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Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut, by Warren Ellis and D’Israeli (Books 2008, 14)

Hmmm, once again I try a Warren Ellis, and find that it’s not as good as I expected, or hoped. ‘Good’, that is, in the sense of ‘exciting, dramatic, interesting’. I didn’t dislike it, and the story was OK; but it never really caught fire, you know?

Still, it was his debut, so maybe the thing is to try some of his later work (I should also add that, at the time of publishing, if not the time of reading or writing, I am regularly reading and enjoying FreakAngels).

I should probably mention the artwork, not least since I met the artist at Eastercon. It’s similar, actually, in that, while it’s perfectly fine, I kind of hoped it would be better. I couldn’t say that there’s anything wrong with it: you can always tell what’s going on, for example. I think maybe it’s that the style is a bit too cartoonish for the material.

The eponymous Lazarus is four hundred years old, and as far as he knows, immortal and indestructible, by virtue of some large percentage of his body having been replaced with smart plastics. He’s the only one in this condition, though, and he’s not happy about it. The main driver of the plot is his desire to die; or at least, we are led to understand that this will be the main driver. In fact it’s not, and each episode within the overall work has its own antagonism.

There’s a lot of extreme violence and brutality, some interesting ideas, but it’s sadly unmemorable.

Veniss Underground, by Jeff Vandermeer (Books 2008, 12)

I bought this in a second-hand bookshop, and tucked into the back there was a cutting from The Guardian of this review by Michael Moorcock. So go and look there if you want a plot summary: he does it much better then I could.

It’s an interesting, dark story, and I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. It straddles the SF/fantasy divide, at least in the sense that it is set in the far future, there are hints of spaceflight being common, and there is much genetic and somatic manipulation; but there are also talking animals.

Of course, the talking animals (mainly meerkats) are enabled by the genetic engineering, so really it’s unabashedly SF. However, Shadrach’s descent into the literal underworld of the levels below the city are straight out of mythology. And the description of the organ bank, while striking, are just fanciful to the point of unbelievability.

It’s the first thing I’ve read by Vandermeer, and while I enjoyed it, it doesn’t immediately make me want to go out and read more. That said, his City of Saints and Madmen does attract me, if only because it’s such a great title. I keep hearing (well, reading) people referring to him recently, so I don’t doubt that he’s got a lot to offer.

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

My friend Paul writes about the winner of The X-Factor‘s shot at the Christmas number one with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Since the original is one of my favourite songs of all time, I have opinions on the matter.

Not least about the assertion that Paul quotes (without holding that opinion himself) that Jeff Buckley’s version is “often described as definitive”.

I don’t think I had heard Buckley’s version before today, but definitive? Definitive? How could anyone say that? The definitive version is, by definition, Cohen’s. And the only cover that matters is John Cale’s.

I had heard Rufus Wainright’s version. In my opinion it is too respectful. And too slow. I like a cover version that does something new with a song, that grabs it by the throat and make’s it the coverer’s own. Think of Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, or the Clash’s of ‘Police and Thieves’ Or ‘I Fought the Law’, for that matter; there are those who don’t realise that’s a cover. You could say that the Clashified version is - I don’t know: definitive, maybe.

I maybe be in danger of self-contradiction here, but I don’t think so: I fully accept that it’s possible for someone to improve on the original version of a song. I just don’t think that anyone I’ve heard has done that for ‘Hallelujah’. Except maybe John Cale.

Having done some research into the matter (Last FM and YouTube are really astonishingly cool things) Buckley’s currently stands at second-best cover version/third-best version I’ve heard.

I haven’t heard Alexandra Burke’s version, except for a fragment in a BBC quiz (7 out of 8, by the way), but I fully expect to cringe when I do.

Furthermore, when looking for Buckley’s version on Last FM, I saw a comment to the effect that the version in Shrek is Wainright. Well, (I thought) either Rufus has become Welsh; or they redubbed the film for the UK market; or some people can’t tell the difference between two very different singers. But it turns out (at least according to that same BBC quiz) that while the version in the film of Shrek is Cale’s as anyone with an ear can hear, the version on the soundtrack album is Wainwright. Strange, but doubtless to do with licensing issues.

I wonder if they replaced that terrible version of ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?’ from the film with the proper version for the soundtrack album?

Yes you can!

Congratulations, America! Great news.

Obama’s speech was fantastic, and McCain’s was very dignified.

Unfortunately, there is one piece of bad news: Stephen Fry tweets that California’s Proposition 8 has passed. It outlaws same-sex marriage, and is a nasty, bigoted piece of work. I can’t find any official news on it at the moment, though, so let’s hope that the good Mr Fry is just misinformed, out there in Africa as he is.


Long queues at polling places are a sign, surely, of a country recently freed from tyranny, of one that is experiencing the chance to vote for the first time (I’m thinking of South Africa in 1994, for example). They are not something that you generally expect to see in a mature democracy like the USA.

Let’s hope, then, that the people streaming to the polling stations on America are those desperate to breathe free of Bush and the Neocon hegemony, and not tiny-minded racists trying to drag the country back to the dark ages.

And remember, America: the whole world is watching.

Worrier president

There’s a Warren Zevon song called ‘Worrier King’. It contains the line, ‘I’ve been up all night, worrying what November’s gonna bring.’ Given that US elections are always In that month, there’s little doubt what he was worrying about.

If Warren had lived he’d be worrying now, and I have a shrewd idea in which direction his concerns would be facing. I’m not American, and I’m worrying. Though I can’t deny that my worry is diluted with a lot of hope and excitement.

Tuesday night’s going to be a long one, and whenever I collapse, it won’t be over. But at some point on Wednesday, there’s going to be a new dawn for America, and maybe for the world.

Edited to add: It’s actually ‘wondering what November’s gonna bring’.

ThiGMOO, by Eugene Byrne (Books 2008, 11)

This is, in effect, a Singularity story, though a rather gentle, slightly comic one.

The AIs that gain self-awareness and seek to achieve independence and change the world, start out as part of an educational project called the Museum of the Mind. In this construct there are a number of simulations of figures from history (mostly fictional, like the victorian prostitute). School pupils, students, researchers and others can interrogate them about life in their time.

It’s interesting that Byrne has them start to gain self-awareness after their systems get infected with a religious program: a virus that tries to ‘convert’ them to Mormonism. I don’t know whether Byrne is trying to tell us that religion is necessary for self-awareness, or if it just seems like a useful trigger to give the programs some extra input and start them asking questions.

Anyway, one of the erams, as they are called (electronic recreation of a mindstate) is based on an early-20th-century socialist activist. Shocked at the apparent absence of socialism in the world he sees outside the computer networks, he organises his fellow erams, and sets out to change the world (and protect their very existence along the way). The title stands for “This Great Movement Of Ours”, which was once a common phrase in speeches by Labour activists, apparently.

It’s good fun, if lightweight. It was published in 1999; I wonder what’s happened to Eugene Byrne since then?

Corporal punishment: not on my watch

There was an arse on the ??Today?? programme this morning, calling for the return of corporal punishment to schools. One in five teachers, he says, want it ‘as an option’.

Two points, then: a) that means four in five don’t want it, and b) why do you think it’s all right to use violence against children? (and as a corollary, how do you think doing so will make them less prone to using violence themselves?)