Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dalton Quayle Rides Out by Paul Kane

This book contains two stories of the adventurer and detective Dalton Quayle, as written by his compatriot and partner, the gun loving Dr Pemberton.

The first story is Dalton Quayle’s Wet One.
The story is quite a good one, dealing with the rise of sea-people and a creepy sea-side town. Unfortunately I had a terrible time making my through this story and all due to the huge number of punnish names given to the characters. The town is called Outsmouth where locals drink Craftylove’s Ancient Irregular, anyone who has read a decent amount of horror should be able to pick up on the reference there. If that were all then it would have been a nice nod to his inspiration, but this story doesn’t read more like that. Instead it reads like an attempt to show you how many books and films the author has read/seen. There is a three page retelling of Robert Shaw’s monologue from Jaws after a scar comparison that is a pastiche of Moby Dick, complete with Captain Abrahab and the monster Dopy Mick. With characters such as Island Police Chief Bodey (who later on is referred to as Brodey in a typo), Jacques Custarde the underwater expert, Captain Codeye who exploited children for his brand of fish food, the list goes on. Which is a real shame, because when he’s not just playing on names and riffing on other peoples stories, Paul Kane is pretty funny. Towards the end of the story everything picks up and barring the occasional distracting pun is great fun.
The problem with all of the puns and plays on names you know is that they are continually dragging out of the story. As I say, when they are left behind the story is actually a good, fun read.

The second story, Dalton Quayle Rides Out, is much better. The pun names are mostly left out and when they occur, they are spread out to lessen the distraction.
In this story Quayle goes up against a Chinese Evildoer and genius called Fe-Man-Ho and his Mini-Fe, Fok-Yu. Going from the Chinese district out to the old west, this tale romps along a good pace, demonstrating the kind of humour Tom Holt praises him for in the introduction.
The verbal gags fly quite quickly and Pemberton and Quayle make entertaining heroes.

Overall this book is quite fun. While a humorous Sherlock Holmes type lead doesn’t seem all that original, the characterisation of Quayle makes him a character you’d be happy to read the other adventures Pemberton keeps referring back to.
I only wish that the number of puns and constant references to other books and films was toned down in the first story. For me they aggravated me as I was constantly being reminded of who the characters were based on and what particular film or story was being mocked.
But then, humour is very subjective and I’m not a huge fan of puns anyway. If you’ve found the names I’ve mentioned herein gave you a chuckle, then you may well enjoy this book.

You can order it from here

Test Drive by DJ Burnham

Test Drive is the first collection of short stories by science fiction writer DJ Burnham. For a first collection, there is a very high hit ratio of really good stories.
One of the first things I noticed about the stories is that they all seem to follow a similar pattern, the first two thirds are on establishing the world and the characters and then the main thrust of the story comes in to play in the final third. In the hands of a less talented writer, this technique would make for quite a dull read but Burnham is very good. He makes his characters and story the focus of his writing, letting the ideas be a tool for the telling, rather than focus the story on the scientific idea – which makes a nice change from many other short science fiction stories I’ve read.

There’s a comfortable familiarity in his writing, the stories, while new, feel familiar. Time to Leave is probably the best example of this. It’s a story I feel like I’ve read before, but not done like this or told in this way. It was this feeling like I knew the stories that made the writing so easy to read.

Bid, One True Path, The Lighthouse Keeper and Biker’s Dozen were my four favourite stories in the collection. Bid tells the story of an auction site entrepreneur and the expansion of his gardening business into and interstellar one. I have never been interested in gardening, but this story kept me interested and entertained throughout. One True Path tells of the arrival of a religious alien race at Earth and their attempts to discover if it is a spiritual world and without need of conversion. The deciding factor in their choice appealed to me on quite a few different levels. The Lighthouse Keeper is all about setting up a lighthouse on a rogue asteroid field that is causing danger to interstellar shipping. Finally Biker’s Dozen is essentially a travelogue around an alien world after a war. The writing in this story is wonderful and very descriptive.

I have only mentioned four above, but nearly all the stories in the collection will have me reading them again. Only Blink disappointed me, as we never find out who it is that sets the chain of events in motion and while that might be the point, it irritated me. Home in Time for Christmas was probably the most disposable of all the stories in there. Even then, both of these stories are written with the same skill and care as the others.

In all this a very good collection from someone I will be keeping my eye out for. While reading this collection, it made me want to improve my own writing so that I could be as good as he is. I can’t think of a better compliment than that.

The author is donating all of the profits from the sale of this book to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Find it on Lulu here

El Sombra by Al Ewing

Opening with the words:
The man walked across the desert.
And the desert destroyed the man.
is El Sombra, the second book in Abaddon’s Pax Brittania line.
The plot could be summed up as an unhinged Zorro fights Nazis to reclaim his town, but that would do a disservice to the outlandish imagination contained within the covers.
The origin of El Sombra is neatly delivered in a prologue where a wedding is interrupted by the arrival of flying Nazis and our hero descends into madness in the desert.
We then skip ahead 9 years, the people of the town are as nothing to their Nazi masters, viewed as little more than clockwork people, there to do their job, but not to live.
The best defined of the villains is Alexis, son of the commander, his introduction is reminiscent of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, with all the references to male grooming products and the body in his bed.
It is not long before our hero arrives to stop a public execution and things just start going badly for the Nazis from here on.

One nice and inventive trick is that every Nazi killed by the hero is given a back story, some lasting only a paragraph others getting a full history. Some we feel sorry for, others less so, but each becomes a real character before being unceremoniously slain by the laughing El Sombra.
Only once does this not happen and there they are casually dismissed as chaff, not important enough to know beyond being in the way of El Sombra as he rages.

While there are no great surprises in how the plot progresses, this does not detract from the story in any way. The author bio describes it as his first penny dreadful and it reads as a great piece of pulp fiction.
The action is detailed and often entertainingly gory. There is a glee to be had at noting no two characters appear to die from the same wounds and guessing at just how El Sombra will dispatch the next.
There are some great set pieces, the highlight the attack of the ten foot tall clockwork, steam powered Nazi death robot, known as Der Zinnsoldat, the Tin Soldier.
There are suitably ironic ends for several villains, my personal favourite being the demise of the chief torturer in a new and inventive way that should bring a smile to your lips.

Never letting the story get bogged down in talk, El Sombra still manages to create a wide number of notable and memorable characters. This is a book I devoured in just under 24 hours and would recommend to any fans of slightly deranged pulp fiction.

The ending leaves it open for a follow up, but with the news that the originator of the series, Jonathan Green, will be writing all the further adventures in this world, we are unlikely to see it. A shame in my opinion.

Fruiting Bodies by Jonathan Green
Included in the book is a short story by Jonathan Green (creator of the Pax Brittania series), featuring his dandy hero, Ulysses Quicksilver.
Fruiting Bodies is set some months after the events in Unnatural History and has Ulysses investigating a strange death in the East End. A prostitute is found dead, her body covered with strange fungus.
The investigation leads him to noted botany experts and he stumbles upon other deaths.
The story is short, snappy and retains the fun of Unnatural History. Quicksilver is unable to stop charming any woman he comes across or upsetting Inspector Allardyce.

It’s a good piece of pulp fiction and it’s nice to see Abaddon putting a short story at the back rather than just the opening chapter of a novel.
The final revelation caught me slightly, which is always a nice surprise.
I am looking forward to the next book in the series. High standards have been set by all 3 stories so far, let’s hope they keep up.

You can buy El Sombra from here