current location: Belatedly ex libris
current mood: Literate
A little bit of a catch-up as a couple of these go back almost a month.
Anno Dracula - Dracula, Cha, Cha, Cha, Kim Newman
It's 1959 and the Italian Dolce Vita is watching eagerly as the guests assemble for the wedding of the year - Dracula's marriage to the vampiric Princess Asa Vajda. Also in Rome, watching Dracula in his Italian exile, is Charles Beauregard, the man who thwarted him in Victorian Britain. But Charles is 106 and waiting to die, and not even Geneviève Dieudonné, the love of his life, can persuade him to let her give him the vampiric kiss and bring him over to be one of the undead. Arriving to help Geneviève with Charles' final days is Kate Reed, the vampire journalist whose credentials stretch back to being a prominent part of the resistance to Dracula. And it soon transpires that also in Rome, in fact working as Dracula's chatelaine, is Penelope Churchward, the third of the vampire women in Charles' life.
Reading Newman's notes after completing this, I realised that I had missed a large element of the story. Newman's work as a film critic means he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, and the core motif for Dracula Cha, Cha, Cha is apparently Three Coins in the Fountain, which I'm not certain I've ever seen, with Charles' three women taking the title roles. Of course, that's not the only film motif. The Talented Mr Ripley is contemplating the prospect he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew in trying his games on Dracula's household. Secret agent Hamish Bond is in town, and there are several perfect adaptions of Bond film motifs, though Geneviève finds Bond a pale shadow of her Charles. Drawing on the Italian vampire movie tradition is a major subplot involving Matre Lachrymae, the Mother of Tears, the guardian spirit of Rome, and a series of vampire murders, culminating in one at the wedding itself, and leaving our three protagonists needing to find the real culprit in order to clear Kate, who was caught literally red-handed.
Also included with the package is the novella Aquarius, which is a solo effort for Kate Reed as she is asked by the Diogenes Club to investigate a rare vampiric murder as a favour to Scotland Yard's vampiric B Division. It's easy enough to imagine Jack Regan of the Sweeney as a vampiric cop, but George Dixon of Dock Green?!? Lying close to the root of things is one of the creepiest images of the whole series, amoral secret policeman Caleb Croft turned into an academic of the beat generation, with his own little cult of followers.Anno Dracula - Johnny Alucard, Kim Newman
It's 1976 and Francis Ford Coppola is in Romania to film his Dracula, with Kate Reed as his technical advisor. Vampires are persecuted in Romania as the Transylvania movement is agitating for the creation of a separate Transylvanian state, to be ruled by vampires, of course. When Kate finds a half-starved Romanian Vampire, Ion Popescu, she helps him get a job on the production as a fixer. He thanks her by setting her up for the murder of their Securitate watcher. What Kate didn't realise was that Ion is Dracula's last child.
Having achieved his aim of slipping into the States, Ion Popescu becomes Johnny Pop, master of the disco dance floor, drawing the attention of New York's most famous vampire, Andy Warhol, just as another familiar face, Penelope Churchward decides to move on. Behind the scenes he starts to build his empire, by creating the drug Drac, which gives mortals an all-too-brief experience of vampirism. His New York career is cut short, courtesy of an intersection of the plot of Saturday Night Fever with Taxi Driver, The French Connection, (probably) Shaft, and Scooby Doo.
Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, Geneviève Dieudonné has run into an old PI, taking on one last case. Her help prompts him to suggest she has an eye for it, and she reinvents herself yet again. Things turn ugly when her friends start dying, and she finds herself faced with a tiny blonde cheerleader, convinced that Genè is the fount of all evil. Yes, it's Genèvieve versus Barbie the Vampire Slayer, but there's more to it than just those darn annoying kids, and she quickly finds herself afoul of the new power in the movie business, Johnny Alucard, a man newly arrived from the East Coast and who seems to be financing a surprising number of Dracula films across all sorts of formats.
Having moved on from Andy Warhol, Penelope Churchward has gotten herself a job as an instructor on one of America's most secret projects, teaching America's best to be the best that they can be. Newman claims it's the film he hates above all others, but it's a gesture-perfect evocation of Top Gun, with Penny in the Charley role. Penny's success there prompts Alucard to bring her onboard to coach a protégé of his own.
As the Eighties pass Alucard entrenches himself in Hollywood, the Transylvanian Movement grows stronger. Geneviève reinvents herself as a forensic specialist - Bones, with blood. But in the UK Caleb Croft is back in the secret policeman role he fits best, and Kate is not his favourite person.
The endgame comes with the fall of the Wall. Alucard proposes that he should stage the Anno Dracula version of Liveaid, but this time the beneficiary is Transylvania, and the concert is the cover for a coup. The Transylvanian Movement just don't realise whose coup it actually is.
Structurally this is very difficult to review, it covers fifteen years in the character's lives, and it does it via a series of self-contained novellas. Geneviève the PI and Geneviève as Doctor Dee, the forensics specialist, I'd happily read far more of, or watch the TV series, but Kate's story is harsher, and the reality is that both our running protagonists spend the entire book being persecuted for their earlier interactions with Dracula, while all the while Alucard grows in power.
