Thursday, December 7, 2017

There’s Only One Rule That I Know of, Babies— (The Basilisk Murders)

I never expected to write about Andrew Hickey so soon. I was sure I was going to get to him eventually, but I figured I’d have talked about him in the blog proper rather than in a spin off post. I suppose I should introduce him, if only for the readers who aren’t in the same blogging communities I swim in. Hickey is a science fiction critic whose work ranges from analyzing the unintentional implications of American comics by Scottish writers to exploring the historical importance of The Monkees to leaving various projects about Cerebus incomplete.

In regards to my personal history with the author, he was one of the first critics that made me rethink how I view fiction and the world around me. Given the blogging circles he walks through, as well as the book this post is about, one could argue he was my Red Pill into the world of postmodernist critics. Unfortunately for those invested in “rational” narratives, I somehow did not discover those other authors through him (especially irritating given the article Hickey wrote on sentient universes [an article I remember giving me an idea or two] directly links to one of those author’s blog). But that’s life for you: coherency was never an option.
Recently, he’s written some fiction works (primarily within the science fiction genre, though he has written a Sherlock Holmes pastiche focusing on Dr. Watson that I’ve heard good things about), which while not as good as his critical work, still have a level of quality to them. Indeed, there’s a sense that Hickey’s getting better book-by-book. And while I prefer his previous book (Destroyer), this remains the case with his most recent book, The Basilisk Murders.
Given the preamble I gave to this post, one would not be surprised to see me compare the book to Philip Sandifer’s upcoming (and brilliant) Neoreaction a Basilisk, as both books explore the same snake. However, while there would be humor in that, the books are radically different enough in genre, style, and worldview (Hickey is very much an optimist, while Sandifer [as he presents himself within the text] can be best described as the cynicism of someone who walks down the streets during a downpour unable to remain dry while occasionally pointing out houses on the street) that such a comparison would be tenuous at best.
No, the book The Basilisk Murders ought to be compared to is Warren Ellis’ Normal. Both are locked room mysteries based around a group of highly intelligent, highly unsociable, and slightly mad geniuses being trapped in the same place while a series of unexplained murders happen around them. The only person willing and able to solve the mystery is a person who isn’t the typical detective. There are differences between the works, most notably in the solutions to each of the mysteries. While Normal opts for a more science fiction answer (and a technology the Basilisk Murders offhandedly scoffs at), The Basilisk Murders opts for a more human killer.
It is this difference in solution that highlights the core theme of The Basilisk Murders. More than the jokes at the expense of mathematicians, the befuddlement at wanting to live forever in a computer, and the disgust at the racist rhetoric espoused by rational people, the book has one clear idea it wants to explore: how do you interact with other people? This perhaps most shown with the relation ship between Sarah, our narrator and protagonist, and her wife Jane. Recently, they’ve been having a fight and Sarah feels like her relationship has been falling apart. Being around these tech people has gotten her in the unhealthy mindset of acquisition. Additionally, her ex girlfriend is one of those people and Sarah’s beginning to contemplate if she was responsible for that relationship falling apart as well. I won’t spoil her conclusions on the matter; suffice it to say things aren’t as simple as a math formula.

Hickey’s prose is phenomenally readable, to the point where I’ve had to force myself to stop reading. The book’s wit works wonders, though dies down as the body count begins to rise (though it sadly uses up it’s best joke in the opening chapter). While not up to the standards of quality of his critical work (though Chapter 24 does get the book close to that point), it’s still a good read with its heart in the right place. For no one is an island and sometimes you just need to come in out of the rain.

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[Photo: Doom Patrol #19 by Grant Morrison and Richard Case]

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