Reading in 2013

Ah, 2013. The year I stopped reading paper books and started reading on my… phone.

Welcome to the future!

I read 32 books in total. (I should add that I read an awful lot of first-second-third chapters of books before giving up. These are books I actually finished. Also I don’t include reference works). I caught up on some classics – Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which lent itself to one of the best jokes I think in The Drummer). My favourite book of the year was Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident. I also finally read The Princess Bride! Which is much stranger than I expected, and again, lent some of what it was doing, I think, to The Drummer. And I finally got to read The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont, which I almost got to read in 2007, only the last 10 pages of my paperback were missing – and I was halfway over the ocean on my way to Vanuatu!

In crime, I kept going through both Susana Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew series, and Lindsey Davis’s Falco. And I read the latest Mallory novel from Carol O’Connell. I also read some crime novellas (DriveThe Hunter) and went on a Chester Himes buffet for a while!

Some of the best stuff I read were translated (old and new) novels. These were:

  1. Sunburnt Faces, Shimon Adaf (PS Publishing, 2013). This is my one cheat – I read it in the original Hebrew, and wrote the introduction for the PS edition. It’s a wonderful book from an incredible writer.
  2. Monday Begins on Saturday, Arkady & Boris Strugatsky. I read the old translation – the link is to a new translation and new edition from the SF Masterworks series. It’s very very funny. Loved it.
  3. What Lot’s Wife Saw, Ioanna Bourazopoulou (Black & White Publishing, 2013). I reviewed it here - “a dazzling magic trick of a novel”.
  4. Rabbit Back Literature Society, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (Pushkin Press, 2013). I’ll review it soon, I hope, but it’s fantastic - Twin Peaks meets the Moomins, if that makes any kind of sense. Technically I finished it in 2014 but hey! Read it.

In short stories, I loved China Mieville’s unexpected (it was only released in a limited edition chapbook), “The 9th Technique”, which is brilliant. I also loved 1926 in Brazilian Football, by Aliya Whiteley, which is reprinted in her collection Witchcraft in the Harem (Dog Horn Publishing 2013).

My vote for best new writer of the year is Benjanun Sriduangkaew, who I think is astonishing for a new writer, combining both ambition and the realisation of her ambition – I’m reprinting her Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods (2012) in the forthcoming The Apex Book of World SF 3, and I highly recommend her 2013 fiction – her latest is Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade in Clarkesworld.

2013 In Review

I’m not sure if it’s vain doing this sort of post, or sort of useful if only to me as a way of marking some sort of progress.

That’s a lot of qualifiers.

It’s been a long year.

Anyway.

Publishing

On the publications front, I had two novels published. My short, weird SF (gonzo-SF?) novel Martian Sands finally saw print in March/April or thereabouts after years of, well, stuff. So I was very pleased to see it out. I also moved on to Hodder & Stoughton with a 2-book deal, the first of which, The Violent Century, came out in late October, to mostly very nice reviews.

Osama came out in Germany, France, Spain and Italy this year. The Bookman and Camera Obscura came out in Japan.

In  short stories, I published 20 original stories this year, 19 in English and 1 in Hebrew. I have a more detailed post about them here.

I stopped publishing the World SF Blog in June, after more than four years. Surprisingly, I won a couple of awards for it this year – a BSFA Award for best non-fiction, and a special Kitschies. Which was nice.

I blurbed a few books, and wrote the introduction to the English edition of Shimon Adaf’s Sunburnt Faces. Which you should buy.

Writing

On the writing front, it’s been an incredibly busy year. I had my first screenwriting job, co-writing, with a friend, a feature for an Israeli production company. It’s gone through several drafts but a final draft is more or less there, for now.

I also sold my first mainstream comic - Adler, a five-part mini-series, with art by Paul McCaffrey, to Titan Comics, to be published late this year – around October, probably. I’ve delivered the scripts for the first 2 issues, and Paul is hard at work on finishing issue 1′s art at the moment.

I spent most of the year writing my new novel, The Drummer,which I delivered to Hodder just under the deadline a couple of weeks ago. The book was like a black hole, warping time and space around me. I’m pleased to see it gone, for now.

