Monthly Archives: August 2013

Review: “Star Wars: Scoundrels” by Timothy Zahn

Title: Scoundrels
Author: Timothy Zahn
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Copyright: Del Rey, 2013

I’ll just get this out of the way right off: I am a huge Star Wars geek. As of about six months ago I had read every single Star Wars novel to be published and was working my way through the backlog of short stories and comics as I was able to get access to them. Unfortunately, I’ve been too broke to buy all the books to have come out since then and my library apparently finds Star Wars novels to be a low priority on their buy list. I know, #firstworldproblems, I’ll deal. Anyway, all that to establish my credentials as an amateur-expert on the Star Wars Expanded Universe and to explain why I’m only now posting this review when Scoundrels came out months ago.

If you know anything about the Star Wars Expanded Universe, you know that it owes a lot to Timothy Zahn. Star Wars was a dead property until Heir To The Empire was released in the early 90s, but now it has become a multi-headed hydra that can be very difficult to keep track of. I personally very much dread the damage to the fabric of the Star Wars EU that will result from the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: Whatever They Decide To Call It, but that’s a post for another day. Zahn is hands-down my absolute favorite Star Wars author, rivalled (but not surpassed) only by Karen Traviss while she was still writing for the property.* The characters Zahn created consistently lead the pack in terms of fan popularity, and Mara Jade is the only non-film character to break the top twenty.** Zahn brings to the table a genius for convoluted plots, fascinating characters, and the sense of fun that made Star Wars so appealing in the first place. For instance, the whole book is a tribute to the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and there is a sequence in this book that pays homage to the classic scene in Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark where Indy is running from the giant boulder rolling through the temple. You remember the scene? Keep that in mind as you near the climax of the story, and I dare you not to laugh out loud….

This story is set in the first couple of months after the destruction of the Death Star, while Han and Chewie are out trying to find the credits to pay off their debt to Jabba the Hutt. Given that fact, you don’t need to have read the whole field of Star Wars literature to quickly grasp the situation. Han is in debt to Jabba, which we know from the films. He got the money to pay him at the end of A New Hope, but lost it when he was taken by pirates.*** Han and Lando were friends for years, but about a year before the Death Star incident Han got Lando and a bunch of other smugglers involved in a job that went south. They were double crossed, left empty-handed, and Lando blamed Han.**** Now Han has a job that should get them all out of debt and set them up for life….if they can pull it off. The resulting tale is a brilliant display of interlocking characters and motivations as everything builds to its explosive climax. This is Star Wars the way it’s supposed to be, and you should definitely read this book regardless of your level of Star Wars geekdom. Newcomers can get right into the action, while veteran readers of the EU will recognize younger versions of a number of familiar characters–Winter, for one, and Kell Tainer from the X-Wing novels. While this is fun for us veterans, knowledge of their later exploits is far from essential to this story. If you enjoy this one, you should check out a prior adventure with Bink & Tavia, Zerba and Lando in Winner Lose All. Also, Bink & Tavia got a solo short story (Heist) that’s worth checking out if you enjoyed this one.

CONTENT: Mild language, mild violence, some flirting.

*In the interest of clarity, Karen Traviss is still an excellent writer and I continue to follow a lot of her work. Also, she was totally shafted in that whole fiasco. Again, that’s another post….
**Rumor has it that George Lucas resents this, but I have no idea whether that’s true.
***That reward the Rebellion scraped together at the end of A New Hope? It got stolen by pirates in the old Marvel Comics’ Star Wars series. And then he proceeded to gain and lose the credits again four or five times. The EU loves to play with throwaway lines from the films, and I’ll discuss that fact again later in the review.
****The problem with writing EU stories set in this crowded bit of the Star Wars timeline is that you bump into other explanations for throwaway lines in the films. Example: Lando is mad at Han for something that happened a long time ago when Han and the Falcon arrive on Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. So, in the novel Rebel Dawn Han gets them all double-crossed and Lando says he never wants to see him again. But now Timothy Zahn wants to include Lando in his story, so they pull him in and explain it away. But you know that in the end Lando will be leaving once more angry with Han. You also know that there is no way Han gets the money to pay off Jabba, given the events of the later films. The book still manages to be suspensefull, and the last-paragraph twist/revelation is a superb touch, but some elements of the outcome are dictated by later events.

