Nunslinger, Yosemite For Dummies and Life Inside The Fall
Mark E Smith, these days, looks a bit like an ET lost in the bookies
Page File El Reg bookworm Mark Diston is joined by Andrew Orlowski to review the pick of publishing this week. A compilation of works from mysterious Stark Houghton tells tall tales of the wild west. Mac users can brush up their skills or get a break from hapless relatives with the latest from Bob LeVitus. And music lovers get a down to earth view of the indie scene from The Fall's bass player Steve Hanley.
Nunslinger: The Complete Series
The mysterious and androgynous Stark Houghton is ”the pseudonym of a thrilling new voice in fiction”, according to the publisher’s blurb. The western genre has been done to death over the last century, though occasional outsiders have breathed a little life into its ailing corpse. One has only to think of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti remixes and Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Nunslinger is not the first western to feature a heroine in a habit. You only have to cast your mind back to the repartee of Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn or Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules For Sister Sara to realise that wimples and westerns are part of a long tradition.
Nunslinger is the story of Sister Thomas Josephine who is travelling to Sacramento on a wagon train, which is attacked. She is rescued/abducted by Abe Muir, a ne’er-do-well with whom she conducts a passionate and platonic affair. The strange couple are falsely accused of murder and embark on a life on the run, attempting to clear their name.
There is a supporting cast who follow our intrepid duet across the western states and into Mexico and back. Among them is Frederick Templeton, an early tabloid journalist who retells the spiced up tale of the “six-gun sister” in The Californian newspaper; Lt. Theodore Carthy who seems to rival Abe Muir in his passion for the renegade sister; Windrose a corrupt railwayman and Owl, a kind of Navajo Ninja squaw who turn up in the most unexpected times and places, slitting reprobate throats.
Nunslinger features more twists and turns than the coast of Norway – just when you think our heroine has had her chips, a most unlikely series of events save the nun to sling another day.
At 600 pages, it is a tale divided into easily consumed short chapters which are titled in a biblical fashion – these were previously sold as episodic eBooks of around 80 pages and larger omnibus editions, hence this being the "complete" version.
The prose is without too many flourishes, though there are a few gems hidden away: “The man behind the counter looked like a weed beneath a rock”. Native Americans are described as “featherheads” and some poetic scenarios: “Trees ... gathered up the sunset like a miser raking coins”. But mostly the wordplay does not interfere with the storyline, which cracks along at an impressive pace.
Sister Thomas Josephine tries to be upright, but at every turn the body count rises as the reward on her head grows. Despite her attempts to do good, Sister Thomas Josephine just ends up in more trouble. The final denouement is left just open enough to allow for Nunslinger 2 – the sequel.
Stark Holborn may not be the "thrilling new voice in fiction” that the publishers claim, but he is a compelling storyteller who keeps the readers' attention throughout this long and twisted tale. It is more likely to appeal to fans of Messrs Leone and Tarantino than those of the Johns Ford and Wayne.
It is a page turner to fill those idle moments, a ripping yarn on a grand scale. If anyone out there knows Nick Cave, get him a copy for Christmas, the poor old sod seems reduced to singing a bunch of drivel about Miley Cyrus, and methinks he could make a fine musical out of this. MD
Title Nunslinger: The Complete Series
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton
Price £8.99 (Paperback), £4.99 (eBook)
More info Publication web site
OS X Yosemite For Dummies
Bob “Dr Mac” LeVitus has been writing Mac OS guides for dummies for nigh on two decades. The lineage of OS X Yosemite For Dummies goes back to Macintosh System 7.5 for Dummies, in those halcyon days when an OS would squeeze on to seven floppy disks and including TCP/IP out-of-the-box was innovative.
So this book has some ancestry and the experience of continually upgrading these Dummies' guides has honed a product that is straightforward to access and understand, clearly laid out and packed with information. Indeed, Yosemite For Dummies now comes with many online appendices which go into greater depth about various subjects.
OS X Yosemite For Dummies is a US publication and some of the information is location specific: I don’t think you’ll get much luck dialling 1-800-505-APPL outside of the States, but overall this is a thorough manual for the new Mac owner or PC convert, particularly if you prefer parchment learning to online help or YouTube.
There are plenty of facts even a seasoned user can absorb. I’ve been using Macs for 20 years, but am the most useless typist on the planet, OS X Yosemite For Dummies has a multitude of keyboard shortcuts for me to remember (or not) and does present you with some surprising self knowledge, for instance, what is that key command I accidentally keep pressing which opens Spotlight, which I never remember and has always blighted my view of it ... ? Here it is. Command Space – knobhead.
Yes, Mac gurus (fanbois, surely -Ed), OS X Yosemite For Dummies may not change your life, but may help you come to terms with your delinquent keystrokes. And for the Mac beginner, this is an ideal primer, the sort of thing to dip into at your leisure or when required, rather than to read cover-to-cover.
Bob “Dr Mac” LeVitus has covered a massive subject very nimbly and ably. Nitpickers will notice his comment about Xcode making folders at root level as being a little obsolete, but one of the most noticeable things about this book is that it is bang up-to-date, regarding things like the planned obsolescence of iPhoto and Aperture and LeVitus always namechecks the latest models and technologies. Presumably, the web based appendices will keep you updated until the next major release of Mac OS X.
As far as I could see, there is no mention of Continuity at all, which perhaps isn’t too surprising as the focus is on the Mac rather than mobiles, so iPhone users looking for advice on their seamless communications should continue elsewhere. But all the main angles are covered.