I also, at long last, finished my mosaic short-story cycle, Central Station, which I began around 2010. Individual stories have been published in Analog, Interzone, Clarkesworld and elsewhere. I’ve put the finishing touches on the collection.

I finished a new picture book with artist Adi Elkin.

I wrote about 12 short stories, some of them very short, some of them Central Station stories.

Coming in 2014

If all goes to plan, The Drummer should be out this October. My anthology, The Apex Book of World SF 3, should be out around August (or possibly towards the end of the year). Adler #1 should be out around October. I’ve also been working on a new anthology project, which is coming together very nicely, and should be out sometime in 2014. Apart from that, there’s a possibility that my Guns & Sorcery collection, Black Gods Kiss, will be out from PS Publishing (a companion piece to Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God).

I also have about 9 short stories scheduled to appear in 2014 so far. I am pretty much out of stories now, but I hope to write some new ones, and actually managed to finish 2 after sending off The Drummer. I miss short stories.

Writing-wise, I have a new novel to write, and Adler to finish. I’m also adapting – something – into a screenplay at the moment. I’ve got some more graphic novel/comics things I’m working on.

… but otherwise, I’m probably going to take it easy this year!

Osama on the German 10 Best Crime Novels 2013

Delighted to find out today that Osama is on the list of the ten best crime novels of 2013 (besten Kriminalromane 2013) as selected by Zeit, after being on the KrimiZEIT-Bestenliste the past year.

The reviews in Germany have been really amazing throughout and, well, pardon the vanity, but here are some of them, since this seems like a good excuse!

“An extraordinarily thrilling book” Tobias Gohlis auf Nordwestradio zur KrimiZEIT-Bestenliste

“Very cunning, very artful … ingenious book” Tagesspiegel

“Subtly made alternative-history experiment” Deutschlandradio Kultur

“An exeptional fantasy novel” WDR 5, Bücher

“A wholehearted, intensive book that won the World Fantysy Award with reason” Bayern 2, Diwan

“A masterly game with good and bad spirits” Der Freitag

“A great bang in the present landscape of literature” lettra.tv

„Diesmal aber ist ein Buch erschienen, das so originell gedacht ist, dass es fast nicht genügt, das Buch zu loben. Man müsste sein Lob singen, so sehr ragt es heraus aus der Sommerproduktion von Kriminalliteratur … Eine Parallelwelt von einem Buch!“ Deutschlandfunk, Büchermarkt

“Das ausgezeichnete Buch von Lavie Tidhar ist mehr als ein Fantasy-Thriller, eine Alternativweltgeschichte oder eine Popnotiz zum Krieg gegen den Terrorismus. Es ist die Erinnerung, wie Bilder, neue Wörter, Nachrichten und Phantasien unser Weltbild seit 9/11 verändert haben!“ jetzt.suedeutsche.de

“Ein Roman, der Terrorismus als Medienspektakel erzählt, als moderne Story, die immer mit einer Explosion anfängt, und Löcher in das Gewebe der Realität reißt.“ WDR5, Bücher, Buch der Woche

“Ein komplexes, anspielungsreiches Buch, das als Thriller daher kommt, uns zugleich aber zum Nachdenken über unsere Vorstellung von “Terrorismus” bringt. Keine leichte Lektüre, aber eine lohnende!“ Literaturkalender der FAZ

“Der israelische Autor Lavie Tidhar hat seiner Fantasie freien Lauf gelassen und mit ‘Osama’ das wohl bislang ungewöhnlichste und gleichzeitig entspannteste Buch über die hochstilisierte Ikone des weltweiten Terrorismus geschrieben. Der Autor spielt virtuos mit Konventionen und Versatzstücken der diversen Genres. Es ist pures Lesevergnügen, wenn die von Tidhar geschaffene Parallelwelt mit der unseren aufeinanderprallt.“ Die Presse am Sonntag

“Was wäre wenn es den 11. September 2001 nie gegeben hätte, der Terrorist Osama bin Laden nur die Erfindung eines Schundroman Schreibers wäre? Lavie Tidhar, Gewinner des World Fantasy Award 2012, hat aus genau dieser Idee ein ungewöhnliches Buch gemacht.“ rbb, Inforadio

“Ein ziemlich einzigartiger Roman, der letztlich auch seine Leser an die Grenzen dessen bringt, was sie begreifen können – und somit ein gelungenes Abbild der Wirklichkeit zeichnet.” Funkhaus Europa

