Reviews: Medusa

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog:

Medusa
Chris Kent
Graphite Fiction

medusa cover chris kent

I wondered, what if a modern day soldier saw a face so horrific, it could turn him to stone?” Chris Kent in his Director’s Commentary.

I’ve been anticipating reading Chris Kent’s fascinating-looking Medusa since it first was listed for pre-orders in Previews a few months ago, and his recent guest Director’s Commentary here on the blog increased my desire to read this unusual work, so I was delighted when Chris dropped by to say hi when he was in town and also drop off a copy of the book. Ostensibly it is the story of a British soldier, Corporal Elliot Ford, fighting in Iraq when he gets news from home that his daughter has gone missing, and he is sent home on compassionate grounds. But home and the battleground may be separate geographically, but such distancing between the two is not so simple in the scarred mind of the veteran soldier…

This is not just a tale of the mental wounds so many of our armed forces personnel carry home with them, important though that issue is (especially given a recent news report just the other week about how veterans are more likely to find themselves doing something violent because of their experiences and training, without meaning to, yet another festering wound for too many), as Chris takes elements of Elliot’s combat experiences and his family life back home, then mixes them with his deepest fears and mythology. Who is the young woman he saw in Iraq watching his squad just before an explosion? Was she a suicide bomber? An innocent bystander caught up in an eruption of violence in what had once been her own neighbourhood? Why does her face haunt him? Why does he keep thinking of her, seeing her face? And when he gets the news of his daughter’s disappearance back home why is it he feels some subconscious link between both women? Is there a link? How could there be?

medusa 01 chris kent

Medusa is suffused with this dark, confused, tormented view of events and Chris wisely opts not to give the reader the ‘god’ position, where we can look upon the narrative and know more than the characters, instead we see this mixed up world through the filter of Elliot’s increasingly frantic, desperate attempts to make sense of things, struggling to comprehend what he is experiencing, to understand what is real and what must only – surely? – be in his mind, constantly driven to find his girl, to make sure she is safe.

There’s a real feel of drowning slowly in dark, cold waters here – Chris mixes his own art with an almost collage-like collection of images from newspapers, reworked to fit the tale; rather than the traditional sequence of panels and speech bubbles of most comics this is a series of overlapping images, some dark splashes through which figures or scenes can be barely glimpsed, others like snapshots from a soldier’s diary of life at the front, some flow, others suddenly break up violently into jagged, fractured scenes, emulating both the sudden eruption of adrenalin and violence and danger that comes with a routine patrol suddenly flaring into instant combat action and also the stressed and strained mind of the combat veteran, trying to keep it together for the sake of his unit and his mates relying on each other, then trying to keep it together because he has to be strong, he has to strive for his girl, while all around him he can feel the demons waiting to sink their teeth into him and drag him into dark chaos.

medusa 02 chris kent

The art approach may put some off, but I found it highly appropriate to the story, a mix of the almost documentary then the broken, fractured scenes, the almost photographic collage collapsing into painted darkness; it gives a flavour of the anguished state of Elliot’s mind, not just his frantic search for his missing daughter (handled so well, anyone who’s had a family emergency will empathise with that lurching, dropping feeling, the panic, the attempt to try to make sense of it, to be ‘strong’ for others and deal with it while wanting to collapse within) but also how the constant strain of patrols and combat and seeing comrades injured or killed, civilians harmed, starts to break down the defences of the mind, causing emotional damage as surely as bullets and bombs do physical wounds. The swirling darkness and struggle to comprehend events that refuse to fall into a regular three-act chronological narrative (even his sense of time starts to break down – how long has he searched? A week, a month? Or has he only been home for a couple of days?), and Elliot’s perspective is ours, so we share that disorientation.

medusa 04 chris kent

And the Medusa herself? Is that haunting image of the young woman really just a young woman or is she an aspect of an ancient myth, the achingly beautiful rendered monstrous? It’s hard to tell until very late on just how much is in Elliot’s deeply wounded mind and how much is real, and that is how it should be (and I won’t spoil it by going into more on that intriguing aspect of the tale). This is a journey through the Heart of Darkness, and like the voyage up-river to the lair of Colonel Kurtz there is that deepening fear in the soldier that the darkness is infecting him too, and through him perhaps his own flesh and blood, his family, that his actions will lead to karmic payback for what he has had to do, a spiritual, emotional stain that could go beyond his own self and actions to others he cares for.

