Friday, March 30, 2007

10,000 Visitors!

I've been too busy at work this week to do much posting, but I couldn't let this milestone pass without comment. Ten Thousand! Hit the big 10k mark sometime last night, which makes me jolly pleased. It's now been 10 months since I started this blog up, so here's a big thank you to everyone who's visited, everyone who's commented, and of course all those lovely people at Westeros who've been providing the parodies... :D

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Knight Moves - Walter Jon Williams

This is a decent slice of '80s SF, picked up for a pound at the second-hand bookshop. It's the 28th Century and Doran Falkner is the richest and most powerful man in human space. In his student days, centuries earlier, he had a chance encounter with a powerful alien being and agreed to sell off Earth in exchange for the secrets of unlimited free energy and eternal life. Now humanity is scattered across the galaxy and Earth is depopulated; the huge galactic distances have caused civilisation to atrophy, and unless something can be done, the human race is in danger of fizzling out. With the discovery of some creatures on a distant world that seemingly have the power to teleport, Doran heads off with his team discover the science that may save humanity...

Yes, it's pretty formulaic, but it's very well written. The melancholy atmosphere of Earth's twilight years is similar to George R R Martin's Dying of the Light, and the relationships between the characters are intelligently portrayed. This actually reads like a much more mature book than Williams's recent Dread Empire's Fall series, despite the pedestrian plot and a few cheesy moments. It's not really original enough to recommend tracking down, but it's worth a read if you come across a copy.


COLUMBO - The Yeard is Deceitful Above All Things - Part 2

(Part One available here)

***end of commercial break***

Richard tore through the police tape and strode to the scene of the crime. As he marched to the victim’s room, Richard picked up a small retinue of awestruck officers and paramedics. The little girl’s room was small, so only the leather enameled Richard, the grieving parents, and the somewhat rumpled looking lieutenant occupied the room. The curious crowed hung back at a respectful distance outside the door.

Richard gritted his teeth and spoke. Silence rang through the room. With calm and collected Sherlock Holmesian logic, Richard explained to his audience the events that led up to the crime.

“What I tell you today is an undisputable fact. By the end of my speech, I will reveal the real identity of the murderer!” said Richard. The audience gasped. “To the untrained eye, the crime scene may appear unremarkable. I, however, have studied the philosophy of Ayn Rand for decades on end. My flawless dedication to Objectivism has granted me preternatural skill in observation and deduction.” Richard shook his fist in the air to emphasize the importance of his words.

Suddenly, Richard’s finger pointed to the floor next to victim’s bed. The eye’s of the audience followed Richard’s finger and saw a pile of books and newspapers.

“The criminal has betrayed herself! Unbeknownst to her, while she kicked the little girl in the jaw, the key to her own identity slipped from her pocket!” Richard scooped up the literature and held it above his head in triumph. One by one, Richard displayed the titles of the books to the audience: The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital, several dozen copies of the New York Times, and the Democratic Party Platform. Richard dropped the damming literature to the floor and wiped his hand on a nearby curtain, anxious to rid himself from the polluted influence of those collectivist tomes.

With grim purpose, Richard rounded on a small TV set sitting on a nearby desk. “So confident was the evil doer in her success, that she could not resist sticking around gloating over his success by watching a movie.” Richard flicked on the TV and activated the VCR. The screen flickered to life and words “Fahrenheit 9/11” appeared. Soon the TV began spewing the noxious, death worshipping words of Michael Moore into the room. With a furious yell, Richard kicked in the TV screen. Sparks and smoke filled the room, but the burnt smell was far preferable to the centipede like screeds of that bloated, unshaved liberal.

“But, what does this all mean!” exclaimed Jagang.

Richard hooked his thumbs into his belt and glared, raptor like, at his audience.

“Cindy Sheehan killed your daughter,” said Richard.

Silence rang. The audience gasped. Suddenly pandemonium erupted. Richard held up his hand for calm. Once he had their attention, Richard continued.

“Our steps at this point are clear: we must catch this evil doer and bring her to justice so that this jackal of evil can never again break the jaw of an innocent girl. My work his is done.”

The crowd parted like the Red Sea and Richard strode back to his home, his head proudly held high.


Richard was savoring his triumph. Sitting at his Dvorak keyboard, he was typing his latest masterpiece while listening to the heavenly strains of Shania Twains’ Greatest Hits. The TV was switched on and tuned onto the movie Vanishing Point, a film dedicated to the eternal struggle of freedom. With a voracity that had no equal on Earth, Richard’s fingers pounded the keyboard like Ray Charles brought back from the dead by the power of the lightning bolt while all hopped up on goofballs and supercharged with a sugar rush brought about by caffeine injected coffee beans coated in sugar and molasses. Like a sculptor slowly chipping away the excess stone under which his genius lay concealed, he filled in the blank, white, collectivist screen with words that thundered with the passion of individualism. Words formed sentences and sentences chased themselves merrily round and round like happy squirrels riding the backs of noble goats until they formed themselves into proper (masculine) paragraphs.

“Oh Terry!” (wrote Richard) Ayn’s bosom heaved and listed like an ancient and water logged carrack under full sail in the midst of three colliding hurricanes. She trembled in Terry’s arm like a jello mold in an earthquake. Terry, a good and kind man, gritted his teeth as he contemplated Ayn’s etheric pulchritude. Her flawless, horse-like face cut a jagged scar across Terry’s pulsating heart. Her eyes, crazywild sparks of convergent throbbing authority, stabbed into Terry’s skull like a steel shaft of doom, hammered home by John Henry, the legend, the steel driving man, John Henry who hammered on the right, the big steam drill on the left, yes, John Henry the mighty railroad man.

Gently, gently, Terry lifted her head upwards and back until his nostrils looked down on her chin. Within Ayn’s eyes, Terry could find not a hint of mercy or compassion. Terry’s passion flamed into a supernova of philosophical fanaticism.

“Oh, Ayn!” whispered Terry, his lips flaring like an umbrella. Ayn slipped her hand across Terry’s arm and felt of his bicep.

As Richard typed his story, his heart slammed into his ribcage. Richard could feel the sublimity of his own genius. The passion of the scene he was writing threatened to overwhelm even Richard’s stern continence. Ropes of tears dribbled from his eyes like a stampede of goats.

For a moment, Richard feared for his own manhood. Tears were soft and womanly. Femininity was to be regarded with horror at all costs, for the female of the species was weak and prone to compassion. And compassion was a surrender to collectivism. Only by acting like a heartless dick to everyone could you ever hope to be truly free. And men had dicks. Richard was a man. So therefore he must have a dick and act like one too. Men, men like Richard, were hard and unyielding. Were Richard’s tears signs of his unmanning? Were Richard’s tears a sign that he had no dick? This thought haunted him like no other. The philosophical conundrum rattled around in his skull like a solitary gumball in a gumball dispenser.

Suddenly, with raptor like speed, Richard realized that a paradox could not exist, either in whole or in part. Richard’s tears were not a sign of weakness, rather they were a true expression of freedom. Richard’s tears were not tears of compassion, but rather they were Objectivist tears and thus masculine. QED.

Richard ground his teeth in satisfaction and hooked his thumbs over the keyboard and resumed typing. With a speed that astonished even him, words exploded onto the page in melon sized chunks. With growing satisfaction, Richard realized that his latest masterpiece was making progress.

“My love!” thundered Terry in unmistakably masculine tones wrote Richard. “What has distressed you?” Terry demanded, for indeed huge sobs wracked Ayn’s broomstick-thin body. Ayn choked a response through the saline wetness of her tears and the snot running down her nose.

“What is wrong?” pleaded Terry gently, urgently.

“Arghghh!” spewed Ayn through impenetrable sorrow.

Terry stared in bafflement as his True Love cried out in both horror and pain. Terry had heard the door knock and had gone to answer it when he found Ayn sprawled out on the floor in front of the doorway. Bawling like a baby while she thrashed her arms and legs in spasmodic confusion, Terry had searched for the source of her distress.

“Is it the door?” pleaded Terry. “Was it the person at the door that did this to you?” white hot rage built up to a slow inferno inside Richard’s kidneys, as Ayn nodded in affirmation, still unable to force coherency into the sounds she forced through her lips.

Vengefully, Terry swaggered towards the door, which he flung open with a large (larger than most men’s) muscular, arm.

Standing on the doormat was a little girl in a Girl Scout outfit.

“What is the meaning of this outrage!” bellowed Terry.

The girl scout quailed and stammered her reply: “I was just talking to your wife when she freaked out! All I asked her was if she would like to make a charitable donation for Thanksgiving! My friends and I are collecting money to buy food for the less fortunate so they don’t have to go hungry.”

“RAAARRRRRRRRRRGH!” Terry’s wrath was terrible to behold. The little girl screamed in terror and fled. Terry leaped after the child; he was not about to let her get away. Much jaw would be kicked this day.

It was then that he heard the doorbell ring. Richard glanced up in irritation. He debated with himself whether or not to answer the door. Richard realized that it could possibly be a reporter, anxious to interview him about his heroic crime solving abilities.

“Save button, be true this day,” whispered Richard. After saving his document, Richard got up and walked to the door.

Standing on his doorstep was a short, somewhat disheveled man in a trenchcoat. Memory stirred and Richard recognized the man as the police lieutenant who had been talking to Jagang and his wife.

Disappointed that he wasn’t going to get to brag abut his accomplishments to the media, Richard was less than polite.

“What the hell do you want?” demanded Richard. “Shouldn’t you be next door? Or trying to find and arrest the culprit?”

“I’m sorry ah, Mr. ah…” the man apologized.

“Rahl. Richard Rahl,” Richard ground between his teeth.

The man slapped his palm to his forehead with exaggerated exasperation. “Of course! Mr. Rahl! Memory isn’t what it used to be. My wife says I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t stitched on. I’m Lieutenant Columbo, from Homicide.” Columbo held out his hand but when Richard failed to shake it, Columbo diplomatically ignored the slight. The police lieutenant fumbled in the recesses of his trench coat and withdrew a weathered looking pad of paper and the stub of a pencil.

