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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Vicious Circle" by Mike Carey w/Bonus Q&A

Official Mike Carey Website
Order “Vicious Circle
Read An Excerpt
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of “The Devil You Know
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s 2007 INTERVIEW with Mike Carey

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mike Carey got into writing through comic books where he is best known for the Eisner-nominated horror/fantasy series Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Sandman Presents. Current comic book projects include Ultimate Fantastic Four, Crossing Midnight, X-Men: Legacy, Secret Invasion, Coalition Comix, The Stranded, etc. Mike is also the author of the Felix Castor novels, has penned two screenplays for Hadaly Pictures in “Frost Flowers” and “Red King”, is working on The Stranded TV series for Virgin Comics/SciFi Channel, and has a short story collected in the “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” anthology.

PLOT SUMMARY: At a time when the supernatural world is in upheaval and spilling over into the mundane realm of the living, you would think that life would be good for freelance exorcist, Felix Castor. Unfortunately the reality is a very different story. His friend Rafi is still possessed by a demon, one of his associates is a succubus that was summoned to kill him, and business is not exactly booming. Doing some consulting for the local police helps pays the bills, but Felix needs all the work he can get, so when a distraught couple comes to him requesting his services to find the kidnapped ghost of their daughter, how can he refuse? But what starts out as a strange, yet seemingly insignificant case soon becomes something much more perilous as Felix finds himself and his loved ones drawn into the middle of a horrific plot to raise one of Hell's most powerful demons…

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessor, “Vicious Circle” is an R-rated urban fantasy infused with a healthy dose of detective noir. So expect a contemporary setting—in this case London—a sardonic first-person narrative, and supernatural elements like ghosts, zombies, werewolves and demons mixing it up with police procedural and murder mysteries. Romance however, is not part of the equation. Still, the Felix Castor novels are highly recommended to anyone who reads urban fantasy, but especially fans of
Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt Casebooks, The Dresden Files, Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, and Hellblazer :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over twenty-seven chapters. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via exorcist Felix Castor. “Vicious Circle” is the second book in the Felix Castor series and takes place around a year or so after “The Devil You Know”, and like that novel is self-contained. In fact, readers can easily pick up “Vicious Circle” without reading “The Devil You Know” since the author does a terrific job of revisiting Felix’s backstory including his sister Katie; his first exorcism; the complicated love/friendship triangle between him, Pen and Rafi; the demon Asmodeus; and the succubus Juliet. The third book in the series, “Dead Men’s Boots”, is already out in the UK since September 2007 and I imagine will be released stateside sometime in 2009. The fourth book, “Thicker Than Water”, is already scheduled for UK publication March 2009.

July 28, 2008 marks the US Hardcover Publication of “Vicious Circle” via
Grand Central Publishing. The UK version has been available since October 2006 via Orbit Books.

ANALYSIS: Out of all of the urban fantasy novels that I read in 2007, Mike Carey’s prose debut (The Devil You Know) was one of my favorites. Basically, Mike took everything that I love about the genre—including the supernatural tangoing with the ordinary, mixing humor with horror, and creating a protagonist that is impossible not to root for—and gave the formula a refreshing makeover. Even so, there was room for improvement and in “Vicious CircleMike Carey has delivered a sequel that is in every way bigger and better than its predecessor.

For one, the writing is sharper. By that, I mean the story is better plotted, the pacing is more consistent, and the voice of Felix Castor is more vibrant, particularly his ability to describe London with such unique flair, and a talent for clever barbs, descriptive metaphors and humorous commentary:

Harlesden is like Kilburn without the scenic beauty—the stamping ground of Jamaican gangsters with itchy trigger fingers, predatory minicab drivers whose cars are their offices, and a great nation of feral cats.”

So. You’re dead, then. How’s that working out?

I prowled about the house all day like a hermit with hemorrhoids.

Another reason is that I’m an unsociable bastard who hates shoptalk worse than dental surgery.

Secondly, the supporting cast is wilder and more creative. So not only do we have such memorable returning characters as conspiracy-theorist zombie Nicky, succubus Juliet, and the demon-possessed Rafi, but we also get to meet such colorful new characters as the Ice-Maker—a faith-healer who deals exclusively with zombies—a five-hundred year old ghost named Rosie Crucis, and a pair of nasty Catholic loup-garous (were-kin) in Zucker & Po.