Apparently a fifth book is contracted, which is just as well, because this one ends with evil triumphant.The Course of Empire, Eric Flint and K D Wentworth
The 'course of empire' here seems to be a descendant of the old Roman 'Cursus Honorum', the path of offices that would take a young Roman from his first position to dictator. Junior Jao leader Aille arrives on Earth for his first posting. He is literally marked for great things, the once in a generation hope of one of the leading clans of the Jao. But the occupation of Earth isn't going well, 20 years after the conquest there is still resistance, and Governor Oppuk, once the great hope of his own clan, the traditional mailed fist antithesis of Aille's clan of elegant plotters, is regularly driven to furious retribution by Humanity's refusal to accept that the Jao way is better.
Aille steps into his waiting slot as second in command of the human Jinau troops, which is roughly equivalent to sending someone fresh out of Sandhurst/West Point to command all forces in Afghanistant. But Aille has been sent to learn, and as he doesn't have any staff beyond his personal tutor in the art of command, he sets about creating one from people who have things to teach him, picking up a technocrat here, a potential bodyguard there. And scandalously he doesn't restrict himself to only Jao, drafting the hyper-competent Jinao general Ed Kransky, Caitlin Stockwell, hostage daughter of the puppet president of the US, (also the one human who truly understands the Jinau's postural sub-language, though she lacks the ears to be truly fluent) and Pfc Gabe Tully, a resistance plant in the Jinau, who can't decide whether to kill himself now before the interrogation starts, or if he's fallen into an incredible intelligence gathering opportunity.
Initially the game plays out as a dance between Aille and Governor Oppuk, each trying to lure the other into a mis-step, but Aille keeps raising the stakes, and then the stakes are taken out of their hands entirely as the Ekhat, the legendary world-scouring xenophobes for whom the Jao themselves were once Jinau, announce their arrival in the solar system. Humanity thought they were just a Jao bogeyman, meant to scare them and justify the occupation, but now they're here, and Oppuk's response is to abandon the humans in favour of a last stand in space. Aille has different ideas.
I started reading snippets of the later books in the series online, and went looking for the earlier ones, and it turns out the first one is actually free at Amazon, so if military SF is your thing, or for that matter alien societies with some nicely observed non-human edges, then this may be worth a look.
Blunt Force, K B Spangler
The fourth Rachel Peng technothriller, the novel series spun off from Spangler's 'A Girl and Her Fed' webcomic. Two years ago, in the first of the series, Digital Divide, OACET Special Agent Rachel Peng, the cyborg liaison to the DC MPD, allowed psychopathic murderer Jonathan Glazer to escape from custody. She had a good reason, he was going to escape whatever she did, he really was that competent, and her way meant he did it without killing anyone, and paid his debt with enough information to prevent OACET being wound up by Congress and the cyborgs drafted into the military. Now Glazer is standing at her front fence, wearing a dead friend's face, and telling her he has been sent to help her, because another move against OACET has been set in motion.
What that move is soon becomes clear as Rachel finds out Hope Blackwell and Avery Hill have been kidnapped. Whoever kidnapped Hope (aka 'the Girl') is riding the tiger, because she's one of the top ten judoka on the planet, and has anger management issues (plus her husband is Pat Mulcahy, aka 'the Fed', director of OACET, who was lethally dangerous even before he was a cyborg). But Avery is Hope and Rachel's honorary niece, and she's two. The game becomes a little clearer, and a lot murkier, when the kidnappers make themselves known. They're a militia, one focussed on the bizarre political world of the US sovereign citizen movement, and their leader has a little problem he'd like Mulcahy's help with. So it's a standoff, and if some of the militia were hoping for something a little Ruby Ridge or Waco, what they actually get is Josh Glassman, Mulcahy's deputy, a man who can turn anything into a party, even a siege.
Thanks to Glazer's reappearance as Marshall Wyatt, the cyborgs know there's a deeper game, but they don't know who the enemy is, or what their end game is, and explaining just why Glazer/Wyatt is helping means Rachel needs to 'fess up to the whole letting-him-escape thing, which causes some major soul-searching among her bosses and the rest of the cyborg collective. But they need Rachel, she's their best investigator, particularly when backed by her MPD team, their best bet of figuring out what the endgame is before the endgame happens to them. And all the while the clock is ticking, because Hope is off her meds, and eventually her judgement will go and she'll push the militia further than they can tolerate*.
Beneath all the technothriller edges, there's a solid political thriller here, one rooted in the story of OACET and its creation and continued existence, and a disturbing dive into the worldview of the militias. While lurking in the background, 'helping' is Glazer/Wyatt, whose 'help' is likely part of an even deeper game.
I thought this had one or two slightly rough edges, I'd personally have done without chapter one, which is in a different viewpoint, but I still consumed it in a single sitting and Rachel remains one of my favourite characters in contemporary fiction.
* Even with her judgement intact Hope is still regularly beating up her guards, even while duct-taped to a chair. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was going on. Her explanation is "Martial artist tricks", but there's a side of the Girl and Her Fed universe, Hope's side, that the technothrillers don't address.Up Next
I've got some beta reading to do, not sure what comes after that.
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