“I’m really sorry to be bothering you, Mr. Rahl but…” and here the funny little man tilted his head and scratched his hair while squinting quizzically at the notes on his pad of paper “…I was hoping you could clear up a few things.”

Richard gritted his teeth and swept his raptor gaze over Columbo. “I’ll go over it one more time and see if you can grasp the deductions of my staggering genius.” Grudgingly, Richard stepped aside and let Columbo shuffle onto the threshold of his cavernous mansion and led him to his office.

“I’m sorry for taking up your time; I didn’t realize you were working,” said Columbo as he saw the computer and the open word document.

Richard waved his apologizes aside. “I was working on story. Your petty stupidities will not hinder its completion.”

“So, you’re an author?” inquired Columbo, apparently unaware of the long boring spew in store for anyone stupid enough to ask Richard a question that involved talking about himself.

“Was,” said Richard. “The story you see is part of my Ayn Rand oeuvre. I will shortly submit it to I used to be a full time author but now I limit my writing to pure enjoyment.”

“Ah, I see- you made it big with your books,” Columbo gestured to the Xanaduian splendor that surrounded them.

Richard ground his teeth, clearly unhappy at being interrupted. “No. For some reason all the editors said my work was a cheap knockoff of some guy named Jordon. No- I made my fortune selling my services to the United States government.” Richard proceeded to explain how the interrogators at GuantanamoBay Detention Camp would play Britney Spears CDs for hours on end to soften up terrorists for interrogation.

“The only problem,” explained Richard, “was that the CDs would melt after about twelve hours of continuous use. They were going through too many CDs and costs were mounting. The Pentagon contacted me when they heard that I was able to speak, non-stop, for seven days straight without food or water. I signed a multimillion dollar deal with the Pentagon for providing them with my unique skills,” Richard gloated. “For days on ends I am able to subject the enemies of America to a continuous barrage of Objectivist philosophy.”

Richard smiled his teeth gritting smile. “I’m proud to say that only after several minutes of raw Objectivism, most camel jockeys are reduced to a quivering mass of tears. Within two days of my arrival at Gitmo, the prisoner suicide rate increased by 5000 percent.”

Columbo absorbed this information in silence as he tried to think of a polite way to shift the subject back to the matter at hand. But before Columbo could speak, Richard gestured to a pair of traveling chairs.

“Do you read much Rand?” inquired Richard as both he and Columbo took a seat.

“Oh, no, sir, not me,” said Columbo. “Too heavy and intellectual for the likes of me. I mostly read mystery novels. But recently my wife’s got me hooked on this fantasy series. Some guy named Martin wrote it. Terrific stuff...” By Richard’s raptor glare, and the speed at which his face darkened to a deep crimson, Columbo guessed that he had said the wrong thing.

“I do not write fantasy,” Richard ground between his teeth.

“I never said you did, sir..”

“I write fanfiction about genuine human emotions and human issues,” grated Richard.

“Yes, Mr, Rahl I’m sure you do, and a very commendable thing it is you do, too,” said Columbo placatingly. Columbo was beginning to suspect Richard Rahl had more than a few screws loose.

“If you had read Rand, Lt. Columbo, you wouldn’t have any trouble solving the murder. Objectivism clarifies you thoughts.”

“About that murder, Mr. Rahl, I’m sure you’re right. But there are just a few things that I can’t seem to wrap my mind around. And I’ve got to write up a report about the whole thing, for the record- you understand. I just have to make sure I’ve dotted all the “I”s and crossed all the “T”s. You understand.”

“What is it that I can clarify for you, lieutenant?”

“I'm just a little puzzled about the weapon used to kick in the little girl’s jaw…”

“Steel toed boots,” Richard answered immediately.

Columbo scratched his head. “And how would you know that, Mr. Rahl?”

Richard froze. He realized that he had nearly given himself away. “I, ah, had a look outside the little girl’s window before I went into the house. The footprints clearly indicate the killer used steel toed boots, the best weapon on the market to provide the most jaw crushing force.”

“And you don’t find anything unusual about that?”

Richard’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Your faultless logic clearly demonstrated that the culprit was Cindy Sheehan, a peace protestor. But unless I’m mistaken, aren’t peace protestors only ever armed with their hatred of moral clarity?”

Richard’s heart beat a staccato rhythm within his ribcage, and ropes of sweat started to crawl across the broad expanse of his forehead. Richard squirmed in his seat as his mind raced for an excuse. “Well,” Richard plastered a mirthless grin across his face through sheer force of will. “I do believe you are correct, lieutenant. Perhaps she didn't use, boots after all. I guess I was, wr…”Richard tensed, and scowled at his mouth of its own accord refused to issues the syllables of a word Richard had never in his life uttered in reference to himself.

“I guess I was wr, wr…”

“Wrong?” finished Columbo.

Richard nodded wordlessly and slumped in his chair as his breath came in ragged gasps. He felt physically ill. Brutally killing that little girl was costing Richard far more than he ever thought it would. “If that’s all you needed, lieutenant, then I would like to go lay down. I’m suddenly feeling rather unwell…”

“Just one more thing, Mr. Rahl.”

Grinding his teeth, Richard forced himself to raptore-glare at his guest.

“I’m rather stumped about the manner of her death,” explained Columbo. “You see, I’ve worked with homicide for a long time now, and I’ve seen my fair share of jaw kickings. Always very tragic affairs. But you see, when I searched my memory, I realized that every jaw kicking murder I ever investigated had been committed by an Objectivist.”

“Are you implying something, lieutenant?” Richard’s voice was quiet, dangerously quiet, like a silent fart.

“Oh no, sir, not me!” exclaimed Columbo. “I know you’re an Objectivist, but I would never dream, of casting aspersions on you, sir. No. But you see, what I’m getting at is that, an Objectivist, other than yourself, must be responsible.”


“And, I can’t really square that fact with your conclusion that Cindy Sheehan kicked that girl’s jaw. After all, sir, she IS a peace protestor.” Columbo shook his head with exaggerated confusion. “I suppose it’s possible, that Sheehan might be an Objectivist and a peace protestor.”

Richard’s face darkened as he nearly choked on his yeard and he sat bolt upright with his fist upraised. “There hasn't been an Objectivist born that didn't lust for war, death, and destruction!" Richard thundered.

Instead of quailing before Richard’s fury, Columbo merely smiled. “Exactly my line of thinking, Mr. Rahl! I couldn’t have said it better myself. So then I guess you have to agree with me that if the murderer was an Objectivist, then it couldn't have been Cindy Sheehan?”

A sound that could only be described as an “urk” issued from Richard’s throat. All of a sudden Richard felt boxed into a corner.

“But what about all that leftist literature and other evidence Sheehan left at the scene of the crime?” Richard snapped.

Columbo waved his hand in dismissal. “Easily planted. And after I have the boys at the lab compare the finger prints I found on it with Sheehan’s fingerprints I think we’ll be able to dismiss her entirely as a suspect.” Richard could have sworn he saw a twinkle in Columbo’s eyes, but it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. “I guess that makes two times today you’ve been wrong about something, eh, Mr. Rahl?”

The panic was all consuming. All of Richard’s carefully woven webs of moral clarity were coming undone. Richard needed time to think. “If that will be all, lieutenant, I need to lie down. I told you I was feeling unwell.”

“Of course!” Columbo slapped his forehead. “I’m sorry to have kept you for so long. It’s just I couldn’t resist availing myself of your first class intellect. It’s not every day a lowly policeman like myself can get help from a true scholar of Ayn Rand.”

Sullenly, Richard watched Columbo stand up to leave. But as he began walking to the door, Richard couldn’t help but issue one last spiteful barb. “I hope you catch the murderer, lieutenant. But it probably won’t be easy, considering you just dismissed all the evidence you found at the crime scene. I guess you’re back at square one.”

Columbo paused, his hand on the doorknob. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Mr. Rahl. I wouldn’t say that at all. I’ve still got that whole other set of evidence I picked up before you arrived.”

The icy hand of collectivism seemed to grip Richard’s heart. “Other evidence?” Richard whispered.

Despite the whisper, Columbo seemed to hear Richard just fine. With his back to Richard and still facing the door, Columbo said “Yes, Mr. Rahl. The other evidence. But I’m sure you don’t want me to bother you about it. Me and the boys back at the station will just pour over it by ourselves. If you want I’ll let you know what we find after you’ve had a chance to rest and recuperate…”

“Nononono!” Richard waggled his hands in the air. “I’m suddenly feeling much better!” Hurriedly, Richard grasped Columbo by the sleeve of his trench coat and directed him back to the chair.

“I’m sure with my help, I can place you back on the right track,” Richard said.

“Very kind of you. Very…” Columbo paused and let the silence ring for several long moments. “…very altruistic of you.”

Richard clenched his jaw and swallowed a retort. “Just trying to be neighborly,” said Richard through clenched teeth.

Columbo pulled out his notebook and fumbled through several different pages. “Before you arrived on the crime scene, I had a look at the premise. I noticed something fairly strange. At the back of the house, very close to the little girl’s window, I noticed a chicken coop.”

Richard froze.

“Or rather, I should say the remains of a chicken coop. By the looks of it, someone had smashed it to splinters…”

Richard’s mind swirled with self recriminations. He had smashed the coop after he murdered Jagang’s daughter. It had been just a small little thing, Richard didn’t think anyone would notice…

“… and the five hundred chickens within the coop, well the less said of what the murderer did to them, the better. I asked your neighbor about the coop, Mr. Rahl, and he said his daughter had been raising chickens for the eggs. It turns out the little girl had been collecting the eggs to donate to an Easter Egg charity hunt. Mr. Rahl, do you know of anyone within the neighborhood who might have a grudge against chickens, or who despises charity?”

Richard’s thing rose. “The question you should ask yourself, Columbo, is who wouldn't have a grudge against chickens!? Filthy, vicious, fowl, creatures! They seduce you with their eyes. Their lying eyes. Their beautiful lying eyes. With their eyes they tell you they love you, but they don’t. They just want you for your body…” Richard suddenly realized that he was perhaps revealing more about himself than was prudent.

“So, you yourself, Mr. Rahl have something of a love-hate relationship with chickens? Interesting.”

Richard flushed. “A ruined chicken coop is a pretty slim evidence to try and pin a crime on someone.”