Speaking of creative, the plot in “Vicious Circle” is excellent, mixing together noir-esque mystery and misdirection with such paranormal fun as a kidnapped ghost, necromancy, human sacrifices, satanists, and a haunted church/congregation. Also included in the cocktail is the Anathemata Curialis—an old sect of the Catholic Church that opposes the forces of hell—the Collective which is a floater community for exorcists, the Post Mortem Rights Bill, and a new branch of science called metamorphic ontology which I believe will feature more prominently in future Felix Castor novels, along with such yet-to-be explored subplots as giving the dead legal protection, what happens to ghosts when exorcists dispel them, why there is such an influx of the returning dead in recent years, and where demons fit in the picture…

As far as complaints, I thought “Vicious Circle” followed the pattern of its predecessor a little too closely, some of the noir-influenced elements were a bit predictable, and characters like Pen and his brother Matt are still underutilized, but otherwise the sequel is a huge step up from “The Devil You Know”.

CONCLUSION: As good as “The Devil You Know” was, the book was still a debut effort and it shows when compared to Mike Carey’s sequel which is just an all-around much stronger novel, be it content, execution or imagination. Not only that, but “Vicious Circle” is a lot more fun to read too and makes a strong case for being one of the top urban fantasy novels released this year. Simply put, I think Mike Carey is one of the most exciting new authors in supernatural fiction today and I can’t recommend the Felix Castor series enough…

BONUS FEATURE — Mike Carey Author Q&A:

Q: “Vicious Circle”, the second book in your Felix Castor series, is making its US debut July 28, 2008, after it was originally released in the UK in 2006. First off, what kind of response has your debut novel, “The Devil You Know”, had in the US so far and are you satisfied with the reception? Secondly, some authors that see a notable gap between their UK + US releases are afforded the opportunity to make additional edits. Did you get to do this with “Vicious Circle”, and if so, could you talk about these changes? Lastly, what do you feel are the differences between the UK/US book scenes?

Mike: I was very happy with the critical response to “The Devil You Know”. The reviews were all very positive, and I got great word-of-mouth feedback while I was doing my book tour last summer. Everyone seemed pretty excited about the book and interested in where the series might go. I don’t have any info on actual sales, though, so I have no idea at this point whether I’m a niche market, a runaway success or yesterday’s news. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Like, you know, the next time I come over I’ll step off the plane and it will be the same sort of reception the Beatles got. I’m from Liverpool too, so it could happen. Scouse alchemy: it’s potent stuff.

We did make some changes to the US edition—removing some cultural references which just don’t travel beyond these shores, and changing the terminology in places where it would have been confusing or unfathomable. We were pretty sparing, though: the British—and specifically London—vibe of the series is important to how it works and how it feels. We wanted very much to leave that intact.

The book scene…I’m really not best placed to answer that question, because I’m a newcomer in that respect. I’ve spent fifteen years working in comic books (overwhelmingly for American publishers) and TV (mostly European). The book scene is something I visit as a tourist. I think the different scale of the American market makes some things possible that aren’t possible in the UK, but in many ways I think British and US publishers are facing the same pressures right now—caught between the rock of online retailers and the hard place of celebrity book deals.

Q: Your fourth Felix Castor novel, “Thicker Than Water”, is coming out in March 2009. What can you tell us about the new book and when might US readers see the release? For that matter, when can US readers see the third Felix Castor novel, “Dead Men’s Boots”?

Mike: We’re actually working those details out right now—the publishing schedule for the next book and the plan for the ones that follow it—so it’s difficult for me to say anything specific about scheduling, beyond saying that the gap between British and US publication should be getting shorter.

Thicker Than Water” is the most intensely personal novel in the series so far. A lot of it is to do with Castor’s relationship with his older brother, Matt, and the reasons why they’ve grown apart over the years. It sees Castor going back to Liverpool and facing down some of his old ghosts in a number of different senses. And it has a major revelation about what demons are and how they function.

In a way we’re getting bigger with each book. There’s always still the murder mystery element, but increasingly Castor is chasing another mystery which is more intractable: why are the dead rising now, after so many millennia of human history? What’s changed, and where is this heading? We’re building up to answer all those questions in book six, but we’re hinting at some of the factors from “Dead Men’s Boots” onwards.

Q: Staying on the subject of Felix Castor, how far along are you on the fifth novel in the series and has anything developed regarding TV, film or other media spin-offs?

Mike: I’m approaching the halfway point on book five. I’m amazed at how easily it’s coming. “Thicker Than Water” was tough going at times, perhaps because parts of it are so confessional, but this one is just pouring out of me. I’m sure it won’t last, but right now I’ve got the sense that all the beats are sitting in my head in a three-dimensioanl array. I know exactly where I want to be at each stage. It’s a new experience, and a very pleasant one.