Elements of Apocalypse Now are in there, also perhaps a nod to the fascinating Tim Robbins movie Jacob’s Ladder. But where this journey through darkness will take Elliot, that’s the real question? Is this a journey of a wounded soul to redemption or a spiral into chaotic despair? A highly unusual, deeply disturbing, dark tale, the mythological elements are timeless and echo the fact that for all the hi-tech equipment of the modern soldier, warfare itself is also, sadly, timeless, and equipment is but a tool, at the end of the day, regardless of century it is the humble squaddie who is at the heart of it, and what it does to the soldier.

Guy Fawkes night

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Expense claims, moats and cooked books,
I see no reason, why such high spenders,
Should ever be let off their hooks.

Remember, remember the fifth of November

New research by leading academics at the University of Woolamaloo’s Department of Historical Thinggies & Digging Old Stuff Up has revealed that Guido Fawkes, who lends his name to the traditions carried out in these islands on this day, was not as previously thought primarily motivated by religion as a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist terrorist, but was in fact driven chiefly by outrage caused by the seamy, selfish, profligate indulgences of the MPs of his era exploiting their overly generous expenses system. Thank goodness that in our civilised, modern era our politicians are too mature and noble and the system too accountable for them to behave in such a primitive manner.

Hypocritical bastard

George Bush asked in a BBC interview if America still held the moral high ground after scandals of violated civil liberties, civilian deaths, tortures and Abu Ghraib: “Absolutely. We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom.” This from a man who is trying to veto a bill from the US Senate (how very democratic of him) which makes the use of water boarding illegal for the purposes of interrogation. In other words he is trying to make the use of torture legal. How this fits in with his previous statement is beyond me. How this retarded monkey can say things like this then apparently believe he is on the side of Good is beyond me. And just how so many fucking idiots can go along with it, vote for it and support it is utterly beyond me.

The fact that the Senate had to even pass a law declaring this process illegal to begin with speaks volumes – most civilised countries would consider such torture utterly illegal to begin with and not need to pass extra laws. This is how the self proclaimed good guys fight the good fight. No wonder the world is such a bloody mess. Neitzche’s cautionary passages on fighting monsters and becoming a monster in the process was obviously not on the reading curriculum for Bush or his supporters. Although since the brain-dead numpty seems to have difficulties with the fairly simple task of putting words together for coherent speech it shouldn’t be a surprise that he isn’t well educated or well read.

The sentence for reading is death

Well, it is in bloody Afghanistan at any rate. Journalism student Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has been sentenced to death for reading. His crime? He downloaded a text which – gasp of horror – said that Muslim fundamentalists (those whacky, zany guys, what will they think of next!) who beat people around the head with their own fucked up interpretation of the holy Koran and use it to legitimate their severe repression and control of women were completely wrong and were acting contrary to the teachings of the Prophet. Gee, I can see where they might get a little annoyed at a document saying they might be wrong – after all these are the same shagwits who respond to a simple cartoon by killing people and demanding some beheadings. They aren’t just misrepresenting the teachings of their own religion, they are just fucking stupid, violent fools clearly terrified of women and carrying AK47s as a substitute for their very small willies.Take their guns off them and lock them in a room for a week With Anne Widdecombe, that’ll teach the buggers.

Oh but it gets better – this death sentence was pronounced by a religious court in Afghanistan (and surely that is contrary to the central Islamic tenant of learning for them to stop people reading??). Now it is bad enough that any country is stupid enough to still consider it civilised to allow religious leaders to hold people to trial (no, don’t give me excuses about respecting other cultures, this is just bloody wrong and utterly fucking stupid, its something moronic from the medieval period and they need to learn this. I respect other cultures as long as they aren’t bloody stupid). But then the case was referred to the Afghan secular government. The nice ones we put in power and are holding in power with the blood of our troops (the same troops their president recently said were failing, the same troops that are all that is keeping his arse from being filled full of Taliban bullets because his own troops are incompetent twats) – and they upheld the sentence. Yes, that’s right, the person we put in power to replace those muderous fundamentalist fuckwits, the Taliban, said yes, kill this student for daring to read something we don’t like.

