At a loose end after seeing Batman and now twiddling your thumbs until X-Files comes out? Then pick up one for these five reads that show to help you pass the hours and provide you with a look into the weird and wonderful darker side of America. Is the truth out there…?
The Straw Men (Michael Marshall Smith)
This first of a trilogy by one of the most underrated sci-fi/thriller writers in the business, this novel sets out with a mysterious killing of main character Ward Hopkins’ parents, and also a random killing spree and abduction of a teenage girl on the other side of America. Part murder mystery, part noir, the book has two narrative styles, one written in the third person (Ward’s part) while the other plotline is written in the first person of a streetwise and dour detective, John Zandt. When both character’s stories cross, the reader is introduced to the ‘Straw Men’, a secret society living in plain sight that are bought up without a moral compass, and work on a ‘survival of the fittest’ idea. Tense, thought provoking and providing an X-Files-like conspiracy that links back into American history and provides a thrilling road trip across the States, it shows the reader some of the most sinister and ‘human’ bad-guys ever to be seen between a novel’s covers.
America Unchained (Dave Gorman)
With the notion to try and go from one side of She states to the other without using ‘chain-stores’ for things like food, petrol or clothing, the genius that is Dave Gorman wrote this travel-log about his adventures across the US. Equipped with an Oldsmobile and a camerawoman who is obsessed with mashed potatoes, Mr Gorman’s trip sees him damaging his car down mountains, living in tree-houses and being put up in a bed and breakfast that looks like a huge dog.
A fun trip, filled with the weird and wonderful that America has to offer. Gorman’s wry look at America’s addiction to chain stores shows how difficult it is to survive in the States without them. It was also made into a TV show, the DVD of which Craig, er, didn’t like very much…
Crooked Little Vein (Warren Ellis)
Ever fancied a tour of America’s underbelly and an exploration into the dark and depraved corners of the good old US of A? Well Warren Ellis does just that. In many ways mirroring his superb Transmetropolitan, Crooked Little Vein is Ellis’ homage to Hunter S. Thompson’s drug induced travels across America, and stars Michael McGill, a self-confessed ‘shit-magnet’ PI.
He’s on a road-trip with a difference that sees our ‘hero’ have to deal with a club boasting Godzilla porn, a serial killer who is supposedly the focal point of every urban myth on the streets, and a would be president that likes nothing more than his favourite teddy-bear (and drug filled gasmask). Pulling no punches, this is every depraved, nasty and dirty little secret that America has to offer all put down with the wry and cynical (not to mention at times hilarious) style that Ellis has become famous for. Forgot his recent run on X-Men, if you want Ellis at his very best (or worst) this is really worth checking out.
Watchmen (Alan Moore)
You may well now have seen the trailer for the up and coming movie, so while you have a chance go and pick up the book. Containing one of the best conspiracies you will ever read, and a jaw dropping end that’s been paid homage to many times (see Heroes), Alan Moore’s graphic novel opus is the very best that ‘comics’ as a medium has to offer. It’s a deep, complex and compelling story that goes right back to the ‘recent’ history of America and explores the ideas behind what it is like to don a cape every day for work, and also what happens when those given the power to protect misuse it. A perfect 12 issue piece of work that is both a cutting satire on the super-hero image of American comics, but is also Moore’s homage to that very genre, you will find no better comic book that sums up the colourful world of comics than Watchmen.
American Gods/Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)
Neil Gaiman’s take on modern day gods and myths is a unique look at what the ‘history’ of America is, a mixing pot of every culture that conquered and spread out across a vast ‘new’ wilderness, bringing with them their own customs, ways and of course deities. So with fragments of these gods from Norway, Eastern Europe and Africa all living happily in their new home, what happens when a set of new ‘American’ gods based on commercialism, business, the Internet and fast food seek to oust these elder gods with their new ways. Fun, highly imaginative and visiting numerous back-waters of the States, Neil Gaiman creates an epic road trip for his hero ‘Shadow’, to try and avoid a huge, bloody and unnecessary war of the gods that could affect all of humanity.
The X-Files: I Want To Believe hits UK cinemas on 1st August 2008.