Cheeseburger Gothic

Jason Cox’s first book

Posted March 28 into Books by John Birmingham

A couple of years ago when I was collecting stories for the Dave Hooper anthology, I got this great little short from a guy called Jason. And then I got another one. And another one. And another. It just went on and on like the bombing of Dresden.

Except Jason’s word bombs were really good. All up he sent me seven pieces, and I’m pretty sure I used them all.

It’s been satisfying to watch him graduate to his own story worlds. His first novel, THE HARD MAN, dropped this week and he was kind enough to let me have an extract which you can read below.

I’ve already bought my copy right here, so I’ll be reading that.

2 Responses to ‘Jason Cox’s first book’

jl reckons...

Posted March 28
Good stuff by Jason, I was privileged to have Beta'd this. Enjoyed this book, recommend for anyone wanting an entertaining, fast-paced read.

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Therbs reckons...

Posted April 3
Its sitting on my kindle yelling at me to start. Who am I to deny a hard man?

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[Extract] The Hard Man, by Jason Cox

Posted March 28 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

In any prison population there is a hierarchy. Most of the crims inside form groups along racial lines. The Aussies all hang together so do the Asians and the Muslims. If there are bikers inside, they hang in their own groups—often with other biker groups that they have treaties with.

Normally, the biggest group runs the jail, arrangements are made to be sure that it’s not a free-for-all every day. If you’re not connected, you’re fair game. Most people decide to get connected when they realise how hard it is in here. A few over estimate their abilities and end up bleeding from one orifice or another and then they make a decision.

The management structure of these groups is pretty simple. It’s normally the craziest, the toughest or the smartest crim that ends up in charge. Mostly it’s the smartest one, and the toughest and craziest tend towards middle management which, in this case, is in charge of smacking people senseless. In here, Lepke runs the show. It’s not his real name but he couldn’t resist using Murder Incorporated as a gang name and it just went from there.

I’m not connected. I have the sort of reputation that can scare smart people off, so I have a level of respect. Before I found my true talents as an armed robber, I used to fight in the cage. Twenty-two wins, no losses, and I can still walk. It mightn’t sound like much but if you knew cage fighting, it’s fucking amazing. This isn’t that UFC stuff you see on TV, this is bare-knuckle anything goes. Two guys walk into a chain mesh enclosure and punch the crap out of each other until one stops moving. Pretty simple and pretty brutal.

The problem with prison gangs is they get too powerful. Then they can make the guards’ lives hell. The boss ends up like some sort of king. I’ve even heard of some of them getting consulted on official jail-house decisions to make sure the prisoners will all go along with them. Lepke is that kind of boss. The head guard is too scared to come on the ward anymore because Lepke’s threatened him. They tried to transfer Lepke but no one else wanted him. All they want is a quiet life—the guards, the wardens, the decision-makers. But in return for a favour, I think I can help out a little.

I finish talking to Uncle John and I get the guard to detour me before I go back to the cells. I need a favour and, in here, you only get favours when you give them. A quick chat and a handshake, and the deal is done.

Lepke keeps his ‘office’ at the end of the rec room. He’s set up the best armchair and a small desk and thinks he’s hot shit. His two bodyguards are on either side of the chair, chuckling away. It’s not like he needs bodyguards in here but he likes the affectation of it. They top out at about six foot six, and have the sort of build you only get from steroid abuse and long hours in the prison gym. The prisoners call them the Gorilla Bros; they think of it as a comment on their physique not their intellect, which makes the truth of it self-evident.

As I approach Lepke, both the Gorilla Bros stand up and block my way, trying to look as menacing as possible.

‘Can we help…?’ And that is about as far as he gets before, I hit him straight in the throat with a right hand. My fingers are open and push right into the windpipe. It’s a sucker shot and he should have been expecting it. As I mentioned before, complacency can be a killer. The other Gorilla is caught a little off guard. They don’t really expect to be attacked, which is what I was planning on. His knees are straight, all the weight forward. Idiot. He still hasn’t moved when my heel hits the side of his knee—the crack is all the confirmation I need. I pull his head forward as he falls, and drive my knee into his nose. He falls flat and doesn’t move, unlike the other one who is rolling around and would be screaming if he could get any breath. Lepke starts to run, but there is nowhere for him to go.

