Introducing: Mugwump Jism

Mugwump Jism is a new feature on The Centre Cannot Hold: it’s a combination of reviews and rants, all aimed towards a particular way of looking at things.

A world view that prizes the weird, the fantastic, the bizarre and the strange. A prism for looking at a more interesting world than this one, a world full where sanity is merely an option, a world where buildings are made from steel and alien-spit, wood and ionized diethylamide. A world full of people who each contain worlds, telling their stories. This world, with all its hopes, dreams, promises and urban renewal, and those worlds that lie beside it, inside it and around it. This world, and the insect-like things that burrow beneath its surface, the bat-like things that inhabit the darkness between planets and the human-like things that live upon it and don’t realise how inhuman they are.

I can’t promise that any of the irregularly occurring installments of Mugwump Jism will hit you like a good heart shot of mezcal, but that’s definitely the aim here.

Expect to find utopias and dystopias, equally deconstructed; to find the new weird and the old; to read or watch fictions, scientific, fantastic or horrific, or all three, concurrently or consecutively.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll see you there.

Graphic novel review: “Fell, volume 1: Feral City” by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith

This is the stuff.

A lonely detective, disgraced in some way that’s never revealed, sentenced to working homicide in a part of town that’s just about fallen off the world. Snowtown, the environment of Fell, is like the worst parts of Seventies New York crime films turned up to eleven. It’s a fallen place, and worse, it’s still falling, with no bottom in sight.

Richard Fell is perhaps the only sane person in the city, struggling to get justice in a city that has no particular use for it. He’s not actually a terribly likable figure, in himself – he’s an arrogant smartass with a self-righteous streak a mile wide – but he’s the best that Snowtown has, and better, perhaps, than it deserves.

Ellis’ wit has rarely been sharper, and his writing is crisp and intelligent. It’s also minimalist – Ellis is quite happy to let the art do the talking. And the moody, expressionistic art of Ben Templesmith does just that. Trapped in an intentionally claustrophobic nine panel grid, the characters might want to leave their dirty town, but know that they never will. It’s always dark in Snowtown – daytime is rarely brighter than twilight, and most of the time, it appears to be 3AM on an overcast night. The dark watercolours of his panels leak humidity into the room, and you can almost smell the reeking piles of garbage that haven’t been collected from Snowtown’s alleys in weeks (if not months).

There are eight individual stories in this, linked by a small throughline as we learn about Fell and his supporting cast, but each of the stories is effectively a done in one. You could read any of them singly without needing any other background. The only disappointment in the book is on the cover: those teasing words ‘volume one’. Alas, it’s now been nearly a decade, and volume two is nowhere in sight.

Forget it, Loke. It’s Snowtown.

Graphic novel review: “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Just to get one thing straight from the front: I am not talking here about the toned down movie version of this story here. I am talking about the original graphic novel, in all its glory and with all its warts.

V for Vendetta may not be Alan Moore’s greatest work, but it would certainly be one of the best of them. It’s worthy to stand alongside Watchmen and Promethea, which damned few things are. And it’s not just the quality of the writing, although as usual, Moore’s dense yet light prose startles with humour, horror and an underpinning of cultural allusions (here perhaps more integral to the tale than in anything else he’s written). Nor it it the plotting, with its peculiar pacing that somehow always feels right.

No, it’s the sheer iconoclasm of the work.
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Book Review: “The House of Rumour” by Jake Arnott

Imagine a secret history of the decades from 1940 to 1980, a web of hidden connections just waiting to be uncovered. Jake Arnott’s latest book by turns reveals and hides just such a web.

Up until now, Arnott’s books have mostly been damned good crime novels, usually set in London’s tumultuous Sixties and Seventies. But The House of Rumour is another animal entirely. It’s still recognizably Arnott writing it, but if all you had was the blurb to go by, you might well think it was a Tim Powers book.

Even if you were familiar with Arnott’s earlier works, this one might throw you. There’s no central narrative – just 22 chapters (one for each of the Tarot’s Major Arcana), each of them more or less a short story, but each of them clearly a part of the larger story that Arnott is half telling, half alluding to.

It’s a fascinating story, and an equally fascinating way to tell a story, with the full impact of the story only emerging as later details are revealed and connections between these superficially disparate events become apparent.

It is the best thing Jake Arnott has ever written – even considering the high standard of his prior works.

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Book Review: “Intrusion” by Ken MacLeod

One of the most comforting thoughts about those who would seek to over-regulate us – at least in the forms of the nanny state and the security state – is that they tend to be separated by the classic political divide of left and right.

Left-leaning parties traditionally support nanny-state ideas, especially when it comes to health and what I can only describe as social engineering issues. Right-leaning parties tend to support security state ideas, especially when it comes to internal security measures that seem more aimed at perpetuating their power than providing actual security.

There are exceptions, of course – the right has no trouble getting involved in nanny-state measures when it comes to abortion; the left often displays an unexpected lack of nanny-statism when it comes to euthanasia. But by and large, these categories are fairly firm.

Ken MacLeod’s latest book is about, among other things, why we’re very lucky indeed that that’s so.
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