John Lee, the narrator of many of the more famous Miéville books on audio, has a voice made for very specific kinds of stories. The City and the City...moreJohn Lee, the narrator of many of the more famous Miéville books on audio, has a voice made for very specific kinds of stories. The City and the City is one of those stories wherein his voice works, as it also does with Miéville's Kraken. He has the kind of voice that perfectly suits the cynical world of our now. Hard without being harsh (and without the gravelly phlegm of smoking too much), almost combative in his delivery and mostly humourless (which worked oddly well in the very funny Kraken), Lee sounds like the sort of guy Miéville is usually writing about in his Earthbound books. So imagining Lee's voice as that of Tyador Borlu, even with the English accent when it should really be some form of Balkan accent, is not at all difficult. His voice is perfect for the jaded cop from Beszel, expressing pragmatism, annoyance and righteousness (though not necessarily of the "self") in turns. I'm not as big a fan of John Lee when he tries to read the Bas Lag books, but for Miéville's stuff on Earth, there is no one better. (less)
I am feeling quartered over Two Generals. In one quarter, I dig Scott Chantler's art with reservations; in another, I am impressed by his portrayal of...moreI am feeling quartered over Two Generals. In one quarter, I dig Scott Chantler's art with reservations; in another, I am impressed by his portrayal of the Nazis, when he happens to portray them at all; in another, I am simultaneously disappointed with his propaganda of Canadian excellence and pleased that he shows Juno beach, the least talked about beach in the Normandy invasion; in another, I am disappointed that the two parts of the Two Generals are all there is.
His art: Chantler's illustrations are beautiful. There is a delicacy at odds with their perfect linear geometry that makes the illustrations surprisingly emotive. I didn't expect such emotion to be conveyed by a graphic illustrator whose style is simplicity, but I was wrong. Moreover, Chantler's use of close ups and repetition, mostly used in quiet moments, added a gravity that I appreciated. There was a problem for me, however, and that was that everything was too clean. Chantler shows limbs blown off and a foxhole full of Canadian dead, but even those moments are clean. I am not sure that Chantler's style can ever be anything but clean, which makes it a poor style, ultimately, for the portrayal of war. See, I am torn.
His view of the Nazis: The Hollywood view of Nazis as buffoons or Nazis as pure evil is both inaccurate and, I believe, dangerously reductive. Not recognizing that they were regular people, living regular lives, who engaged in terrible things (or tacitly agreed to letting terrible thigns happen) makes it much easier for us to believe we could never do such things, which makes it much easier for such things to happen. Chantler doesn't go the Hollywood route. His Nazis are, indeed, regular folks. Fervent believers, but regular folks. Until, that is, he comes to Rommel and Hitler. The former is the accepted stereotype of the good and honourable German soldier trapped by circumstance, and the latter is the magnetic cult leader of our nightmares (a little more Manson that Hitler, actually). These portrayals, though, are as they are because these historical figures only appear on a couple of pages. I'd like to see Chantler write another of these historical graphic novels about Rommel. I wonder what that would be like?
His propaganda: Living in Canada, having been raised by a Canadian Mum in amongst Canadians, having been educated by Canadians, I know how unappreciated Canadians feel for their contributions to victory in WWI and WWII. They feel very unappreciated. It makes sense then that Chantler, whose grandfather, Law Chantler (the protagonist of Two Generals) fought in the Normandy invasion, would write and draw about Canada's D-Day beachhead, Juno Beach. Furthermore, it makes sense that he would be writing to inform us all of Canada's WWII military excellence. But it bothers me just a little bit. I agree that Britain and the U.S. underappreciate the contribution of Canada (and England's other colonies for that matter), but I have a hard time with the desire seek appreciation for contributions to war. And when my reservations are coupled with Chantler's none-to-subtle suggestions that Canadians were the most poorly supplied, the biggest underdogs, and still made the most important contributions at every step of the D-Day invasion -- the crucial contributions that made victory possible -- I can't stop myself from squirming in my chair.
My disappointment: Yet I find myself, despite how I am torn by this book, wishing that it was much, much longer. I didn't want this to end. I wanted to see more of Law Chantler's time in Europe, and I wanted to see much more of the Canadian contribution (minus the bias) to the entirety of the war. I hope Chantler continues to write personal histories of people and events. He has a gift. (less)
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the...moreA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell.(less)
There’s no denying David David Katzman (DDK) is a talented writer. He’s no hack. He’s no dilettante fuckin...moreI hate this book, but that is a good thing.*
There’s no denying David David Katzman (DDK) is a talented writer. He’s no hack. He’s no dilettante fucking around because he thinks he has a good idea that “just needs to be published.” He’s the real deal. A writer’s writer. A writer with teeth and muscle. A writer with the ability to incite. And that’s what he did to me with A Greater Monster.
