Monday 29 November 2010

Urban Fear

I'm not actually sure this blog has any point but here it is all the same.

Urban Fantasy(1), like horror with which it shares many tropes, often uses its supernatural elements to express both fear and fascination with the urban demi-monde. Or more precisely what looks like the demi-monde from the safe distance of the suburbs. Thus supernatural creatures can serve as allegories (or metaphors) for a great many 'issues' from race to poverty to crime and drug abuse.

But while there's excitement there is always and undercurrent of fear, that society has either broken down or has become, in itself, the enemy of the indivudual. Thus the big city can become literally demonised, not a place of families and communities but a landscape overrun by predators both singularly and in packs.

Interestingly this debilitating fear of the 'urban', for me, came across strongest in Phil Rickman's brilliant Remains of an Altar. In Rickman's work the supernatural grows out of the bones of the country and so, as a reversal, the fear and loathing of the urban becomes explicitly part of the mundane. Rickman's villain says, as justification for his actions; 'The cities are a lost cause... Reinfecting themselves on their own sewage.' And while his actions are condemned by the novel's protagonists his analysis is not. Us urbanites, and our children, are an infection that the countryside must resist with all its might.

The threat to the countryside is seen as completely external as one of the protagonist's friends says 'One day... I think we may be pushed just slightly too far.' The villains are an uncaring government, Brussels bureaucrats and ignorant townies who have no knowledge or interest in the true history of their own country. '...fight for our traditions,' says another character. 'And we're branded criminals.' A fate that almost befalls another character as the novel reaches its climax.

Now I think I should say here that Phil Rickman does not share this simplistic view but to describe how he explores the nuances and subtleties of town vs country would give away too much of the plot. You're just going to have to buy the book and read it yourself.

(1) I really should use the more accurate term 'contemporary fantasy' but it always strikes me as curiously bloodless term for what is a rich bouillabaisse of a sub-genre.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Right Said Fred

Spent this morning freezing to death on Waterloo Bridge in aid of my fifteen minutes of fame. SFX sent a photographer in an attempt to secure a decent photograph for an article they're doing about my upcoming book. It was an interesting experience, not only was I cold, I was self conscious and embarrassed. I'll never be cruel about models again, it's much harder work then it looks and is it a tedious way to make a living.

At least for the likes of Naomi Campbell there is at least the consolation of looking good. I'm afraid that however hard the photographer tried I will continue to look excessively rotund and thin only in the hair department. If only my fifteen minutes had come 20 years ago. My only hope is that the editor crops it severely before publication.

Monday 22 November 2010

Flüsse von London/Mitternachtsaufstand

Some time ago a German publisher bought the translation rights for Rivers of London/Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho and since I signed the contract I've been dying to see what my books look like in German.

The publishers, with typical attention to detail, are waiting for the definitive text but I, with typical impatience, cannot wait that long. Instead here is the first page of the book courtesy of Babelfish.

Flüsse von London/Mitternachtsaufstand
durch Ben Aaronovitch

Kapitel 1: Materieller Zeuge

Es begann mit eine dreißig auf einem kalten Dienstag-Morgen im Januar als Martin Turner, der Straßenausführende und, in seinen eigenen Wörtern, Lehrling Gigolo, ausgelöst über einem Körper vor dem WestPortico von Str. Pauls am Covent Garten. Martin, der nüchterne keine zu selbst war, am ersten Gedanken der Körper war der von einem der vielen Zelebranten, die den Marktplatz als bequeme im Freien Toilette und Schlafsaal gewählt hatten. Sein ein erfahrener Londoner, Martin gab dem Körper das `London sobald-over' - ein schneller flüchtiger Blick, um festzustellen, ob dieses ein betrunkenes war, ein verrücktes oder ein Mensch in der Bedrängnis. Die Tatsache, dass es völlig möglich für jemand war, alle drei zu sein gleichzeitig, ist, warum gut-Samaritanism in London als einen extremen Sport - wie das Unterseite-Springen oder das Krokodil-Wringen gilt. Martin, den hochwertigen Mantel und die Schuhe merkend, hatte gerade den Körper als betrunkenes verdübelt, als er beachtete, dass er tatsächlich seinen Kopf verfehlte.