Er, remind me again just why the hell we have our troops being put through the dusty meatgrinder in this godforsaken cesspit of a country? The Independent has an online petition up to give to the Foreign Office to demand they take some action – please consider signing it. (link via Yvonne)

Look, I’d had a lovely supper and all I said to my wife was that bit of halibut was good enough for Jehovah… I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy just saying ‘Jehovah’.” Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Gitmo is six

I missed noticing this until today, but Guantanamo Bay’s odious prison camp marked its sixth anniversary on Friday, an event marked by Amnesty International. Gee, I feel so much safer, hasn’t the world become a much better place as a result of this place and the rest of Bush’s foreign policy (not to mention their State Department announcing that under US law it is legal for them to go to another country, including Britain and kidnap someone they think is a suspect)? If only Gitmo made as much sense as most six year olds… (via Boing Boing)

Saudi King says Brits not doing enough to fight terrorism

Despotic ruler King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in the spirit of diplomacy ahead of his state visit to the UK, declared that Britain had not done enough to fight terrorism. Asked to explain further an aide commented “well, you went and invaded Iraq with those trigger happy Yankees when you’d have been better bombing the crap out of our country – its where most of the 9-11 bombers came from and the funds for their murderous campaign. Clearly if you were serious about stopping terrorism you’d have flattened Saudi.”

The Bin Liner speaks

As another 9-11 anniversary comes round the psychotic nutters of Al Wanker wheel out the sad and pathetic figure of the Bin Liner once more, because obviously he and his murderous band of bastards haven’t caused enough pain but they have to mouth off as relatives of the dead try to remember their loved ones. First time in ages this cowering coward has stuck his head out of a hole for long enough to make a message (if he is happy to send young Muslims out to die, allegedly for their faith, why is he so scared he’s been hiding himself for years?) and to make sure we didn’t miss it there were plenty of trailers for the last week (got digital? Press the red button to hear a murderous, incoherent rant of rage now!).

What were the chances he was setting up to go on the air and say “sorry”? Sadly the old shagwit was only on to mumble the same load of old toss about how it is the duty of the faithful to attack infidels (although clearly not his duty, he’s too important and has to prove his devotion to Allah by hiding in a cave somewhere). Oh and he also had to go on TV to advertise Mohamed 9000, the new hair dye for Muslim men that seamlessly blends gray hairs to your natural hair colour.

Protesting is terrorism

Well, well, well, what a bloody surprise – the police, government authorities and the multi-million pound business that is BAA are using every dirty trick in the book (many of those tricks were added in recent years by Blair’s junta ‘to protect us’) to gag the climate protest camp at Heathrow Airport. Anyone who has been following the pre-amble to this will not be surprised – sites like Boing Boing have been following the attempts by BAA ahead of the camp to try and pre-emptively gag them and keep them away so no-one sees their protest about the impact of ever-increasing air travel on the environment (not just the pollution in the air, Heathrow is still physically expanding and devouring more land, creating more noise for local residents and if a new runway goes ahead more than likely there will be compulsory purchases of people’s homes as they are forced out to make way for it).

With the current terrorism threat, keeping Heathrow safe and secure is a very serious business. Any action taken by the protesters that distracts us or the police from this task is irresponsible and unlawfu.” Mark Bullock from BAA Heathrow. Methinks Mr Bullock is talking bollocks.

So in effect we have a big player in a business which is causing massive amounts of continuing and growing damage to the environment using very dodgy laws to try and stop people protesting the impact that industry is having, at the connivance of the police who are happy to employ very shady anti-terror laws to try and intimidate protesters from turning up and to harass them if they do. I’d guess this also means the usual method of police intelligence (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) units filming people protesting so they can identify them and build a file – can’t have people thinking they have the right to freedom of expression and protest in a democracy, can we? This is exactly the sort of heavy-handed action folks like comedian Mark Thomas have been protesting (Mark did a great Radio 4 show which exposed and ridiculed the laws Blair brought in to make legitimate protest in and around Westminster and the seat of government, laws supposedly to protect us but rather obviously there to protect twisted politicians).

Yeah, I know, some of you might be thinking, so what, bunch of eco-hippes, get a job. And maybe for some of them you might be right. But even if you don’t agree with their views on the environment (and there are a lot of people who still insist humans have no influence on global warming, it’s all nature – these folks remind me of the shagwits who all through the 70s said “there’s no scientific evidence smoking harms you”) then think about the continuing implications of the actions of the police, BAA and the government. Think about the fact that very dodgy laws rushed through without proper consultation or analysis in the House to cope with ‘emergencies’ sparked by the War On Terror (WOT?) are again being used to stop British citizens exercising their fundamental right to freedom of speech and to protest. Those are absolutely critical to any democratic society; people fought and died to preserve those rights and here we have a corrupt government that has abused serious global events to push through laws which can be employed in any bloody way they want to try and minimise dissent (and oh the irony of this being a government which says it is leading the world in tackling climate change). Regardless of your views on what the protesters are saying that should worry us all.