He incited rage and loathing, but that is a good thing.
He was a Cathead playing with me like the proverbial mouse (or a dog who refuses to masturbate) before killing me and eating me. His font games and wordplay were sadistic. His incessant twisting of homonyms and homophones was unbearable. Torturous is not an understatement. I wanted nothing more than for this book to end. I needed to be free of the trail of gunpowder he’d lit like a nasty, hallucinogenic Bugs Bunny. But all that’s good too.
It’s a good thing because there’s an audience out there begging for A Greater Monster – needing A Greater Monster. I may not be part of that audience, but they exist. I even know a few of them. And they will read this book on my recommendation and be incited to raptures and ecstasies, and they will rank it amongst their favourites ever. DDK is a voice for those of the urban subterrain; he is the voice of the edges and cracks and perforations of asphalt and post-industrial cubicles. People need DDK writing for them and to them and at them.
And he deserves to be read. Not just his brilliantly funny Death by Zamboni but this ugly, perverse, fomenting treatise of hyperreality called A Greater Monster. All DDK’s works deserve to be read.
I want him to be read. I want you to read him, whatever your feelings might be when you’re through. Read him. Love him. Hate him. Read this. Love this. Hate this. But don’t walk away from this book untouched, unaffected. Love A Greater Monster or hate A Greater Monster or love and hate A Greater Monster, but don’t put it down with an indifferent shrug. If you do that, the failure is yours. This book is extreme, so too should be your response, whichever direction it takes.
I hate this book. Almost as much as I love DDK. So when I get around to offering an upper level course in Bizarro fiction, this book will be the first on the required reading list. I hate this book, but I don’t have to like it to recognize its merit.
*it has always been my policy to rate books based on how I feel about them rather than their "merit."
Like Alexander taking his sword to the Gordian Knot, Paul Auster chops away at the knotty loop he's tangled throughout Travels in the Scriptorium -- i...moreLike Alexander taking his sword to the Gordian Knot, Paul Auster chops away at the knotty loop he's tangled throughout Travels in the Scriptorium -- inelegantly solving the very problem he created while invalidating the reader's input.
Until the ending, this was an obtuse work and brilliant for it's wide angle of perspective because the potential meanings were myriad. Mr. Blank could have been anyone. His crimes could have been anything. His victims could have been everyone or no one. This was a text begging for the reader to engage with the tale and finish it off, much as the "Final Report of Sigmund Graf" was begging Mr. Blank for completion, and my delight was in letting imagination wander about from allegorical possibility to allegorical possibility, and when Auster let this happen, Travels in the Scriptorium was marvelous.
Unfortunately, Auster couldn't walk away from the knot he'd tied and let us all face it on our own. He carried his sword, carried it as mercilessly as Alexander of Macedonia, and he hacked at the knot until it slumped into an uncoiled mess, cleaved into pieces, ensuring that the power of the knot was no more.
All the untangling I'd been doing was for naught; while i was reading, the untangling was everything. By the end, Auster left me with nothing. (less)
WARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't plan...moreWARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planning to read it for some time.
Star Trekiteuthis: The Original Series Episode: TOS 061 - Spock's Brain Season 3 Ep. 1 Air Date: 09/20/1968 Stardate: 5431.4
The U.S.S. Architeuthis is on a routine mission in its preservative bottle when a riffling, ink stained, paper tiger beams into the National History Museum. Without a word, the tiger reorders the ink of its pages and everyone is rendered unconscious. It moves around the Museum until finally it comes to Miéville. Smiling an inky smile, it lays a hand on the author's head, as if it's found what it was looking for.
When Wati Kirk awakes, Miéville is gone from the Museum. Before the labour organizer can find out where his author has gone, Dane Parnell calls, demanding his presence immediately. Miéville's body lays on a diagnostic table, on full life support. Dane Parnell explains that his brain is gone ... miraculously removed with some technology that the Kraken Agent has never seen before. Every nerve was sealed and there was no blood lost. However, Parnell tells him if the author's brain isn't returned to his body within 24 hours, Miéville will die.
