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Katja from the Punk Band
Simon Logan
ChiZine Publications, 280 pages

Katja from the Punk Band
Simon Logan
Simon Logan has been writing in the small press since 1999. He is also the author of Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void, the short story collections I-O and Nothing Is Inflammable and the fetishcore collection Rohypnol Brides as well as many other short stories. Another collection of his earlier work A Small Collection of Mediocre Stories was published by Rainfall Books.

Simon Logan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: i-o: input output

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

Simon Logan wants, and probably deserves, his own genre. For example, his short story collection, Rohypnol Brides, glories in the description "fetishcore"; fair enough, these days you can stick "core" on the end of anything and make a new musical genre. As the title suggests though, Katja from the Punk Band harks back to something more classical: not cyberpunk, not post-cyberpunk, just straight punk.

Neuromancer, William Gibson's brave new digital world, was famously written on a typewriter. Logan, in contrast, is flinging himself backwards into the analogue world: "Packets and wrappers lie like shed skin and there are audio cassettes scattered across the floor." C30, C60, C90, Go! Okay, it isn't entirely analogue, there are more circuit boards than valves. However, even when Logan embraces the digital, it is obsolete: an arcade is dominated by an "Atari blitz" and the "electronics are so fragile it would be too great a risk to switch them off for fear they might never return to life again."

We meet Katja -- accessorised with drooping Mohawk and plastic tracheotomy tube -- as she arrives late for work at a diner, having just murdered her boyfriend. It is an intense, paranoid start to an intense, paranoid novel. Betrayal is always just around the corner. She has killed him to take possession of mysterious vial which offers the possibility of a way off the island. Unsurprisingly, others would seek to acquire the vial just as violently as Katja did. As for the island itself, well, it is typical of Logan that its existence is simply presented as a fact and not dwelled upon beyond that. From the names of the characters, we can perhaps assume that it is off the coast of Russia but it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that it is a shithole from which everyone yearns to escape:

  The place is in the nice part of town, but on the island there's an upper limit as to how nice a place can get and that limit is just below slum.  

This is my second Simon Logan novel after Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void and I think I am starting to get the hang of his style. As I said in my introduction, he is fairly unique and if you approach his work expecting a science fiction novel -- as I previously did and as his choice of publishers suggests -- then you are likely to be wrong-footed. You need to embrace Logan's idiosyncrasies. Take, for example, this eye-catching sentence:

  Forklifts trundling along beneath the glare of the floodlights overhead like steel-fascist dinosaurs.  

There is a similarly startling and startlingly similar sentence in Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void. There it tripped me up as unexpected pretension, here it strikes me that Logan is just taking the piss. It is a very straight-faced novel but I'm sure there is a slyness lurking underneath. What is impressive about Logan is his distinctive milieu, his command of tone and atmosphere and his deftly sketched selection of characters. What is lacking from Katja from the Punk Band, however, is any real meat to the story. Essentially, this is a drug deal gone wrong and, regardless of how many layers Logan adds to raise the stakes, it cannot transcend these humble and familiar roots. There is nothing wrong with telling a small story and he pursues it to a fully earned conclusion but I was still left wanting more. So, whilst I am learning to love Logan, I want more than three chords.

I will just close with a few words in praise of Chizine Publications. Originally known for the eponymous long-running webzine, they have recently expanded to become a print publisher, quickly establishing a list that includes Logan, Claude Lalumière, Tim Lebbon and various other people whose surnames don't begin with L. Just as exciting as what is between the covers are the covers themselves. Katja from the Punk Band is a simply beautiful artefact and the same is true of their other titles. Chizine Publications represent something which is common in the music industry but sadly rarer within the publishing industry, that a clever independent can run rings round the majors in terms of style and content.

Copyright © 2010 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in East London. He is the reviews editor of Vector and also regularly reviews for Strange Horizons. He blogs at Everything Is Nice.

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