” ‘Osama’ ist ein sehr nachdenkliches Werk über das Wesen von Terrorismus und Politik. Und eine Erinnerung daran, dass “Geschichte” nicht umsonst sowohl “Historie” als auch “Erzählung” bedeuten kann – beides ist letztlich ein Konstrukt. Großartiges Buch!“ Der Standard

“Im erzählerischen Zentrum des Romans steckt der Schlüssel zu „Osama“. Hier zeigt sich, dass Tidhar nicht einfach nur eine spannende, humoristisch aufgeladene und vor Zitaten fast überlaufende Pulp-Geschichte geschrieben hat, sondern ein Erinnerungs-Buch, welches den inzwischen schon fast zu lautlosen Schatten verblassten Toten der Anschläge auf die US-Botschaften in Nairobi und Daressalam, auf die Londoner U-Bahn und schließlich auf das World Trade Center in New York noch einmal Stimme und Substanz verleiht.“ Phantastik-Couch, Online

“Osama ist ein mehr als doppelbödiger Thriller, der den Leser dazu zwingt, seine eigene Welt zu hinterfragen … Lavie Tidhar wurde 2012 ganz zu recht für Osama mit dem angesehenen World Fantasy Award ausgezeichnet.“ Junge Welt

“Langsam und bedächtig verschmilzt die Realität mit etwas anderem, einer surrealen Parallelwelt, in der Joe nicht nur auf Geister, oder – wie er sie nennt – „Irrwirren” trifft, sondern vor allem auch mit seiner eigenen Vergangenheit konfrontiert wird.” CULTurMAG

” … hervorragend erzählt, mit einem eigenartigen Kontrast zwischen Lakonik und häufiger fiebriger Action. Obwohl die Grenzen zwischen Realität und Illusion sich zunehmend verwischen, bleibt der Terror manifest in den eingestreuten Perspektiven von Opfern. Ein faszinierender, anspruchsvoller Thriller!“ Neue Luzerner Zeitung

“Ein feiner Roman . . .Eine Information am Ende von ‘Osama’, wenige nüchterne Zeilen nur, erklärt, wie sich die Reise- und Lebenswege des 1976 geborenen Lavie Tidhar mit fast gespenstischem Zufall immer wieder mit denen von El-Kaida-Attentätern gekreuzt haben. Vielleicht konnte er deswegen diesen bemerkenswerten Zwitter von einem Roman schreiben.” Frankfurter Rundschau

“”Osama” verfolgt den Terror weiter literarisch – zerpflückt ihn als grausam-pornografisches Klischee und versucht den namenlosen Opfern eine Stimme zu verleihen. Und das hebt den Roman heraus aus all den Vergleichen mit den Fantasy-Realitäten Dicks oder auch den zu Klischees geronnenen Nachahmern Hammetts. Herausgekommen ist eine aufwühlende Anklage gegen den Terror, eine Anklage, die sich verkleidet ins Kleid der Groschenromane und ihrer künstlichen Ästhetik. Faszinierend – und verstörend.“ Wasser-Prawda, online

“Mal wieder eines dieser wunderbaren Bücher, die sich absolut nicht kategorisieren lassen: Bei Titel und Cover denkt man: Achtung, Satire. Das trifft es aber nicht – denn obwohl Osama um die Absurdität unserer Welt geht, wird hier nichts überdreht oder zugespitzt. Eher noch mildert Lavie Tidhar die Schrecken der Wirklichkeit ab, indem er sie uns nur schemenhaft aus Sicht einer weit freundlicheren Parallelwelt zeigt. Heraus kommt ein Buch mit einem wunderschönen, traurigen Lächeln, das von den Opfern einer Welt handelt, die so verrückt ist, dass sie eigentlich Science Fiction sein sollte“ Fantasy- & SciFi-Buchladen Otherland

“Der israelische Autor Lavie Tidhar, 37, spielt im Fantasy-Roman virtuos mit dem Mix aus Realität und Fiktion – verwirrend, rätselhaft und undurchschaubar.“ Sonntagszeitung, Schweiz

