the domes on the planet and the buildings and offices contained under it where snugly put next to each other except for the Parliament that had been given a generous amount of space to house a proper English garden spread out over several acres. The grounds housed a grand lawn suitable for Cricket, a pond and an area with herbs and flowers of typical British stock. The Commonwealth’s terraforming of the planet had been more successful than the attempts of other nations, at least in the field of grass and plants, yet proper trees and fruits still eluded the scientists. The atmosphere had also only been partially modified and the different areas on the planet had to be housed under giant domes to keep the inhabitants safe from the elements.
The inside of the building was teaming with activity, as it always was the minutes before Parliament was to convene. Runners were hurrying back and forth across the great hall making sure that their lordships were in possession of the information they needed for the upcoming debates. Lord Moore and Lord Wilcox were uninterested in the hustle and bustle and headed towards the main floor where the Lords of the realm would meet. They had done away with the House of Commons when the Commonwealth was built with the reasoning that most commoners now had become title holders and as the years turned into decades and centuries the new commoners were viewed as unreliable and too, well, common to understand the complexity of politics. As with most things the true meaning behind names in the new union meant nothing.
Suddenly a man appeared next to Lord Moore and fell in step with them. It was Lord Brandon Lafferty Earl of New Carrick. He wore his white hair long, tied in a ponytail at the neck, which was the stile amongst the Hibernian nobles and was in his official garb; dark green suit with an orange waist coat. Towering over the two other men, he was a perfect representative of his people in terms of height and build.
‘Lord Wilcox, Lord Moore it is nice to see you again Sirs’ Lord Lafferty said in a somber tone. The kind of tone Oliver Moore had become accustomed to since the disappearance of the S/S Jeff Lynne less than a fortnight ago.
‘Thank you Lord Lafferty’ Lord Moore replied and tried to match the somberness. ‘Back to work is the best remedy I find. It is what my father taught me.’ Lafferty nodded and gave a sound of approval.
‘So Brandon’ Lord Wilcox said with just the tiniest hint of a sigh. ‘Do you know what is on the docket for today?’ Making sure to change the subject.
‘Well naturally the main topic is the St. Odo Affair as it has come to be known’ Lord Lafferty went quiet as his two companions stopped to look at him. ‘Well, an unsavory name, I know. Trade business and The Young Lions have asked to present something or other.’
‘Bah, The Young Lions’ Lord Wilcox almost spat on the floor and Lord Lafferty felt as if he had dodged a bullet by mentioning the rebellious youngsters. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what they want, stirring up trouble and conflict within the ranks of the Commonwealth.’
‘It is enough to let them be heard during these sessions’ Lord Moore reflected. ‘There are other, more pressing matters to deal with and keep away from the media’ he nodded in the direction of the room that housed the journalists. ‘The noise of the Lions’ roaring drowns out the prowling of the leopard among the brush.’
‘Indeed’ Lord Wilcox smirked and puffed on his silver Vape pipe which he had produced during their walk. ‘The Diggers are doing their best to keep the incident out of the ears of the press and have so far managed well.’
They reached the large double doors that hid the Chamber of Commons and stopped. Two white clad men flanked the entrance and pulled the doors open and out stepped a man with long flowing whiskers and bushy eyebrows, dressed in a white suit and red vest identifying him as a nobleman of Anglia.
‘Lords Wilcox, Lafferty and Moore’ he revealed a smile under the mustache and nodded his head at the three men. ‘If you would be so kind as to wait I shall announce you presently.’
‘Naturally Lord Mahr’ Lord Moore replied and within a minute they were waved in.
‘That is odd’ Julia Bates said to herself and put her cup of tea to her mouth as she stared out of the great glass window that separated the press cantina from the Great Hall of the Protectorate.
‘What is that?’ said Rajit Kahn of The Indus Globe as he walked behind her.
‘Well if I’m not mistaken that is Sir Oliver Moore, Earl of New Crawford and by my count he has been absent from the Protectorate for two weeks.’ She swiped through her Nook Term to double check her facts. ‘And he was in the company of Lord Wilcox an unpleasant man during the best of circumstances.’
‘True’ Thomas Dansereau from The Explorer had sidled up next to her, apparently taking an interest in what she was saying. ‘The journey from New Essex to Londinium doesn’t quite go past Moore Manor’ he added.
Julia placed her cup on the windowsill and proceeded to tie her black hair in a ponytail, which she always did when she was getting down to business. She leaned up against one of the walls and continued to stare at the doors to the Hall of Commons as she let her fingers dance across the touchscreen of her Term. She pressed air through her tea stained teeth and traveled deep into her own mind.
‘What are you thinking?’ Dansereau sat down at a table behind her. ‘He was probably sick, it happens to the upper class as well.’
