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science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else. often, though not always, discussed in relation to gender identity and (a)sexuality.

Currently reading

Boystown 11: Heart's Desire
Marshall Thornton
Progress: 57 %

Heart's Desire - Reading progress update: I've read 58%.

Boystown 11: Heart's Desire - Marshall Thornton

Something's really bugging me here: Nick's got shot in the shoulder in the last installment. His shoulderblade is still healing, so he's carrying his right arm in a sling. And he's driving all around Chicago like that, with only his left arm free. I mean, that could actually work with an automatic? Never driven an automatic in my life. Never seen one from the inside, come to think of it. But it still seems rather unsafe.

John le Carré - The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carré

Then nothing happened for five weeks.


That‘s how reading this book felt like; except that actually a lot of things happen, but they just go on and on and on…


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was confined to English offices and the British soil. In The Honourable Schoolboy, le Carré sends his readers and the „schoolboy“ in question, fieldman Jerry Westerby, on a tour de force through Southeast Asia. A mysterious trail of money leads from Hong Kong back to Smiley‘s nemesis Karla, and to another of his moles somewhere in mainland China. It‘s Jerry‘s task to shake the tree, cause some panic, and draw out the mole. At least I think that’s what happens, because the plot fades into the background here, building the mere canvas on which le Carré paints his picture of the British colonies during the Empire's dying breath, during the last days of the Vietnam war.


That‘s all very interesting and riveting, but goes on for about 200 pages too long, and is spoiled by two of the Most Insufferable Protagonists of Spy Fiction Ever: Peter Guillam and the Honourable Gerald Westerby. Guillam, the 40-year-old man showing all the maturity of a 20-year-old boy, with his fawning over Smiley and his spurned-lover‘s act when George doesn‘t let him in on his secrets, quickly got on my nerves. And Jerry Westerby – well, le Carré‘s characters share a certain pathetic quality, but Westerby sure wins the coconut. Right at the beginning of the book we meet him when he contemplates having sex with a woman because she reminds him of his estranged daughter. Err – yeah, not exactly the kind of guy I want to spend 600 pages with. This Jerry Westerby, this failure on all levels, this dilapidated fieldman, a newshound who owes his job to his influential father, a guy who can‘t keep a marriage running for more than a few month, this absolute Loser with a capital L – is actually a fitting character to carry the second half of the book. Because he‘s an idiot. A smart man would have done the job and gone home, leaving us with only half the story. Unfortunately, le Carré seems so in love with his creation that he keeps Westerby bumbling around for much longer than necessary. Nevertheless, and although the ending was quite inevitable, I felt a bit sorry for him at long least. Well plaid, le Carré, well plaid.


Although being spy-fiction, not noir, this was quite a fitting start for Noirvember; Jerry's fate carries a certain noir-quality, femme fatale and all. It also contains one of my favourite character descriptions: a tweedy and opinionated Scot.


Favourite quote:

"It's the Cousins," Guillam said gently. "About Brother Ricardo, your favourite pilot. They want to meet with you at the Annexe as soon as possible. I'm to ring back by yesterday."

"They want what?"

"To meet you. But they use the preposition."

"Do they? Do they really? Good Lord. I suppose it's the German influence. Or it is old English? Meet with. Well I must say." And he lumbered off to his bathroom to shave.

Muse - Pressure


"Simulation Theory" is out today, making Muse the third of my three favourite bands to publish an album this year, after the Editors and Get Well Soon. I didn't yet have the time to watch all eleven (!) music videos they put out for this, but here's one of them - an uncharacteristically uplifting tune.

The Honourable Schoolboy - Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carré

Holy fuck, I'm finished!

And now I'm even feeling sad for a character I spent about 6.000 pages detesting.

The Honourable Schoolboy - Reading progress update: I've read 70%.

The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carré

This book is doomed. I read and read and read and still it feels like I'm not making any progress... It's supposed to be ~600 pages, but it feels much longer.

