Sunday, September 14, 2014

My review of Monstrocity by Jeffrey Thomas. Another exceptional read! Take a look!

cover art for the German edition of Monstrocity
It was with great anticipation that I recently bought myself a return ticket to the city known as Punktown. Said ticket being Monstrocity by Jeffrey Thomas, his first full length novel set in the Punktown series. Originally published in 2003 by Prime Books, I chose this entry because I wanted to read some of the older stories set in this universe, and because I was intrigued by the fact that it was a full length novel. My previous experience with this ongoing series was the recent collection of interlinked stories, Ghosts of Punktown. After reading Ghosts (here's a link to my review, if you haven't checked it out), I was hooked on both the setting, and Jeffrey's writing in general. I knew it wouldn't be long before I returned to the planet Oasis, and the urban sprawl of the mega-city known by outsiders and the gentry as Paxton, and as Punktown by it's true inhabitants... the ordinary people, trying to make a living amongst the lost, the forgotten, the predators, and the insane. Buried in this chaos, you will find tales of love, of redemption, and of disparate beings coming together to forge a unity against the darkness that is lurking just around the corner, waiting in the angles of space and time. A union that will shine a faint light out into the universe, and grow into a beacon of hope, a rallying point for any rational being. Monstrocity tells one such tale, and it tells it very well...

Christopher Ruby is a shy, unassuming type of guy. When, by pure chance, he meets the beautiful Gabrielle, he believes that his life is finally looking up. Gabrielle, however, has some rather strange interests that soon lead to the first in a series of tragic events. A recording of a set of occult incantations has fallen into her possession, which will purportedly call up a demon, if certain conditions are met. While he is, at first, totally against the idea, Christopher eventually gives in hoping to please his girlfriend. The ritual doesn't seem to work, and he has a good laugh and then heads to bed. Awakened by a strange feeling during the night, he finds that Gabrielle has performed the ritual again, and that there is something distressingly... odd about her. Soon after, she disappears, and Christopher frantically attempts to locate her. Along the way, he begins researching the origin of the incantation that started the whole series of events. He eventually discovers that the author was a certain human from Old Earth, apparently of Arab descent. A man by the name of Abdul Alhazred... He soon begins seeing strange apparitions out of the corner of his eye, and has the feeling that he is constantly being watched. His life is gradually taken over by an intense feeling of paranoia, and he begins a swift descent into madness.

The story of Christopher Ruby is stifling, intense, and claustrophobic, and quite intricately detailed. A tale of an ordinary man, thrown into an extraordinary situation, through no fault of his own. A man who just wants things to be as they were, but eventually realizes, that there is no going back. At the beginning of the story, there isn't much to set Christopher apart, to draw you into the character. As the story unfolds, however, he begins to grow and show unexpected depths of both character, and willpower. From his initial quest to rescue his love and return everything to normalcy, his motives turn more towards reaping a horrible vengeance on those responsible for destroying his life. His desire for revenge slowly fades as he begins to grasp the scope of the forces that he is up against, both those from outside our dimension, and the beings that serve them, here in our realm. He begins to realize that, even though he is not the best choice to be a savior, he has been chosen, simply because he KNOWS. In KNOWING, he automatically becomes responsible for DOING. Once he comes to grips with this idea, he starts along a highly selfless path. With no help in sight, the question becomes, quite simply put, will he survive long enough to make an actual difference. The author takes his time in really building up the personality of his protagonist, and rendering him as a perfect example of fallible humanity. The qualities of perseverance, selflessness, and the ability to think beyond the concept of 'I', and serve a greater good are rather remarkably illustrated within the story.