The other prisoners are all moving away. They know this would be trouble for anyone who doesn’t help, so they need to be anywhere else but here. The only flaw in the plan is if someone wants to score points and tries to step in and help Lepke. No one does. Dropping the Gorilla Bros like I did was meant to deter anyone who was thinking about lending a hand. It seems to work.

I grab Lepke by the hair as he tries to run past. He likes to wear it long—no idea why, it’s just an invitation to hurt him. The brief was simple. Put him off the floor for as long as possible and ruin any credibility when he gets back. I just bash his head into the doorframe until he stops moving. The final touch is when I drape him over the unconscious Gorilla Brother so it looks as if he‘s sucking his dick. It’s the little touches that mean a lot.

The screws charge in after that, and I am hard up against the wall with a face full of capsicum spray and plastic cuffs on. They are pretty rough until I get out of sight, then it was all water bottles and eyewash. The cell in solitary even has a double thickness mattress and they send in fish and chips as a thank you. It made the wait easier.

Four weeks later, the parole comes through with time off for good behaviour being recommended by a grateful friend.

The old man buys the store before I get out.

5 Responses to ‘[Extract] The Hard Man, by Jason Cox’

insomniac mumbles...

Posted March 28
I understand the need for the set up but I found the first few paragraphs hard going. After that though I found it very readable. A few lols here and there helped with that. I'll give the rest of it a go. Good stuff Jason.

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jl mutters...

Posted March 28
If y'all can find the time, please leave reviews on The Beast. They are incredibly hard to come by and they make a real difference.

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jason puts forth...

Posted March 29
Much thanks to JB and JL. Taking time out to help a newbie like me is much appreciated.

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
Brother, everyone is a newbie once. Never a problem.

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Wow Jason you write beautifully about a very ugly scene. Mad props to you, I need to see where this goes now :)

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The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole

Posted March 27 into Books by John Birmingham

I usually think of fantasy novels as epic. Epic in in scope, epic in length, epic in the sheer fucking tonnages of old growth forest felled to provide their thousands of pages. I’ve got all George RR Martin’s GoT books in hard back on the shelf somewhere behind me, and on quiet nights I can hear the hardwood groaning under their weight.

I was surprised then to discover that Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is a genuinely slim volume, in hardback running to just over two hundred pages. The hobbit’s tea party at the start of LoTR felt longer than that. (Much longer. I never actually got past it).

And yet Cole has written such a densely packed story that I can’t imagine it running longer. It would be too much to bear. Every word, every line seems honed to strike a critical blow at the reader. Nothing is wasted and there is nothing that could be reasonably added to improve this novel. Not even ‘splosions. It seemed as I read it so perfectly crafted that I had to keep stopping to breathe and control my seething jealousy. I read one chapter a day, usually at lunch time, because that was all I could handle. The characters are drawn so vividly, their concerns so intimate, and the peril into which they pass seems so dire that it would fuck with my head if I read any more than that in one day, or if I made the mistake of reading it too late in the evening.

You don’t want to lay your head down with this story playing out behind your eyes.

So what happens?

The story is told by Heloise, a village girl in a grim medieval theocracy where warrior priests violently enforce a rigid stratification of the settled order. In fact they call themselves the Order. For a backward, priest ridden primitive hellhole, there’s a lot going on here. I won’t give away any spoilers, because I’m not a monster, but I can say that the Order’s unchallenged power derives from their historic role of protecting the realm from monsters and demons.

Except nobody’s actually seen any for so long that a rational man might begin to wonder whether they ever existed, or whether its just a dodge dreamed up by these scripture addled psychopaths of the unholy Order.