“ein außergewöhnliches Beispiel in der Genreliteratur, das zeigt, dass man abseits von festgefahrenen Pfaden originelle Geschichten erzählen (oder als Leser entdecken) kann, die einem länger im Gedächtnis bleiben“ Bücherwelten

“Elegant verspannt Tidhar in seiner abgründigen Konstruktion Elemente des Noir-Thrillers in der Tradition von Raymond Chandler mit dem Science-Fiction-Genre der “alternate history”. Die Ebenen von Realität und Fiktion werden im Verlauf der Erzählung immer poröser. Tidhars präzise Detailschilderungen von Schatten und Lichtreflexen, Stadtlandschaften im Regen, obskuren Buchhandlungen und U-Bahn-Stationen erzeugen einen hypnotischen Sog und eine melancholische Atmosphäre der Verlorenheit … Dabei ist sein glänzend geschriebener Roman nicht nur eine Reflektion der medialen Faszinationskraft des Terrorismus, sondern zugleich eine eindringliche Trauerarbeit, die all der Opfer der zahlreichen Anschläge gedenkt, die als Schatten und Untote die Überlebenden heimsuchen.“ DLR Kultur (besprochen von Philipp Albers)

“Tidhar ist durch Zufall mehreren Terroranschlägen empfindlich nah gekommen …, das gibt diesem ohnehin grandiosen Buch den zusätzlichen Thrill.“ - Jan Drees auf 1LIVE, Plan B, Buch der Woche

“Ein wunderbar geschriebenes Buch, in dem sich Realität und Fiktion auf verblüffende Weise durchdringen.“ Der Bielefelder

„Gewagte und gelungene Attacke auf den Mythos Osamas und den Krieg gegen den Terror – ohne der schrecklichen Realität in die Phantasy auszuweichen.“ Buchjournal

“Ein komplexes, anspielungsreiches Buch, das als Thriller daher kommt, uns zugleich aber zum Nachdenken über unsere Vorstellung von “Terrorismus” bringt. Keine leichte Lektüre, aber eine lohnende!“ literaturkurier

“Der israelische Autor Lavie Tidhar überrascht uns mit einem außergewöhnlichen Thriller: “Osama” arbeitet mit zahllosen Anspielungen und Vexier-Momenten … Das eigenwillige und stilistisch raffinierte Buch, auf Englisch verfasst, hat Lavie Tidhar den World Fantasy Award 2012 eingetragen – was zumindest belegt, dass es in dieser Sparte nicht immer nur um Zauberlehrlinge, Vampire und ihren weiblichen Anhang gehen muss. Aber auch dem Kriminalroman, der allzu oft im sozialkritischen Realismus oder in regionaler Spaßigkeit dahindümpelt, können solche Experimente nur gut tun.“ WAZ print und online

“Tidhar hat einen berauschenden Politthriller geschrieben… Osama bin Laden als Pulp-Fiction-Ikone – darauf muss man erstmal kommen. Und diese abgedrehte Idee ist erst der Beginn einer Achterbahnfahrt durch Raum und Zeit, auf die uns Tidhar in seinem opiumgeschwängerten Politthriller schickt … ‘Osama’ sprengt in der Tat alle Genregrenze und ist der verrückteste Roman seit William Burroughs legendärem Drogenepos ‘Naked Lunch’… eine verstörende Elegie über die Fragilität einer Welt, in der es keine Gewissheiten mehr gibt und in der jeder zum Opfer werden kann.“ SonntagsZeitung

“überaus amüsanter Fantasy-Krimi“ Ultimo

“Tidhars präzise Detailschilderungen von Schatten und Lichtreflexen, Stadtlandschaften im Regen, obskuren Buchhandlungen und U-Bahn-Stationen erzeugen einen hypnotischen Sog.“Lüneburger Literaturkurier

“Kunstvoll verwebt Tidhar die beiden Ebenen seines Romans…’Osama’ hält den Spannungsbogen bis zur letzten Seite.“ Radio Zusa

“Stilistisch jederzeit überragend … Lavie Tidhar hat sicherlich den definitiven … Alternativweltroman für die Post-9/11-Ära vorgelegt.“ Geek!