You Know How the Story Goes, Zombies in Chapter Six and Good, Old Shirley Jackson


Thomas Olde Heuvelt: You Know How the Story Goes - **

It’s the same old story. Take a chance and pick up a hitchhiker. But only after midnight and only when you need some company. Of course, the hitchhiker will disappear. That’s the way the story goes, right? But this time you are the hitchhiker. And there’s a tunnel up ahead.


Heuvelt tries to put a modern spin to a classic urban legend. It works quite well, but goes on a bit too long to be effective. And, okay, that's my personal quirk, but I really prefer my stories without gratuitous violence against animals. Even my horror stories.


Stephen Graham Jones: Chapter Six - ****

“Chapter Six,” by Stephen Graham Jones, is an anthropological zombie story about Crain, a grad student, who has a theory of mankind’s evolution. As he and his former professor scavenge on bone marrow left behind by the local zombie horde, he makes his well-reasoned argument.


Evil genius SGJ strikes again and follows two anthropologists trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Needless to say, you'd probably be better off with the zombies than with the academics.


Shirley Jackson - The Lottery - ****

You know this one, don't you? If you haven't read it, you've certainly heard about it. I'd heard lots about it, heard it told even, but never actually read it for myself. And yes, it's effective. Knowing the ending doesn't release any of the tension. Quite the opposite in fact.

Jackson clearly served as inspiration for Stefan Kisbye and his Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, my first book this month. And with that, the circle's closed.


Though no horror story beats starting your Halloween day with having to tear down half the kitchen to clean out mill moths. They'd build their nest behind one cupboard, getting to it was a real pain. Thankfully it was mostly eggs, not many maggots yet, but still - ugh! 

I don't know why they chose my kitchen, I hardly keep any food around. Poor fuckers started to chew holes in the cupboard for lack of anything else to eat. (No, I actually know how they got in - with a package of nuts and raisins. Ugh, again.)


Anyway, happy Halloween!

Sympathy for the Spider – Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s SPIDERLIGHT

Spiderlight - Adrian Tchaikovsky

A priest, a mage, a knight, a warrior, a thief, and a giant spider walk into a bar…


Tchaikovsky‘s Clarke Award-winning novel Children of Time (2015) already offered a fascinating glimpse into the arachnid mind – and went a long way to turn me from total arachnophobe into someone who still not really likes, but can at least appreciate spiders from afar. In Spiderlight (2016), the rare beast of a fantasy stand-alone novel, Tchaikovsky returns to eight-legged goodness. Not quite coincidentally, I read it in the same week Doctor Who brought us Spiders in the UK. I mean, what’s more fitting for Halloween than big, hairy, awfully fast spiders?


On first glance, Spiderlight is your typical D&D quest: the aforementioned assembly of rogues, warriors of the Light, follow a prophecy to bring down a Dark Lord. The prophecy leads them to Nth, the giant spider in question, who becomes their unwilling scout. Forcefully turned into a man, or at least into something vaguely resembling a man, he has to learn what it means to be human. The little band is guided by the Light of Armes, some bloke who went to become a god, dividing creation into creatures of the Light – humans – and creatures of the Dark – everyone else - with the Dark’s sole purpose being to be slain by the Light, because Light is better than Dark. Lovely fellow, this Armes, eh?


Tchaikovsky uses this set-up to thoroughly examine and subvert some of the more questionable fantasy tropes. On their journey into the Heart of Darkness our heroes reveal their motives and ever more of their personality - and don't appear all that heroic all of a sudden. Heart and soul of the narrative is Nth, whose abominable treatment poses a few uncomfortable questions about consent, about the means justifying an end, and puts a taint on all that Light.

Of course, subverting tropes has become a trope in itself by now, so the story’s not entirely new. But Tchaikovsky plays it well, tongue firmly in cheek, and with a palpable love for RPG. He manages to hold a fine balance between hilarious and gut-wrenchingly sad, light-hearted and heavy, Light and Dark… (sorry, couldn’t resist). The book’s a real page-turner, to boot. I finished it in just three days.