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Review: “The Book Of Cthulhu II” edited by Ross E. Lockhart

I’ve been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick lately, first reading the man himself, then Alan Moore’s disturbing homage. And it all got its impetus from The Book Of Cthulhu II (*****), which I won via the Goodreads FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) I figured I should read the real thing before picking up either of the derivatives. Sad to say, I haven’t had any luck finding a copy of The Book Of Cthulhu I, but oh well. Most of these are authors I’d not heard of before, and all save a couple are ones I’d yet to sample. Kim Newman wrote the stellar Anno Dracula series, among other things, and I am a Neil Gaiman devotee. I’ve not read all of his work yet, but not for lack of trying.

This is an anthology of Lovecraft-inspired works from a wide range of authors. I’ll list and comment below, only commenting on plot when I think it necessary. Its a bit tough to mention plot for a short story without spoilers, so….

  • Neil Gaiman, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar; I had read this one before in a collection of Gaiman tales (don’t remember which one), and it didn’t make much sense then as I had never read HPL. Now I have, and I had a much greater appreciation for the story. That said, not nearly as great as A Study In Emerald.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nor The Demons Down Under The Sea; The writing style here was a bit confusing at first–Ms. Kiernan is not afraid of a sentence fragment masquerading as a full sentence if it helps set her scene. But once the scene was set this proved a very evocative tale.
  • John R. Fultz, This Is How The World Ends; Fultz sketches a brief vignette of Cthulu’s rise from the deeps to swallow the world, and I must say his vision is frankly terrifying.
  • Paul Tobin, The Drowning At Lake Henpin; Most of these are Lovecraftian, but this is the first one I’ve seen that could have been written by Lovecraft himself.
  • William Browning Spencer, The Ocean And All Its Devices; I’m still not completely sure I understand what Spencer is saying about what lives in the water just offshore from this beachfront hotel, but I know I don’t want to meet it.
  • Livia Llewellyn, Take Your Daughters To Work; This one succeeded in disturbing me. That’s all I’ll say.
  • Kim Newman, The Big Fish; I love Kim Newman. Newman is a past master of the literary pastiche, here presenting a sequel to Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth while at the same time doing a Sam Spade-type character (maybe Spade himself, the protagonist is never named….did Spade live in San Francisco?) AND roping in his recurring characters Edwin Winthrop and Genvieve Dieudonné from the Diogenes Club stories.* Which I am just reminded that I should get around to reading…..
  • Cody Goodfellow, Rapture Of The Deep; A corporate investigation into a potential source of endless energy on the seafloor turns to terror when an ex-Soviet psychic and his unwilling protegé take an astral visit to sunken R’lyeh….
  • A. Scott Glancy, Once More From The Top; An aged Marine recounts the horror he and his fellows experienced at the Battle Of Innsmouth. I quite enjoyed this one….though I don’t recall the Deep Ones having Shoggoths in the original story. Maybe that came from one of HPL’s stories I haven’t read yet…..Anyway, gonna try and track down the anthology this originated in.
  • Molly Tanzer, The Hour Of The Tortoise; An exiled young lady returns to her ancestral home, thought cursed by the surrounding villagers, to find her illegitimate father on his deathbed and something amiss about the house….
  • Christopher Reynaga, I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee; Christopher Reynaga recasts Moby Dick as a tale of Captain Ahab hunting Cthulhu in order to buy the world more time before his rise.
  • Ann K. Schwader, Objects From The Gilman-Waite Collection; A creepy though not unpredictable tale of a man entering a museum exhibit featuring the coral and gold jewelry from Shadow Over Innsmouth.