“”Osama” hat nicht nur für Verschwörungstheoretiker einiges zu bieten und spielt sehr gekonnt mit den unterschiedlichen Realitäts-Ebenen.“ Zuckerkick

“Tidhar fängt das verwirrende Gefühl, dass Terrorismus und der „War on Terror“ etwas Unwirkliches sind, das ständig in unsere Welt einzubrechen droht, exakt ein … Osama ist eigentlich kein besonders politisches Buch, sondern ein trauerndes Buch über die Ungeheuerlichkeit dessen, dass aufgrund religiöser oder politischer Wahnvorstellungen Menschen sterben.“ jakob.blogsport.de

“Wirklich ein bemerkenswertes Buch, das ich innerhalb von zwei Tagen gelesen haben, ganz fasziniert von der melancholischen und geheimnisvollen Atmosphäre.“ Buchhandlung für Neukölln, Berlin

“Osama Bin Laden als Held eines Groschenhefts. Klingt bizarr und ist das Gedankenexperiment in einer Welt, in der Terrorismus nur in Büchern existiert.“Business Punk

“Tidhar spielt vielmehr mit Konventionen und Versatzstücken diverser Genres – und das virtuos.“ crimenoir

“Der Autor baut Spannung durch eine sehr präzise, aber langwährende Ortsbeschreibung auf. Lavie Tidhar zieht einen in einen Sog aus Erinnerungen, Träumen, Phantasien hinein, in denen klar wird, daß Osama bin Laden eine Erfindung des Autors ist.” Weltexpresso

“Egal, ob Parallelwelt oder Simulation, das Konzept einer Welt ohne Terror, in der Schundleser fasziniert werden von faktentrocken an den Anschlägen unserer Realität entlangerzählten Terrormärchen, ist interessant. So interessant, dass Tidhars „Osama“ sowohl den World Fantasy Award gewonnen hat als auch auf der KrimiZeit-Bestenliste gelandet ist.“ Stuttgarter Zeitung

“Unverschämt unterhaltsam und verstörend ist der sprachlich virtuose Roman von Lavie Tidhar . . . Ein eigenwilliges Buch, das lange nachwirkt.” Neue Westfälische

“Lavie Tidhar hat mit ‘Osama’ einen Thriller à la Raymond Chandler geschrieben. Mit Detailliebe beschreibt er äußerst genau eine Welt, in der Terrorismus nur in der Fantasie existiert.“ Klönschnack

“Lavie Tidhar denkt sich eine Was-wäre-wenn-Geschichte aus, in der die fürchterlichen Ereignisse der jüngsten Zeit dem Gehirn eines Sensationsschriftstellers entsprungen sind. Zeitgeschichte als abenteuerliches Denkspiel.” Salzburger Nachrichten

 

Cormac McCarthy

He walked out of that door and stood staring at the diminishing sun and he thought back to his childhood how he begged them how he said I want to play with them with the commas and his mother said commas are not toys and his father said youve been a bad boy you cant even have an apostrophe and he said what about speech marks and his mother said no speech marks for you Cormac and he walked outside and stood there like he stood there now watching the blood red sun and blood he thought there must be so much blood at least one per sentences he will show them he didnt need their commas or their speech marks or their stupid apostrophes they were just conventional signs.

He liked full stops though. All that blood. All that blood and short sentences and full stops. But never a comma. Then he went back inside.

I love Cormac McCarthy.

Shimon Adaf On Writing

So you ask about [what difference we make]? In the grander scheme it probably makes no difference. But try to imagine yourself without the books that were important to you when you were a child, a young adult, a matured person. I know that I can’t describe myself without my history as a reader. I think that for all writers there was a moment in which reading took the form of revelation. It doesn’t have to be an event full of pathos, with light coming down or angels with burning swords but a small knot of pleasure, and sudden, tacit knowledge that the written word would hold for them a deeper way of being, or a fuller one.

The Vampire of the Vanities: Greed and Glamour in Anno Dracula’s Johnny Alucard

Note: this is the latest entry in a loose series of critical looks at some SF novels, preceded by Evil and Mortality in Philip Palmer’s Version 43 and ArtemisShall I tell you the Problem with Adam Roberts?Embassytown considered as a post-modernist collageCold War Paranoia: Ian Sales’ Adrift on the Sea of RainsThe Irresistible Mixture of Banality and Melodrama, or, Why Dance with Dragons, and Al-Qaeda Zombies and American Vampires: On Christopher Farnsworth’s Blood Oath.