Iraq a disaster? Yup, sez Blair…

Tony Blair agreed with Sir David Frost’s remark that the endless violence in Iraq since the ‘liberation’ had “so far been pretty much of a disaster”. Downing Street spin doctors and other worthless people have already rushed forward to say that the meaning was ‘taken out of context’ (can’t they ever think on a better excuse for these slips?) and that this wasn’t exactly what the Prime Minister meant; in fact what he meant to say was the situation was a fucking disaster…

Elsewhere in his troubled government ministers at the MOD have admitted they have been taken by surprise by the level of combat British troops have had to face in southern Afghanistan (while other NATO countries bravely stay well put in the North). Allegations that poor planning has contributed to the large number of casualties have been levelled at the MOD. Some military analysts said the ministers were totally unprepared for serious combat because of a simple error: they confused Hellmand province with Hellman’s, a region internationally famous for the production of rich, creamy mayonnaise. Generals and ministers have denied this, but critics point out it would explain why the regiments of the Queen’s Own Royal Condiments were initially deployed.

Conflicted by denial

David Irving (I refuse to give him the honorific of ‘historian’) has been jailed by an Austrian court for Holocaust denial, a crime in both Austria and Germany. I’m more than a little conflicted, I have to confess – I loathe this odious little apologist for Nazis and genocide (the shame being that apparently once upon a time he was a pretty good and knowledgeable historian) but although I despise people who persist in this fantasy of Holocaust denial it also troubles me that it is a crime punishable by jail (although obviously this is an offence with more troubling resonance for citizens in Austria and Germany than for most other nations, excepting Isreal).

It is pretty hard, if not impossible, to believe solidly in the freedom of expression if that freedom is not afforded to those who we not only disagree with but actively despise. And those of us in the bookselling trade have special reason to dislike this man, over and above his despicable lies on the Holocaust: when booksellers (including some of my colleagues in my former employer years back) refused to stock his books he launched court actions against them. Not the shops, the individual booksellers in those shops. Fortunately the company put up lawyers and he was laughed out of court. He continued to shuffle sadly around the country preaching to right wing fantasists and attempting to sell copies of his books from the back of his car and being abusive to bookstaff who said they had little interest in stocking it. Perhaps that is in itself a mild form of censorship, but booksellers should be able to decide that there are certain books they do not want to sell without fear of litigation from bullies.

Then he attacked Deborah Lipstadt (he has a history of using the courts to bully people) and found that she and her publisher Penguin were prepared to go the whole nine yards in a British court with him. He lost the libel case and was officially labelled a Holocaust Denier by a British judge, meaning we could all now apply this to him without him suing us. I ordered in a pile of Deborah’s book and we sold a ton of it – Irving was bankrupted and as such unable to run a new book company. His right wing chums stepped in to help by reprinting his tat on his behalf. Sad enough, but they also employed dishonest advertising, including taking pictures of Hitler and his senior staff used on one of the covers and arranging a picture so it looked as if they were standing around a table in a bookstore of my former employer, making it look as if they were behind his book, which they most certainly were not – nor were they happy to have their logo co-opted in this way. Gives you more of an idea of the sort of person you are dealing with, doesn’t it?

But I don’t like the notion of making the expression of a distasteful idea against the law; it is in essence what Tony Blair is trying to ram through Parliament right now with his ‘glorification of terror’ clause, which is vague and could mean almost anything, potentially threatening books, newspaper articles, books, TV, film and stand-up comedians with a possible legal attack. And it is pointless – it is not needed to tackle people such as Hamza who was recently convicted without such legislation or the creeps who marched in London after the Danish cartoons with placards which called for the beheading of those who mocked Islam or for Europe to be punished by terrorist attacks; these are all crimes under existing legislation. Even someone like me who believes in freedom of expression draws the line at people who call for harm to another and this is already dealt with under law – Blair’s new addition would create such a vague potential threat it would restrict free speech on important issues for no gain in security.