The discussion of where we go with a Castor movie (which is looking more likely than a TV series) is still ongoing, but I’m hoping that something solid will be mapped out this summer.

Q: Your Felix Castor novels fall under the ‘urban fantasy’ umbrella which is extremely hot right now. How do you feel about the subgenre’s popularity and the fact that publishers are signing and releasing so many new urban fantasy titles?

Mike: I’m cool with it. Generally I’m not very interested in labels. I think they can be like flags of convenience for pirate ships: disguise an author’s true intentions and make you fatally misinterpret what’s really going on.

But I’m conscious that I’m part of a wave, and that it’s not a wave I originated. The Castor novels look at the life/death interface differently from a lot of the books that are out there, and ultimately they’ve got a different core metaphor, but they draw inspiration from a lot of places—a lot of media, too. Hellblazer is there in Castor’s pre-history. So are TV shows like Buffy and American Gothic. So are the novels of Raymond Chandler, because we’re very much working with noir tropes.

I think the point is that any text is like part of the cloth on a loom: you’ve got threads weaving through it in a lot of different directions, linking it to things that came before and other things that are happening now. There are reasons why genres give birth to other genres in a jerky, disontinuous rhythm. Reasons beyond the commercial reasons, I mean. We’re all on the same loom. We’ve all got the same stuff weaving through us, more or less.

Q: In July/August 2008,
Subterranean Press is releasing “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy”, an anthology edited by William Schafer that includes original stories by Poppy Z. Brite, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Powers, Mike Resnick, Kage Baker, Patrick Rothfuss, Caitlin R. Kiernan and yourself. Can you tell us how you got involved with this project, what you think of the anthology, and what your short story, “Face”, is about?

Mike: Bill approached me after reading the first Castor novel and asked me if I’d be interested in doing something for
Subterranean. We’ve actually got some more ambitious plans bubbling away in the background, but “Face” was the first thing I wrote for him. It was just really good timing. He told me about the anthology he was preparing, and I had a story in my head which I’d just done in comics form and still hadn’t got out of my system. I wanted to take another crack at the main character and maybe tell the story in a slightly different way, so I pitched it to Bill and he thought it would be a good fit for the “Tales of Dark Fantasy” book. It’s an exploration of a couple of issues that are very loaded and very topical in Britain right now: the question of how minority groups engage with a mistrustful political establishment, and the wearing of the Muslim veil. The setting is a city in a fictional empire, very much modeled on the British Empire of the nineteenth century. A new colonial governor in this far-off outpost is trying to be a defender of civilized values: but his conception of what that means is kind of flawed, and we get to see the tensions between his private and public stances. It’s told in the first person, and he’s something of an unreliable narrator—not because he lies but because he understands so little about his own motivations.

Q: In the last interview we did
HERE, you talked about some other short stories that you were writing and a YA novel. What’s the latest word on these, or any other books/short fiction that you might be working on?

Mike: The short stories haven’t really materialized, but the YA novel is at an advanced stage of planning. It’s actually turning into something very exciting and different from anything I’ve done before, but it would feel like tempting fate to describe what it’s about before I’ve written any of it. I’m pretty confident it will happen, though: the only question is at what point I try to slip it in between Castor novels. Maybe after book six, because book seven—I should live so long—is going to be something of a new departure.

Q: We also talked about Frost Flowers, a film that you wrote the screenplay for and is in development through
Hadaly Pictures with a cast that includes Holly Hunter, Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame, and the singer Gavin Rossdale. How are things progressing with the film and what do you think of the cast? I also noticed that Hadaly Pictures is developing another screenplay you wrote called “Red King”. Can you tell us what that is about?

Mike: I have to admit that I haven’t had any updates on the
Hadaly situation in a while. The last I heard, they were looking into a US funding stream that would allow for a bigger initial release. Andrea, the director, said he’d have big news for me soon. I’m waiting to find out what that is.

Red King is a sci-fi movie about angels and drug addiction and the interface between the human and the divine. It’s at the outline stage right now.

Q: Regarding comic books, you’re involved in a lot of cool projects right now including Ultimate Fantastic Four, Crossing Midnight, X-Men: Legacy, Secret Invasion,
Coalition Comix, The Stranded, etc. Of these, I’m most impressed with your collaborations with Virgin Comics. How did you first get involved with Virgin, what sets them apart from other comic book publishers, what was it like working with Nicholas Cage and his son on Voodoo Child, what are your thoughts on Coalition Comix and the reaction it has received so far, and can you talk some about The Stranded—it’s genesis, your thoughts on the concept and how the SciFi Channel pilot is progressing which you wrote?