The Vampire of the Vanities: Greed and Glamour in Anno Dracula’s Johnny Alucard

The nature of the Anno Dracula world is one of pastiche, remix and play. In that… vein, I thought it would be fun, for no particular reason to do this according to Bolano’s 2666. Therefore:

 1. The Part About The Reviewer

I can’t quite say when I first came across the Anno Dracula books. Somewhere in the basements of long-defunct Murder One in London, perhaps, or the old Forbidden Planet on New Oxford Street. Perhaps around the time PS Publishing began releasing books, one of which was Kim Newman’s Andy Warhol’s Dracula, itself a part of the long-awaited Johnny Alucard, and which dates my obsession with the AD world to somewhere around 1999.

Long-awaited indeed. Johnny Alucard is made up of bits of the AD world published mostly individually, including the brilliant Coppola’s Dracula, which opens the book. The series itself comprised the original Anno Dracula (1992); The Bloody Red Baron (1995) and Dracula Cha Cha Cha (or Judgement of Tears, in the U.S, 1998). The first book is set in the 1880s, the second in World War 1, the third in 1960s Italy. The fourth book takes the action almost to our present day, but mostly focuses on the 70s and 80s decades of the last century. The idea behind it is simple: Count Dracula did not die at the end of Dracula (1897) but survives, marries Queen Victoria, and ushers in a new era of vampirism. The resultant alternate history, populated by historical and characters from popular fiction (and pop culture), is then charted.

At the heart of the AD world are three women vampires: Geneviève Dieudonné, a French vampire “elder” trying to do good; Kate Reed, an idealistic Irish journalist (whose character was cut out of the final draft of Stoker’s Dracula); and Penelope Churchward, a somewhat stern character often at odds with the other two women. All three, meanwhile, form complex relationships with Charles Beauregard, a mortal man and British spy.

In coming to review Johnny Alucard, therefore – a book I have been waiting for since the original trilogy was concluded over a decade ago, and a book at least some of whose instalments I had read over the years – I find a challenge. Anno Dracula is, I think, an obvious influence on my own Bookman Histories books (particularly in the mix of real and fictional characters), and so I must try not to discuss the relative merits or otherwise of the novel but rather its theme; what it has to say.

And so with that caveat:

2. The Part About The Review

How does one come to review Johnny Alucard? It is a mosaic novel, composed of various pieces of short and longish fiction which have appeared sporadically over the years, cemented with some new linking material and some unpublished work. Does it work, indeed, as a novel? A fourth novel expanding on the original trilogy that began with Dracula’s rise to power and ends with his death, does it have anything new to say about the curious set-up its author had initially created? And can a novel of popular fiction have anything deep and meaningful to say beyond the joy of escapism?

Initially, one decision I had to make was, do I re-read all the (early) parts I have already read, or do I begin with the new? I opted to read it as a novel, from the beginning. After a new, short introductory section we go straight into Coppola’s Dracula, which re-imagines Dracula being filmed as Apocalypse Now in Transylvania, complete with the real-life actors and situations, and with the dialogue memorably changed. It is the sort of thing one could quote compulsively. Here is the opening shot of this re-imagined film:

A treeline at dusk. Tall, straight, Carpathian pines. The red of sunset bleeds into the dark of night. Great flapping sounds. Huge, dark shapes flit languidly between the trees, sinister, dangerous. A vast batwing brushes the treetops.

Jim Morrison’s voice wails in despair. ‘People Are Strange’.

Fire blossoms. Blue flame, pure as candle light. Black trees are consumed …

Fade to a face, hanging upside-down in the roiling fire.

Harker’s Voice: Wallachia … shit!

 

And so on.

One question that bothered me throughout the novel, which begins to re-imagine Stoker’s Dracula almost compulsively, recursively, like a man picking at scabs, is the relationship between reader, source, and remastered copy. One reason I react so strongly to Coppola’s Dracula is my own obsession with Apocalypse Now (see, for instance, my own The Last Osama) but when Newman, later on, remasters Orson Welles, does my lack of familiarity with the source affect the way I relate to its pastiche? This is where the novel needs must first work on its own, as a stand-alone narrative, before factoring in what it does with popular culture, which is re-imagine, re-mix and re-master it obsessively.

