Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

God Emperor of Dune (1981)

Author: Frank Herbert  |  Page Count: 454

'To those who dare ask why I behave as I do, I say: With my memories, I can do nothing else. I am not a coward and once I was human.'
-The Stolen Journals of Leto II

Book IV ventures further down unpredictable avenues, more so even than the reversal of reader expectations that was Book II. Whereas the previous volumes each had identifiable influences, actions reminiscent of classic tales (Muad'dib as Aeneas, etc), God Emperor isn't so easily relatable. It stands apart, exploring the mind of a man become a god—changed in more than just the figurative sense.

Leto II's current condition grants him an insight into the human condition that had never existed before. It also paradoxically distances him from fully empathising with the people he's closest to. Empathy is a process dependent on memory. Being Atreides means Leto has access to an almost infinite store of memories from countless lives but they're each shaped by the era in which they were formed. His only experience of a society held in the grip of a God Emperor for millennia is from the side of the ruler, not the ruled. His outlook is invaluable but one-sided.

Arrakis is changed, too. No longer just a place to train the faithful, it's the predicted centre of the universe. The Bene Gesserit, Guild and Ixians are diminished but still around, slaves to the planet's resources, biding their time.

It's impossible to know for sure but I suspect the voice of the author is split between at least two of the main characters. With his knowledge of atavistic characteristics and myth structures Leto is, of course, one of them. Using the poetic or prosaic as the situation demands; teaching on an active level, not through repetition; forcing the listener (and reader) to apply what they know as fact and extrapolate into the equation what they think they know in order to fully understand the lesson is an idealised version of an author/ teacher.

As usual, the introduction to each chapter is a commentary on more than just the individual parts, extending instead to the whole. You should also have recognised by now how Frank orchestrates situations for the sequels to follow up on. God Emperor delivers on that. It has a proper ending so you can stop the series afterwards if you want to, but there's still more to the story of Arrakis.

5 reassuring dimensions out of 5

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Toy Instruments: Design, Nostalgia, Music (2010)

Author: Eric Schneider  |  Page Count: 192

It makes me see angels, drifting through space, touching the stars and bringing the light.  Just with one finger.’

You can’t put a price on the warm, fuzzy feeling that accompanies nostalgia. It’s like an all-singing, all-dancing ferret has crawled inside you (a supernatural ferret, let’s be clear on that), but in publishing you can put a price on a picture book designed to encapsulate and encourage the ferret. In the case of Toy Instruments it's an extortionate one. RRP is £13.95 for a 16.5 x 16.5 cm HB book with content that’s ninety-nine percent pictures. I paid 99p in a clearance sale, but for what it’s worth I sincerely hope Eric Schneider still gets his percentage.

As the titles suggests, its focus is instruments from a bygone era that were targeted at children. If you had a toy that went plink-plink, peep-peep and maybe even ting-ting then you might find it displayed within the thick, quality pages. I got lucky at the starting gate, having owned a little wooden piano like the one featured; it was the same colour and even had scuff marks in the same places!

The items aren't the only attraction. Often they pale when next to the treasure for the eyes that is box art. Many of the products are from China and Japan and even back then their box art was the best! But was it really necessary to crop the pictures to fit the square format? Wouldn't it have been better to show, oh, I don’t know, the entire box that each toy came in? A crazy idea, huh?

The change from a traditional wooden styling to bulky electronic to branded plastic tat that made you sound like a voice from beyond the grave or Optimus Prime's weaker brother with a robotic bronchial infection offers a fascinating glimpse into the attitudes of toy makers in each distinctive era.

Brief captions below images give the manufacturer’s name, the item’s full name, date of release and country of origin where known, but some of the text is difficult to read being white on 70s gray, orange and pink backgrounds.

It's not something that many people will reread, but like I said at the beginning it warms the cockles, so it has merit outside of its presentation and those feelings may well encourage some folks to at least revisit its charms from time to time.

2½ battery powered sonic strings out of 5

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Clive Barker's Nightbreed: Volume 1 (2015)

Authors: Clive Barker / Marc Andreyko  |  Illustrator: Piotr Kowalski  |  Page Count: 112

"Midian calls to all of her children. No matter where we are..."

Given the choice, I’d rather have had a sequel novel than a prequel comic book, but a comic version of Nightbreed that's canon is better than nothing at all, I guess.

It’s a story set in the present, broken periodically with flashbacks to years before. To confuse matters, the 'present' is the year the film is set, so, yes, you'll need to have viewed the film prior to reading, and the flashbacks are from a number of different perspectives, each one telling the story of how a particular member of the collective lived prior to finding the safety of Midian.

I had a secret hope that the series would do what the film failed to do: flesh out the inner-workings of Midian and deepen the concerns of the creatures, warts and all beyond just: we may be ugly on the outside but humans are morally uglier on the inside. With that in mind, it begins badly. Presenting Peloquin as a kind of monstrous version of Wolverine was worrying. Thankfully, his story is just one of many spread out over the years with each era given its own visual look.

The histories continue in a similarly bland fashion until the end of issue three. Without going into detail, an unexpected element is introduced that may (fingers firmly crossed) turn out to be a pivotal happening further down the line. There are a number of different routes it could take and I'm guessing that most—if not all—of them end in bloodshed. The only question is whose blood; Natural or Nightbreed?

The cover art by Riley Rossmo is excellent but misleading. Only about half of those shown actually feature in the first volume. I didn't feel cheated because squeezing any more in would've made the story seem even more piecemeal than it already is, but it's worth mentioning, nonetheless, in case one of those pictured is your favourite and you were really hoping to find them inside.

The book collects together Clive Barker's Nightbreed issues 1-4 (of 12).

2½ learned behaviours out of 5

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Sandman Presents: Petrefax (2000)

Author: Mike Carey  |  Illustrator: Steve Leialoha  |  Page Count: 88 (22 x 4)

"I had fallen in love with a dead woman.
I asked myself if this was irony or merely an occupational hazard..."

A four issue miniseries that follows Petrefax, the apprentice undertaker from the necropolis Litharge, who first appeared in The Sandman: Vol VIII: Worlds' End (1994).  He's now a journeyman, seeking life experience in the wider, weirder world.  His travels take him to the bustling Malegrise, a place that brings to mind England of centuries gone by; the biggest difference being that 18th Century England wasn't home to sorcerers and demons (as far as we know).

I'm glad it was Carey that was given the job of writing the miniseries.  It suits his talents perfectly.  He was sole author of the ongoing Lucifer series at the same time Petrefax was published, but there's no evidence that he was stretching himself too thin.  In fact, the reverse seems to be the case.  He must've been on a creative high, because both works are excellent.

It's not just the undertaker's tale.  It's also the story of the people he meets, among them a spirited, overconfident, beautiful woman and a vulgar, powerful Lord.  Each one adds something unique to an adventure filled with death, love, jealousy, problem-solving, stupidity, surreptitious behaviour and much more.

Text boxes take the form of an ongoing letter penned by Petrefax and addressed to his master, Klaproth, the man, you may remember, to whom he was apprenticed in Litharge.  It’s both a commentary on events from the journeyman’s own point of view and an insight into his thought process.  As such, it's safe to assume one of two things: that for Petrefax the story has already ended and we’re reading about it afterwards, or that the meeting of present happenings (image) and future reflection (words) passed onto the reader is simply a literary device giving us a fuller picture with the added benefit of hindsight, something that was denied the protagonists at the time.

4 funerary arts out of 5