I will confess myself somewhat fucking shocked to discover the truth of it. Cole has great fun misdirecting, misleading and generally fucking with his readers. The world he has created here is beautifully realised. The characters live, and you really, really, really end up invested in Heloise and her terrible dilemma.

I’m just stepping outside to buy the next novel in the series. I may be gone for some time.

7 Responses to ‘The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole’

insomniac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 27
So...The Dave could be a prequel then. It's a short hop from 'The' to 'St.'.

insomniac mutters...

Posted March 27
Reading the extract in Amazon, it's pretty tight writing. Perhaps I should add it, and the others, to the invisible pile of Kindle shame.

she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 27
I added it to my invisible pile of iBooks shame when JB first mentioned he was reading it. This review has now prompted me to lift it from the invisible pile of shame and into the visible Reading Now pile of smugness :)

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted March 27
This review is excellent timing, because I finished my current book last night and was casting about for the next one. Sold!

Also, to be SUPER nit picky, you spelt Myke's name wrong in the title of your post. Autocorrect probably got to you again, but as someone who gets their name spelled wrong even when people have it spelled out in front of them in correspondence, I couldn't let it slide. Sorry :(

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted March 27
*Shakes fist at an uncaring sky*

"DAMN YOU, AUTOCORRECT!"

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Spanner reckons...

Posted March 27
Damn you JB. Damn you to heck.

My pre order of Tiamat’s Wrath: The Expanse audiobook just landed in my audible app.

I’m currently listening to Batavia by Mr Fitzsimonds on my commute.

I can’t juggle a dead tree book and two audio books.

I can’t just buy this and toss it on my pile of shame...or can I.

Yes. Yes I can.

STOP JUDGING ME YOU JERKS.

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted March 27
Look it’s all well and good for JB to casually toss another outstandingly great novel endorsement but for those of us with steadily accumulating to-read lists I’d appreciate if he would confine himself to only read those on my already voluminous ‘want to read’ books listed on my goodreads page.

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It's ... er... research

Posted March 13 into Games by John Birmingham

Seriously thinking of getting this game simply because the open world design looks very similar to what I'll have to do with Zero Day Code (minus zombies).

For those not up with current events, ZDC is my End-of-the-World Patreon project that just got picked up by Audible. It's The Stand, without a supernatural meta story. (Or Days Gone without the running dead).

13 Responses to ‘It's ... er... research’

she_jedi asserts...

Posted March 13
Research is critical. You should get onto this :)

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted March 13
I don't know if it's research but it does look like something I could sink enormous hours of time into.

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted March 13
Over at Kotaku reviewed it thus "Jason, Kirk and Maddy touched on Days Gone recently in the Splitscreen podcast, describing it as "the most AAA-arse video game" imaginable. That's basically saying that Days Gone tries to merge every possible mechanic and system from every other AAA open-world game in recent memory, and after three hours with the game myself, it's pretty accurate".

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 13
My video game playing days are behind me. I look at the quality of what these games offer these days and sigh wistfully. On the plus side i have 5 acres to look after and nurture (semi sarcasm intended)

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted March 13
Five acres, eh? That'll come in handy when the dead rise up. Apropos of nothing... where do you live? And do you keep weapons?

FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted March 14
ha. Not going to tell you city dwellers!

(it's out between Lithgow and Bathurst). The land is poor for farming but doesn't stop cows and sheep. Also some very handy nature reserves and state forests on the doorstep for exploring. Unfortunately the nearest pub is about 10kms away.

jl is gonna tell you...

Posted March 14
Rural life, you have to drive a lot. Has its upsides, though. Quiet, roomy, and clear fields of fire against threatening hosts of the undead.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 14
Zombie hoardes? No problem but if it gets into the wombat population we're all screwed. Those little tanks of blood thirsty one minded purpose? Zombats has to be a good b movie right?

Brother PorkChop puts forth...

