hellstarHorror and science fiction are the two genres that forked away from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. That story contained elements of both, but the forward-thinking optimism of science fiction warred against the regressive atavism of horror, and the styles went their separate ways.

Some artists have wondered whether the genres are destined to combine again someday. What if the end product of science is horror? What if our increasing body of scientific knowledge is a Malthusian trap destined to destroy us? Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium at the turn of the century. They thought they had found something benign and interesting – further developments produced a weapon that blasted 200,000 people to dust. We now live in an age of robotics and genomics – many dice are in the air, and who knows where they’ll land. While we wait, we might get a forewarning in the form of art. Certainly Frankenstein seems to have predicted a few things.

Hellstar Remina is a one-volume manga that Junji Ito created in 2006 that serves as a marriage of science fiction and horror set in a near-future earth. A strange planet has been discovered in the night sky, and it is on collision course with Earth. As panicking mobs tear cities apart, a group of people make a stand against the cosmic darkness filling the sky and the man-made darkness engulfing the the world below.

Remina isn’t as scary as Uzumaki or as revolting as Gyo, but it moves at a blistering pace, and if the story’s developments sometimes don’t make sense, at least you’re not given enough time to think about them. Without exaggerating, as much happens in Remina‘s one volume as happens in Uzumaki‘s three. Impressively, character development isn’t totally perfunctory, with a lot of cultists and greedy industrialists and whatnot. The end of the world means an end to consequences, and Ito documents mankind’s pathology to the full.

Remina is Ito’s most advanced work from an artistic standpoint. Buildings topple like dominoes, blast overpressure waves scatter crowds of people, and tsunamis engulf landscapes. There’s so much complicated and difficult art here, and all of it is rendered in Ito’s signature “organic” style. You’re a little scared to touch this guy’s drawings, his linework seems to be made of squirming bacteria rather than ink.

The bonus story “Army of One” is a welcome addition to the volume. A mysterious lunatic is stitching dead bodies together, and to make it worse. Very spooky and cool. Don’t waste time thinking about the ending – obviously not even Ito knows what it means.

Ito is a fan of sci-fi from way back…I’ve heard that his first creative effort was an abandoned SF novel in the style of Sakyo Komatsu. Hellstar Remina isn’t his best work, but it’s arguably the last 100% good thing he did for his fans, and a crazy ride to remember by any standard. Ito would soon lose his fastball and start creating boring Ray Bradbury ripoffs like Black Paradox. But for now, doomsday looms.

No Comments »

Church Of RaismThis is an album by Creation Books founder James Williamson under his pen name James Havoc (the guy who gets killed and brought back to life every time there’s a cash cow to milk). It is based on Raism, a rather extreme novella written in chaotic pseudoprose, and Church of Raism aims to be music to the same effect. It aims, but doesn’t hit.

Church of Raism only wants to be irritating noise, but James Havoc isn’t good enough at making irritating noise. Chaos can be interesting if it’s controlled chaos (a paradox?) – marshalled and micromanaged by an expert. This, unfortunately, is the other sort: a person who lacks talent and thinks impulsive spasms of creativity are a substitute.

“Death to Pussycat” sets the tone, dissonant rhythms snaking out of a sea of fuzz and what sounds like a Donald Duck cartoon. “Caustic Descent” has Havoc reading some of his writing (“an anal pact with demons…”) in the voice of a page boy who has been lectured to mind his manners, and the effect is unintentionally comic.

“Night Scar” has female vox and acoustic guitar playing and lots of distorted noise – if you liked the early White Zombie albums you’d dig parts of this, it’s definitely influenced by 80s noise rock. The other songs stick to a similar formula: destructive noise juxtaposed with spoken word sections and incongruous shards of melody.

There’s not much thought put into anything here, that’s my principle complaint. Everything sounds random and witless. There will shortly be computer algorithms capable of making albums like Church of Raism. This isn’t a horrifying look into the mind of a madman. It’s a horrifying look into the mind of someone fiddling with discount recording gear he bought at Fisher and Paykel.

The final song is “Ditchfinder”. “The cunt of the night is bled into my mouth…” oh, shut up. 11 minutes? Seriously? I have to listen to this for 11 minutes? Can’t I go outside and be a productive citizen?

Havoc is a far better writer than he is a musician. In print, he is often forceful and disturbing. In audio, he sounds more like a child let loose at a mixing desk. Havoc was “in tight” with a few big boys in the UK indie scene – Primal Scream and Creation Records’ Alan McGee – and Church of Raism probably got more of a push than it was intended to get.

These days, the internet has restored it to its rightful place in the food chain: an EP-length musical experiment that Creation fans will check out once and will maybe check out twice but will probably not check out a third time.

No Comments »

41BAsDqGbsLWhen reading a favoured author I feel a sensation of comfy familiarity – like I’m putting on much-worn, much-loved jacket. I don’t think I’d ever feel that about Dennis Cooper, even if he did become a favoured author. This is a collection of short prose pieces that can’t really be classified at all. The style and format changes constantly. Some pieces are short stories, others take the format of conversations or letters, others are metafictional and are presented via transcribed live performances, etc.

The book ends with an interview with the author and a list of his influences. This reads not as an afterword but as a continuation of the rest of the book. No doubt if he’d included his grocery list, it would also have seemed like a part of the book.

The quality is as unpredictable as the writing, but there are two very good moments in this collection. The first one is “The Guro Artist”, about a pederastic lunatic who kidnaps a boy with “an ass too exquisite to waste its whole life squeezing out shits” and surgically remakes him into a living anime character. It goes for only three pages but is as disturbing and horrible as anything I’ve read.

Following straight after is “The Anal-Retentive Line Editor” a series of letters to a gay erotica writer from a magazine editor from hell (or maybe Sodom). (“…my big dick [Bland, de rigueur. Perhaps ‘gigantic,’ ‘monster,’ ‘humongous’? You could also indicate whether it is circumcised or not. Is the dick leaking seminal fluid? If so, that would add some pizzazz]“). One of the longest things in the book but far and away the funniest.

The other stories I can take or leave. A comparison to Burroughs seems obligatory, but only because of the gay sex – the actual prose is more redolent of authors like Palahniuk. There’s some disquietening stuff in here, but much of it is adulterated with comedy, and your default expression while reading is one of amused horror.

“Ugly Man” is about a man with a debilitating disease that renders him hideous to the eye. He copes by sleeping with lots of male prostitutes. “The Brainiacs” is about a kid deciding to become a terrorist. Being a jihadist on a holy war doesn’t make you immune from being a loser who gets picked on.

The longer works, “Anal-Retentive” aside, are not very interesting. The opening story “Jerk” feels like reading Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, a basic idea made into a very long tale, and your boredom rises with the body count. “Oliver Twink” is the same. It occupies a ton of pages and doesn’t really pay for its keep. “Three Boys Who Thought Experimental Fiction Was For Pussies” has lots of gay innuendo, but I found it boring.

If you want good, discerning fiction…well, I’m afraid Dennis Cooper doesn’t much care what you want. This collection is what it is. There are no rules, and no limits. Reading it makes me feel like a windcock blown every way but loose.

No Comments »