  • Gord Sellar, Of Melei, Of Ulthar; I’m still not sure I understand this one. Melei is visiting other worlds in her sleep, one of which appears to be post-Cthulhu New York. I can’t figure out, however, whether she exists in the far-distant past or the regressed future….in either case, it was an intriguing tale.
  • Mark Samuels, A Gentleman From Mexico; This was an outstanding idea, and I literally laughed out loud when I realized what was going on. I didn’t find the ending as strong as the middle, but it was very like what Lovecraft himself might have written as the ending.
  • W.H. Pugmire, The Hands That Reek And Smoke; Very creepy. Not really my thing, but creepy.
  • Matt Wallace, Akropolis; Behold, the Great Old Ones are returning, and they have sent their emissaries to prepare the way for them…..A great story here.
  • Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, Boojum; This was one of my favorites, a real surprise find. Living spacecraft, starfaring pirates, evil aliens who collect human brains for their own sinister purposes…..it’s all here. Quality science-fiction! I’m going to track down the anthology it was originally written for….I was a bit hazy on most of the Lovecraft connections in this one, as I’d not read the relevant tales.
  • Jonathan Wood, The Nyarlathotep Event; Agent Arthur Wallace of MI37 goes up against Nyarlathotep, an ancient entity from a dimension representing humanity’s collective fears, and he does it with a snarky sense of humor and a hilarious narrative voice. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading it, and plan to track down the author’s other stories featuring the same protagonists.
  • Stanley C. Sargent, The Black Brat Of Dunwich; A surprising tale here, as Sargent turns the entire HPL story The Dunwich Horror on its head. Very fun, and HPL himself might be a fan of this one, but it would help to have read the original tale first.
  • Fritz Leiber, The Terror From The Depths; I actually forgot for a while that this wasn’t actually a Lovecraft story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (by HPL or anyone else) so comprehensive and cohesive an ode to the Cthulhu Mythos….Well done.
  • Orrin Grey, Black Hill; A quick read, a mite predictable, but decent nonetheless.
  • Michael Chabon, The God Of Dark Laughter; A small-town sheriff investigates the ritual murder of a clown, possibly uncovering ties to an ancient and unholy cult. I really enjoyed this one, and I think I may have to look up more of Michael Chabon’s work.
  • Karl Edward Wagner, Sticks; An incredibly creepy tale of an artist who discovers an ancient abandoned cottage that continues to haunt his dreams….Again, I really enjoyed this.
  • Laird Barron, Hand Of Glory; Less actually scary, not incredibly Lovecraftian, but a good story nonetheless. Mobland hitman Johnny Cope has a problem. It seems that an old enemy of his father has sent goons to kill him. They weren’t incredibly successful, but they did manage to get his ire up. Now Johnny wants to know why….

On the whole, I loved this collection. A lot of the stories were excellent, but like with any collection you’ll have some that were better than others. I love Neil Gaiman, but given my choice I’d put in A Study In Emerald over Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar. Its simply a better tale–though, I’ll allow, perhaps not a better tribute to the original Lovecraft. Some of the stories I flat-out disliked, but that was probably a matter of taste. Certainly they are different than the ones cited by other reviewers as having fallen flat for them. A few of the stories, good as they were on their own, probably would have been enhanced by a more thorough knowledge of Lovecraft’s works. I’ve only read a very small selection as of this writing. I plan to remedy that in the near future….I very much recommend picking up this book if you ever get the chance. And in case you are interested, you can find the official website of Ross E. Lockhart, the editor of this book, here.

*Technically, the Diogenese Club stories happen in a separate world from the Anno Dracula novels, but they are mirrors of each other and feature the same characters. The prime difference seems to be that in the Diogenes Club stories Dracula was actually defeated as scheduled in his original book, whereas in the Anno Dracula world he was triumphant.