LeVitus mostly toes the Apple party line, but at one point he does suggest trying Firefox or Chrome “Both ... have features you won’t find in Safari”. LeVitus ventures no further from orthodoxy even though Apple’s constant hobbling of QuickTime for the sake of content control makes VLC Player an essential addition to any Mac application folder these days and Handbrake and XLD are going to be useful sooner or later.
But I quibble, Dr Mac could well have cured my decade long Spotlight dysfunction, and I won’t have a word said against him. This is a great book for Mac beginners and a surprisingly useful one for those who should know better. MD
Title OS X Yosemite For Dummies
Publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Price £21.99 (Paperback), £15.99 (eBook)
More info Publication web site
The Big Midweek – Life Inside The Fall
Books about life in indie bands are plentiful, but the good ones don’t take up too much shelf space. There’s Luke Haines' account of Britpop, and Tracey Thorn’s bittersweet tale of becoming an accidental popstar. Richard King’s tales of the eccentrics who start indie labels capture the dreams, delusions, backstabbing and lentils – leaving you wondering, why do they do it? But it's not a long list.
So a new memoir by bass player Steve Hanley, who spent almost 20 years in The Fall, along with partner Olivia Piekarski, easily grabs the laurels – and you don’t need to like or even particularly know The Fall to enjoy it.
Hanley endured The Fall’s founder and tyrant Mark E Smith longer than anyone else, ending up as a partner in the business. An offer that came along, funnily enough, just after the band gets a VAT demand for £60,000.
In the mid-1980s, Hanley tops up work at the family pie shop in Wythenshawe. Hanley’s Irish Dad, who takes no interest in the band, watches Live Aid and lauds the philanthropism of Bob Geldof and Bono. Why can’t your Mark have thought of doing that?, Dad asks.
During the 1980s, the band gets a few years of decent label support – they almost crack the Top 40. Colin the roadie, who’s worked with everyone, pays them a great tribute. For the first time in his life he says, “ah hear things for which ah can find no physical point of origin on the stage. It is as if occult entities or beings from another dimension are trying to harmonise with you,” Colin marvels.
But the break doesn’t come. Alcohol increasingly preoccupies Smith and his paranoia and random violence become routine. His unreliability mean long-suffering supporters won’t work with the band, and bookings dry up. After 18 years Hanley wonders if he’s insane putting up with it all. For no particular reason, he refuses Kurt Cobain (then at the height of his fame, and a huge Fall fan) a seat in their van.
Hanley sees Oasis knocking out “national anthems that pensioners and dissident teenagers alike sing at bus stops across the UK, while we’re still sniping away about Chinese restaurants and tents at acid festivals,” he observes wryly. “I don’t want to be in Oasis, but, after all these years, please could we write just the one song to cross that elusive line, please, and I can die happy.” Isn’t that the indie band lament?
It all comes to an end with a huge fight on stage in New York (captured on YouTube). The Big Midweek is unsparing, but remarkably free from bitterness, and it's great on the details. For example, pyromaniac drummer Karl Burns – a one-man WMD who is sacked so often “it’s almost procedure, now” tiptoes uncharacteristically around the cradle to give the new father Hanley a present: it's a wrap of speed, which turns out to be fake.
There are some artful and wry put downs of fellow band members. The Big Midweek is actually a bit of an elegy for an era when indie musicians could eke out a living for years without recouping – an era now gone – and it’s as well written as any rock and roll memoir.
A 10-year Fall veteran, Simon Wolstencroft has also written a memoir – You Can Drum But You Can't Hide. He played in an early version of The Stone Roses, and was invited to be The Smiths' first drummer. He turned them down after an audition. It didn’t feel right. Wolstencroft, a gentle and genuinely nice man, gives an entirely rancour-free account of the indie band life. He moonlights driving taxis in Altrincham.
Of Mark E Smith, the most surprising thing we learn is his knowledge of fancy Venetian restaurants. Touring the USA he notes a highlight was Dennys. "I've harboured a desire ever since to see the chain of eateries start operations in the UK, but it's still not happened yet," he writes sadly – but you can’t really knock it. After flirting with heroin, Wolstencroft is glad he’s still alive.
Today, Mark E Smith is a toothless “national treasure” – his face collapsed 20 years ago from amphetamine abuse. He looks like an ET who got lost in a bookies. After Hanley, the band’s engine room left, Smith was label-less and penniless. But then John Peel died, and Smith was canonised by Tristrams who felt guilty they’d never listened to Peel since they were students: the BBC even gave Smith the Saturday football results to read out.
So he’s become a “national treasure” like Tony Benn was a national treasure: which means, “he’s mad, past it and harmless”. But it’s easy to forget what a mean rock 'n' roll band The Fall once were – here they are playing on a stage the size of a hula hoop in New York in 1981. And easy to forget too what an original writer Mark E Smith once was.
In 1979, The Fall were startling courting couples in Northern Working Men’s Clubs (the “straight leg Lee Cooper set") with broadsides against Guardian readers and PC small mindedness. Thirty five years later, we really have had a "Middle Class Revolt". Smith was spitting out an expression of English liberalism that isn’t remotely “right wing” and/or Farageist. Perhaps with a few more Mark E Smiths we wouldn’t have Five A Day officers, recycling inspectors, or the backlash against them all (UKIP) today. Or maybe he’d be Frank Field MP with a garage band. AO ®
Title The Big Midweek – Life Inside The Fall
Publisher Route Publishing
Price £17.99 (Hardback)
More info Publication web site