Don’t panic: Douglas Adams and the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy

Neil Gaiman

Perhaps the most disappointing book I read last year. As a biography of a person this book is dull. It is full of information and would be valuable for completest fans of Douglas Adams and his work. There are detailed break downs of all the Hitchhiker radio and tv episodes as well as a behind the scenes insights into the making of Dr Who episodes Adams worked on and, of course, a comprehensive list of the various incarnations of The Hitch-hikers Guide in the many varied forms it has taken

As for the author, well, according to this book there isn’t much of a story to Douglas Adams. He seemed to have been blessed with a genius sense of humour, sense of invention and imagination. The most interesting sections relate to how Adams worked within the BBC in the eighties. He was chaotic, often very late and always unorganised. Unfortunately, Gaiman seems to try to stretch these sections and, at times, the writing begins to resemble the cheap unauthorised biographies of celebrities which themselves are often extended Wikipedia entries.

Its as if this book needed to be combined with something else like, for instance, the history of the BB or radio serials or perhaps the nature of adaptation. Gaiman suggest that the creation of Hitchhikers Guide was a result of impulse, spontaneous wit and the pressure of a deadline. In turn to try and summate that spark in the flowery elaborate style of Gaiman’s feels anachronistic.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to say if this book might have been better if it had been written by someone other than Gaiman, who, is not at fault per se but is perhaps too close to the subject and unwilling to allow that large parts of Adam’s life were boring or uneventful. But, again, this book is invaluable as a source of information on the history of the Hitchhikers guide. It’s simply does not or cannot provide an interesting story about the man behind the work.

Southern Bastards – Vol. 1: Here Was a Man

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour

I’d heard a lot about this book. Well, actually no, not a lot to describe it but just general buzz around it. Eisner winner, good word of mouth and I’d known about and been attracted to the title for quite a while. This, the first issue, is good and perhaps even great. Volume 1 delivers enough to warrant the buzz though it seems too that this is also a kind of prelude to what this series is ultimately about which is, I’m guessing revenge, the sins of the father and ownership of places and communities.

It’s hard to say much else without spoiling the story and as I haven’t read the next volume yet I don’t know just how important these initial events are. It seems though that this series is seeking to create a history around a place. This idea of place is also emphasized in the intro by Jason Latour where he talks about his love/hate relationship with the South. As someone from country Australia the feelings he expressed rang familiar and inclined me to like the book more than I might have. The idea of the southern gothic is threaded through the story and the books explores the idea of our birth place and what it means in relation to identity and how we may seek to revisit a place and/or attempt to reject its meaning.

Again, it’s hard to judge the series off this, the prelude first volume. Having read this far I know that I still really like the title and that it relates well to the content. This is a graphic novel grounded firmly in reality, there’s a good amount of violence and the art is suitably rough but full of detail and though I was going to say the story shines stronger perhaps the art sits on an even level in its stylistic choice.

Very keen to get more volumes of this series.


Carmilla (1897)

Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is said to be the first vampire novel. It pre-dates Bran Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years and Stoker is said to have taken influence from it. Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish journalist and uses the minimalist spare style you’d expect from his vocation. From what little I know of him Le Fanu was a workmanlike author intent on writing ghost stories for money. The novel is interesting in its use of using the young female character Lauraas the protaganist and the allusion to lesbian sexuality between her and the vampire Carmilla. It is also interesting that it’s style has not dated as badly as other novels of the time.

This is said to be the beginning of a different perception of the vampire myth. The start of the vampire being a representative fear of the aristocracy. Until Carmilla vampires had been represented as poor shambling zombie-like monsters.

Published in 1897 this is a surprisingly readable book. Leagues ahead of Frankenstein from earlier in the 19th century and arguably more interesting to read than Dracula. It’s not even the proto-type vampire novel you perhaps expect. Instead it an almost very matter of fact ghost story. It doesn’t establish the vampire rules, I think that comes with Dracula, and probably benefits from being read by the modern reader who automatically attributes these rules into a story which doesn’t state them but into which they easily fit.

Batman 8: Superheavy (2016)

Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to be reading in the new 52 DC universe. I’ve tried a few different series and they’ve been a bit hit and miss. Some of the continuation is confusing for me as well. I thought I could read the core batman series by itself and have a good understanding of what was happening in the universe but it seems as if events in Detective Comics and Batman Eternal have an effect in this story line. It seems as though to understand Batman 8 you have to read the Endgame story line which collects events just as the A Death in the Family story line collected different strands from various New 52 books.