Along with the quality of his characterization, Jeffrey also excels when it comes down to the portraying the details contained within the story(as I mentioned in my opening statement of the previous paragraph). Whether it is something that is normally quite simplistic, such as describing the characters surroundings (there were a number of these descriptions that I found to be quite profound, and a work of art, in and of itself); or in the attention given to various species history, culture, appearance, and unique behaviors, he goes above and beyond the norm. Quite masterful, I must say. The photo-realistic depiction of every aspect of Punktown could lead one to believe that, possibly, this is a real place and that the author is a frequent traveler to the planet of Oasis. Truthfully, the level of characterization, and of description, could easily be a travelogue, if one were to remove the more fantastic aspects of the story. There is no need for a suspension of disbelief, just start reading and you'll find yourself definitely transported to another world. This quality to totally submerse a reader in a story is very rare, and Jeffrey Thomas possesses said ability in spades. It's one of the reasons that Punktown is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional destinations to visit. Heck, I'd buy a ticket and make my home there, if Jeffrey would let me...

To sum up my ramblings, this is an outstanding, well thought out and executed, absolutely engaging story. There are many highly adult themes and situations contained within it's pages, but we're all adults here. It's so rare to come across a concept that is so effectively realized, so fluid in it's execution, that you you have to step back to truly appreciate the total depth of what you've been reading. Monstrocity is one of these releases, and I highly recommend that you take a look at this entry, and at the series as a whole. For that matter, just go out and pick up a story by Jeffrey Thomas. You'll be amazed by the sights that he will show you... 

Here's the product page on Amazon. Here's Jeffrey's author page on Amazon. Finally, here's Jeffrey's site. Why don't you take some time to stop by and look around? A great number of excellent stories are contained there, just waiting for you to discover them. With that, I'll sign off. As usual, happy reading!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My review of the TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT graphic novel, by Andrez and Cocoa Bergen. Wonderful read...

I recently received my copy of the Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat graphic novel by Andrez Bergen (words) and Andrez and Cocoa Bergen (images) in the post, which sent me into spasms of pure joy. After reading through, I have to report that Andrez still has it ('it' being sheer talent, natch), and he has it in spades. Funded through Kickstarter, and published by the cool cats over at IF? Commix, this is a graphic adaptation of the first 90 or so pages from Andrez's novel of the same name, although it does have some extra included for all you new readers.That's right, all of you who loved the novel; Andrez has a bit of a surprise included in the new release. So don't go in thinking this is a only a blow by blow adaptation (which would be extremely awesome, in of itself), just sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself. You might be surprised by what is shown to you. Regardless, the story is still the one you know and love... and if you haven't read the novel, here's your chance to jump on board. I was absolutely blown away by this graphic adaptation, and you will be as well. I'm formally calling for a sequel, right here on this page. I NEED to KNOW what happens NEXT... I'm sure that after you read this release, you'll feel the same.

TSMG is set within the last city on Earth (in this case, Melbourne, Australia), after the rest of the world has been wiped out by a global catastrophe. The hoi polloi have been saved by Hylax Industries, and especially, by it's founder Wolram Deaps. Of course, the word 'saved' can be a bit open to interpretation, sometimes. Saved, but wrapped in propaganda and the chains of control; saved, but ruled over by the whim of a fascist dictator. Saved, but forced into a rigid class system, in which people have almost no chance of bettering themselves (unless the warden finds you of use). Finally, saved, but any free-thinker, any dissident with a word to say against the status quo, is hunted down and murdered, or forcibly sequestered in hospitals, and doomed to pass from view. This is what 'saved' means, in this future world. Saved means being used, and wrapped in more and more levels of control, just in case you're needed. Until you're not (which is an event that is always held over your head), and then you're discarded like any other disposable product, tossed down the garbage chute. Quite a cheerful (and, in some ways, familiar) situation, yes?

