It's hard not to like any book when it's read by Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads – and he's read Twilight so I suppose I could put that to the test. Someti...moreIt's hard not to like any book when it's read by Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads – and he's read Twilight so I suppose I could put that to the test. Sometimes chapter by chapter reviews, sometimes YouTube narrations, sometimes a mixture of the two. Flushed from his recent Hugo nomination, he was asked to read the short story, Ponies (a Nebula winner itself), from fellow Hugo nominee Kij Johnson.
Mark manages to get so into any story he's reading, and the dark themes of this one were always going to play with his mind. Barbara has a pony (think My Little Pony but with wings, a horn and they can talk) and the time has come for her 'cutting out' party so she, and her pony, can be accepted by THEOTHERGIRLS. Like any ritual to join a group ruled by peer pressure, there's a strong element of bullying. And that's where the horror starts for both Barbara and Mark as he's as in the dark about the story as we are.
Short though the story is (the YouTube video clocks in at just over 10 minutes, and that includes a lot of Mark's own shock and thought processes), it's an exploration of peer pressure, group bullying, social expectation and the need to join a group that doesn't really want you, and you might not even be comfortable in. Fantastically narrated, as usual, and that might have coloured my view of the story somewhat too...(less)
Cock and Bull is two independent stories back to back; connected through their core theme of an person who develops secondary genitalia, of the oppos...moreCock and Bull is two independent stories back to back; connected through their core theme of an person who develops secondary genitalia, of the opposite gender. I didn't read them back to back – instead I read the first story, Cock, during a slow period in a non-fiction book on English grammar and then picked up the second story, Bull, a week (and two further books) after that. Both are typically Selfian; brutal tales of abuse, gender stereotype and role reversal. Both are set against tales of depressing characters and backgrounds where the change is a catalyst to allow the protagonist to break free from that world to either damage, or be damaged by, those around them.
The first, Cock: A Novella, is the story of an unhappy relationship – a drunken meeting at university leads to an increasingly alcoholic marriage – and the effect that relationship has on both Carol and Dan. Carol is a put-upon wife who settled for Dan because she assumed she couldn't do any better. He was the first (and only) man to every make her cum so she married him, but it never happened again. Dan is a dick. A figurative dick rather than a physical one. As they shamble through their marriage Carol slowly develops her secondary genitalia: a penis. Obviously this starts to change the dynamic of their relationship as Carol discovers a new, and totally different, personality as well.
The second, Bull: A Farce, is the story of John Bull, a man's man, a sports writer forced to write the cabaret column in a local rag. Unlike Carol's, Bull's secondary genitalia appears overnight; a fully-formed vagina on the back of his left knee. Also, unlike Carol, he takes the sensible decision to actually see a doctor about it (although he believes it to be a cut and/or burn sustained while drunk). The story follows the paths of John Bull and Alan Margoulies (yes, try saying that name out loud), his doctor, as well as a small supporting cast (including the awful comedian, Razza Rob, who we are led to believe is the cause of Bull's condition).
The narration style is unusual in the first story, but seems to work quite well: the unnamed narrator is a (presumably) Jewish guy on a train who is being told the story by a university don he met in the carriage. The don is relating the events as if a story he heard or an investigation he was involved in. At times the story jumps from the lives of Carol and Dan to the events in the carriage and then back again. Towards the end the don falls into some awkwardly anti-Semitic rants against the narrator (who I assume represents Self) which felt very out of place in the novella – and was what lost it the one star.(less)
Zombies in Australia clearly means zombie kangaroos and wombats, silly accents and heavy on the cultural stereotypes. An American writing about a Brit...moreZombies in Australia clearly means zombie kangaroos and wombats, silly accents and heavy on the cultural stereotypes. An American writing about a Brit in Australia always risks annoying any reader who fits into either category. Mahir is the Brit, visiting two new Australian journalists at End Times who think that the great Australian rabbit-proof fence would make a great story, and yes, as a fellow Brit he's starting to grate (I'll leave the Australian readers to moan about the Australian stuff). It's not just that he's sounding a lot less English each story, but he insists on narrating with American spellings, and I have never heard a Brit refer to sausages as links.
But to be honest, the cultural annoyances and Grant's check-list like need to have a non-heteronormative relationship appear in each book – incest, lesbians and now a polyamorous relationship – aren't really the problem. It's starting to feel like Grant is turning these out for the wrong reasons. Whether it's the cool idea (Zombie Kangaroos!) without a story, or just overwhelming pressure from publishers and fans to keep the universe going, the short stories are seeming to fall short of the original novels. Rather than developing the vestigial thriller that she teases, Grant spends way too much time getting over excited about the zombie kangaroos and talking in great detail about the rabbit-proof fence.
Set after the events of the trilogy, there are a few spoiler references littered throughout. Luckily, I wouldn't really recommend this for anybody other than completists anyway. With Grant branching out into her new Parasite series, maybe this is the end of the road for her Newsflesh series. This feels like the time to walk away before she really is just turning them out for the money, or possibly consider opening the universe up for other authors or fanfic.(less)
A short, and very strange, story from the BBC Radio archives. This was originally transmitted in 2008 on Radio 7 but was available from the BBC's Radi...moreA short, and very strange, story from the BBC Radio archives. This was originally transmitted in 2008 on Radio 7 but was available from the BBC's Radio iPlayer now that Radio 7 is Radio 4extra. A departure for Dick – known much more for his science fiction – this is a spooky tale of an apple tree that is determined to survive. It does so by ensnaring a local woman into a sort of relationship – she certainly feels controlled by the tree and it's presented as a sort of abusive relationship – and somehow using her life-force to reinvigorate itself.
As an audio reading, William Hootkins has a fantastic voice for horror, able to push a fair amount of suspense into his over-dramatic style. Perfect for that slightly campy horror style. However, I struggle with audiobooks in general in that I just fail to maintain concentration. A couple of times this didn't quite keep me listening and I had to suddenly switch back into listening rather than thinking about something else.(less)