Edit: No, I actually missed reading Batman 7: Endgame. It’s not that confusing at all. This is the continued effect of trying to buy more books in stores rather than online and totally forgetting what I do and don’t own. I brought Batman 6 twice, forgot, and then skipped to this, Batman 8.

Even so this book is still readable. (Even after skipping a book… so credit to them). Snyder and Capullo are still trying to make their mark and do something different even after having created such iconic new batman tenants as the court of owls and the Joker of A Death in the Family and the origin story of Zero Year. I think in some of their origin work they tried too hard to be different, particularly some of the art and colour choices, but here despite similar bold colour work they are more on track and succeed more consistently than they have in the past several volumes which have been hit and miss and suffered particularly when Capullo hasn’t supplied the artwork.

Batman 8 is set shortly after zero year, I think. So the idea and evolution of Batman is still young. The events of Endgame have meant that Bruce Wayne no longer wants to be Batman and so Commissioner Gordon steps into the role, if not the suit (at least as we know it) of Batman. It’s a controversial move but one that I don’t mind as it allows Snyder to play with new gadgets and explore ideas which would be impossible, canonically, to do in an actual Batman book. As it is Snyder and Capullo have finally walked the fine line of balancing the unusual art colour palate, bringing Batman into a contemporary setting and involving new ideas and stories methods within and sometimes outside of the restrictions of the character, setting and genre. I loved their first three batman volumes and my interest has lessened since Zero Year. This book I liked and am again looking forward to catching up on other volumes as well as branching out to Batman Eternal and Detective Comics.

I’m still not sure which title to follow in the DC’s New 52 but I’m glad Snyder is continuing to do such interesting work on this their lead book.

Dead Snow (2009)

Tommy Wirkola

I re-watched this film at the start of 2017. It was around this time I started keeping track of what I was watching and reading. Mainly because I was bored and housebound. I had wondered if perhaps some sort of pattern might emerge in my media consumption. Or, if nothing else, I might start to understand what I kept coming back to and perhaps what I should concentrate on in the future.

As far as I can remember I’ve only seen this film twice. The first time was circa 2004 when I hired it from a video store in Preston. It had a little more novelty then. Though consuming foreign indie film was much different as well.

*edit: the films wasn’t released until 2009. I had moved back to near Preston and was hiring videos from a different but similar store.

Twelve years (actually eight) later this sort of idea of the double hinged camp horror film has been fairly well mined and yet this film still holds up well. The zombies look great, it’s all shot perfectly and the acting is fine. The plot is bare and doesn’t try to do anything other than play as expected. Group of friends travel to remote location, a ghost story signposts coming horror, said ghost(s) materialise and kill and terrorise until what is left of the group can turn on and destroy the ghosts.

For the budget this is a good film and I respect how well they executed a flimsy concept. Still I don’t think I’ll watch this a third time. Though still I’m curious about the sequel even as everyone campily combines Nazis into their speculative/sci-fi/horror stories. It’s true there’s nothing more evil then a Nazi. It’s depressing though seeing true evil so easily defeated by sexed up bumbling Norwegian teens. Even Bed knobs and Broomsticks treated the concept more seriously.

Manson (2014)

Jeff Guinn

A comprehensive research based biographical true crime book about Charles Manson. Guinn’s writing is easy to read, informative, appears to be well researched and is perhaps the definitive work about Charles Manson and his ‘family’. Or at least as definitive as a collection of paper, ink, vowels and consonants can be on the nature of Charlie Manson and his effect upon Western society.

Guinn covers Manson’s upbringing and his biological families background, the changing cultural climate as America of the fifties gradually changed throughout the sixties. The book charts Manson’s connection to the Beach Boys, and the spiral of musical frustration, psychosis and drugs which would eventually lead to the Tate killings.

If I could offer any criticism to this work it would be that it could benefit from additional photos. While reading about these people all I wanted was to see more images of them and their faces and try to find some hint of how they could have followed and committed murder so blindly. However perhaps there could never be enough photos to truly explain the senselessness of the killings. Because that too is another fault of this book. That there is no explanation to the senselessness. Guinn has, if anything, done his job too well. His work is perhaps too comprehensive in its exploration of Manson, his followers and their crimes.

