Rivers of London #8: False Value – Ben Aaronovitch
I love the Rivers of London books first and foremost because they are Good; they’re about a Black, British cop who discovers that A.) Magic is real and B.) There is an entire, if skeletonized, branch of the Metropolitan Police (known as the Folly) that handles it, and that his new commanding officer/magical mentor flung fireballs at the Nazis. If you need more than that, I don’t know what to offer you, citizen.
The second reason to love them is that they are profoundly, almost impenetrably British in such a confident, solid way that I think I finally understand what consuming American media must be like for the rest of the world: running your head up against something you don’t quite have the context for, but it is 100% certain that its perspective and experience are correct and default and it does not feel the need to explain itself to you. It got so bad that halfway through the series, the main character makes a contact in the FBI who is a genuinely great character that enriches the stories, but is also clearly a device to allow some demystification of the finer points of Britishness, to the point where the latest couple of books are actually written as manuscripts with footnotes directed toward her.
The series has a lot of ideas about how the magic of its world can interact with technology and False Value is the most direct and thorough exploration of those ideas, dealing with ancient magitek steam engines, punchcards designed by Ada Lovelace that from patterns of Power, and the distinction–if there should be one–between a genius loci and a true artificial intelligence, and why both need to be kept the hell away from the Internet if this tech company has actually managed to create and/or call and bind one. It also sees our main character, Peter Grant, taking on an apprentice of his own to swell the Folly’s rake-thin ranks and realizing that there’s more to that bond and relationship than just throwing a book at them and yelling “Oi, practice your Latin!”
It should be noted that shortly after this book was released it became a fuckton more complicated to try to tell stories in which police are the good guys; obviously the most visible friction with law enforcement took place in the United States, and while I’m sure that British policing has all of the same problems that American policing does–systemic racism, rampant corruption and an almost total lack of consequences–but I’m not in a position to compare them; I can only say that every book in the series has gone to great lengths to highlight the extent and thoroughness with which British police are regulated, supervised and documented for the protection of the citizenry first and the officers second, so maybe it is a different thing? Because British cops don’t even carry guns generally, much less pepperspray and rubber-bullet and chokehold masses of people for having the audacity to request not to be murdered in their sleep? And also the nature of British racism is fundamentally different than American racism in ways that I am definitely not qualified to speak to or speculate on. I dunno. There’s been a lot of talk about copaganda–looking at you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine–and whether it’s okay to consume them like you would any other problematic media if you can separate the stories and characters you love from real people who are causing real harm every day in the world, and I don’t claim to have an answer to that. I leave the reader to rely upon their own best discretion.
Score: 8/10 Hamhanded Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy References
Rumble, Vol. 1: What Color Of Darkness
God, Rumble is so fucking cool. What do you get when some poor hapless sonovabitch meets a scarecrow possessed by the spirit of Rathraq, a pre-human, Conan-ass warrior deity who immediately decides they’re best friends? You get a good time is what you get, especially when said deity conscripts said hapless sonovabitch to help him get his body back before it’s permanently inhabited by the ancient enemy that imprisoned him in the underworld countless millennia ago. ALSO THERE IS AN ANCIENT DOGGO-SPIRIT WHO IS, AS THE GENTLE READER MAY HAVE GUESSED, A VERY GOOD BOY.
Rumble takes its aesthetic and storytelling sensibility from Mesopotamian, Babylonian and similar mythologies that you don’t see tapped a lot in modern fiction, and the result is refreshingly different, deeply weird and cool and somehow…kind of truer than a lot of what you see based on modern understandings and interpretations of ancient mythologies that have been rubbed smooth by us always fiddling with them. I’m not saying I don’t love Marvel’s Thor, I’m saying he would be unrecognizable to an actual ancient Norse worshipper of the Æsir, but someone who grew up hearing stories about Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim and Darmok would immediately recognize Rathraq and the world he comes from. Speaking of which, a huge part of why I love this series is the tone and flavor of the Ancient World that was instantly and intimately familiar to me but for which I can’t find a name. The only thing I can say is that certain works evoke a world with a certain kind of strangeness and wildness where anything seems possible; the Conan stories definitely have a soupçon of it, the NES game Rygar is probably the keystone example of it in my mind, and Thundarr the Barbarian and even the first Dragon Ball series all had it. Oh no. I am become wistful.
Score: 8.5/10 Scarecrow Skeletons
all I wanna know is a goodamn thing, not what’s in the medicine