Columbo nodded. “I agree, and that’s why my witness testimony will come in handy.”

“Witness testimony?” mumbled Richard. “But there were no witnesses when I-” Richard’s mouth snapped shut. That had been close. Too close.

“You see, I’ve been taking statements from people around the neighborhood. I was lucky enough to find a young man by the name of Fitch. His statements have proven quite illuminating. On the day of the murder, he and several of his friends were on their way to church when they were passing by Jagang’s house. Fitch told me they bumped into a rather lanky gentlemen, with a…” Columbo squinted at his notes, “…beard and ponytail style haircut. A style more commonly known as a 'yeard.' ” Columbo peered over his notes and took in Richard’s luxuriously maintained yeard.

Nervously, Richard licked his lips. “Witness statements are notoriously inaccurate. Memory can be a slippery thing. No doubt Fitch only saw this yearded gentlemen for mere moments. And it was night when the murder was committed! No doubt Fitch was unable to discern this man’s features in the dark!”

“Partially correct, sir. Partially correct. It was nighttime when Fitch and his friends were finally able to break away. But when they initially met the suspect, it was in broad daylight. You see, when Fitch and his friends bumped into him, they apparently made some snide comments about his yeard. They were less quiet than they should have been and the suspect overheard their remarks. According to Fitch…” Columbo glanced at his notes and began to recite the statement, “ ‘…the yeardo swept us with his raptor like gaze and then launched into an eight hour speech on the nobility of the yeard. We tried to leave a couple of times because he was boring us to tears, but every time we tried to leave he threatened to kick our jaws in with his steel toed boots.’”

Richard tried to stammer a reply, but Columbo was not finished.

“And the final piece of evidence, the one that I think that will cinch it is this.” Columbo stood and opened his trench coat. Richard instantly recognized the object that Columbo withdrew.

“We think that when the killer left the bedroom, he climbed through the window and he accidentally dropped it.” Columbo held the sword in his hand. And though his hand covered the grip, Richard knew that if he were to lift it they would both be able to see the word “TRUTH.”

Denials scrambled to Richard’s lips like a room full of clowns comically trying to leave through a narrow door all at once.

“I don’t suppose, Mr. Rahl you were going to try to tell me this sword belonged to Cindy Sheehan?”

Richard tried to thunder a reply, but his thing hung limp and useless. Richard was only able to sputter some half incoherent defiance.

“I’ve never seen that sword in my life!”

Columbo raised a skeptical eyebrow and he made a sweeping gesture with his hand that encompassed the entire room. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of pictures lined the walls and littered the table and countertops. The pictures contained Richard’s favorite subject:


The only other constant besides Richard was a single sword. Repeated over and over again within every room in his mansion, Richard’s image struck manful poses with the Sword of Truth clutched closely to himself; there was Richard using the sword to put out a burning house; Richard using the sword to shave; Richard using the sword to carve a statue; Richard using the sword as a pogo stick; Richard using the sword to eat soup; Richard, buck naked on a bear skin rug, clutching the sword between his thighs.

The evidence was infinite and damning.

Richard’s shoulder sagged as he realized was defeated. “But my plan was so masterful!” Richard’s voice was hoarse and close to tears. “Every step planned and executed with the precision of a well played game of chess!”

Richard was too stunned to react when two police officers were ushered in by Columbo. Richard’s stupor was only broken when they fastened the handcuffs to his wrist and led him to the door.

“Lieutenant!” Richard called. “I think I may have under estimated you! If I had to be exposed, I’m glad it was by someone with an intellect that rivals my own. Are you certain you’ve never read Rand?”

“Never,” Columbo shook his head.

Columbo watched as the officers led Richard to a squad car and drove off. Only then did he glance at his watch. It had only been two hours since he had been called in to investigate the murder.

“That’s the fastest I’ve ever solved a case before,” Columbo said to himself. “Man, what a dumb ass.”

- Zap Rowsdower

Monday, March 26, 2007

Quantum Gravity series - Justina Robson

Keeping It Real
Selling Out

The Severed Realms - parallel worlds populated by elves, faeries, demons and things even stranger, now accessible from Earth in the wake of the Quantum Bomb; the spaces in between are filled with hungry, silent ghosts. This is a promising setting, though with a slight hint of overkill (faeries and demons AND ghosts...?). More alarm bells sound as we meet the heroine: half-robot, half-spy Lila Black, whose limbs have been replaced with armour and weaponry following terrible battle injuries. She's young, she's sexy, and she's seriously tooled-up - think Buffy meets Battle Angel Alita via Trinity from The Matrix; the Hot Battle-Chick concept laid on with a trowel (she even rides a motorbike). The romantic interest Zal adds the killing blow - he's a half-elf half-demon rockstar with a fiery tattoo! on his back. All we're missing now is Vin Diesel on a skateboard for the descent into embarrassing self-conscious coolness to be complete.

I'd find all this easier to forgive if it were played more for laughs, but the few touches of humour don't go nearly far enough. This is Robson's first venture into the lighter side of SFF - normally she's a writer of hard science fiction, and this shows through in the writing. Much of the magic and mystery is sucked out by her need to give a science-y explanation for everything; in the same way that Tad Williams's Otherland series was fantasy trying to be sci-fi, this is sci-fi trying to be fantasy, and it's brought too many of its tropes and conventions along with it. The uncomfortable mix made the book curiously hard to engage with - the science looked out of place, and the rest felt sterile and artificial. The characters didn't add much heart to it, either, especially as I rapidly started wishing for them all to die.

You'd think, from her description, that Lila Black would be some kind of sassy, feisty, ultra-competent super-spy, infiltrating with ease and callously blasting her way out when things got tough. Uh-uh. What we have instead is some whiny, angsty 21-year-old who blunders around making rookie mistakes, feeling sorry for herself and mooning over her gorgeous-but-arrogant boyfriend. One of her main storylines involves her new robot body, and how it makes her feel really ugly; while this may be a legitimate concern, it feels more like a self-pitying debutante worrying about her freckles or the couple of pounds she's recently put on. Zal is almost as bad; Robson's gone for a Lestat/Mr Darcy vibe, with the callous smirk concealing a tortured heart of gold - one of the most overused character-clichés there is. And for a famous rock star, he seemed to do an awful lot of covers.

The story, then? In a nutshell, Zal is in danger from elvish fanatics who are either appalled at his vulgarity or determined to use his blood for a spell; Lila has to travel through the realms trying to protect him and also find out about his background; the characters all have to find out about the connections between the realms and the mysterious ghostly events that are going on in between them. If you get that far, the story picks up a bit halfway through the second book, when dark governmental conspiracies start to be unmasked, but it slips again toward the end and I'm not holding my breath for the arrival of book 3. I've got some friends who would forgive anything for tales of sexy elves, and they'd probably love this, but it really wasn't for me.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch

Book Two of the Gentlemen Bastards sequence, one of the most eagerly-awaited sequels coming out this year, and I get a copy of it three whole months before its official publication date! Mwahahahaha! I managed to resist the temptation for nearly half an hour, but then that was it for the rest of my weekend. Who needs sleep anyway? With the same intricate plotting, fast-paced action and sharp dialogue that Lynch provided in The Lies of Locke Lamora, this is a hard book to put down, and a real pleasure to read. And it's got pirates in it!

The story is set about two years after the end of book 1, with Locke and Jean approaching the culmination of their latest scam. The city-state of Tal Verrar is famous for its opulent gambling-houses, and so of course the Gentlemen Bastards are after the biggest and richest of them all. All is going to plan, when an old enemy interrupts their scheme and embroils them in the messy local politics; they are forced to pose as pirates, and sent off to bluff their way across the high seas. The layers of deception grow thicker and thicker, as Locke tries to play all sides off each other, satisfy his Camorri thirst for vengeance, and still walk away with the treasure at the end...

The glimpses of Locke and Jean's earlier life that we got through flashbacks in LoLL are mostly absent here; the few flashbacks are used to show the origins and progress of their current scam, and don't go further back than two years. We also don't get any of the "historical data" interludes that peppered LoLL with tales of Camorr's past, but Tal Verrar's history is nonetheless sketched in throughout the story; it doesn't have quite the wealth of criminal society and nasty marine life that Camorr did, but this is made up for once we meet the pirates and their Tortuga-esque town of Port Prodigal. Stranger things do happen at sea, and there are some very elegant hints of the unpleasant mysteries of the deep.

A lot of the side-story focuses on Locke's relationship with Jean; you can gather from the flash-forward prologue that all is not entirely rosy between the two of them, both wanting slightly different directions now that their Camorr lives are behind them. This all got a little too fluffy at times, which pulled a few of the book's teeth and gave the lie to Locke's character as Sicilian force of vengeance, but ultimately the darker edge was not too badly blunted. In fact, I have a hard time finding negative things to say about this book; even the use of one of my least-favourite plot devices (no, I'm not telling you what) was handled in a different and darker way. Now I'm going to hide my copy away in the proverbial Undisclosed Location, protected by myriad alchemical devices, lest some prospective Gentleman Bastard lose patience and try to nick it. June's not far off, and it's worth the wait.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Black Man - Richard Morgan

Well, my original aim of reading all of Richard Morgan's books in order was thwarted by the good people at Gollancz, who kindly sent me a copy of his latest book, Black Man, to review. This is my first ever publisher-supplied book, and I wanted to be all aloof about it so no-one thinks I've sold my integrity to the Man in exchange for some free books... but I just couldn't. This book is awesome.

The universe is the same as in Altered Carbon, but much less far in the future (only around 100 years) - the political and economic structures of Earth still largely resemble our own, and the altered carbon technology is just one of many new ideas coming out of the Mars colony. The current technology here is gene manipulation; while the illegal "black labs" in China continue to experiment with human genetics, the rest of the world is in the midst of a genetic-purity backlash. The bioengineered super-soldiers from the recent wars - Variant 13 mutants - have all been interned for the good of humanity, with the one exception of our protagonist, Carl Marsalis, who works for the UN rounding up escapees. When another Variant 13 commits a string of murders across the continent, Carl is hired by the powerful COLIN corporation to track him down, and in the process discovers a whole host of nasty secrets...

