Review: Bleed by Peter M Ball

Bleed by Peter M BallHaving experienced first-hand the tribulations of writing the second book in a series, I was a little nervous awaiting the sequel to Peter M Ball’s Horn. I sang Horn‘s praises in my old blog, for the way it smashed together two genres – faeries and hard boiled detective fiction – and made something new out of them. It’s a damned difficult book to describe without making the listener twitch and back off slowly, because unicorns, gritty crime drama, rape and resurrected PIs who are former lovers of the faerie queen are hard to encapsulate while crying out “SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A MOST EXCELLENT BOOK!” But seriously, it is.

So along comes the sequel, Bleed. Clearly, Peter M Ball hasn’t had this “difficult second novel” malarkey to deal with. Bleed is as bold, punchy, gritty and grotesque as Horn. While the subject matter is less shocking than in PI Miriam Aster’s first outing, those elements of hard boiled faerie fiction remain, as unforgiving as the first time.

Former cop Aster doesn’t have many friends, and even the ones she has don’t seem to like her very much. She doesn’t blame them. She has a messed up past, a problematic present and not much of a future. She spends her time, like any good detective of the genre, bitter and drunk. This time the damsel in distress is a former client, Safia, whose twin sister was kidnapped 7 years before. Aster walked away from that one, and the unfinished business has come back to haunt her. The story continues with all kinds of other unfinished business lurking dangerously in the shadows. There’s brutality, vengeance, rage and the sleaziest badass talking cat you’ve ever seen.

In a discussion with a friend about Horn, I found it interesting that I identify Miriam Aster as not only the heroine of this story, but also a “damsel in distress” all on her own account. For someone so self destructive and often unpleasant, I have a definite sympathy with her inability to forgive herself for her past. She’s not as irredeemable as she (or anyone else) thinks she is, and it’s one of the many reasons I am so involved with her story.

Other reasons include Peter M Ball’s excellent grasp of the genre in which he writes, his ability to walk the very fine line between pastiche and drama, and the cast of grubby, hard characters, both human and fey, that inhabit his world. He has delivered another fast-paced read, packed with action, character and pathos. I can’t wait for Claw, the third in the series due out by mid-2011.

Go to Twelfth Planet Press: pick up Bleed, and Horn if you don’t already have it. Then browse around and pick up some more of this small press’s excellent range of challenging, intriguing and innovative titles!

GaryView: The Last Vampire by Christopher Pike

Lissa: I hate cliffhanger endings.

Gary: I have the next one if you want it.

Lissa: God yes, please!

Gary: So you liked it?

Lissa: It was fun, and a nice change to the whole teen girl in love with a creepy older vampire guy thing.

Gary: Isn’t it still creepy when it’s a teenage boy in love with an older vampire woman?

Lissa: Yes it is. It’s just a reverse gender creepy. And there were some interesting elements to the vampire back story. The whole set-up about the origins of vampires in India, and the gods and demons and stuff.

Gary: That was kind of cool. I did wonder for a while if it might be… I don’t know. Accurate.

Lissa: You mean, where vampires really come from?

Gary: Yeah. I mean. Probably not. But some other stuff is really accurate.

Lissa: Like what?

Gary: Like… um…

Lissa: I’m pretty sure it’s not the suddenly awesome ninja skills, because you’ve always been very scornful of those on Buffy, and you don’t exactly crack a smooth samurai move yourself.

Gary: No, that’s still stupid.

Lissa: And I’m also figuring it’s not the “all vampires are multi billionaires” routine either, because I don’t know any fabulously wealthy vampires. I’m figuring the first time they lose it all in a financial crash, they have trouble developing the right skills to get back on the gravy train.

Gary: (sighs) Yeah. Best bet is to be financially conservative and hope you make a lucky investment before inflation eats your savings.

Lissa: So what’s so accurate?

Gary: The. Um.

Lissa: (frowning) Something’s really bothering you.

Gary: Yeah. Sorry. I shouldn’t have…

Lissa: It’s the stuff about turning, isn’t it?

Gary: Um. Yeah. Yes. That’s… fairly accurate. Mostly.

Lissa: Does it… really hurt that much?

Gary: Sort of. I mean. It hurts, and then it’s kind of… numb. You die. I died. I felt that. Felt it all going, and then you want to fight and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to… It’s… it’s very…

Lissa: … oh my god it sounds awful. Terrifying and awful.

Gary: Yeah. Um. I don’t think I want to talk about it after all.

Lissa: Why do you do this to yourself, Gary? Why do you read these books that remind you of all this stuff.