Content: This is a horror anthology, so from the get-go you know its not going to be appropriate for children. Bloody horror violence. Sexual references, including the implication that a couple characters are lesbians. The protagonist in another tale makes her living as a writer of Victorian-era pornography, and mostly non-explicit excerpts of her work are included. She also refers to several sexual encounters of her own, in generally non-explicit but incredibly suggestive terms. Language varies from story to story, but some at least are R-rated.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume II” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Mateus Santolouco

Title: American Vampire, Volume II
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume II, Issues #6-11)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2011

When I read the first volume of American Vampire, I decided that I would review each volume individually because it appeared that each would be more or less a self-contained story. Having now read the second volume, I think this was a good decision. Just realize that as the review of part two in a series, this will contain spoilers for American Vampire, Volume I. Read on at your discretion. I will refrain from repeating my “twi-hard” rant though, so you can rest easy on that count.

At the end of Volume I, Marshall Book convinced his young wife to kill him to prevent his succumbing to the red thirst of vampirism, but not before she was pregnant with his daughter. Together, mother and daughter plot their revenge on the man that infected him—Skinner Sweet. Sweet walked off into the sunset, gleeful in his immortality, while his newly-turned protege Pearl Jones destroyed her traitorous best friend and the elders that turned her life upside down and then disappeared with her new lover. All is quiet for ten years….

For this second volume, Scott Snyder handles sole writing duties (I guess Stephen King was just in for the first arc) and the book ceases telling two stories simultaneously (see Volume I for an explanation of that) in favor of simply moving forward. This collection is composed of two stories, Devil In The Sand and The Way Out. First, Rafael Albuquerque holds the pencil as Devil In The Sand introduces a new protagonist in Cash McCogan, sheriff of the formerly-sleepy little town of 1936 Las Vegas. Vegas isn’t very sleepy anymore, however, not with the Hoover Dam going in. The workers need someplace to let off steam, and gambling and prostitution have been “temporarilly” legalized in order to allow them to do just that, but somehow McCogan doesn’t think things will settle back down after construction is complete. What he doesn’t know is that the dam is being secretly financed by the vampire Elders, and when someone begins taking out the consortium in charge of construction his town is about to become ground zero for a battle between the vampire old guard, the local vice lord “Bill Smoke” (A.K.A. Skinner Sweet), and a group dedicated to the erradication of vampire-kind from the face of the Earth. And despite his trouble believing in the existence of vampires, it turns out he has a far more personal connection to the conflict than he realizes….Next, Albuquerque gets a break to catch up while Mateus Santolouco draws The Way Out. Pearl Jones’ traitorous ex-best-friend Hattie Hargrove’s wounds have turned out to be less than fatal, and after ten years of torture and experimentation at the hands of the Elders she wants some major payback on Jones. Meanwhile, Jones and her husband Henry stumble into conflict with a human smuggler and his vampire crew.

Snyder’s scripting continues to be spot-on here, though I was a bit disappointed in The Way Out’s ending. I felt like they set it up to be one thing and then pulled out the rug. Oh well, that’s just me. Albuquerque’s art fits the series well, as I’ve mentioned before, and Santolouco does a credible job trying to match his style for the second feature. On the whole, American Vampire continues to be an excellent book.

Content: This is a Vertigo book, folks. That means grown-ups only. Bloody violence, vampire and otherwise. R-rated language. Sexual content, including nudity.

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Review: “Odd Hours” by Dean Koontz

In Odd Thomas, we are introduced to our hero and his abilities. Forever Odd is more of the same. In Brother Odd we begin to get the sense that all is not as Odd—and by extension us, the readers—have assumed. We begin to get the idea that this series—and thus Odd’s fate—is actually going somewhere, that he has a purpose beyond helping out the odd lingering soul and that there is a grand crescendo somewhere in his future if he can survive that long. With Odd Hours (*****), that grand destiny becomes even more tantalizing. To quote the Bard, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…..”