Posted March 15
Zombats!! It could be a classic! Followed up by the inevitable DropBears and Pozzoms. Has to be shown on all flights into Oz as a documentary.
Reminds me of the Japanese hioneymoon couple in Cairns that called the front desk to tell us there was a wani in their room. Wani being crocodile which truned out to be a gekko.

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rainburger asserts...

Posted March 13
Really looking forward to this, It sounds great, the audible deal just makes it sweeter. When does it come out?

Also, I don't keep up with your news as well as I could, so I will just ask. Any news on WW3.1?

Also been hanging for new Dave for quite a while and was wondering about that as well.

Sorry to pester, I just love your writing and am generally impatient.

Keep it up John.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted March 14
WW 3.1 should be drafted in about five weeks. It's my primary title now. Dave is delayed at the bar.

Rob mutters...

Posted March 15
more Dave. Maybe just sell the rights to Netflix? just sell it as a Orc-romcom with embiggining. That'll work.

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Oldy reckons...

Posted March 15
It looks great. Like GTA San Andreas only with this decade's graphics.

Also, I'm busting for WW 3.1. Axis of Time was my intro to all things Birmo, and I'm especially fond of Ivanov and your Prince Harry. Keen.

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"The horror, the fkn horror, mate"

Posted March 12 by John Birmingham

The Herald today has a fascinating obit for an old digger, "Barry Petersen was an Australian army captain who led top secret CIA operations in the highlands during the Vietnam War."

He wasn't the model for Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. (That was arguably US army Colonel Davd Hackworth) but like Kurtz "he got too close to the natives and the CIA wanted him out, dead or alive."

Petersen got on well with the Montagnard, particularly the Rade tribe who lived around the highland city of Ban Me Thuot. He learnt their language, honoured their customs and traditions, including drinking the potent rice wine. He paid them well with CIA money and armed them with CIA-supplied guns.

Even though he was operating alone in the mountains, Petersen was so successful that within a year he had more than 1000 Montagnard militia fighters using the same guerrilla tactics as the Viet Cong – ambush the enemy, hit hard and disappear into the jungle.

The communists learnt to go around Petersen’s territory rather than take him on. They put a price on Petersen’s head, but his militia kept a close guard on him.

He was extremely popular with his men. They declared the Australian officer a demi-god, and showered him with honoured brass armbands denoting him a tribal chief.

At his home he kept a pet sun bear and a baby leopard he’d been given by one of his men. Petersen’s militia became known as the Tiger Men because of the striped jungle camouflage uniforms he’d obtained from the CIA warehouse. He had snarling tiger head badges made for their berets to make the various Montagnard tribes in his units feel united.

But after almost two years in the highlands with the Montagnard tribesmen, Petersen’s relations with the CIA soured. Some CIA agents thought Petersen was becoming too successful, and getting too close to the Montagnard.

After that, things did not go well. They didn't send Martin Sheen after him, but his command was terminated, with prejdice.

Full obit is here.

5 Responses to ‘"The horror, the fkn horror, mate"’

HAVOCK21 ducks in to say...

Posted March 12
And yet, here we are, knowing so little about a man and his deeds that at first blush appear to be extraordinary. One might well find that its all political bullshit as usual, but we should not let that deviate us from acknowledging his rather heroic efforts!

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jl reckons...

Posted March 12
Going native is an occupational hazard. Godspeed, LTC Petersen.

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Naut asserts...

Posted March 13
He wrote a book Tiger Men which is worth a read. Pretty full-on story

Naut is gonna tell you...

Posted March 13
It actually reminded me of some of the Coast Watcher stories from WWII.

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damian reckons...

Posted March 16
Of course, Apocalypse Now is a movie adaption of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and that’s where the Kurtz character comes from. In practice sure it’s possible that Coppola had a modern inspiration, and it’s a pretty neat idea, but it isn’t a necessary one.

There are some really interesting learnings from Heart of Darkness in relation to current debates on a number of issues, but that’s a separate concern.

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Captain Marvel is good

Posted March 11 into Movies by John Birmingham

I took in this film on the weekend with Jane. It was good. That's really all the review you need, but this being the internet, fapping wankbadgers require I do more.