Wati Kirk orders the city's familiars to pursue the paper tiger. By following its lack, the Architeuthis arrives at the Sea's embassy in Varmin Way. When Wati Kirk and party shift inside, they find a soaked, underwater world inhabited by two villains: Grisamentum, who is comprised of ink and paper, and the Tattoo, a crime lord tattoed onto the back of a man named Paul. While Grisamentum is resurrected in the liquid body of ink, he doesn't fully understand the power of metaphor. Only the "Great Prophet" -- a.k.a. Billy Harrow -- has this knowledge, and he was left behind by ancient squid cultists (or bottle angels) who once lived on the planet.
Dane, having borrowed a device which will control Miéville's body without the aid of his brain, goes with the author to join Wati Kirk and his party. They find Grisamentum, the tiger who came into the Museum. They quickly realize that Gris doesn't have the skill or knowledge to have understood the operation on Miéville, and the Londonmancers tell them about the Great Prophet.
Finally, Wati Kirk finds Miéville's brain. The Tattoo has hooked it up to control his main thug, Goss and Subby. The brain is now revered by the thug as the "Controller," which the thug hopes will fulfill his (its? their?) murderous thirst for the next 10,000 years. After trying unsuccessfully to get Gris to repeat the operation on Miéville in reverse, Dane submits to the Great Prophet and gains the knowledge of metaphor needed to restore Miéville's brain and save both the author's life and all their existences.
Without his Controller, Goss and Subby succumb to the wrath of Paul who conquers his Tattoo. Wati Kirk suggests the familiars go on strike once more, and Grisamentum's attack on Miéville never-was.
I am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our wo...moreI am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our world. We take it for granted, those of us who are “literate,” and because it is the base of the things that we learn, we tend to ignore those who excel. Of course, many of those who read well are told they “analyze things too much” or that they “dig too deep” by those who might be solid readers, but probably don’t have serious reading chops.
I think of it this way: the critics of analysis are the Sunday co-ed softball players who enjoy the game, like to escape for a few hours of exercise and fun, and like to hit the occasional home run or catch a tricky pop fly. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for all the thousands of recreational ball players, there are a handful of professional ball players, whose skills are ever so much better (and whose skills stretch from Single A to the Big Leagues). They are the ones who get more from a hit, or a perfectly executed throw; they’re the ones who will stretch a double into a triple; they’re the ones who will take a fastball in the back rather than bail out of the box. And as readers go, they’re the ones who make the connections, who read the patterns that most people don't. They're the ones who analyze too much.
My reading of Pattern Recognition puts me in the category of the pro ball players. I loved the book on its own merits, and I know that I was able to read the merits in a way that others won’t be able to access. Many will, of course, and they will love what they've found, but there's plenty there for those who won't. And there is certainly nothing wrong with whatever reading those recreational players come up with.
Why do I feel this way? How can I say these things? Because I didn’t just read this book, I created it as I turned every page. I was part of the process; I wasn’t just reading someone else’s finished process; I was the final important element of the patterns William Gibson was laying out for connection. The book needed me, and those like me, to be complete. Every time this book is read by a talented reader, it is being written.
So there’s no point in really talking about the book's particulars. I’m not going to summarize the plot or point out specific moments of prose brilliance. I am not going to discuss the connections in the book. I am not going to talk about how personal this was to read. Just read it yourself. Make your own connections. Become part of the process of Pattern Recognition and let yourself analyze it, let yourself dig deep. And if you can’t do those things, you should still read it because I’m guessing it’s good enough for every level of play.(less)
Instead, we get a fun variation of the classic spy mission opener: Mina Murray (nee Harker, nee Murray) is ordered on a mission by Campion Bond (grandfather of 007) to collect members for MI5's "Menagerie." From this moment to the last, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.1 is a cracking tale of intrigue and action, full of famous literary characters who most readers are familiar with and probably even love. It looks, feels and reads like a summer blockbuster (too bad it was such a flop on-screen).
But this is Alan Moore, and he always has a purpose beyond entertainment.
Moore makes each and every one of his characters unsavoury -- even nasty -- then allows us love them despite ourselves. Captain Nemo is a pirate, Allan Quartermain is an opium addict, Jekyll-Hyde may very well have been Jack the Ripper, the Invisible Man is a multiple rapist, and Mina Murray is a disgraced woman (at least according to the conventions of her time) who doesn't seem to like men much anymore. None of these heroes seem as ugly as Rorschach or Comedian, nor are any as ruthless as V, so we enjoy their adventure, cheer them on as they cross swords with the first M (who turns out to be the granddaddy of villainous geniuses), and overlook behaviours that are little better than the nastiest behaviour of some of Moore's more easy to disdain protagonists.