Odd Thomas has had prescient dreams before, that is nothing new. Except that this time if he fails to head off the destruction he has been dimly shown, the consequences will be greater than ever before and the death toll catastrophic….for the entire nation. But the villains are on to him, and they have the full backing of the local government behind them. Can Odd Thomas stop them before they pull off a governmental coup straight out of a Ludlum novel? And who is the mysterious Annamaria that features in his vision and yet commands such intuitive trust from Odd?

When I first read this, I found it incredibly frustrating. This was as far as the series went, back then, and it was abundantly clear that this was not the end. The demonic coyotes and Annamaria are not even remotely explained or wrapped up, implying they are being seeded for a later book. Now there are two or three more books (depending on when you read this) and I can only hope Koontz has continued his genius….

Content advisories:
Language: PG-13. Brief, but occasionally strong. Even PG-13 films are allowed two F-bombs these days, so I think this is a safe rating across the board.
Violence: PG-13. People die, but usually not in grotesque detail. There is tragedy, but it is balanced with hope. Still, occasionally disturbing. Another factor: the lingering dead. These can be a little grotesque at times, depending on the manner of their demise.
Sex: PG-13. The subjects of rape and child molestation occasionally come up in the course of Odd’s adventures, given that he sometimes runs into the lingering spirits of victims of such crimes. Not explicit, not gratuitous, but not for kids either.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: “The Ferguson Rifle” by Louis L’Amour

I actually read The Ferguson Rifle (*****) for the first time years ago* and loved it, but I recently won the audiobook from Goodreads via their FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) This lined up nicely with a road trip my wife and I had to take, and so the adventure began anew….

I don’t usually do audiobooks, as I have little time for them. I don’t have copious amounts of driving built into my day (if this ever changes, I likely will start consuming larger quantities), I can’t listen at work, and frankly given the choice I would rather actually read the book myself. All that said, this was an excellent production. The reader, Brian D’Arcy James, has a marvelous command of accents, be they British, Scottish or Irish, and this book allowed him to showcase them to great effect. My wife and I both loved it, so I am reasonably sure this book will please both Louis L’Amour fanatics and newcomers.

It is no real secret that given how many novels L’Amour wrote that were set in the old west, sometimes they tend to run together in your memory. This, however, is one of those especially excellent entries in his bibliography that stand out in your memory both from sheer uniqueness and from persistent quality. Unlike most of Louis L’Amour’s bibliography, this book is not a “western” in the classical sense. It is set on America’s frontier around the year 1800, meaning the northerly Great Plains–the Dakotas, Montana, that area. In another sense, however, this is very much a western. That was “the west” at the time being described, just as what we now think of as the “east coast” was at one point the western frontier of exploration. It is into this territory, newly bought from France through the Louisiana Purchase, that Ronan Chantry rides. His old life is dead, all he loves burned up in a tragic fire. Now all he has is his experience on the frontier as a boy, his education in Europe as a man, his horse, and the extraordinary rifle he was given as a boy. He rides with a company of trappers into a new land, nearly unexplored, in search of a new start. When he discovers the trail of a woman and boy alone, being ruthlessly hunted by unsavory men, Ronan feels called to help. But when there is a fabled fortune of gold in the offering, men are not likely to give up its pursuit easily….

