Two books that couldn’t have been further apart in style…

Swastika Night

Since I first heard about this book last summer I’ve been meaning to track it down and get down to the serious business of reading yet another crushingly depressing dystopian novel. Well, I finally got round to it this week and I have to say – it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for this one.

Katharine Burdekin (the author) has had the bad luck of being quietly re-homed in the furthest corners of yer great uncle’s attic. She’s probably languishing in the library basement as we speak, working out her next master-plan to dodge the annual “clear out anything that hasn’t been borrowed – we’re doing a booksale” weeding frenzy.

Publishing under the pseudonym “Murray Constantine”, Katherine explores many of the themes that are commonly found in the dystopian genre. Amongst other things, she delivers a frightening picture of a world where women are regarded as “lower than the worm”, have no rights over either their body or their mind, are separated from the male population, stripped of all femininity and treated as chattel.

Several critics and academics have likened this book to Orwell’s 1984, published a decade later. Having read and enjoyed both I would say that it is no leap of the imagination to speculate on Orwell’s various inspirations. Add to this, the fact that Katherine herself is an interesting figure who probably deserves to be more widely recognised for her literary contribution to feminism and gender roles (her 1934 novel Proud Man critisises gender roles by using a hermaphrodite visitor from the future).

If you would like to read a bit more about this book from someone more eloquent than I, check out this 2009 Guardian Review by Darragh MacManus

A Message from the Slave State

I tea-leafed this from my good friend and speculative bookshop counterpart last week and sped through it in about a day. Now, that’s not to say that this is an easy read – it certainly isn’t – but its pace seems so familiar to everyday speech and “Scottish-isms”, with quick to-the-point dialogue and blunt descriptions of often pretty ghoulish acts, that you can pretty much just sit back and sook up the grim characters.

Written by Chris Kelso, A.M.S.S. is sort of an action thriller, sort of a revenge story but also sort of an excuse to plitter around in the restricted grounds (due to excessive bio-hazards) of someone else’s mind. If you are of a sensitive nature I would not recommend this book. The characters are awful people… and I don’t mean in the way that Charlie from High Fidelity is awful. Kelso depicts almost everyone – man, woman and child – as one or more of the following; misogynistic, misandristic, violent, sociopathic, or just downright grim. Basically, if you saw any of these people on a busy, well-lit, main street – you’d still avoid eye-contact.

Dark and witty, this is the kind of book that will have you scanning back over the last paragraph you read just to make sure that what you think just happened did just happen.

You can see Chris Kelso, live in the flesh, at our next event and quiz him about his inspiration for the pet-zombie penis eating scene. Yes, that is what I said.

What I read this week…