Gary: Because I’m still trying to understand it, and nobody’s written an actual manual. It’s all I’ve got.

Lissa: Is there anything I can do to help?

Gary: You do help. It’s okay.

Lissa: But…

Gary: Did you know that Christopher Pike is a character in Star Trek?

Lissa: (pauses a beat) You mean the guy in the new Star Trek film?

Gary: There was a Christopher Pike in the original series too.  The original original series. In the first pilot, he was the captain of the Enterprise. Then he showed up again in an episode of the actual series. Called The Menagerie.

Lissa: You know a lot about Star Trek.

Gary: Yeah. It was pretty cool. Even after I was dead.

Lissa: Bet you like Scotty best.

Gary: Yeah. And Geordie in Next Gen.

Lissa: You just like the engineers.

Gary: Sure. But Spock’s pretty cool too.

(Gary goes off into long explanations of the Vulcan home world and cultural habits. Lissa lets him.)

*For newcomers, the GaryView is a review of books/films/TV/entertainment carried out as a conversation between Lissa Wilson (librarian) and Gary Hooper (vampire) , characters from my book ‘The Opposite of Life’.

GaryView: Aussiecon 4 report

Gary and LissaGary (@garyHooper44) and Lissa (@lissawilson83) caught up on Twitter just after the convention… (the feed has been tidied up here to make it easier to read.)

Lissa:  Hey there @garyHooper44 – where have you been for the last five days?

Gary:  Hi. I was at a science fiction convention.

Lissa:   Really? What did you do there?

Gary:  Went to panels mainly, to listen to people talk about SF and vampires and stuff. There was a strange one: zombies vs vampires.

Lissa: Who won?

Gary:  I think it was a draw.

Lissa:   I’ve heard those things have costumes and stuff. Is that right?

Gary:  Some. Jewellery and things mainly. Someone actually thought I was in costume. Saw my teeth and asked where I got them done.

Lissa:  What did you say?

Gary:  I couldn’t think of anything so I just said they were real, I was a vampire, but I wasn’t planning on biting anyone.

Lissa:  God. What happened? Did they panic?

Gary:  Nope. He laughed and said he’d already met six time travellers and a troll. I *think* he was joking.

Lissa:  Bet it’s the first time he’d met a real vampire, and he didn’t even know it. So you had a good time?

Gary:  It was interesting. One person gave me a new vampire book too, for free! The steampunk stuff was great too.

Lissa:  I’ve read about steampunk. That would be just your thing – making new tech out of old tech.

Gary:  I could use stuff from the sixties – I still remember how a lot of that stuff works. But it’s too recent to be steampunk.

Lissa:  You could invent post-steampunk. Pyschedlia-punk?

Gary:  Except you need a better brain than I’ve got to imagine what to do with it. Still, it all looked really neat.

This is when @Dragonsally spotted the exchange and joined in, resulting in this discussion with Lissa:

Dragonsally: I saw the troll! he had long grey hair and a beard. He looked pretty friendly actually.

Dragonsally: I’d be into pychia what ever you called it punk! I just found a photo of me at the con. well, half of me.

Lissa: Oh, I thought the guy meant like an internet troll. Maybe he meant a real one! LOL. Did you see Gary at the convention?

Dragonsally: NO! I would have looked for him if I’d known he was skulking around

Lissa:  I just saw your tweet about the photo. Was it fun?

Dragonsally: You bet. I have the con bug now. I know what I’d do if I won tatts – I’d go to all the cons around the world

Lissa: He kept it pretty quiet, eh?

Dragonsally: Yeah, he did, the sneaky thing

Lissa: Maybe I’ll come to the next one with you both then.

Dragonsally: that would be so cool. They really are fun. You meet the coolest people – all book lovers like us, a big happy tribe.

Lissa: Sounds like my kind of place!

Dragonsally: you would have LOVED the Dealers Room. If I’d had lots of money and a truck, I could have filled the truck with books

Lissa:   I have so many in my Book Cave already! (I’m like a dragon, I keep my books in my room and sleep with them at night!)

Dragonsally: yes, my favorite books are in the bedroom. I’m rapidly running out of room because the list keeps growing

Meanwhile, over in the conversation between @Dragonsally and @GaryHooper44:

Dragonsally: which was your favorite panel Gary?

Gary:  I liked seeing the interviews with the SF writers. Kim Stanley Robinson’s books are really interesting.

Dragonsally: I’m not certain I’ve read any of his yet. I bought a gazillion books home to read though.