I’m a known Louis L’Amour devotee, so I absolutely loved this. No one crafts an adventure like Louis L’Amour, and few writers I’ve found have his appreciation for the scope of human history and the persistent force of western movement, while still retaining an appreciation for the contributions of the individual to history’s march. This is one of those books that, while reading, makes you yearn to look out across the unspoiled territory this country once was, to stand where his characters stand and see what they see. There’s a beauty to it, and you can hear in L’Amour’s writing a lilting note of mourning for what we have lost. He does not blame the pioneers and the farmers for what has happened, he understands history too well for that, and appreciates the inevitability of the march of “progress.” That doesn’t mean he (or his characters) have to like it. Ditto for the Indians, and you see that here as well. There are several sequences where the Indian is discussed, his character, his future, and his habits. Again, L’Amour understands why things happened as they did, but it still saddens him. Longtime Louis L’Amour readers will know what to expect in terms of characters and character development–there’s not usually a whole lot of moral ambiguity to a L’Amour adventure, there are good guys and bad guys, and they know their roles. Is that a problem? Not so far as I’m concerned. We need stories like that just as much as we need the other kind, maybe more. And this day and age, that type of story is harder to find.

CONTENT: Mild language, some violence, little to no sexual content.

*I’ve read most of Louis L’Amour’s books, but I can’t always remember which ones. This is fine–I’m totally up for reading a lot of them again. Probably going to go questing to read the entire bibliography at some point.

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Review: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

Title: World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Crown, 2006

Are you a hardcore zombie aficionado? You should read this, if only to get a break from the current mire of cookie-cutter zombie fare. Not a fan of zombies? I urge you to give this a shot. I promise you this is one zombie novel that will not fit your dismissive stereotypes. World War Z mildly grabbed my interest when I first saw it, as in “I should read that someday.” Then I reallized that Max Brooks was the son of Mel Brooks (of Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and History Of The World: Part I fame) and my motivation to read it jumped quite a bit. Illogical? Sure, just because I’m a fan of his dad’s films doesn’t mean his writing will be any good. Nevertheless, I wanted to read this. When they released the film, I downloaded the ebook….and promptly didn’t read it until about a week ago. I wish I’d gotten around to reading it sooner, but oh well. My “to be read” list is truly epic…. I’m told that the audiobook is full-cast and includes such stars as Nathan Fillion….kinda wishing I’d gone that route, honestly. But even just the book was great.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The premise is that of an oral history, post zombie-uprising, looking back at the war. The format is of multiple interviews with various survivors, from soldiers to sailors to an astronaut, all around the world, all their individual stories adding up to the big picture of the rise and eventual fall of the living dead. The degree of research that Brooks would have had to do for this book is phenomenal, and very impressively done. The realism lent to the book by this concept is perhaps the most chilling part. Brooks knew where he wanted this to go–a worldwide outbreak–and so studied viruses and how they spread, deciding where to set his “Patient Zero” cases. From there, everything plays out believeably, from governments’ reactions to how the military would react, both initially and later on after the problem was better understood, to how individuals would cope with a world where the dead walk again. If you have read Brooks’ other book, The Zombie Survival Guide, you’ll know he has a subtle sense of humor that occasionally comes through. Less so in this book, but it’s definitely there in certain characters.

Content: Violence. This is a book about the Zombie uprising, after all. Language. Some of the characters interviewed are foul-mouthed. Mild sexual content. I honestly don’t remember any….

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Review: “Neonomicon” by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

I recently introduced myself to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, both because I was planning to read Neonomicon, Alan Moore’s tribute to Lovecraft and the first winner in the newly-created graphic novel category of the Bram Stoker award, and because I have another Lovecraft tribute anthology I won through Goodreads. I figured I should read the real thing first on general principle. I’ve decided not to give a simple overall star rating to this book because my opinion is very complicated. I’ll rate it a bit more in-depth and discuss several different factors instead.

First, the premise. This book collects both the earlier two-part story The Courtyard and its later four-part sequel Neonomicon, both written by Alan Moore and drawn by Jacen Burrows. Largely a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, the book is itself an entry into that luminary’s Cthulhu Mythos. In The Courtyard an undercover FBI agent Aldo Sax investigates a seemingly-disconnected yet identical series of murders that all lead back to a Lovecraft-obsessed subculture. Two years later the case is taken up by FBI pair Brears and Lamper as they are plunged headlong into this same subculture….with predictably horrific results.

