The Film-makers of Mars

Review: “The Film-makers of Mars“, Geoff Ryman, 2008Film-makers of Mars

A weird, in parts creepy, take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom.

You really only have to have read Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars to get the references.

A 40 reel adaptation of the story … from 1911!?

Fun, even if it’s too short, and worth a $1.

Though, probably because I recently read Available Dark with it Yuleboys, malicious spirits that show up at your house around Christmas, I particularly liked the other movie in this story: The Secret Life of Santa Claus.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Available Dark

As I’ve briefly argued before, reviewers of all sorts generally like to pretend that they are always clear-headed, wide awake, and undistracted when reading the stuff they’re reviewing.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I read the first two installments in the Cass Neary series over a couple of days while hanging out at the in-laws and going to a wedding.

Having finished Generation Loss about midnight and being out of town, I didn’t head over to Uncle Edgars or the library to get the sequel. I went the instant gratification route and bought the Kindle edition off Amazon and finished that one quickly too. (The third in the series, Hard Light, is set to come out next year, and Hand has said she plans a fourth and, maybe, a fifth novel.)

Now, I don’t know how either stacks up to modern crime fiction. My relation to crime fiction is about the same as most people’s relation to science fiction: I only know what I see in the movies.

And, while I’m at it, I suppose I should admit I have a fondness for cold settings and a fascination with the landscape and geology of Iceland – though, alas, my only exposure to the country is a few hours spent in the Keflavik airport.

Review: Available Dark, Elizabeth Hand, 2012.Available Dark

This is, except in its villain, is a more satisfying novel than its predecessor, Generation Loss.

There are more bodies, a trail of them across the northern lands of Finland and Iceland, as Cass Neary, leaving her New York City home before Maine law enforcement can question her more closely about events in the earlier novel, accepts a dodgy commission by a sinister Norwegian nightclub owner. He wants some “esoteric” photographic prints authenticated. They turn out to be beautifully composed crime scene photos, the secret, early art of a now famous fashion photographer.

There’s more weirdness as Cass seems, as the novel progresses, to be more than just an “amoral speedfreak crankhead kleptomaniac murderous rage-filled alcoholic bisexual heavily-tattooed” photographer of the damaged, dead, and dying. She has a wyrd and a purpose. Continue reading

Generation Loss

Inspired by a recent Elizabeth Hand interview, I went out and read her Cass Neary mysteries.

I was hoping for mysteries with weird elements, strange cults, and the occult.

And that’s exactly what I got. So, if your tastes run to that kind of thing, I highly recommend both.

I’ll first post reviews of Generation Loss and Available Dark and then do a follow up post for both books because there’s lots to talk about for those who don’t mind spoilers. [Update: I’ve changed my mind on this and will, I hope, being doing an essay for Innsmouth Free Press on some aspects of these novels. The piece is now up at Innsmouth Free Press.]

Review: Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand, 2007.Generation Loss 2

Say you’re a late 40s burnout, burdened by few ethics and no plans, with no lovers or friends, working a dead end job, fueled by drugs and petty theft.

Your one great talent is sensing the damage in others and devouring its final results, with your ancient Konica camera, like a crow eating road kill. The results were the pictures in the suitably titled Dead Girls, the book the briefly made you famous decades ago.

Then fate – or something just as sinister – gives you a chance to make some cash and meet an old idol, the reclusive photographer Aphrodite Kamestos.

So Hand sends her hero, Cass Neary, in the early years of our new century, off to a Maine in the beginnings of winter and already beset by economic depression and the decidedly mixed benefits of being discovered by rich outsiders.

Against a backdrop of meth heads and posters for missing people, she’ll meet the natives, the ones who still have some hopes of escape and the ones who have given up, and the transplants, mostly the remnants, like Aphrodite, of Oakwind, a failed 1970s commune.

Cass’ voice is distinctive, nihilistic yet capriciously caring, a pilgrim seeking the beautiful in bleakness and death. She’s the acquaintance or relative you don’t mind hearing from on occasion – as long as you can view the chaos of their life from afar.

And Cass goes, on that Maine coast and on its islands, from being a tagalong historian of death to its companion as she meets the very damaged survivors of Oakwind.

The end may seem a trifle too hopeful, the resolution a bit, as Hand slyly notes, Thomas Harris-ish, but the trip is bracing as an arctic gust. Hand shows, in her descriptions of junk palaces, abandoned statuary, and various photographs, that she’s good enough to need way less than the proverbial 1,000 words to equal a picture.

And who knew Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane could be used so well in a thriller?


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

A Book of Horrors

Just finished listening to the most recent episode of the Coode Street Podcast.

Much more interesting than their usual talk about awards. It featured a interview with Elizabeth Hand about her most recent book, Wylding Hall, the influence of Arthur Machen on her and many other writers, and her interest in depicting artists and the numinous in her work.

It’s just possible I’ll give her Cassandra Neary mysteries a try since it sounds like the series will start to involve matters of the arcane, occult, and ancient sort as it progresses.

My exposure to Hand is pretty perfunctory. I found her “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol” pleasant enough, but, not having any childhood memories of a beloved children’s tv show, there was nothing in my background for it to resonate with.

I was unaware, until I looked at her Internet Speculative Fiction database entry, how much critical work she had done since I’m not a regular reader of the Washington Post or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The only other fiction I’ve read by her is “Near Zemnor” … and that’s why you get a retro review, from September 18, 2012, of the book it appeared in.

Review: A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones, 2012.

Book of HorrorsYou can ignore the short introduction which claims this anthology is out to reclaim the label “horror” for scary stories. Not all the stories here are scary. Some aren’t even dark fantasy. And some left me somewhat unsatisfied.

But they all kept me interested. Continue reading