‘Do they though?’ She replied and returned her attention to the screen. Since the Exodus there had been great advances in medicine and most of the common illnesses, like the flu, the cold and the childhood disease had been eradicated, at least among the puros. Among the rudos, especially those who lived in the poorer and crowded parts of the nations were often afflicted by illness and often with devastating results since the doctor to patient ratio in those areas were several one to several thousands. Naturally sickness caused by a person drinking too much, eating spoiled food or even cancer still occurred, but was still fairly rare.
‘So he’s been absent for a fortnight, what does that matter?’ Dansereau was intrigued, she could hear it in his voice, but there was something else there; doubt with the slightest quiver of interest.
‘Lord Moore has never missed a day of the Protectorate being in session since his father passed away and he inherited the position.’ Bates continued to consult the Term. ‘In fact, the day his father was laid to rest he was here on the very same afternoon. For him to stay home fourteen days, well ten working days as it were, something must have been very important.’
‘And that would have been?’
‘What would keep a man of his stature home? Economic strife, maybe, servants acting up, unlikely, something with the manor, not very likely, then what? ‘
‘That would leave family matters.’ Dansereau tapped the coffee table with his long, unkempt nails. ‘His Lordship has two children and a wife, right?’
‘Correct.’ Bates looked at him. ‘A daughter and a son and there has been no mention of Lady Moore being ill or treated for an ailment.’
‘Actually.’ The baritone of Rajit Kahn joined the conversation and both Bates and Dansereau turned to him. ‘Lady Moore has been absent from several society engagements the past two weeks, including a gala dinner she herself had arranged right here at The New Savoy. Her husband attended though.’
‘Interesting’ both Dansereau and Bates replied in unison.
‘So is that the answer?’ Dansereau continued by himself. ‘He’s been caring for his ailing wife, who has been keeping her illness a secret from society.’ He placed his own cup on the table in front of him like an exclamation point, in his mind ending the discussion.
‘I don’t know about that.’ Bates raised an eyebrow. ‘I just can’t see a man of Lord Moore’s stature staying home on those grounds. Has he ever shown that kind of regard for anyone? We must keep in mind that the nobles rarely marry for love, to them it’s only business.’
‘So you’re saying that the nobility have no love in their hearts for their families?’ Dansereau leaned over the table and let his fingers glide across the rim of his cup.
‘Well I’m sure they feel some form of affection for their kin. Children probably more than partners, but I am highly doubtful that Lord Moore would stay home to care for his wife. I could be mistaken I guess…’ She drifted off as she continued to stare at the closed doors that kept her from the collected nobility of the Commonwealth.
‘I think you are.’ Dansereau grinned in a sly fashion. ‘Whatever it is The Young Lions have to say and the impact it might have on the Trade Council is more interesting than the comings and goings of a Calidonian Lord. Mark me, Griffiths and his cohorts will have our editors keeping us busy for the coming months.’
Jules nodded, but that feeling she got in her stomach when something wasn’t quite right was not convinced. There was a deeper mystery here and she had made up her mind not to rest until her curiosity was satisfied.
Breaking is the first album from the Brooklyn based band Cold Wrecks, well that’s not the whole truth. This is a new version of the band Eli Whitney & the Sound Machine, which leaned towards the Ska genre. In this new iteration the band has garnered comparisons to Modern Baseball, Weakerthans and Against Me!, but that is to simplify things a bit. This is not going to be a knock on the more or less repetitive world of modern American nondescript punk, but there is reason to have it in the back of your mind while talking about Cold Wrecks. For bands that classify themselves as punk rock today, or the even vaguer term emo, it is easy to fall into the trap that is the aforementioned style and doing so one runs a risk of sounding more like Sum 41, New Found Glory or a myriad of other forgettable bands. To truly stand out in the world of punk bands just might need to look elsewhere to find inspiration and that might just be what the Brooklynites have done.
Th opening salvo of Breaking is called Price and is truly promising, a musical nod to British post-punk like Smiths, Joy Division and more modern counterparts like The Courteneers. Unfortunately it ends there. Most of the album falls back into a punk sound. It is the same problem bands like Fightstar’s album Be Human where the best track by no means represents the other songs. It’s as if Cold Wrecks don’t quite know what they want to be. The tracks on the album are everywhere without a real cohesiveness and with a disjointed feel. One could argue that the need for a unified collection of tracks is unnecessary in the digital age, where listeners concentrate more on individual songs than the sum of its parts, but for new listeners consistency is key.
This said Cold Wrecks style of punk rock is by no means bland. There is heart here and a willingness to experiment with the form, especially when it comes to content and themes. It’s more than your run of the mill punk and deals more with heart ache and loneliness instead of high school angst or parties.
Cold Wrecks show that they are a band that have a bright future in front of them and if they continue to experiment they can go far.
– Andrew Tobias
Andrew Tobias is a music collector, musician and cultural scholar as well as the Guild’s resident music reviewer. His former girlfriends also describe him as perpetually broken.