Death’s big business — cutthroat, too. This is brought home to Pomp (alas, the circumstance!) Steven de Selby, a minor rung in the corp’s Brisbane ladder, when everything goes to Hell. Helping spirits pass over to the great fig tree under the world is a family talent, though there are those who have spurned the calling. Not Steven, who finds the task of Pomping somewhat cushy: it pays well, and the only effort he has to make is visiting the recently departed once in a while to make sure that unruly denizens of the netherworld — Stirrers — don’t pop into the recently vacated meat and take it for a test drive. But now the old firm is suffering a shake-up and the new broom is sweeping mighty clean indeed. Steven’s on the run, his life in tatters and under considerable threat. Through south-east Queensland he flees, with a gorgeous ghost watching his back (and other bits of his anatomy as well). Steven’s gonna have to step up and set things to right, or die in the attempt, and all of Australia — if not the world — is at stake.
Death Most Definite, the first of a series, is the debut novel (with an awesome, Angel-like cover) of Brisbane’s Trent Jamieson (a man whose prose I’ve long admired and who I have had occasion to share a drink with). Here, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve. It’s an endearing feature of his prose — the man’s a short story genius — that the emotions run high and true, more often than not. The prose is on the money — fast and self-deprecating, with touches of beauty where appropriate, and insights into the morality of modern life (and a further insight into Trent’s CD collection — but hey, if any story was befitting of London Calling for its soundtrack, this is it).
Brisbane stands up quite well to its central role as sub-tropical battleground, its smallness of city and bigness of town adding to Steven’s woes. Just goes to show, you don’t need to be in Manhattan to have an enjoyable apocalypse. The supernatural elements, particularly the rituals, are suitably visceral, and should satisfy the eye of those looking for awards shortlists.
For the most part, the pace of this crime/horror thriller skips along nicely, smoothing over the couple of logic potholes that are adequately filled by the time we reach the denouement which sets up the next leg of the arc. Steven is a cool dude, a philosophical slacker and easy mark who rises to the occasion and provides pathos, a few chuckles and plenty of slick gory moments along the way.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the pile of ‘to read’ books, and struggling. The pile never seems to go down! But here’s some recent ones I’ve ticked off:
I finally got to Magic Dirt, a collection of shorts from over-achieving Australian Sean Williams. There are a bunch of lovely stories here, most with a preface from the author about how they came to be. Two of my favourites are ‘Passing the Bone’, a gorgeous take on the zombie story, and ‘White Christmas’, a very different approach to the apocalypse. There a goodly number of SF stories, some concerned with Williams’ ongoing fascination with the idea of just how humanity might cope with the distances of space, and other post-human conundrums, and one that isn’t spec fic at all.
Note: There is also a superb Aussie rock band called Magic Dirt.
And for something completely different, I rolled Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk. This was a delightfully quick read, the story of the eponymous Rant being told through the accounts of those around him, documentary style. It’s cleverly done and the characters are drawn with considerable relish and appeal, and I much enjoyed the dystopia that the alternative history provides with all its Ballard-lite car crashing and diurnal/nocturnal divide. I didn’t quite go for the final conceit of just what was happening here (it belongs to a certain plot device that I always have trouble getting my head around), but didn’t mind so much, the ride had been so enjoyable.
Over on the non-fiction shelf, there’s A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, by Carol and Dinah Mack. This survey of, well, the title says it all, really, was going pretty well as it discussed fey folk of water, mountain, forest and soforth. It sets out each entity by description, then a little story about them, and then a section on disarming and dispelling them: identify, case study, coping technique. But the guide loses traction with a few of its inclusions, the spirits being so specific (such as St Anthony’s demons) and so powerful (such as Kabhanda and several deities) that the guide’s ‘disarming and dispelling’ section is rendered irrelevant, there being neither disarming nor dispelling available (it might as well have been renamed ‘put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye’). The inclusion of psychological entities such as Freud’s Id and Jung’s Shadow seemed a step too far. Still, as an introductory guide to mythology, not bad, and the introduction to the role of spirits within each domain gave cause for reflection.
On a similar theme, there’s Anthony Finlay’sDemons: The Devil, Possession and Exorcism, the author being a former Catholic priest who offers up a history of Christianity’s relationship with Satan and his minions and the Church’s changing attitude to possession and Satan. It’s a good starting point for an overview of how Satan came to his position within Christian dogma, Finlay showing a lovely balance between logic and faith as he charts the course in conversational, approachable prose. There’s some discussion of the role of evil in the world and Christianity’s loss of ground to materialism and atheism and other alternative viewpoints. Finlay cites historic cases of possession, introduces pop culture portrayals through the likes of The Exorcist, but doesn’t reveal too much detail about his own experiences. I suspect this book is aimed at readers from within the Church, but I found the basic history and information to be thought-provoking.<p
Here's a fitting sign-off:
Poor old Brissie aka Brizvegas aka my former hometown of the past 11 years is often criticised for not being city enough, as if a million souls and traffic snarls aren’t requirement enough. As if being a city is something to be desired, some badge of achievement. Hm.
Anyway, on a recent return, I was chuffed to find gargoyles adorning a fine old stone building on George Street — it’s a key administration road, lots of suits and government offices, which is probably why I’ve not noticed this edifice before, or at least not got around to taking pictures. This dude has a buddy, too, a smiling companion keeping an eye on the passersby, and another couple of buddies as well, watching over the front door and windows.
There’s another building, a self-proclaimed manor or somesuch, with a fine array of lions and griffins, but alas, my photographic eye didn’t quite roam that far on this trip, though I did snap the weather-beaten cat aloft on a building near my gargoyle find. There might be others? Anyone?
The point of this being, if a place has got theatres and cafes and more ‘foreign’ dining options than a Chinese takeaway and a Pizza Hut, AND gargoyles, honestly, what more do you need?? Anyway, good on ya, Brissie, for keeping the gargoyles aloft. Lord knows you’ve lost enough of your architectural heritage. Long may these dudes reign!