Farrah Mendlesohn, a well respected critic and writer in the SF community is so irritated that she is putting her own time and money into a new anthology of stories which would all fall foul of this new law if it goes through. And that’s what we do in a free society – we do not say we are free to speak as long as we don’t offend anyone or say something most people know to be false; no we engage in debate, write articles and books and demonstrate to those people and to society at large how wrong they are and why they are wrong. Details of Farrah’s project can be found here on Notes From Coode Street.

Still, it was hard not to smirk when Irving got sent down today; he reversed his previous claims that the Holocaust was a myth in order to weasel out of his charges. He knew when he travelled to Austria that he had an outstanding warrent for this offence from years previously, so it seems obvious he assumed either he would not be charged or he would be charged but not jailed, thus reaping the publicity and esteem he craves but which his ridiculous books have made impossible from most historical readers or academics. He told Channel 4 News earlier that he had booked a first class ticket home on a plane for this evening, so cocky was the little sod. So it is rewarding to see such a weasely and smug little git falling on his own face – and because of his own arrogance. But again I’m not happy about the restriction by law on anyone’s freedom of expression, even little creeps like him. Freedom of expression, like freedom of all types, is a double-edged sword, but one which must be applied equally to all or it is no freedom at all.

Top Secret

The latest story to emerge in the sorry tale of the White House and Downing Street’s joint cover-up of an (alleged) is that the document covering Blair talking Bush out of bombing Arabic broadcaster al-Jazeera is that there is no such document. And there aren’t two men facing court charges under the Official Secrets Act because, of course, the secret document they leaked doesn’t exist. And it isn’t just an attempt by Downing Street to protect the reputation of George Bush according to Attorney General Goldsmith, it’s about the rule of law. And obviously we can completely trust Goldmsith’s word on this because as we know from his rulings on the legality of the war he is completely above and beyond political pressure and interference in his legal interpretations.

Then again, cynics may say the janitor as Goldsmith’s College has a more reliable opinion on legal matters… Besides the latest rumour of this non-existent document is that Bush didn’t try to bomb al-Jazeera only to be persuaded by Tony that it wasn’t the best idea. Actually, with his less than comprehensive grasp of world events Bush apparently called for the bombing of Al Bundy because he saw Married With Children as undermining the sacred values of the all-American Christian family lifestyle. However, Blair’s son Euan is a big fan of the show and begged his father to persuade his chum George to desist.

Some right-wing talk radio pundits in the US have said that bombing media centres would not violate the US constitution since they would not attempt to censor any broadcast or freedom of speech and the Constitution says nothing about bombing buggery out of journalists. Impeding their freedom of speech would be illegal, one commentator said, but blowing the crap outta them is perfectly legal.

On a more serious note, how the hell can you legally take people to court for breaching the Official Secrets Act over a document that you say doesn’t exist? And how scary is it that the events we have seen in the last few years have been Bush with whatever small restraint Blair can bring to bear on him? What the hell would he be like without Tony’s influence???

Prescott

This spat between senior ministers and the former British ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer, continues to be highly amusing. Deputy PM (let’s be honest, a title utterly meaningless in British politics) John ‘Two Jags’ Prescott has a go at him in the press and joins his colleague Jack ‘Used to be a Marxist now wear Jackboots’ Straw in demanding he resign from his position on the Press Complaints Commission. Has Meyer done anything in his position at the PCC? Nope – but his new tell-all book about his time as ambassador to the US during the run up to the Iraq war has been rubbing Blair’s team up the wrong way.

Prescott comes off especially badly – portrayed as an ignorant fool, full of his own self importance and determined to be involved (to show being deputy PM really means something, honest). Alas he ends up talking to senior Washington figures about the war in the Balklands… As thick mentally as his waist is physically… Of course, this isn’t a personal issue for Prescott… Heaven forbid anyone should tell the public what our esteemed representatives get up to behind closed doors… Blair’s cronies seem to be remarkably sensitive to any criticism, which is odd because life in public such as that of a senior politician should require a thick skin and the common sense to be able to ignore or laugh off some attacks instead of fuelling media coverage by vindictive counter-attacks.

Prescott, the great Brontosaurus of the Labour Party (but without the charm, grace or intellect of that creature) seems especially sensitive – witness not just his fisticuffs (great example for a government committed to stamping out violent yobbish behaviour!) but his virulent attacks on journalists over the two Jaguars story.