Als Martin, der zu den Detektiven leiten sein Interview gemerkt, war es eine gute Sache, die er inebriated, weil anders er Zeit ungefähr schreiend und laufend vergeudet haben - besonders einmal er verwirklichte, dass er in einer Blutlache stand. Stattdessen mit dem langsamen, wählte die methodische Geduld vom betrunkenen und erschrocken, Martin Turner 999 und bat um die Polizei.

I make no claims about the accuracy of that text...

Or of translating the titles into Chinese 倫敦河。 午夜暴亂
Or Dutch: Rivieren van Londen. De Rel van de middernacht
Or French: Fleuves de Londres. Émeute de minuit
Or Russian: Реки Лондон. Полуночный бунт
Or Greek: Ποταμοί του Λονδίνου. Ταραχή μεσάνυχτων
And finally Spanish: Ríos de Londres. Alboroto de medianoche

Sigh; well and author can dream can't he?

Monday 15 November 2010

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

This is a cunningly wrought retelling of the Arthurian myth set amongst the street gangs of Indianapolis (a city I'm afraid to say I had to look up on Wikipedia). As usual this isn't exactly a review (but it is an endorsement) more a singling out of the aspect of a book that particularly caught my eye.

Spoilers ahead.

The clever thing in King Maker is the shroud of ambiguity that Broaddus wraps around the supernatural for the first half of the book. Many of the characters live in something close to a state of waking hallucination brought on by drugs, mental illness and years of poverty and abuse that even when something indisputably supernatural happens in the text you still find yourself questioning whether it actually happened or not.

This ambiguity prevents the supernatural elements from swamping the horrific reality of the setting allowing the magic to serve as a spot light to throw the characters lives into harsh relief.

Fortunately, for anyone like me who has finished the book, the second novel is due to be published in February 2011 - I have mine on pre-order already.

Monday 8 November 2010

Moon Over Soho (US Cover)

This is the US Cover for Moon Over Soho and Peter Grant is looking hard as nails.

Things for next Year - The Wine of Angels

I've been waiting for them to reprint this book since I shelved The Remains of an Altar when I was working at Waterstones. Intrigued by the basic premise I went book in the series and found it was out of print. Like many people I hate starting a series midway through but out of print is out of print.

Once I'd read The Remains of an Altar my desperation intensified but fortunately, according to Amazon at least, the book is being re-released in March 2011. I already have my copy on pre-order.

Thursday 4 November 2010

The Nostalgic Smell of Tube Trains

I went to the London Transport Museum, for research purposes, and after stepping around drifts of off season tourists I stepped inside an old red 1960s era tube train. I was instantly caught in the undertow of nostalgia and dragged back to the thousands of hours I spent riding that exact type of train in my youth. Back when the silver Jubilee Line trains were the height of modernity.

It wasn't the look of the carriage as the smell and this is where I find the limitations of my prose. Dust certainly, something that might have been electricity (except the carriage had been sitting in a museum for twenty years) and a musty smell that could have been the seat covers. Really, just as honey smells of honey and shit smells of shit what the carriage smelt of was 1960s era tube train(1).

(1) I think it might have been either 1959 or 1962 Stock but I can't tell.

Monday 1 November 2010

I Shall Eviscerate You In Fiction - Part 2

The question for any writer when faced with criticism is simple - having restrained yourself from homicide what should you do next?
Walk away, turn the other cheek, do unto others as you would have them do unto you...etc etc. Us writers, let's be honest, are driven by an arrogant sense of entitlement so this is not really an option unless --- The insulter is high up in the publishing, film or news media and is likely to retaliate in kind. The insulter is much, much, bigger than you or under the age of criminal responsibility. You happen to be in a lasting relationship with sex, bed and/or food being conditional on your good behaviour.

Eviscerate them in fiction. This is the preferred choice ever since a popular Archean female singing trio dismissed the Iliad as a trite war story and ended up being depicted as murderous women headed birds. Try to keep it in proportion though; Micheal Creighton portrayed one of his critics as a child rapist with a tiny penis which is overkill, everybody knows that on the sliding scale of fictional evisceration a bad review merits a horrible death (real or social depending on genre) - they'd have to be something personal involved to get me up to Creightonian levels.

So remember my fellow writers: kill em in fiction, is cheaper, less likely to get you arrested and almost as much fun as the real thing.(1)

(1) If it isn't you are not a writer but a psychopath please report to your local mental health institution and turn yourself in.