Virgin is doing some truly innovative and exciting things at the moment, and I’ve felt very lucky to be a part of that. They’re a very new company in the comics world, as you know, and they hit the ground running. With the Voices line they’ve set up astonishingly successful collaborations between Hollywood and comics talent: they’ve got the Sci-Fi imprint going now, which allows them to tap the experience and creative smarts of the Sci-Fi Channel’s top producers. They’ve done Coalition, which is a joint project with MySpace, and so on. They seem to be moving forward on so many fronts, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

What’s happening with
The Stranded is very exciting for me, because I’m being allowed to take the concepts forward into an entirely different medium and expand on it in ways that really enrich the story. Like a lot of science fiction stories, it really has its origins in a situation that’s very mundane and instantly recognizable. A lot of us have had the experience of learning something previously unsuspected about our childhood that makes us see ourselves or someone close to us in a different light. And almost all of us have at least played with the idea, in an idle moment, that we might not be who we think we are: that there might be some secret buried in our past. It’s a thought experiment. What if my parents aren’t my parents? What if gypsies or fairies or extra-terrestrials worked a switch when I was in the cradle? What if this me isn’t the real me?

I wanted to play some riffs on that idea and then pull it off in an unexpected direction and build it up into a wider science fiction concept. That’s what we got to do in the
Virgin miniseries, and that’s very much what we’re doing with the TV pilot, but with a different pacing and slightly different emphasis. Creatively, it’s a really exciting process.

Q: Are there any other comic book/graphic novel projects that you’re currently working on or plan on starting that you could talk about?

Mike: Well you’ve mentioned most of my
Marvel projects. I’m still very active in the X-Men line right now, which is a labour of love in a lot of ways. Chris Claremont’s X-Men got me back into comics at a time when I thought I’d outgrown them, and I’ve loved these characters ever since. There’s something really thrilling about getting my hands on them and adding some beats to their stories. Secret Invasion X-Men, with its colossal cast, was particularly enjoyable.

I’ve also got a project on the launch pad at
Vertigo—an ongoing book that’s very hard to categorize in terms of genre. It has fantasy elements, but really it’s a story about stories: an exploration of what stories mean to us, seen from the point of view of someone whose life is more or less defined by a story written by someone else. It’s going to be on the schedule for some time in 2009, but I’m writing it now and the artist—a very good friend of mine, a spectacular talent and one of my favourite people in the world to work with—is already working on issue one. I can’t say any more about it right now, but it’s something that’s really exercising my mind in a lot of good ways.

Q: Lastly, with entertainment becoming more technology-based, which in turn is becoming more advanced, is the print format (novels, comic books) in any danger of becoming obsolete, and what can publishers & authors do to adjust to the changing times? Additionally, what are your thoughts on ePublishing?

Mike: I’m all in favour of ePublishing, but I really can’t ever see it replacing the printed format. Maybe I’ve got my head in the sand here, and maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’m fetishistic about the physical object that is a book. I like its smell and its feel. Reading words on a computer monitor is a fundamentally different experience, even when—as with this new generation of reading devices—an effort has been made to simulate the exact look of a printed page. I can see the advantages in terms of portability, sharing, use of scarce resources—I just don’t think it will ever replace the real thing.

Having said that, ePublishing is a great way to get people turned onto new books and new authors. It’s part of a revolution in how we access the cultural tapestry I was talking about earlier, and only a complete Luddite would balk at that. I bought the first series of Dexter on DVD recently, and one of the extras was a complete chapter from the latest Dexter novel. It seemed like a very obvious and very natural thing to do. And obviously the internet is now a hugely important tool both for marketing people and for readers of books and comics: you’re never going to get a totally frictionless flow of information, but my God, we’re converging on it. Strange days indeed, you could say. But I’m honestly not complaining.


Kimberly Swan said...

This is one that's on my wish list because I loved, 'The Devil You Know'. Great review, I want it even more now, and I really enjoyed reading the interview. :)

Cheryl said...

Great interview. This makes me want to read one of this author's books

Robert said...

Kimberly, if you loved "The Devil You Know", you should love "Vicious Circle" even more :D

Cheryl, thanks! I highly recommend reading anything my Mr. Carey, be it his books or his comics...

Anonymous said...

Magic interview. This makes me want to read more and more and just to second your previous comment "Vicious Circle" is a fantastic book.


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