On the surface, this looks very similar to the premise of Altered Carbon - combat veteran busted out of jail to bring down a killer, yadda yadda yadda - but this is a whole lot darker and more political. It's also a lot more than just a big action movie, with Wesley Snipes blowing shit up in picturesque locations; there's plenty of food for thought on bigotry, ethics and the role of aggression in society. Morgan takes this about as far away from SF's whitebread image as he can, with his characters displaying a whole range of different ethnicities that feel like much more than tokenism. And, on top of that, it's a cracking thriller, too. It's out mid-May in the UK, and slightly later in the US (under the different title of Thirteen), and I can't recommend it highly enough. Better than Altered Carbon - you heard it here first.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Black Powder War - Naomi Novik

This is the third in Novik's Temeraire series; I think it's still only out in hardback in the UK, but luckily the US paperback's not too hard to get hold of. It starts off pretty much where we left the previous one, with Laurence and his dragon crew still in China, desperate to return to England and their duties in the war against Napoleon. We had the sea voyage on their way out; for the way back, they take the dangerous overland route, as they are urgently needed in Istanbul, and the transport ship is too damaged to take them for weeks. With only the dubious courier Tharkay to guide them, they must risk the perilous Gobi and Taklamakan deserts; not only has one of their Chinese enemies preceded them, but things in Istanbul are also not what they expect...

While not quite as good as Temeraire, this is certainly better than Throne of Jade, and has a lot more dragon-battle action, as Temeraire finally gets to engage with Napoleon's forces in Europe. There's a certain amount of inscrutable Oriental politicking during their sojourn in Istanbul, but this takes up much less time than its Beijing equivalent and we are back to the action much sooner. Temeraire himself still doesn't get that much time in the spotlight, but this is made up for by the introduction of Tharkay, whose character makes an interesting contrast with the other military members of the cast. Laurence himself remains a convincing 18th-century captain, surprisingly likeable for all his gentlemanly morals.

Slipped into the narrative are more snippets of worldwide dragonlore - for example, we meet some feral dragons in eastern Turkey with their own language, and Temeraire continues to develop his plans for dragon liberation back home. However, the cracks are starting to show at the edges of the worldbuilding; as the progress of the Napoleonic Wars starts to diverge from the real-world history, it's hard not to wonder how on earth Novik's dragon-riddled Earth followed the same course as ours for so long, if it can be thrown off so easily. Still, this was a very readable book, and I'm sure I can keep my disbelief suspended for at least a few more instalments. Bring on book 4!


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Glorifying Terrorism - Farah Mendelson (Ed)

It's an old truism that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and the difference between them is entirely subjective. The ANC vs the IRA? Al Qaeda vs the Boston Tea Party? Who gets to say who the bad guys are? Unfortunately, this ambiguity hasn't stopped our idiot government from adding to last year's Terrorism Act a clause banning all "glorification of terrorism," past and future, along with some feeble hand-waving about how some nice terrorists are exempt, and a verbal assurance that probably no-one's going to prosecute fiction writers or satirists. Phew, that's all right then. Farah Mendelson's collection deliberately raises a middle finger to this ludicrous bit of legislation, with a set of stories that go out of their way to break the law and expose it for the unenforcable piece of would-be totalitarianism that it is.

It's not just a bunch of loony lefties, either; the introduction is by The Telegraph's Andrew McKie, and the authors come from all parts of the political spectrum. There are some big names - notably Hal Duncan, Charles Stross and Ken MacLeod - and also some authors getting their first ever story published. The quality is variable, but simply by being illegal, even the weaker tales have teeth, and the better ones have claws as well. Overall, the standard is very high, and there's a nice mix of styles - most are standard linear short-story format, but there's a Fighting Fantasy-style exercise in civilisation building, some poetry and alternate-universe almost-essays, and even the minutes of a near-future Labour conference where the new BNP government have taken these terrorism laws to their logical conclusion.

One more thing that stands out is how tame some of these stories are, reinforcing the idiocy of a law that would ban such things. They're not all Jack Flash flinging his bombs with gay abandon; there's tactics of all kinds, from sabotage to psychological terror to presidential assassination; swords 'n' sorcery to spaceships to suicide bombers. The only one that didn't really work for me was Gwyneth Jones's 2020: I AM AN ANARCHIST, about the disruption of an international shit-eating contest; it was probably supposed to be satire of some kind but fell rather flat. Other than that, this is a very fine collection. Go on, buy it and break the law!


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Soul of the Fire - Terry Goodkind

Even a casual reader of this blog will realise that I am no fan of Mr Goodkind; you might (sensibly) enquire why the hell I wanted to put myself through the ordeal of reading another of his books. The best I can say is "I thought it would be funny" - there was a sort-of reading group thing going on on the Westeros message boards and I wanted to join in, and this was the only Goodkind book I could find in David's Bargain Bookstore. Remind me never to do this again.

I'd been warned that Soul of the Fire was one of Goodkind's worst books, but to start off with it just looked like more of the usual crap. Everyone's favourite chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken is terrorising the Mud People's village; Richard goes around being a self-important arsehole while the narration tells us how clever and noble he is; über-wizard Zedd has yet another contrived reason why he can't use his magic. It turns out that (yawn) some dark forces inadvertently released at the end of the previous book are now causing all magic to fail, and it's up to the gang to stop them. There's some connection with the land of Anderith, which Richard is currently trying to annex for his Greater D'Haran Empire - but when we get there, the book goes from bad through offensive to downright ugly.

Anderith is the sort of pinko-liberal dystopia that could only have been dreamt up by a frightened conservative with a big axe to grind and no concept of social dynamics. Political Correctness rules the roost; the poor downtrodden Haken majority are unable to speak out against their oppressive Ander overlords for fear of being dubbed racist, imperialist or whatever. Goodkind probably believes this painfully clumsy worldbuilding to be biting satire, when in fact it just comes across as a ludicrous bit of grandstanding. But worse is to come, in the form of Anderith's Minister of Culture, Bertrand Chanboor, and his wife Hildemara. Goodkind himself has admitted that he based these two on the Clintons; knowing this, what would've been clumsy overblown character description becomes a petty and vicious personal attack.

When Dalton Campbell reached to dip his pen, he saw the legs of a woman walking through the doorway into his office. By the thick ankles he know before his gaze lifted that it was Hildemara Chanboor. If there was a woman with less appealing legs, he had yet to meet her.
[Her] dress wasn't nearly as low-cut as those worn lately at the feasts, yet he still found its cut less than refined.
Dalton had always found that a plain woman's kind and generous nature could make her tremendously alluring. The other side of that coin was Hildemara; her selfish despotism and boundless hatred of anyone who stood in the way of her ambition corrupted any appealing aspect she possessed into irredeemable ugliness.

To be honest, if the book had just been evil chickens, neo-con propaganda and a whole load of contrived magical plot devices, it wouldn't have been nearly as awful as it was; the main drawback was actually the soul-crushing tedium of Goodkind's writing style. No-one seems to have told him about the crucial writers' tenet of "show, don't tell" - every action is explained in exhaustive detail, in case we ignorant readers missed what had just happened or couldn't work out the implications for ourselves. It's like a bad comedian explaining his jokes. Characters have lengthy conversations where they remind each other of who they are, what they do and what happened in the last book, and both they and author constantly drop steaming piles of infodump in the way of the story, slowing the pace to a painful crawl.

I've only read two of Goodkind's books, so I can't really say whether or not this is the absolute worst, but it's certainly a lot worse than Stone of Tears. The one redeeming feature is the character of Dalton, who manages to have shades of grey in his personality, unlike nearly all the others who are either Good or Bad; his character is not particularly subtle or believable, but at least it's a start. Other than that, the book is a turgid, didactic mess of one-dimensional characters, deus ex machina plot twists and deeply unlikely societies being used as Goodkind's soap-box. By all means, look at the "best of" quotes and laugh at the evil chicken, but on no account should you attempt reading this abomination of a novel. You have been warned, and I should bloody well have known better.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

All Flesh Is Grass - Clifford D Simak

Check out the cover - not only does it have a great big "10p" scrawled across it, indicating its bargain-bin origins, it also shows a great space battle! Exploding ships over a distant planet! The illustrator was clearly not bothered that no spaceships feature within, and just went for the generic sci-fi approach, despite this book's actual subject of peaceful flower-like aliens appearing from another dimension. It's still pretty pulpy, but not quite as bad as you'd expect from the outside.

Starting off with a clumsy flashforward/flashback sequence, Simak tells us of a small-town guy, Brad, whose business is about to go bankrupt, and whose town is suddenly cut off from the world by a giant forcefield of Unknown Origin. Predictable hijinks ensue - the local lawman is a swaggering bully, the elderly doctor can't cope when cut off from the hospital, and Our Hero's childhood sweetheart was back in town when it got cut off. Brad ends up meeting the aliens in their parallel dimension, and despite being unsure about their motivation, agrees to become their spokesperson on Earth, which leads the townspeople to believe he's in league with them...

The story is quite well written, but unfortunately not that interesting. The aliens and their technology seem to mostly consist of lazy plot devices, and the resolution is rather makeshift and unsatisfactory; Simak's written much better books than this, and here he's just phoning it in. While not an actively unpleasant read, it lacks teeth and it lacks character. Still, for 10p, I can't really complain; I'd probably even have paid 50p for it. A pound might be pushing it though.


Fireheart - Richard's New Adventures (abridged version)

The goats were restless, and the humans didn't know why. The former city of Aydindrill, nowadays known as Aynrandill by Lord Rahl's decree, lay under a magnificent spring sun. It looked like a normal day. But it wasn't. Lord Rahl had decided to take a look at this particular part of his realm.

Richard teleported to the central square with Kahlan and a flock of Mord-Sith in tow. His appearance was accompanied by a flash of black lightning with rainbow fireworks and an extended organ fanfare. Richard understood the value of public relations. All around the central square people turned to stare. Little girls in their padded jaw-protection outfits run in terror to their mommies. Richard glared at the children menacingly, daring them to make a wrong move.