Floyd Maquina strides (okay, frequently stumbles) through this world, and he's not a man that is built along the heroic archetype; he's an everyday type of guy, that has had a great amount of tragedy pass through his life.  First case in point, he wasn't able to save his wife, Veronica, from being sent to the camps (Coff! Coff! Sorry... I mean the 'hospitals'...) after she became sick. The two of them tried to hide things as best they could, but they were eventually betrayed (when you find out about the  person behind this betrayal, you get to experience the meaning of REVELATION, and PLOT TWIST), and she was carted off to the camps (sorry, once again, I mean hospitals). Floyd isn't a bad guy, he's just been ground down by the wheel of fate, driven to the point that liquor and other illicit substances are all that keep him going. After his wife is hospitalized, Floyd is approached by government agents about the level of 'care' that she will receive. Since all options are extremely expensive, he is forced to join the ultra-secret, government run Seeker Branch to pay for her medical bills.

You see, Floyd was a P.I. in his former life which has made him a useful commodity, as far as Seeker Branch is concerned. The agency is tasked with hunting down the Deviant 'menace', and bringing them back to interment, or out and out terminating them. Floyd's one of the few who refuses to use the latter option (except, possibly, once), but he's definitely in the minority. The Branch uses VR tests to keep their agents in line, and if you fail, for whatever reason... you'll be the next one labeled Deviant, and carted off to the 'hospitals'. His wife's condition is always held over his head, so he isn't quitting Seeker Branch anytime soon, unless he ends up dead...which is a good possibility in his line of work, and might actually be a bit of a relief to Floyd A human being can only take so much... Until then, at least he has met a fellow soul to share his rather complicated, crooked path, his trials and travails... Laurel Canyon, also employed by Seeker Branch, who is also carrying around quite a bit of tragic history herself. Another human being that has been ground down by the vagaries of existence that this life has inflicted on them. For the nonce, they manage to find some solace in each other's company. In a world such as this, can even this small gift remain untouched?

Andrez is constantly honing both his writing, and his striking style of art. I loved the original Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, but seeing it in graphic form is a revelation. I have longed to see this story adapted as a graphic novel, and had quite a mental list of artists that I thought would do the story justice. As it turns out, the perfect artist for the job happens to be Andrez himself. The art is a direct slap to the head, which manages to wake you up, and gets you paying attention to the events taking place. Moody, sometimes muted and dark, they require your full attention to decipher the full meaning of the story being told. Striking and always beautiful,  yet sometimes heartbreaking (when you see, vicariously, where everything turned to shite), the art plunges ahead, carrying the reader along. It flows seamlessly from moment to moment, tragedy to tragedy. In other words, a day in Floyd Maquina's life, and the window into the existence of the vast majority of the masses in this future city. Cocoa Bergen's artistic contributions are particularly poignant, and add that bit of nuance that allows the story to really wound you. If you haven't realized it yet, the artwork is highly recommended.

Let's get down to the story. The novel is an absolute favorite of mine. The graphic adaptation takes the original prose story to another level, a level where the characters actually jump off the page, and begin to stomp all over your psyche. Andrez has spent a good amount of time immersed in classic noir, detective, and dystopian science fiction releases (as I have, for that matter), and this is his love note to the genres. I want to be perfectly clear, this is not a 'laugh out loud, outrageous fun' type of release. It's more of a 'you have to read this, it's doing something that's not out there' type of story. It has a great amount of tragedy contained within, and things can become a bit bleak. The characters keep at it though, because such is their life. They all have hidden depths, that take their time coming to light. Novel and graphic novel, they are both highly recommended reading. Andrez's writing is unique, both in it's approach and it's execution, and I find myself enthralled with his work. Read some of his stories, and you'll find yourself feeling the same way...

Here's the author's blog. I'm sure Andrez would appreciate you dropping by, and saying hello! Here's his Amazon page. Finally, here's the publisher's page, where you can get your hands on all kinds of good stories. Before going, I'd like to share this with you... Even though the characters of this novel/graphic novel exist in a shell of a burnt-out world, don't despair... You can always find a doorway into a new existence (in this fictional world, at least), if you look hard enough. Look hard, don't miss it, the portal might be just around the corner... With that cryptic note, I'll bid you adieu! Until next time, happy reading!!!