As I began to read, it seemed to me that the novel does hang together, as a novel, though I was initially struggling with the question of what to say.

Here is Kate Reed talking to Francis Coppola, early in the book:

‘He was the monster of monsters. All of the above.’

Francis laughed.

‘You’re thinking of Brando.’

‘After your movie, so will everybody else.’

He was pleased by the thought.

‘I guess they will.’

‘You’re bringing him back. Is that a good idea?’

‘It’s a bit late to raise that.’

‘Seriously, Francis. He’ll never be gone, never be forgotten. But your Dracula will be powerful. In the next valley, people are fighting over the tatters of the old, faded Dracula. What will your Technicolor, 70 mm, Dolby stereo Dracula mean?’

‘Meanings are for the critics.’

Indeed.

3. The Part About Dracula

In the first three books of the series, Dracula is seldom seen directly. He is the shadow, the influence over the world. Anno Dracula ends with a bloated, monstrous Dracula sitting on the throne of England. Charles and Geneviève enter the presence. Assassinating Dracula himself is futile, but they provide Queen Victoria with the means of committing suicide, thereby condemning Dracula (a prince consort, not heir to the throne) to defeat.

That scene is repeated, remixed and changed, in the culmination of Johnny Alucard, a novel which follows Dracula’s heir apparent, the young Johnny Pop or John Alucard as he travels from Transylvania to the New World. First to New York, where he hangs out with Sid Vicious and Andy Warhole, starts the trade in a new drug, Drac, made of vampire blood, survives an assassination attempt and finally arrives in Hollywood, where he becomes (what else) a movie producer. Vampires are glamorous; they enchant, they are the stuff of illusion, of magic; like films. The original Dracula is about sexuality, eroticism in the context of a Victorian society. In Johnny Alucard, Newman again and again tries to re-envision Dracula. There is Coppola’s Dracula. There is Warhol’s Dracula. There is Orson Welles Dracula. There is even Debbie Does Dracula, with Boogie Nights’ Dirk Diggler as Dracula.

If the original Dracula stands for sexual threat and fascination, this Dracula is a multitude of meanings, an image, a Mythago that keeps changing as, indeed, the vampire in popular culture keeps changing, keeps fascinating. And as I read deeper into the book, I began to sense a shape, flittering bat-like through the pages; a certain moral weight, a certain anger, even.

4. The Part About The Money

Stanley Fish, famously, argued that all texts have a “democracy of meaning.” What Newman, in his preoccupation with the meaning of Dracula as symbol, has been doing, is to try and pin down this myth-image while acknowledging that he can’t: not truly.

“In London, he’d been a monster. In Italy, he was a relic. The idea of Dracula, too huge to contain in a human shape, had exploded out through his eyes and mouth.” (p. 405)

What, I’d argue, informs Johnny Alucard far more than the other works referenced throughout its 400-something pages, is another work entirely. Tom Wolfe’s classic 1980s novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, is an indictment of money and the power of money; and it is what Newman is using to talk about our modern era. Dracula is money, the power that corrupts: “He’s a monster,” Kate says to Geneviève, “and we’re the only two left. He owns everyone else.” (ibid)

In the conclusion, which itself echoes and remixes that of Anno Dracula, the count is, literally, made of money. The blood sucker has become the banker, exerting his control by owning all around him. A screenwriter cheated by Alucard attacks him with a knife, echoing the 1888 encounter with the Dracula who ruled Victorian England and yet subverting it:

“Look,” [Kate] said, “he’s bleeding gold.”

Dracula’s shirt parted around the cut, exposing dead white skin. Coins dripped out, pattering onto the floor, spilling around his shoes. He must be wearing a money-vest. Shining gold rolled away from him. The Count laughed… from every gape in his suit, gold spurted, coins in an almost liquid flow… he extended his hands and stood, a fountain of money.” (p. 406)

And of course, the inevitable happens: the gathered guests, the cream and crop of Hollywood, cannot resist. They fall on the money, snatching at coins, scrabbling in the dirt at this new Dracula’s feet.