The book calmly explains the trail of events such that the effect is almost chilling in the chain reaction of murderous petty spite and charisma. Manson is so definitive and encompassing that Guinn never resorts to sensationalism or speculation. Instead he illustrates how Manson took advantage of the sixties counter-culture of freedom of expression.

Guinn doesn’t even bother to try to draw any sort of allegory between the Tate killings and the cultural upheaval of America throughout the sixties. He notes that the crimes were linked to the cultural revolution but resists any sort of summation or explanation. Manson and his followers, his family, have been mythologised and canonized. Many, including me before I read this book, believe that the family killed more people and that their reach and evil spread further and loomed larger. This book details the almost mundane reality as well as the petty motivation. Manson’s insecurity about his height and delusions of musical talent combined with a hardened malice.

Guinn shows how the fear which pervaded American society after these killings and changed the course of the counter-culture was based on the same paranoia and dread which had led to the myth of satanic gangs in the early 20th century. This is what truly makes this book an interesting, important and chilling read. Society is convinced there are demons among us. Guinn shows just how easily society can unknowingly foster and enable these demons and, in turn, popularize and fear them all the more.

Bloodlust: Tournament of Death (2016)

Damien Abraham

A short vice style (for lack of a better descriptor) documentary about the CZW wrestling company and its annual death match wrestling event: Tournament of Death. Not a subject I’m usually interested in but, like a lot of the Vice shows, I was drawn to it more because of the presenter than the subject matter. I’m a big fan of the Damien Abraham’s band, Fucked Up, and his various podcasts particularly Turned Out a Punk.

So, that said, it’s hard to say too whether I would recommend this doco. Its violent and gory and if you don’t want to see wounds being inflicted on another person, even semi-staged ones, this if a no-go zone. If, however, you’re intrigued by just how many people it takes to remove a roofing nail array from someone’s skull than, well, this doco is for you.

Abraham examines the life of the owner of CZW and the amount of work he puts into his company and these tournament of death events. He interviews various wrestlers and examines some of their expectations, motivations and plans. It is almost interesting in its coverage of the culture and this sub-culture of wrestling and how something that is generally viewed as being a large produced for TV multimillion dollar industry can also be produced on such a grass roots level and for little other than the passion of the fans and the performers. Unfortunately though this angle isn’t properly explored and there isn’t any full closure on the financial success or failure of the event. By the time the documentary finishes and the various participants, including the owner, are being treated for wounds and concussions it is hard to see the appeal or any basis for the passion and bloodlust which the fans are so full of.

It feels too as if the doco was cut short. As if there were either not enough time for a narrative to develop or there wasn’t enough of a narrative present to justify more time. Whatever the reason the result is that the documentary, stand-alone, falls a little flat. That said this documentary makes much more sense and is far more interesting when viewed after Abraham’s interview with one of the wrestlers, Jeff Cannonball, on the Turned Out a Punk podcast. This interview provides more of the background and motivation of Cannonball and shines a light of context upon the CZW tournament and similar events as well as the violence inside the ring. Though much of the sport at this level still, to me at least, seems like savagery just for savagery’s sake the interview with Jeff Cannonball shows that, like punk- hardcore and various other sub-cultures what can appear strange and violent to an outsider can be a passion and way of life for the participants and fans. Abraham is more than able to flesh out the interest and appeal of sub-cultural passion and its importance in relation to the development of other sub-cultures and even popular culture in his free-form podcast medium. Strangely though there is no such connection or summation made in this film. Many other vice documentaries I’ve watched seemed to dedicate an ending portion to making these connections and it’s kind of jarring that in this there isn’t enough time for same level of ‘so what does this mean’ or ‘why does this matter’ and the whole flick seems so much less important than it may have as a result.

Cosmicomics (1965)

Italo Calvino

This was a struggle. I had to force myself to read on at times. I found a lot of the stories slow and a little boring. Which was a surprise as I expected to like Calino’s writing. But I feel like I need to read If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller for proper context on how these stories relate to Calvino’s work as a whole. I chose this book as a random entry point. I had heard of his novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and its method of writing in the second person perspective. I’d seen this lampooned in a Fred Negro cartoon and know someone who loved it and whose taste I respect, at least in literature. I’m still very interested in reading book but I doubt I’ll ever read this collection of short stories again. The stories are ok. They’re often poetic and almost always very smart and scientific (at least for 1965) but they are, for me, boring and often don’t provide the reader with anything other than an attempt at providing a different perspective about the idea of the cosmos and infinity. These ideas start off interesting but by the last story I found them mundane.