The people at one particular street café looked unimpressed. In fact they didn't even move. In fact they were dead and buzzing flies. The owner of the café lay among them, which explained why nobody had bothered to call the privatized waste disposal.

"It looks like those people ate some yellow sweet pepper and didn't know about how you poisoned all the yellow fruit in Midlands last month in order to get at the socialist Sisters of the Red," Kahlan said.

"Sucks to be them," Richard commented.

"Really, how hard is it to avoid yellow fruit?" Cara said. "You poisoned all the brown food in the Old World to kill Jagang Jr. and his testicle-eating army, and still the Old World managed to come up with Jagangina the Nippleless and her nefarious plot to find the long-lost Boxes of Chaoden in order to make every Collectivist equally omnipotent." Cara had forgotten that Richard had cast a Memory Charm over Midlands to prevent anyone ever realizing that yellow fruit was poisoned so that no sympathiser could warn the Sisters when it turned out that the Feminine Supremacy Ceremony with its ritual pepper eating would be delayed due to Chase's unforeseen resistance to torture.

"And people wonder why I had to cast the Ritual of Atomic Fissioning on the Old World to defeat Jagangina," Richard said. "The Oldworlders truly deserved that for not having stopped Jagangina, and so did the traitors who complained. With my moral celery - I mean clarity - I have made the world a better place. As you all know, when I gathered the whole set of the Wafers of Mass Destabilization and did away with the molecular structure of the Ancient World and its sinister Czar-Wizard Jimikarter, none of the cursed peace protestors was alive to complain."

Richard chortled. Kahlan chortled. Cara chortled. All of the generic Mord-Sith chortled.

A blind, one-legged veteran of the wars against Jagang (the original version) did not see who was coming and extended an arm with a tin cup, begging for alms. Richard's thing immediately rose in him and he kicked hard the lazy bum. The bum's jaw shattered like glass and he flew fifty meters in the air until he collided with a building and lay on the ground like a limp rag of discord.

"This brings to my mind," Richard asked Cara, "how's the charity program going?"

"Very well," said Cara. "Our agents have identified more than the target number of serial charity-givers. Soon we will have a fresh batch of Mord-Sith."

Of course it wasn't illegal to give to charity. That would have been infringing on people's freedom to be stupid. However, the youngest of Richard's Mord-Sith was by now in her mid-thirties and threatening to develop wrinkles. Richard has found out that War Wizard powers made him immortal and eternally young, but they did not extend beyond a War Wizard and his wife. Richard needed fresh blood. A good, vicious Mord-Sith had to have been an especially gentle girl, and there the flaw of having charity-genes in one's genome was actually a virtue. So logically the best use for weak-minded charity-givers and their spouses was to be tortured to death in the training of a Mord-Sith. Richard was sure about that, and as he was always right, he did not doubt himself. After the training was complete, he would take the girls to a park and teach them how to feed chipmunks, thus restoring them to truth and emotional balance while retaining their useful abilities. It was flawless, as only a plan by Richard could be.

Suddenly, the sun grew dark. The earth shook, throwing Richard, Kahlan, Cara, and the generic Mord-Sith all over the place. Instantly a vast chasm appeared that spouted smoke, fire, and brimstone. A dark shape instantly rose from it. With terror Richard realized that it looked like a gigantic evil chicken - but it was not a chicken. It cackled a horrific chicken cackle.

"The day of doom has come!" the chicken that was not a chicken and was not a Chime either screamed. "You will all die! Those that do not die will be raped to death repeatedly if female! The males who do not die will be tortured to death! The rest will be read Communist Manifesto for days on end until they turn into demons!"

"Who are you supposed to be?" Richard said.

"I am the Keeper, the Lord of the Underworld! Terry Goodkind has promised to finally end this series, honest, not lying, and he needs something more special than yet another trumped-up villain like mecha-Violet or the Dread Gandhimancers of the Northlands with their hunger strike power. Let's see how you can handle the Devil himself, eh?"

"Blade be true this day," Richard said, looking magnificent in his dark black War Wizard outfit, a shining beacon of the purest nobility of the human spirit, undaunted by the evil creature in front of him that wanted to bring him down to blackness with it like a rain shower dampening a campfire of black flames.


"Richard, where are you?" Kahlan shouted. But she was all alone. Suddenly a big, dark shape rose in front of her.

It was... a namble!

Kahlan looked at the namble in terror. It was very big and scary and it had a cock that was also very big and scary and barbed besides. A cock that was aching to rape her. Kahlan felt a sinking feeling of de-ja-vu.

"My name is Helps-Little-Old-Ladies-Across-the-Street! I am an unholy knight of Hell's vile knighthood of the Slaves of Common Decency! I will rape you!" the namble roared.

Kahlan stood petrified by terror. She knew that her Confessor powers did not work on demons.

The namble misinterpreted her silence. "Okay, it's not a fancy knighthood like the Reapers of Desolation or the Paragons of Altruism, but for a muggle like you it's plenty! What are you, a princess or something?"

The big, barbed namble cock advanced inexorably. Kahlan squaked out, "I'm more than a princess, I'm the Mother Confessor! Look at how long my hair is. You are not worthy to rape me."

"Hair-length denoting social status? That's ridiculous," the namble tittered. "That's like something George Lucas/Chris Claremont might... Nah. I think rather... It must be some long-haired hippie author with a yeard..."

The namble stopped wondering and started to prepare raping her. It ripped open her white Confessor dress with its big, unbarbed namble hands and bared her big, unbarbed Confessor breasts, Kahlan hit the namble with her Confessor power. There was a thunder without sound.

"Mistress, forgive me!" the namble begged.

"I thought my Confessor power worked only on humans, but in thinking that way I was violating myself and my own supremacy. In truth I can charm anything, and I bet that even my Confessor power's cooldown timer was only a mental conceit. Now that I have realized the truth, my worsening hay fewer will vanish," Kahlan realized. "You namble, cut off your big, barbed namble cock, eat it with your small, barbed namble testicles, and then kill the namble yourself." The namble obeyed instantly.

Unfortunately a dozen nambles had been watching from the shadows. They attacked Kahlan all at once with magic and bound her with a magic chain."This beauty is great for the Keeper's private harem/synchronized swimming team. They can use girls with a spirit there!" the namble leader said.

Another said, "She obviously can't deal with our Fireheart magic. This world will be ours, collectively!" The namble leader laughed. The namble second-in-command laughed. The namble who had just spoken laughed. All of the nambles laughed.

"Richard!" Kahlan shouted dejectedly. She knew that she loved Richard more than life itself and could not bear to be parted from him.


Zedd and Adie finally came to their full senses in a forest clearing. The last remains of the total mind-fog caused by their tragic and accidental digestion of Bangle Berries were finally gone, as the curative Warp Fungi had done their work. But some of the after effects were to remain. Zedd tried to take a step. He couldn't. He was rooted to the ground.

"Bags! By casting a minor light spell at the moment of the Triple Ninth Echo I have turned myself and Adie into trees... permanently, I fear!" Zedd exclaimed.


Richard swirled like death incarnate and the Keeper couldn't keep up. The chicken thing cast bolts, balls, and chain-lightnings of substractive, divisive, and derivative magic and tried to bite Richard with its chicken beak, but Richard had the skill of every one of who had wielded the Sword of Truth and blocked effortlessly all of the attacks.

Bringer of death.

"Don't be stupid. I'm not alive and therefore I can't die," the Keeper said. "And yes, I can read your mind. That "bringer of death" line is just stupid, like the entirety of you. You will never find the ancient Manual of Keeper-Destruction, for I have already sent my servants after it."

"Your mindless evil is no match for the power of Objectivism!" Richard shouted.

"You are wrong! I am the most brilliant and vividly-imagined villainous being in the history of the universe! I'm smarter than Lord Foul! I'm more powerful than Morgoth in his early years! I'm more evil than Hannibal Lecter and you combined! And best of all, I'm not some motivationless cardboard villain, unlike every other Dark Lord in fantasy! My actions are motivated by my devotion to the ideology of Evangelical Evilism! I will crush you utterly and without mercy and there's not a thing you can do to stop me!"

The Keeper's smugness made Richard even more angry. Instantly his anger made him win the war. The Keeper chickened out and started to run, its wounds healing instantly and its decapitated chicken head knitting back in place.

"This isn't over yet!" the Keeper shouted. "This is the ending decalogy for all the Richard-related series, and there's still nine books left of that! I have plans!"

"I, as the smartest and most powerful person in existence, will outwit you and beat you up! Then I will continue with many more adventures." Richard said.

"This whole world will end," the Keeper said. "This series has gone on for far too long. The publishing of it will cease after this final ten-volume attempt to wring the last drops of money from the ex-fans who still want to see how it ends." The Keeper teleported away, but Richard had cast the Trace Teleport spell and followed it to Hell.

In Hell Richard saw the Keeper rise to a taxi, which vanished into the traffic, leaving Richard all alone among the skyscrapers. But he was not alone. He had a purpose with him, a purpose to save Kahlan (who undoubtedly needed rescuing, since she'd been alone for at least fifteen minutes now) and to stop the forces that sought the destruction of his world. He started striding purposefully down the street.

The Fireheart decalogy will continue with the next installment, "The Naked-" ----- "Aaargh! Get him of me! I have a murderous madman with a sword in my office! Now he's cutting me with that sword! I'm dying, dripping blood on my keyboard from a massive chest wound, and now the madman is making a speech about the importance of loving life by killing book publishers, if you can believe it, or something like that and... lkjsdef... I can't type properly anymore... This is the end...

- Nerdanel

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

Children scare much more easily than adults, but you're not allowed to give them too much gore, so writing a horror story that appeals to both is no mean feat. Neil Gaiman has written this for a fairly young audience, but it still managed to spook me in places - he's gone for creepy uneasiness and subtle nastiness rather than outright horror, and it works very well indeed. It's rather like a modern Alice Through The Looking Glass, which can't be a bad thing, and here the mirror world is much less benign.