5. The Part About The Parts

Johnny Alucard is, Frankenstein monster-like, made up of many parts. Some work brilliantly on their own (Coppola’s Dracula) some are mere curiosities (the two appendices), one – “You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings” – seems to end, literally, in mid-air. The send up of charity concerts in A Concert for Transylvania is as good as expected – and so on. “Castle in the Desert”, which sees an ageing Philip Marlowe meeting Geneviève, does not work particularly well on its own, but becomes a pivotal moment in the context of Johnny Alucard, the novel, as Geneviève takes on Marlowe’s mantle spiritually, becoming the (vampire wo)man who must go down these mean streets, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. Some elements don’t work as well as one could hope for – when Newman tries to do natural dialogue (in the voice of an Old West man or black American a-la The Wire – which gets referenced halfway through the book), the effort comes across a little like parody, and Newman is unable to make it sound genuine in the way that Tom Wolfe, in The Bonfire of The Vanity, can – but then again, who can write dialogue like Tom Wolfe? And in the character of Holly, Newman creates an almost super-vampire who resembles too closely Mystique, the shapeshifting superhero from the X-Men, who is then defeated far too easily when the plot eventually calls for it.

But these are minor niggles. With a fifth Anno Dracula book announced, it will be interesting to see where the series heads. Will we once more see the Rise and Fall of Count Dracula? Or will the lead up into our own times merely see him, as seems likely, bailed out by the government?

I was surprised, to an extent, and pleased, to see all the parts coming together into the shambling corpse of a novel (to, again, swap vampires for Frankenstein). The sum is greater than its parts. In the final count, Johnny Alucard returns to moral gravity of The Bloody Red Baron but informed with the sense of lightness of Dracula Cha Cha Cha, and is a circus mirror inversion of Anno Dracula. It is at times a surprisingly angry novel, I think, a surprisingly moral novel which continues, despite the glut in the field, to do something new and fresh with its vampire tropes. I suspect there is a reason Twilight is so successful where Anno Dracula isn’t: Meyer’s vampires return to the core of Dracula, the original novel, which has always been, I think, a novel of romance. For Newman, though, the vampire is never just a vampire: like the zombie or the alien invader it is an often-worn metaphor: for sex, for money, for power, for abuse, for love. In Alucard, more than ever before with the Anno Dracula books, Newman is consistently exploring the image of the King of the Vampires to ask just why Stoker’s lurid Victorian novel continues to exert such a fascination today. And in that, I think, more than any other writer to grapple with the theme, he succeeds.

Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard, by Kim Newman. Titan Books, September 2013. 

The Violent Century Goes to Japan

I’m delighted to say that my forthcoming novel, The Violent Century, has sold to the Japanese publisher Tokyo Sogen. This is very cool news – first, because being published in Japan is awesome, and second, it’s not bad for a book not even published yet! This is the first translation sale for TVC, but I’m told there are others in the works right now. Hodder, meanwhile, are hard at work on finalising the UK cover, so hopefully I’ll have something to share soon.

The Bookman Histories trilogy, meanwhile, will be published in Japan by Hayakawa over the course of 2014, translated byYoshio Kobayashi. I’m very much looking forward to that.

Meanwhile, here’s Alphaville with Big in Japan.

Closing Down the World SF Blog

This is just a quick note, really, to say that after four years, the World SF Blog is ceasing operations and will remain online as an archive and, hopefully, a useful resource for anyone interested in international speculative fiction.

I talk more about it here.

I’ve been planning to do this for some time – I was, in fact, aiming for February (the site’s fourth anniversary) but then they gave me a couple of awards for it, which was very inconvenient!

I kept this low-profile, but have been prepping the site over the past week with front page summary posts, as a large number of hits for the site continue to come from Internet searches for specific topics, and I expect will continue as such.

Note that the World SF Travel Fund continues to operate independently (this year’s recipients are Rochita Loenen-Ruiz from the Philippines and Csilla Kleinheincz from Hungary, who will both be travelling to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in November), and that The Apex Book of World SF 3 has been delivered to the publisher and is currently scheduled for next year.

It’s been fun!

Locus on Martian Sands

Feels more like early Kurt Vonnegut… both writers seem to channel the same prankster glee that covers deep despair. Martian Sands crackles with energy and life while poking at some big questions about the nature of reality.

Which is kinda nice!