Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

The book’s title is one which caused me to do a double take when I saw it. Gun Machine is such an unusual flopping of word order. Isn’t it supposed to be “Machine Gun”? In so many ways, this juxtaposition is a perfect lead in for the novel.

I’ve never been a big comic book fan. My readings have always been the mainstream ones, Batman, Spiderman, and even… Richie Rich. Look, as a little kid, I really enjoyed the Richie Rich stories. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. Being that I’m not a comic book guy, I never really knew about Warren Ellis until just a few years ago. I think it was Boing Boing which introduced me to him, and since then I’ve followed him online and subscribed to his blog. So when I heard about his new novel: Gun Machine, I knew I needed to add it to my already towering stack of books to read.

Yesterday, taking advantage of a quiet morning I sat down and submerged myself in the Gun Machine. We’re introduced to John Tallow, or ‘Tallow’ as he’s most frequently referred to in the novel, is a cop with an unusual love of history and books and a loner. He also goes out of his way to be a loner. He never even met the wife of his partner over the 18 months they worked together. His cop car is loaded down with books, papers, and print outs such that it actually occupies much of the car’s back seat. We learn that Tallow is a cop who’s over it, or quite nearly over it.

Opposite Tallow we’re introduced to ‘The Hunter,’ a mystic or mad man — we’re never quite sure — who lives in New York City alongside Tallow. Where Tallow lives in the daylight, The Hunter exists in the shadows of the city going so far as to map and track CCTV cameras such that he can travel the city with minimal exposure. He sees the city in a disorienting hybrid of reality and some pre-civilized grass-covered landscape and repeatedly we see him deal with mental discord as some anachronism rushes through the opposite setting such as a car careening through a pastoral valley. We’re unsure for much of the book what exactly the story and truth around this mysterious person is, and Ellis masterfully unfolds his story alongside Tallow’s own discoveries. What we learn quickly is that The Hunter is a masterful killer with no conscience to speak of.

The intersection between Tallow and The Hunter is the book’s titular reference, a room filled with guns. Not just a closet or workshop but a full apartment unit which has its walls covered with guns arranged in interlocking patterns.

After Tallow’s partner and he answer a call concerning a naked and armed apartment resident, a fateful shotgun blast reveals the room of guns. Here is a wonderful trailer for the book below narrated by Wil Wheaton and drawn by Ben Templesmith. The video is an excerpt from the novel where the room of guns is discovered and described.

Joss Whedon has said that, in his mind, Serenity was one of the main characters on Firefly. I find myself feeling the same way about the gun room in Gun Machine. So central is it to the plot and the story, so important for how it holds this plot’s web together, it would be a major fallacy to overlook how crucial this room is. Even after the room itself is disassembled and collected for evidence, Tallow reconstructs the room using photos such that he can recreate the effect the room had on him. They lay out photos and printings of the guns, papering walls and the floor in the CSU building, such that he is able to do “cop voodoo.” The Hunter was forced to watch as his creation was disassembled, repeatedly he considers storming in and simply killing the people disassembling his masterpiece, only to stop himself out of a desire to remain unseen.

The discovery of this room reopens hundreds of closed cold-case files. An event which, even when the police force had the manpower, would prove daunting. During a time where the cops are strapped for people and money (which is always it seems) it becomes a political chess piece. Tallow’s lieutenant despite her apparent fondness for Tallow, saw his diminishing will for the job and decided to hang the albatross of a room around his neck and let him be the fall guy for it. One man versus hundreds of cold cases versus a true bogey-man of a serial killer. We discover that despite her expectation that he will fail, she supports him and even the Captain of the precinct supports him even though he expects failure and the case to be the executioner’s axe.

The discovery of the room also leads Tallow into a web that goes beyond just the 200 murders, it uncovers a larger plot with more important players. But, despite that, it is still central to these two men – Tallow and The Hunter.

The city that Ellis portrays is a grim, bloody, animalistic city. Tallow listens to the police scanner while he drives and thus is constantly awash in the horrible things happening around the city. There are stories of rapes, murder-suicides, robberies, and more. It’s a city vastly darker than the glamorous New York so often shown even in the cop shows on TV. This is a city that I would be terrified to go out in lest I end up on the wrong end of a mugging.

Gun Machine by Warren EllisThis sort of mystery is the one I most enjoy where it isn’t a matter of finding the key to solving it, it’s a matter of focus. We, as a reader, know we have the frame and perspective, it’s only as Ellis carefully shows us what we’re looking at does it snap into focus.

It’s a quick read, with 280 pages, I finished it in a single morning. The narrative moves quickly and I definitely felt the pull to continue at the end of each chapter. I encourage you to read this book if you like mysteries or enjoy Ellis’ graphic novels.

It’s also worth noting that the rights for the book have already been sold to Fox, so perhaps we’ll see John Tallow face the Hunter on TV. I could see it being the basis for a crime procedural series, or maybe just a movie. But we’ll see if it pops up in the next few years.

Let me know what you think! I tried to keep this review spoiler-free despite the constant tugging for me to dive deeper into the plot. Shoot me an email πŸ™‚

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Header image from 1yen on Flickr.


Review: “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason

The parable is one of the timeless methods of sharing wisdom and information, from the same vein of mythological stories, fables and legends. George Clason fell on this method of writing, giving us a faux historical document to share wisdom which β€” in truth β€” is completely timeless and most likely were points of wisdom shared by teachers to students and elders to youth.

The wisdom held in this book is indeed valuable insights, though initially I struggled with the idea of working to gain wealth when I myself sit in a hole of debt. This was addressed further into the book though it took a stand that was less than modern, basically saying that if you have debt, you should talk to all your debt-holders and explain your situation β€” that you can only pay 20% of your income towards your debts. Since the debt holders will clearly understand this and respond favorably, you can get used to spending less but while still making at least some small payment towards your debt.

While it is hopeful of the best case scenario, that’s quite clearly the goal of the book. Its goal is not to train you for every eventuality but rather provide you some solid stones as things to think about for your financial success. Here are some of my favorite passages from the book:

That what each of us calls our necessary expenses will always grow to equal our incomes unless we protest to the contrary.

A PART OF ALL YOU EARN IS YOURS TO KEEP. It should not be less than a tenth no matter how little you earn. It can be as much more as you can afford.

When I set a task for myself, I complete it. Therefore, I am careful not to start difficult and impractical tasks, because I love leisure.

Advice is one thing that is freely given away, but watch that you take only what is worth having. He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions.

The quotable lines in the book are numerous, and I could argue that perhaps every line in the book is quotable. This says less for the amount of what is being said, and instead for the quality of the editing work that trimmed the novel down to the barest of forms leaving a sleek and easily readable novel filled with wisdom.

I think one point which the book doesn’t highlight is the importance of knowing people. It talks about seeking wisdom from those who know, rather than taking advice about investing from a brick layer. But you must still know these people, or know how to find them, and validate them.

This is a book which will definitely merit rereading from year to year and will fall into the stack of books that my future children will be forced to read and endure.

The Richest Man in Babylon
ISBN: 0451205367
Length: 120 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars

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