The story starts out like any traditional ghostly yarn - Coraline and her parents move into a spooky old house (well, a converted flat in the spooky house, anyway) and, having nothing better to do, Coraline goes exploring. The neighbours are slightly strange, the garden is pretty boring, but there's also that door that doesn't go anywhere... Of course, the door eventually does go somewhere, and it goes to a darker but more interesting version of the real world. The stray cat can talk; the mad old neighbour's (imaginary?) pet mice have become a colony of singing rats, and a warped version of her mother with buttons for eyes doesn't want to let her leave. Coraline has to fight to save herself and all the others that have become trapped in this world.

The use of familiar places twisted into something nastier gives the book the unsettling feel of a nightmare. It's been a long time since wolves (or possibly crocodiles) have lived at the bottom of my stairs, but this taps into the memories of when those things were real. In the end, the simple style stops it being that scary for adults, as it's clearly a kids' book, but it's still pretty damn creepy in places. Coraline herself is a decently feisty heroine and there's no heavy-handed moralising; if I was a kid I'd have loved this, and I'm happy to recommend it to adults too.


Terry Goodkind's Labyrinth

A Myshkin Joint

Part One

Cue super cool David Bowie song

Kahlan was standing in the park fantasizing about the Commie King when she instantly remembered she was an hour late to baby-sit her 30 year old boyfriend Richard. Instantly she ran across town and was suddenly on her front porch.

“I hate babysitting that stupid Richard,” Kahlan thought to herself before entering the house.
“Kahlan, where have you been,” screamed her evil stepmother as soon as Kahlan walked through the door.
“I hate you’” Kahlan instantly screamed back, “Why do I always have to watch Richard while you go out and get drunk?”
“He is your boyfriend,” raged her evil stepmother.

Kahlan ran up the stairs and was suddenly slamming her bedroom door. Instantly she flopped down on her bed, where she laid, boobies heaving, for a very long time.

Suddenly Kahlan realized that her favorite vibrator, Sir Truthalot, was missing.

“Somebody’s been in my room again,” Kahlan righteously raged. Instantly she ran to Richard’s nursery and found Sir Truthalot lying on the floor. Richard was asleep in his crib, he was wearing that stupid war wizard outfit again.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to touch my vibrators,” Kahlan screamed, awaking Richard.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Richard screamed back, “I am a free and noble individual who won’t be subjugated to your will”.
“Stop preaching. Why are you always preaching? If you don’t stop preaching I will call the Commie King to come and take you away to the Commie City where he will keep you forever and turn you into a pinko.”

Richard’s eyes were flashing now, and Kahlan could tell that his thing was rising. She had to do something fast before he ripped her spine out with his bare hands.

“Commie King, Commie King, where ever you might be, take this boyfriend of mine far away from me.” Nothing happened. Richard began preaching again. He was saying something ridiculous about fire.
“Richard stop it,” Kahlan sighed, “Oh, I wish the commies would come take you away.”

On her way back to her room Kahlan suddenly realized she could no longer hear Richard preaching. Instantly she raced back to the nursery. When she arrived at the nursery the lights were all off and Richard was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly a shadow stretched across the floor. Kahlan instantly looked up and saw a glorious man standing by the open window. He was tall and handsome, and was wearing extremely tight clothes with a magnificent codpiece. He was all glittery. He was Jagang, the Commie King.

“What have you done with my boyfriend,” Kahlan asked, “Please give him back, I didn’t mean it.”
“What’s said is said,” said the Commie King, in his totally sexy voice.
“Please, I have to have my boyfriend back,” Kahlan whimpered.
“He’s there, in my castle,” said the Commie King, pointing out the window.
Kahlan looked out the window. In the distance she could see a huge labyrinth, at the center of which stood a grand castle. “It doesn’t look too far,” she said.
“It’s farther than you think,” purred the Commie King, “You have 13 hours in which to solve the labyrinth before your boyfriend becomes one of us forever.” And instantly he disappeared.

Part Two

Instantly Kahlan found herself in an alien landscape. Suddenly she saw the wall of the Labyrinth several hundred yards in front of her. She was in for quite a journey, luckily she was wearing her traveling pants.

“Come on boobs, let’s get going,” Kahlan said to herself. As she neared the wall Kahlan saw a short, ugly commie pissing into the moat. “Excuse me,” she said.
“Bags and double bags,” cried the commie, “what do you think you’re doing sneaking up on me like that?”.
“Sorry, but do you know how to get into the labyrinth, Mr. uh….,” asked Kahlan instantly.
“My name is Zedd, and the door is right there you idiot,” said Zedd.
“Zedd’s dead, baby. Woops, wrong story. Thanks for the directions, Zudd,” said Kahlan.
“It’s Zedd, you stupid bitch.”

Kahlan instantly entered the labyrinth, and found herself staring at a blank wall. She looked left, right, and left again. It all looked the same as far as the eye could see. Suddenly she made a decision and went right. After running for ages without finding a turn-off Kahlan threw a tantrum then slumped down against the wall.

Kahlan instantly looked around for the source of the voice. Suddenly she saw a fuzzy worm on the wall, “Did you say hello?”
“No you moron, I said ‘ello,” said the fuzzy worm.
“I’m sorry Mr. Worm but I’m not in a good mood. I’ve been running in this labyrinth forever and I haven’t seen a single turn yet,” whined Kahlan.
“What are you, stupid,” asked the fuzzy worm, “There’s a turning right in front of you.”
Kahlan looked up, and found to her surprise that the worm was right. Curse her womanly ways, she had never even thought of actually looking for a turn.
“Oh, thank you so much Mr. worm,” Kahlan shouted joyously, and ran off towards the opening, preparing to go left.
“No, not that way,” shouted the worm, “never that way,”
“Oh, okay,” said Kahlan, and took the right hand passage.
“Dumb broad,” said the worm, “if she’d have gone that way our story would have ended way to early.”

Cut scene

In the castle at the heart of the labyrinth Jagang sat lazily on his throne. All around him his faithful little commies sat, being bored to death by Richard’s incessant preaching.
“How do I get this guy to shut up,” Jagang asked himself, “I know, I’ll drown him out by singing a song.” Instantly he jumped up and grabbed one of the commies:

Cue awesome 80’s beat

You remind me of the Dick
What Dick?
The Dick with the power
What power?
The power of Truthdoo
Who do?
You do
Do what?
Remind me of the Dick

I saw my Richard
Cryin’ hard as Dick could cry
What could I do?
My Dicky’s Truth had gone
And left my Dicky blue
Nobody knew

What kind of magic spell to use?
Voodoo dolls or enemy balls?
Deus ex machina?
And Richard said:

Truth magic Truth
Truth magic Truth
Put that Truthy spell on me…

Rage magic Rage
Rage magic Rage
Put that Truthy spell on me
Smack that Dicky, make him pee…

Cut scene

Kahlan suddenly found herself in a completely different part of the labyrinth. She wondered around aimlessly for quite some time, making random marks on the walls, not really sure why. Suddenly she saw two weirdo culturally diverse guys standing in front of two doors. “Hey, where’d you guys come from?”

“We’ve been here the whole time,” said one.
“Yeah, you’ve been staring at us for the past 15 minutes,” said the other.
“Oh,” said Kahlan, “Hey, where do those doors lead to anyway?”
“One leads to the castle, the other to certain death,” said the weirdo on the left.
“It’s your job to figure out which is which,” said the weirdo on the right.
“Well which one leads to the castle,” demanded Kahlan.
“Are you deaf,” said the left weirdo, “didn’t we just tell you that it was your job to figure that out?”
“I’ll give you a clue, though,” said the right weirdo, “One of us always lies, and the other always tells the truth.”
“Well, since you are both pinko commies, I know that both of you are liars.” And with that Kahlan shoved the left weirdo to the ground and went through his door.
“Ha, I’m so smart,” said Kahlan, and instantly fell through the hole in the ground at that instant.

Part Three

Kahlan fell and fell, until suddenly a bunch of hands were grabbing her boobies.

“Help, help,” she cried.
“We are helping.” Said one of the hands, “we’re the helping hands.”
“Oh,” said Kahlan, “but would you mind not grabbing my boobies so hard?”
“Would you rather we let you go?” asked the hand and let go. Instantly Kahlan was plummeting again. But just when she thought all was lost the hands grabbed her again.
“Which way do you want to go,” asked the hand, “up or down?”
“Well, Richard likes it when I go down, so I guess down it is,” said Kahlan.

When Kahlan hit the bottom of the shaft she was in total darkness. Suddenly she heard a scuffling sound.

“Who’s there,” Kahlan instantly asked.
“It’s me, Zedd,” said Zedd as he lit a lantern, “I’m here to show you the way out of the labyrinth.”
“No, I don’t want out. I need to get to the castle,” cried Kahlan. Then an idea struck her, “Tell you what, I’ll show you my boobies if you help me reach the castle,” she offered.

Zedd visibly struggled with the idea for an instant, then said, “You got a deal, baby.”
Kahlan lifted up her shirt. Suddenly a testicle rolled by on the floor. Kahlan instantly looked up and was surprised to see a strange man sitting there wearing a cloak and hat.

Suddenly the man stood up, discarding both cloak and hat.
“Oh my God, it’s Ziggy Stardust,” squealed Kahlan.
“What the fuck are you talking about,” said Zedd, “that’s Jagang, the Commie King.”
“Oh,” said Kahlan, “sorry, my mistake. But really you can’t blame me. I mean, look at him.”
“What’s this,” asked Jagang, choosing to ignore the interplay between Zedd and Kahlan, “Are you trying to help this girl Zidd?”
“It’s Zudd,” corrected Kahlan.
“God damn it, my name is ZEDD. I mean seriously how fucking hard is that?”
“So, tell me Kahlan,” said Jagang, “how are you finding my little labyrinth so far?”
“Piece of cake,” declared Kahlan.
“Bags and double bags, you really fucked up now,” cursed Zedd.
“Piece of cake is it,” mused Jagang, “Well then lets make it a little harder, shall we,” and he threw the testicle down the corridor and instantly disappeared. Suddenly a sound broke out.
“What’s that,” asked Kahlan, trying to keep the fear from her voice.
“Oh my God,” screamed Zedd, “It’s the Representational Design Involving Lethality. Run!!!” and he ran.