I’ve read that these stories were constructed around scientific facts and so perhaps round pegs were forced to fit into square holes at times. Perhaps Calvino wrote each piece easily and fast. Each story is written with a calm assurance but none of them stretch themselves to provide anything other than a narrative based around science and the cosmos. Perhaps, in ’65, with much of this science brand new these stories seemed far more important than they do now. A similar problem I had reading Portney’s Complaint and the erosion of its central taboos. Another classic I struggled to enjoy. Though again I’ll wait until reading more Calvino to decide how I feel about his writing.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994)

John Berendt

I always assumed I knew what true crime writing was. In the same way, you assume you know a lot of things. I thought I knew because I had once read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and thought that was the broad template. An in-depth immersion into the many facts of a crime, it’s surrounds, the criminals, the victims, the trial and the punishment.

Berendt’s book does not adhere to this template. It is a different kind of true crime writing and it’s not necessarily lesser but it is certainly different. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil itself is still a good book. I was simply surprised that it took such a different tack. Berendt’s book is written in a light journalistic and serial manner. The crime isn’t overly complicated and so Berendt instead investigates the local characters and town surrounding act of murder. There is a degree of conceit whereby the writing seeks to act as entertainment first and provide any form of investigation, resolution or solution as a distant second. As such Berendt revels in providing a southern gothic portrait of the city of Savannah and its eccentric inhabitants.

As a novice to true crime this book was entertaining and easy to read and almost pulpy with its first-person perspective and rearrangement of chronology to help the narrative. It shows how problematic true crime writing can be. How easily facts can be rearranged to amp up the entertainment factor. How easily the truth and non-fiction of an event can be morphed into fiction. This book doesn’t ask any searching questions into the nature of crime and how it relates to the human condition but it was a good introduction and primer towards some of the more harrowing true crime novels I’ve since read while also acting as a reminder that the genre, while serious and often intensely so, is also almost paradoxically still acting as a form of entertainment

Redeployment (2014)

Phil Klay

Along with Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch this was my favourite read of 2016. They both deeply affected me perhaps because I read each of them in hospital in very short time-spans. They were also both recommended by Bret Easton Ellis on his Instagram and though I don’t necessarily agree with all the views he has on his podcast I so far 100% back his taste in film and literature.

In a way, too this book reminded me of Holly Child’s No Limit’s (perhaps my third favourite read book of last year). The two books are worlds apart in subject matter but in reading each there is the sense that there has been extensive reduction in drafting and editing so that what is left behind is the boiled down essence and exactly what author wished to convey.

Redeployment consists of ten stories based around the Iraq war and/or its aftermath. Each story is narrated from a different perspective and these different perspectives range over various ranks military departments and stages of deployment, redeployment and return to civilian life. Klay has stated that his goal was to avoid creating caricatures and stereotypes of military figures and in this respect, as well as others, he is very successful.

I was drawn to this book in the same way that I have been drawn to other works dealing with the Iraq war such as Generation Kill, The Red Circle, American Sniper, Lone Gunmen and also biographies and the auto-biography of George W. Bush. It is the war of my generation but, unlike previous wars, history still doesn’t seem to know how to deal with it and whether to accept or reject its mission and legacy. Was the war necessary, successful or criminal? And if I have these questions, in Australia, how much more confusing must it be in America where the likelihood of knowing someone who served in Iraq would be much higher?

Redeployment doesn’t necessarily answer any of these questions but it goes a long way towards explaining why the questions and confusions and anger and sadness over the war exists in this way. The different perspectives which Klay utilises are nuanced and complicated. They show that there is no one war story or right or wrong sense of horror or alienation. They also highlight how far removed we in the Western world are from the field of battle and how easily we distanced and distance ourselves and the day to day reality of our lives from the horror of this conflict.

And so while it doesn’t answer my questions. While I can’t properly summate why this book is so powerful and affecting in the space of a short review what I can say is that this book goes a long way to providing the best reflection of the confusion and fog of war and the many lives which have been and are touched by its shadow.