Recommended, even for people like me, who never quite got the fascination of D&D.


Folks, I need a break from book-related social media.


Booklikes is pleasantly free from authors being assholes. Other media unfortunately isn't. I'm seeing authors directing so much scorn, so much vitriol against readers - against the very people who pay them, against people who passionately talk about their works, who take the time and effort to think about books, engage with them and write reviews, and yes, who sometimes passionately hate books, but even that helps with creating interest - so much vitriol, it's putting a real damper in my mood. I'm simply not inclined to review anything at the moment.


I need to disengage myself for a while. (I also need to go through my TBR, weed out the assholes and keep the ones worth reading.)


So long.


Short update: As I just learned, apparently publishers still have a business sense and lashing out at consumers can actually get you fired. And yes, it's peak petty, but I can't deny I'm laughing. Nice to see that "Don't bite the hand that feeds you" still applies.

The Night Cyclist - Stephen Graham Jones

The Night Cyclist - Stephen Graham Jones

 There must be no compulsion to hide the bodies. Otherwise I'd have never found them.


A middle-aged chef cycles home from work at night, every night. One early morning, he finds a couple of corpses. The next night, he meets a stranger, clad all in black, with a bike long out of date, and wicked fast - the night cyclist.


SGJ is one mad, bad-ass wizard. This short story is brilliantly executed, impeccably structured, and using the perfect voice.

Read it for yourself here.

Hemmersmoor / Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone - Stefan Kiesbye

Hemmersmoor - Stefan Kiesbye Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (Paperback) - Common - By (author) Stefan Kiesbye

Marienwürmchen, flieg heim, flieg heim! Dein Häuschen brennt! Die Kinder schrein!

(Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children all gone.)


This pesky old nursery rhyme combines the sweetest melody with tales of greatest horror. In German, there are about a trazillion different versions², most of them referring to some war or the other - the 30 Years‘ War? The Seven Years‘ War? Historians are squabbling. Some sing about lady bugs, some about cockchafers³, but no matter the version, two facts remain: 1) the family the song refers to is very much dead. 2) The song is quintessentially German in origin. Wilhelm Grimm quoted one version of it for the German folk and children‘s song collection „Des Knaben Wunderhorn“. What better reference to use for tales of German small town horror? Tales inspired by the darkest, the most unsettling fairy-tales the Brothers Grimm collected?


Stefan Kiesbye leads us to the (fictional) village of Hemmersmoor in the Teufelsmoor (Devil‘s Moor, although the name is supposed to come from the old German doofes Moor, taubes Moor = deaf moor). Hemmersmoor seems strangely removed from the rest of the world, fallen out of time. Christian, Martin, Anke and Linde are our four first person narrators, children growing up in an atmosphere of superstition and gossip, peer pressure and casual violence. This is told about in short stories, separate but interconnected.

Just like the old nursery rhyme gains its unsettling quality through the dissonance between sweet melody and gruesome content, Kiesbye‘s stories gain their horror through their dispassionate, almost flat tone of voice. The darkness is nothing unfamiliar in Hemmersmoor, it‘s nothing remarkable; it‘s a part of everyday life, hardly noticed and soon forgotten. The nonchalance shown by our narrators while committing the most hideous acts quite literally made my blood curdle. The first two stories seem especially violent and frightening. After that the tone is set, the following crimes seem not nearly as outrageous. But the horror stays there, unrelenting, chewing away at you, never letting go. Making you shudder. I found the last story to be the creepiest of all: it‘s so easy not to see, it‘s so easy to forget…


Soundtrack: Tom Waits used the line „Your house is on fire, your children are alone“ for his song „Jacket Full of Bourbon“. But I‘m going with my favourite band this time, Get Well Soon and „The Only Thing We Have to Fear“.


²The probably best known version containing the lines “Vater ist in Pommerland, Pommerland ist abgebrannt.”