Gary:  The Mars books are really interesting. All about terraforming and people living a really long time without being undead.

Dragonsally: that rings a bell. Maybe I have read some.

And then back to the conversation between @LissaWilson83 and @GaryHooper44:

Lissa: Maybe for Halloween we can get together and I’ll help you think of a psychodelia-punk costume.

Gary:  Um. Thanks but. After last Halloween I don’t think I’ll be going to any more of your Halloween parties.

Lissa: It wasn’t *my* idea for you to roll yourself in glitter and come as a Cullen! You were shedding silver sparkles ALL NIGHT!

Gary:  Took days to wash it all out of my hair. It was horrible.

Lissa:  We can probably do a costume that does not involve glitter this year.

Gary:  Well. Maybe. But there were all those people I didn’t know. Maybe we can just watch some horror movies together.

Lissa:  You didn’t party much before you were a vampire either, did you? Okay. We’ll have a private Halloween party. 🙂

Gary:  Yeah. That’d be good.

Gary:  Can we still make a costume though?

Lissa:  LOL. If you want. You find the valves and stuff, I’ll find some fabric.

Gary:  Cool! Maybe I can wear it to the next convention.

*For newcomers, the GaryView is a review of books/films/TV/entertainment carried out as a conversation between Lissa Wilson (librarian) and Gary Hooper (vampire) , characters from my book ‘The Opposite of Life’.

Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Yohangza Theatre Company

When Tim and I travel, we like to catch a little theatre if we can. This can be a little tricky when visiting a non-English-speaking country. Luckily, we both love Shakespeare and are very familiar with a lot of the Bard’s work. This means that if a local production of a play we’re familiar with is on, we’ll try to see it. We already know the plot and we can concentrate on other elements, like stagecraft and local cultural influences.

I have seen ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ in Italian, with Caesar and the Senate all dressed in Zegna suits. I’ve seen a brillilant Polish theatre company make ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in to a dark, disturbing and powerful work about sexual shame and how forgiveness and healing can come from love. Remembering the gentle and moving power of Thisbe’s speech at the end of this production still makes my skin tingle.

Cast of A Midsummer Night's DreamYohangza Theatre Company’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, if you’ll excuse the pun, poles apart from the dark vision I saw in Krakow – but only in mood and theme. The same excellence is there, and the same infusion of cultural interpretation of Shakespeare’s work to great new effect. It feels slightly like cheating to have surtitles in English, as most of the production is in Korean, but there is a smattering of English used to entertaining effect as well.

This show is a pared down version of the play – only the key plots of the two sets of lovers and the battle between the fairy king and queen remain. After that, however, most bets are off as this small, multi-skilled cast throw themselves into the story with the kind  of energy that makes you think they’ve been consuming nothing but guarana for a month.

Puck is split into two mischievous sprites, called duduri, portrayed with wicked verve by Jung Woo-Keun and Kim Sang-Bo. In this version, Ajumi/Bottomis a woman gathering herbs, and jealous Dot/Titania uses the Duduri to trick her philandering husband Gabi/Oberon into falling in love with the earthy, unlovely mortal.

Meanwhile, the original story of Hang/Lysander and Beok/Hermia running off, only to be followed by Loo/Demetrius and Ik/Helena, with the sprites managing to get both men doting upon Helena, is the one we’ve come to know. Plotwise, anyway.

Yohangza’s production is, as mentioned, filled with exhuberance and energy. Bawdy, skillful, funny and delightful, it’s a joy from start to finish. The cast dash about playing mortals and fairies, playing musical instruments in between. They dance, they leap and bound around the stage and, occasionally, through the audience. There are some inspired stylised fight scenes and physical humour which is both exquisite and hilarious. This is Shakespeare, South Korean style, incorporating Korean concepts in story telling and mythology in the weave of the tale.

It’s a great looking show too – the make up, costumes, spare set design (with it’s little twinkling star field that lights up whenever the stage goes dark) make it lovely and refreshing to take in.

The PucksI felt lighter after watching Yohangza’s troupe zip through their show with such playful joie de vivre. I  felt refreshed, entranced and tickled pink. Also a little gobsmacked at the unfailing energy of the cast, who ran through the audience to wait in the hall outside and proceeded to pose for photos in full make-up, to the clear delight of the crowd who pulled out cameras and mobile phones to take advantage of the moment.

Yohangza Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at the Playhouse at The Arts Centre from 8-11 September 2010. If you want to see Shakespeare through the eyes of anothe culture, and have some wonderful clownish fun while doing so, you should head along!

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