Kahlan and Zedd ran and ran, all the while the Representational Design Involving Lethality gaining on them. Suddenly Zedd found a ladder leading up. Instantly Kahlan and Zedd climbed the ladder.
When they reached the top Kahlan looked around. They were in a new part of the labyrinth. Instantly she spotted the castle, “We need to go that way,” she declared brilliantly.

Just then a mighty roar erupted from somewhere close by. Kahlan looked at Zedd. Zedd pissed himself and ran off. Kahlan almost did the same, but then she thought better of it.
She looked around a corner and instantly saw the source of the roar. A large gar was hanging upside down while a bunch of ugly commies were poking him with babies tied to sticks.

“That poor gar,” said Kahlan, “I’ve got to do something.” There was only one thing to do. Kahlan pretended to stretch and grabbed a baby on a stick. Suddenly a war broke out. Instantly the war was over. There were commie bodies laying everywhere, and beautiful arcs of blood still hung in the air.

“Graaatch doooowwn,” moaned the gar.
“Oh, is that your name, Gratch?,” asked Kahlan.
“Of course it’s my name you stupid bitch, why do you think I said it?” growled Gratch.
“Um…. Graaatch doooowwn,” Gratch moaned again, cleverly covering up his faux pas.
“Oh, you poor thing,” whined Kahlan, “I’ll get you down right now,” and she cut the rope, dropping Gratch on his head.
“Graaatch luuug Kaaahlaar,” said Gratch.
“Oh I love you too Gratch,” cooed Kahlan. Then she had an idea, “Hey Gratch, do you know how to get to the castle?”
Gratch shook his head, no. Well, they’d just have to find a way together.
“Come on Gratch, we’ve got a long way to go if we ever want to finish this parody.”

Part Four

Kahlan and Gratch walked through a forest, which had mysteriously popped up in the middle of the labyrinth.

“Graaatch scaaared,” whimpered Gratch.
“There’s nothing to be scared of, Gratch,” said Kahlan as Gratch fell through a hole in the ground.
Kahlan walked on for several miles before she noticed that Gratch was missing.
“Gratch,” she called, “Gratch, where are you?”

Suddenly a group of invisible lizards showed up. There were five of them all told, and they looked like maybe they’d been smoking a little too much pot.

“Hey, what’s this,” said one of the lizards.
“Looks like this girl’s lost,” said another.
“Maybe we should help her out,” said a third.

Cue slightly cool reggae beat

The invisible lizards go into a fairly long song and dance about something or other, which is not helpful in the least.

Fed up with the stupid lizards Kahlan ripped their heads off and ran away laughing like an idiot. Instantly she came to a rock wall.

“Oh no,” said Kahlan, “how am I gonna get up this?”
Suddenly a rope came slithering down the wall. Instantly Kahlan looked up and saw Zedd at the top of the wall.
“Zedd, you came back,” she cried joyously.
“Of course I came back, I couldn’t let a great rack like yours wander around here all alone, could I?”

Kahlan hauled herself up the rope and embraced her friend, both of them chortling with joy after being apart for so long. Suddenly they fell through another God damned hole in the ground. Instantly Kahlan and Zedd found themselves on a small strip of land in the middle of an awful smelling swamp.

“Oh shit,” cried Zedd, “we’re in the Bog of Eternal Stench. Oh, it’s horrible.”
“It’s not all that bad,” opined Kahlan, “Richard eats a lot of raw meat, so his BM’s smell much worse than this.”
“That’s fucking disgusting,” gagged Zedd.
“Kaaaalaaarg,” came a mighty roar.
“Gratch,” Kahlan squealed as the lovable gar came running over. “Zedd, this is Gratch.”
“Oh great, a furry dinosaur, just what this story needed,” said Zedd, but his sarcasm was lost on Kahlan.
“Well, let’s get going,” said Kahlan, far too happy for a person in her situation.

The three of them walked for some time, Zedd and Gratch choking on the stench. Suddenly they came to a stone bridge.

“Halt,” yelled a little midget woman dressed in skin tight red leather.
“Who are you,” Kahlan asked instantly.
“I am Cara,” said the midget woman, “and I am sworn to guard this bridge.”
“Bags, woman, get out of our way,” cried Zedd as he tried to shove past Cara.

Instantly Cara had a strange phallic device in her hand, which she used to zap the shit out of Zedd.
“Son of a bitch,” screamed Zedd as Gratch charged into battle with Cara.

The battle was epic and seemed to go on for days, though in reality it only lasted 4 seconds or so. When it was over Gratch and Cara stood staring at each other with admiration shining in their eyes.

“You are a worthy adversary,” said Cara.
“Graaatch luuurg Caaaraarg,” said Gratch.
“Cara, we really need to reach the castle, can we please cross,” asked Kahlan.
“Of course, m’lady,” said Cara, “In fact I would be honored to accompany you on your noble journey. Betty,” she called shrilly, “Betty get out here now.” And out from behind a tree galloped the noblest goat Kahlan had ever seen.
“With such a noble creature on our side we are sure to succeed,” cried Kahlan joyously.
“Let us be away,” said Cara as she mounted Betty the goat.

Together the little group of free and noble individuals traveled for miles and miles. Suddenly Kahlan was very hungry.

“I’m hungry,” she announced without preamble.
Instantly Zedd offered her a peach. It was puke green and smelled like ass, but Kahlan was so hungry she ate it anyway. Instantly she knew something was wrong.
“Zedd, what have you done,” she demanded woozily.
“It weren’t my fault,” Zedd cried as he backed away, “Jagang made me do it.” And with that he turned and ran.

Kahlan was starting to hallucinate now. She saw Jagang standing erect, masterful in his Commie King outfit. He looked like a statue of what he was: one of the greatest English musicians of all time, especially when he teamed up with Queen for that one kick ass song, you know the one.

Suddenly she was at a wondrous masquerade ball. Instantly her eyes found Jagang across the room. In a daze she tried to reach him, but he always seemed just beyond her grasp. She was becoming desperate now, but just when all hope seemed to be lost, Jagang stepped up behind her and took her in a manly embrace. It was the most magical moment of her life, dancing with this masterful specimen of a man.

“I love you,” she whispered.
“Just you shut your mouth,” purred Jagang as the world went black.

Part 5

Kahlan awoke to find herself lying atop a large pile of garbage. Instantly she jumped to her feet and gazed, dazedly, at the surrounding landscape. Garbage and more garbage as far as the eye could see. She had no idea where she was or how she had gotten there. All she knew was that her mouth tasted of peach and ass, and she needed some water badly. After wandering aimlessly through the garbage for some time, Kahlan suddenly spotted Sir Truthalot, her favorite vibrator, lying on the ground in front of her.

“Sir Truthalot,” she squealed with joy, instantly picking up the vibrator. Suddenly an old hag appeared out of nowhere, “Who the hell are you,” Kahlan demanded.
“Now now, dearie, it’s just old Shota,” cooed the hag, “You’re just confused and lost, and Shota has come the show you the way home.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Kahlan as a door instantly appeared in one of the piles of garbage. Shota led Kahlan through the door, and Kahlan miraculously found herself in her own bedroom.
“Oh, it’s so wonderful to be home,” squealed Kahlan. But suddenly she realized that something was very wrong; this wasn’t her room at all. It was just the inside of a hollow trash heap.

Instantly at that moment Gratch and the gang came crashing through the wall. Zedd suddenly kicked Shota square in the jaw. When boot connected with jaw Kahlan could see it shatter like a crystal goblet on a stone floor. The impact of the blow lifted the old hag into the air. Her own teeth severed her tongue before they, too, shattered. Shota landed on her back, a good distance away, trying to scream through the gushing blood.

Instantly Kahlans memories came flooding back to her. She suddenly remembered where she was and what she had to do, “We need to get to the castle and save Richard,” she loudly declared.

The little group set off and soon found themselves standing at the gate to the Commie City. In the interest of saving time and space, they found the gate unlocked and unguarded.

Cut scene

“Your Majesty, your Majesty!!!”
“What is it, Major Tom?” Jagang asked lazily.
“It’s the girl,” cried Major Tom, “She’s in the city.”

Jagang instantly sprang up from his throne, “She should have never made it this far,” he cried, “Major Tom, call the guardhouse and tell them that the girl must be stopped at all costs.” And with that he strode manfully from the room.
Major Tom instantly sprang into action, “This is Major Tom to ground control,” he sang into his walkie-talkie.

“Go ahead, Major Tom.”
“I’m stepping through the door, and I’m floating in a most peculiar way, and the stars look very different today,” sang Major Tom.
“What the fuck are you on about,” asked the ground control operator.
“Sorry, I just had to do it,” said Major Tom, “Anyway, the Commie King says that the girl must be stopped at all costs.”
“10-4, Major Tom. And, in the future, try to refrain from singing songs that don’t pertain to the source material.”

Cut scene

Kahlan and the gang slowly made their way through the Commie City, stopping occasionally to admire the spectacular architecture. Suddenly they were standing in front of the Kremlin castle gate. Instantly an army poured through the gate.

“Halt, girl,” said Major Tom, “Your little journey is at an end. We have you surrounded and outnumbered.”
Kahlan instantly remembered something Richard used to say when he was drunk on turpentine: when you are outnumbered and surrounded on all sides, you must attack.

Suddenly a war broke out. The commies had brought an army with them. They may have thought they had the upper hand with their superior numbers, proven tactics, and rigid discipline. But Kahlan knew better; they were no match for her small group of free and noble individuals. The commies fought like a giant centipede. Kahlan squished that centipede beneath her mighty boot. Instantly the war was over.

“That was easy,” said Zedd.
“Oh man, I didn’t get to torture anybody with my phallus agiel,” complained Cara.
“Bawk-bawk-bawk,” bawked Betty the goat.
“Graaaatch luuurg poooop,” said Gratch, and he pooped.

The group-that-was-not-a-group (they were individuals, after all) marched purposefully through the gate and into the castle. After walking miles of corridors, and never once encountering a guard, they instantly found themselves in the throne room. Jagang was nowhere to be seen.

“He must have gone through that door,” said Kahlan brilliantly, pointing at the only door.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go make that evil bastard eat his own balls,” screamed Cara, like a maniac.
“No,” said Kahlan, “I have to do this alone.”
“But why,” asked Zedd.
“I don’t know,” answered Kahlan, “All I know is that we have to follow the source material.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that,” said Zedd.