³Seriously? That’s what you call poor Maikäfer in English?

Nobel-o-Mat: Wem würdest du den Literatur-Nobelpreis geben?

Was für die deutschsprachigen Follower hier: Der Nobel-o-Mat von Zeit Online.


Mein Ergebnis: Reizt mich ehrlich gesagt so gar nicht. Und was zum Henker ist "Urlaub"?



Hemmersmoor / Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone - Reading progress update: I've read 37 out of 208 pages.

Hemmersmoor - Stefan Kiesbye Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (Paperback) - Common - By (author) Stefan Kiesbye



What. The. Fuck?

The Honourable Schoolboy - Reading progress update: I've read 52%.

The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carré

I've finally made it to the half-way mark - my slow progress is no fault of the book, I was otherwise occupied and work is really getting in the way of my reading.

This is also the start of the second big part, which, as I'm told, is quite different from the first and takes us away from Smiley and Guillam. So, a perfect time to put this aside for a bit and venture into my Halloween reading! And maybe to finally finish a book again.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carré

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carré

John le Carré has crafted a spy-thriller that gains its thrill exclusively from a psychological battle of wits between its main characters. Instead of action, stirred Martinis and shaken dames, we get George Smiley rifling through old files and interrogating people. Le Carré‘s spies are no glorious heroes flitting from adventure to adventure. They‘re ageing, downtrodden men – on the one hand deciding about the fate of the world and often about life and death, on the other hand being subjected to the same pathetic little whims and emotions like everybody else. And lonely. They are all so very lonely.

In the end, I couldn't even spare some anger for the mole and his political betrayal. His motives seemed just too pathetic. The personal betrayal hit far harder. Betrayal is the big, black spider at the core of this book, personal and professional alike. Ann betrays Smiley, Smiley betrays himself by telling Karla a bit too much about his relationship to Ann, Guillam feels betrayed, Jim probably suffers the hardest blow… and so it goes on.


Around this big, black spider of betrayal le Carré has woven an intricate, complex web. Entangling it demands full concentration (more concentration than I was capable of while reading this book). I‘d seen the film, I‘d seen the BBC adaption, and still I felt lost sometimes. I needed quite some time to get used to le Carré’s prose, too. But after a while I started to enjoy his way with words and the undeniable Britishness emanating from the pages.


A lack of action does by no means equal a lack of tension. There are some gripping moments, e.g. when Guillam tries to steal some files from the archive – that was one of my favourite moments from the film and one of the best scenes in the book as well.


Although they are such pathetic creatures, le Carré manages to arouse sympathy for his protagonists. His antagonists remain thoroughly unlikeable. And that‘s my main point of critique: I never quite understood why everyone seemed so enamoured with and charmed by our mole, I never got how he gained such loyalty, because he was shown as an all around unpleasant person. I‘d wished for a better rounded character development for the other antagonists, too.


By the by: Although the book describes him quite differently, and Alec Guinness‘ delivered a top-notch performance in the BBC adaption, Smiley will always look like Gary Oldman to me. And it was just a strike of genius to cast Tom Hardy as Ricky Tarr. They've changed Guillam‘s character quite a lot for the film, though – I‘m not talking about the fact they made him gay; film-Guillam shows little resemblance to book-Guillam at all.

The Honourable Schoolboy - Reading progress update: I've read 15%.

The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carré

Guillam was exhausted. Forty is a difficult age at which to stay awake, he decided. At twenty or at sixty the body knows what it's about, but forty is an adolescence where one sleeps to grow up or to stay young.


Yeah, well,... that would actually explain a lot. *yawns*


Seriously though, it's kinda nice to read a book where a forty year old character is considered young for a change, and not an old fart with one leg in his grave.

Then again, Guillam is male. No idea if le Carré would extend the same courtesy to a female character.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Reading progress update: I've read 82%.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carré

Jim, Jim, Jim. You seem like a really great fellow, but you have an extraordinary bad taste in partners.