I'll fess up that I didn't know the Captain Marvel character before watching this film. I did read a long, explanatory thread on the Twitz, by the author Wesley Chu as I recall, who laid out the entire fascinating history while standing in a car park after a date.

His date abandoned him, but at least I got a great thread to read. Long story short, Captain Marvel go caught up in an IP dispute between US and UK comic publishers who finally swapped the character's gender and name to avoid a copyright suit.

Perfect. I love it.

Having no investment the canon I came at the movie without preconceptions. Honestly, I found the first Act a little confusing. But it quickly became obvious why. Brie Larson's character Carol Danvers is still discovering her own history and her imperfect memory is far from a reliable narrator. If you find yourself thinking, "What the fuck is going on here?" it's because the writers and producers WANT you to be thinking exactly that.

For fans of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, the main narrative sequence predates the events of last year's Infinity War by about twenty years. Larson's character, who undergoes a number of name changes as she recovers her memories and personal history (but is never once called Captain Marvel) arrives on Earth in the 1990s, literally dropping into a Blockbuster Video store. Even back then, it's looking dilapidated and I did enjoy this piece of proactive retrofuturist nostalgia.

Speaking of which, Agents Coulson and Fury are much younger and largely unknown to each other. They haven't yet gone full to Men in Black mode, and Danver's arrival is a large part of the reason why they do, and why Fury eventually sets up the Avengers Initiative.

You dont need to know the plot. There's an alien war, it spill's over here. A lot of preconceptions are set up and turned over.

My bottom line is I enjoyed it hugely. Larson really makes the story and character arc work. By the end of the movie she is effectively Superman with a double X chromosome. Seriously, she would kick the Man of Steel's shiny ass. She'll be a great addition to the roster when the Avengers return.

11 Responses to ‘Captain Marvel is good’

Vovchara asserts...

Posted March 11
I will not say I am surprised. You liked "Last Ship" after all, and that show is a steaming pile of garbage. Good thing your taste in entertainment does not translate to your writing. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here.

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jl has opinions thus...

Posted March 11
I've not been in a theatre in a while, this film may do. Been curious about it since I saw the trailer.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted March 11
It was good fun.

jl mutters...

Posted March 12
Sold. Think I'll take my daughter this weekend.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon reckons...

Posted March 12
I take it you didn't take the kids? I'm finding that i give movies a better personal review if i watched it with the kids and they enjoyed it. If it gives them joy it notches my joy in the viewing experience up a few bars.

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HAVOCK21 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 12
mmm sounds god, though I must say , she is a little hippy, but that's no real draw back I guess..

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Leftarc mutters...

Posted March 12
Loved it. Took the daughter and she enjoyed it too (not as much as Wonder Woman, but I think that is due to more people knowing about Wonder Woman than Captain Marvel). Funny, clever, confused at first but understanding at the end. Ticked all the boxes.
And as a white, middle aged, middle to upper class, straight, married male I did not feel threatened by this film in anyway.
Also, I reckon she will be able to lift Thor's hammer in End Game. Captain America moved it, and we know what he was made from.

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she_jedi mumbles...

Posted March 12
I have to admit I was on board just for Nick Fury as Crazy Cat Gentleman, looking forward to this :)

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 12
I caught it last weekend and enjoyed immensely, a delightfuly snarky, confident character. My favourite line was when she told Jude Law's character she owed him nothing.

For those that read the comics a lot of excellent easter eggs, including the Stan lee cameo, and its always satisfying to see Australia's Ben Mendelsohn in scifi films.

Looking forward to seeing her kick Thanos ass.

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Oldy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 15
I saw it last Sunday. Loved it.

Coming at it from 45yrs of Marvel (and DC) comics nerddom, I did enjoy the spin on different characters and... things.

It's just a scratch!

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she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 18
Now that I've seen it, it was awesome, and I loved it. Any movie where a cat is the MVP is instantly my new favourite :)

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