Kahlan marched up to the door, and stopped. Before going through the she whispered to herself, “Boobs, be true this day,” then she crossed the threshold.

Kahlan suddenly found herself in an M. C. Escher print. Instantly at that moment she saw Richard. He was standing in the fourth dimension. She could tell that his thing was rising with rage. Richard hated the way that Escher subverted the Truth of stairways. There was no way she could reach him, he might as well have been in a different dimension. Oh wait, he was. Suddenly Jagang appeared atop the stairway across from her. Kahlan ran. Jagang ran. Richard ran. Then all the guys started to run. A really cool scene followed, wherein everybody ran all crazy like up and down stairways at strange angles.

Suddenly Kahlans entire world shattered like the jaw of a small girl. Instantly she found herself standing on an island of stone floating in a sea of nothingness. Jagang appeared as if by magic and strode manfully toward her, his feathered hair glistening with manly glitter.

“I have defeated your labyrinth,” intoned Kahlan, “Now I want Richard back.”
“Please, take him,” pleaded Jagang, “I can’t stand that asshole. He never shuts up, and he’s carved everything I own into ridiculous statues.”
“I won’t take no for an answer,” Kahlan said, “I want Richard back.”
“Weren’t you listening? Didn’t you hear what I just said? Oh, fuck this, I’m done with you idiots.” Jagang snapped his fingers and the world fell away.

Kahlan suddenly found herself standing in her own living room. Instantly she raced up the stairs and into the nursery. Richard was there, sleeping like a baby, his mighty hands wrapped lovingly around Sir Truthalot.

Kahlan breathed a sigh of relief, “It’s over, it’s all over,” she whispered to herself, as she walked to her room.
Once in her room, Kahlan sat down at her vanity and stared at the mirror. Suddenly she was overcome with the sudden longing to see her friends. Instantly her friends appeared.

“You’re here, you’re really here’” squealed Kahlan as she grabbed them all in a group hug and chortled with pleasure. Zedd laughed. Cara laughed. Then all the guys started to life.


Roll credits

- Myshkin

The Silence of the Goats

Part 1

Agent Kahling stepped into the starkly-lit hospital corridor and swallowed nervously. The Midlands Bureau of Investigation had run out of leads, and serial killer Buffalo Nicci was still on the loose. How do you catch a monster? Ask another one. So she was here to see the notorious cannibal Richard Lecter, whose twisted mind may hold the key to capturing Nicci.

"Be careful in there," Agent Zedd had warned her. "That man can talk the arse off a donkey, and he'll twist everything you say into some straw-man argument that you mysteriously won't be able to counter."
"Don't worry," Kahling had assured him. "I've got long hair and big boobs."

She glanced in the cells as she walked past. Dangerous criminals leered and snarled, displaying their contempt for all that is good in the world. Most of them were just bad, just this boring bad and just bad. But the last cell was different. Standing there, erect, masterful in his psychopathic criminal outfit, was Richard Lecter. He looked like he could have been posing for a statue of who he was, the Eater of People.

Bringer of Death.

Kahling felt a wave of joy rush over her, and the dark corridor suddenly seemed airy and light. She felt like falling to her knees and weeping with joy at this vision of manhood, but she had a job to do, so she controlled her emotions and swept back her hair. Richard's nostrils twitched.

"Lemon-scented anti-dandruff L'Oreal, with... silky shine conditioner. Because you're worth it."

Kahling gaped in amazement. How could he know? He saw the confusion dawning on her face like a beautiful sunset.

"I can tell the ingredients and the advertising slogans of all cosmetic products simply by smelling them," he explained coldly, his raptor-like gaze sweeping the corners of the cell and piling the dust lazily under the rug.

That was so cool! thought Kahling. She started to rummage in her handbag to see if he could do the trick with any of her other hair products, but she heard the stony silence come crashing down in front of her and looked up into Richard's steely-brown eyes.

"Don't try to test me," he rasped shrilly. "My half-brother tried to test me. I ate his testicles with some pava bread and a nice Chianti. F-f-f-f-f-f-f."

Kahling shivered at the masculine timbre of his voice. "I suppose you'll want me to give you information about myself in exchange for your help?"

Richard's look of scorn kicked her in the jaw and ripped out her spine, though only metaphorically of course. "Tell me about yourself? Why on earth would I want to listen to anyone else's opinion? The only way I can find the Truth is by being true to myself, and by completely ignoring everyone and everything around me! I may be locked up in a maximum-security cell, but in my heart I am free, and you are the one locked up! Your collectivist ways cannot cage the mind of a man who truly desires freedom..."

Kahling stifled a yawn and forced herself to stay awake for the rest of Richard's speech, though his twisting logic and sweeping generalisations threatened to blow her head up, leaving a melon-sized hole. If this was the only man who could catch Nicci, what hope was there for her latest victim, the Princess Violet?

Part 2

Agent Zedd's bushy eyebrows furrowed with frustrated awe. "Remind me of the plot, Agent Kahling!" he commanded.

Kahling looked down at her notes, which she'd written to keep track of all the irrational plot-twists and illogical worldbuilding. "Let's see... last time we spoke was two days ago, wasn't it, because you wanted me to investigate the case of Buffalo Nicci, who's been torturing girls to death."

"That's right!" said Zedd "But go on, as we need to spend at least half the chapter on infodumping."

"Well, as you know Zedd, we work for the Midlands Bureau of Investigation, but we've been unable to capture this vile serial killer. We nearly got her once, but she changed into a different-coloured dress and so nobody recognised her. She slipped through our roadblock by getting her boobs out, and since then we've had no leads. The latest girl to go missing is Princess Violet, so we'll have to find this murderess quickly! Yesterday I went to visit the notorious cannibal Richard Lecter to see if he could help."

"And will he?" prompted Zedd.

"He says he'll only help if we can move him to the Palace, so he can use his Seeker-senses to give us more information about the case. I'm not happy with it, but it seems like the only moral thing to do."

"That's settled, then" said Zedd, "We'll move him into the palace. He should be safe enough there; my magic will protect us."

This seemed fair enough to Kahling. Still, she had one more question: "Just as a matter of interest, Zedd, as you're such a powerful magician, why can't you just use your magic to find this Nicci?"

"Ah, that's an interesting question," said Zedd, stalling for time. "You see, the magic spells I usually use are driven by the power of, er, additi...sub...plifi...macation, yes, and Nicci carries, um, the Amulet of Plot Device which can repel my magic like rain on a campfire. I never mentioned this before but it's all written down in this ancient book, right here, see?"

Agent Chase was walking past and overheard this conversation. "Wait a minute," he said, "Isn't this supposed to be a police-procedural crime thriller? What's all this about magic and amulets?"

"Bags, child, don't try to pigeonhole me!" fumed Zedd. "This is a story about nobility and the triumph of the human spirit, I can't be bothered with such petty details! You're obviously not old enough to understand." He instantly blasted Chase with a blast of additisubplifimacative magic which sacked him from the MBI and stripped him of his badge. Chase slunk away in disgrace, a civilian once more.

Later that day, Richard was brought to the palace, under heavy guard. He sniffed around the palace while the MBI agents grew restless. Eventually, he had his answers.

"Tell me, Agent Kahling, was there anything unusual about the... bodies? Apart from being tortured, of course," he asked.

"Yes, there were a few feathers, but what does that have to do with it?"

Richard laughed a raptor-like laugh, which sounded like an eagle with hiccups. "Birds... birds and evil... birds OF evil... what is the most evil of all the birds?"

"Why, a chicken, of course!" Any child would know that; Kahling was insulted that he'd even had to ask her.

"Have you searched the chicken farm?" asked Richard, in the smug tones of one who knows he's vastly more intelligent than all the straw men and sock-puppets around him.

Kahling gasped. Zedd gasped. All the guards gasped. One said, "To the chicken farm!" and most of them raced for the door. "Don't forget to guard Richard!" called Zedd over his shoulder.

Richard surveyed his captors, who eyed him warily - they knew that they were in the presence of a lethal, cold-blooded killer, who would stop at nothing to fight for his own personal freedom, leaving nothing else alive.

Bringer of Death.

The guards knew they could not relax their vigilance, even for a moment. Still, their wits were no match for Richard's. His mind raced. Pretending to stretch, he seized a sword from one of them and in an instant war broke out. He was lethality incarnate, a swirling, slicing machine of pure, lethal killing, lethally slicing his way through the helpless guards, whose strict training and co-ordination was no match for this lethal one-man death machine. Instantly, they had all been killed. Richard carefully sliced off the face of one of them to use as a disguise - there wasn't any real need for this, as all the other guards were dead, but he thought it might be fun. He removed the ears from the rest and saved them for a snack later.

Meanwhile, at the chicken farm, Agent Kahling had narrowly escaped being raped three times and now was facing Nicci. Before she could arrest her, though, Nicci cast a Maternity spell, so that if Kahling tried to arrest her, she'd also be arresting herself! They circled one another warily. This went on for some time to allow Richard to turn up and save the day, like this:

The strange chipping noises ceased, and suddenly a shaft of sunlight shone down into the dark corner of the chicken farm, illuminating a figure there. It was a statue, carved from a pillar of purest marble, which had just happened to be on a farm. Richard dusted off his hands and stood back to admire his handiwork, which he'd just knocked up in a few minutes after escaping from the palace. At the base of the statue was a single word: LIFE. Nicci glanced at the statue, then stopped dead in her tracks and stared, a tear trickling down her cheek. Life! And all this time she'd been a serial killer, in search of Death! The answer was so simple, why had she been so stupid? Now she was weeping with joy.

"How did you carve that statue? You haven't even got a sword!" asked Kahling in awe.

Richard held up his hands covered in stone dust, fingernails worn down by the hard marble. "I AM the weapon!" he declared.

Richard went over to comfort Nicci, and Kahling came too, feeling a strange kinship in these two bringers of death. They hugged, and went to find Princess Violet. No sense in rescuing the helpless brat, after all; she should have been able to save herself. Richard could kick her, and Nicci could torture her, and Kahling could watch. They strode off together into the sunset.

The End.