Now, the analysis. As a tribute to Lovecraft, I give it four stars. As a standalone work, I give it two. Anyone familiar with Alan Moore or his body of work (you can see just from his Wikipedia article that he’s a brilliant crazy man) knows that he’s a deranged genius with a keen sense of how his work will be perceived….and not afraid to make a statement with it. It should also be noted (some will care, some won’t) that his work is increasingly sexually explicit. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen has an excellent concept*, and the first volume is good reading, but the sequence where they capture the Invisible Man haunting a girls’ school, impregnating virgins and being confused with the Holy Spirit carries a creepy S&M vibe completely aside from the fact that these girls are basically being raped. Subsequent volumes only get worse. In an attempt to “raise the literary status of pornography” Moore wrote Lost Girls, a graphic novel chronicling the erotic adventures of Alice (of Wonderland fame), Dorothy (of Oz) and Wendy (of Neverland). I haven’t read it, but I’d heard of its reputation. Neonomicon goes further, depicting graphically a woman raped by a fish-man creature as well as a more conventional orgy.

In Neonomicon Moore sets out to write a Lovecraft tale that is at once more faithful than most writers of similar works and goes beyond what Lovecraft wrote to reveal the world he envisioned. Lovecraft’s work is famously racist (a fact unnoticed in the collection I read, except for two notable instances), and while violently asexual carries on deeper analysis some disturbing sexual themes. Women almost never appear, and sex is never mentioned, but many stories deal with the inhuman spawn of humans and a wide variety of eldritch creatures. Most modern writers shy away from the sex and racism when they pay homage to Lovecraft. Moore decided to place it center stage.

The world Moore paints here is ours, one in which Lovecraft published his works, was unappreciated in his time, and has enjoyed a modern resurgence of popularity and respect. The bands in the club visited in both stories are named for HPL stories, and the entire environment is laden with references. I am very glad I read that anthology before picking this up, and wish I had managed a couple other stories that weren’t included (something about Red Hook is the only one I remember). Ostensibly, however, Lovecraft based his stories on real occurences. Trying to integrate this story into the Cthulhu Mythos might be difficult given the conclusion, but it at least proudly stands beside it and pretends it fits.

Was this a well-conceived HPL tribute? Yes. Did I find it completely repulsive? I must confess that I did. Apparently in Moore’s mind–or in his conception of Lovecraft’s, at least–the FBI is a bastion of racism and sexism. I was completely repulsed by the graphic rape sequence, but I will admit some well-executed elements of it. First, the facts. A woman is captured and forced to participate in an orgy before being raped by a large fish-man that is drawn to the group’s “orgone energy” (I can only assume its their sex hormones). I kept reading, expecting it to end that sequence much sooner than it did. There is lots of full frontal nudity and explicit/implicit sex during the orgy, and later we see her grabbed around the waist and taken from behind by the creature. Still later she gives it a handjob in order to spare herself a repetition of the experience. Repulsive and completely offensive to nearly anyone reading it? Yes. And yet I will give them a few kudos. 1: The rape was not eroticised. It was horrific, not arousing. 2: The character wears glasses or contacts, but is not wearing either during this sequence. The artist does some interesting visual things with giving us blurry panels from her POV to heighten the suspense of the creature reveal. The artist is incredibly talented throughout the book, but his work here was stellar. Both of these added to the artistic integrity of the book, and both served immensely to heighten the horror factor. This is, after all, a horror book.

Content: This is the most sexually explicit graphic novel I have ever encountered. As I mentioned above, there is a graphic rape scene that gets quite terrifying. R-rated language. Bloody violence. Lovecraftian magic, which is to say not really magic at all, but whatever.

*Every character that appears in the comic is a character lifted from Victorian literature, from Dracula to King Solomon’s Mines to The Pearl, which is basically the British 1890s version of Playboy.

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