What Moore wants us to consider is in the contrast between his characters and the established characters. He wants to challenge our affinity for these heroes. He wants us to ask questions about them and ourselves: why do we overlook the behaviour of the League? Why are we on their side? Why do we support -- and why do they support -- a nostalgic view of Blighty's colonialism? Why do we give these heroes a pass?
His answer is that we do it because they are familiar. We know them. We know of their exploits, either through first hand experience or through hearsay, and we are ready to embrace their "greatness" before we even start reading about them in the League. We're steeped in their mythologies from the original books to film adaptations to stage plays to comic strips to animation, and having already accepted them as "heroes" we accept them as versions of us. They are us, and we can't see ourselves as anything other than likable, so we cut the "Menagerie" considerably more slack than we'd cut for Moore's other heroes -- and Moore wants us to see that our willing delusion when it comes to these characters is wrong.
All the way through this story I couldn't help thinking about The Three Musketeers. It's one of my favourite novels, though I haven't read it for a while, and I don't know anyone who doesn't love d'Artagnan. Hell, I love d'Artagnan. What's not to love? Right? Well, plenty if one takes the time to really consider his behaviour. He's a murderer, a rapist, and a purveyor of myriad nasty little vices. Yet we all (or most us) love him.
Moore wants us to think about that for a while. He wants us to think about why we love the characters we love, then apply that knowledge to the way we see ourselves and the world around us. I believe he wants The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.1 to provide as much meaning for audiences as his recognized masterpieces, Watchmen and V for Vendetta. I think he succeeds, even though its manifestation is so subtle it can be easily missed.
The fault, dear Reader, is not in Moore's writing, But in our reading. That is why we are underlings.(less)
Sadly, I wasn't able to finish The Palace of Dreams. I lost it with only thirty-eight pages left, which was an oddly fitting end to what turned out to...moreSadly, I wasn't able to finish The Palace of Dreams. I lost it with only thirty-eight pages left, which was an oddly fitting end to what turned out to be an odd experience with an odd book.
The book is about a mysterious ministry in the Ottoman Empire that collects, reads, sorts and interprets the dreams of its citizens as a prophetic means of unlocking crimes and conspiracies against the state. Into this organization goes Mark-Alem, a maternal son of the powerful Quprili family.
I reached a place in the story where I felt myself on the verge of a revelation, where the story was about unfold for me like an origami crane reversing, but now, with space and time, I am not so sure that anything miraculous was about to happen.
I may have been taken in by the fact that I was reading a book about dreams, about interpreting the subconscious night droppings of minds, and that the book was a translation of a translation. Remove after remove after hyperreal remove -- both within The Palace of Dreams and without -- had taken me so far away from Ismail Kadaré's original intent that I imagined myself, impossibly, about to stumble upon some truth that was waiting there just for me, and tucked away in a corner of my mind I think I've dreamt what that truth must be.
But I lost the book, and mow I don't think I want it back. I have a feeling the ending I imagined means more to me than the actual ending of ever could, and to read the last thirty-eight pages of Kadaré's tale would taint my experience. So this mildly creepy, oddly fascinating book will remain (un)finished for me.(less)
But how can it be? How can something like the Sprawl, Gibson's pollution choked mega-city, and our shared technological-future-nightmare be beautiful? My description suggests it can't, yet I find much beauty in Gibson's future.
There's something magnificent about monomolecular wires and Razorgirl fingernails, something profound about the rejection of a sterile utopia for a filthy sprawl, something thrilling about dreamy future-noir, something tragic about the thirst to belong for even the most peripheral people, something eerily familiar in the desire to offer the ultimate sacrifice, something nostalgic about the Soviet era trappings that are long gone, something terrifying in the prescient vision of corporate power, something hopeful in the concept of future immortality, something touching in its melancholy, and something comfortable about improvements that can't hide a classic love story of the "if-you-love-her-let-her-go" kind.
Well...I'm a guy who loves the magnificent the profound the thrilling the tragic the familiar the nostalgic the terrifying the hopeful the touching and the comfortable. I find all of them beautiful. And if those aren't beautiful enough for you, consider this: Burning Chrome coins the word "cyberspace." William Gibson imagined it, and computer geeks made it. Can you beat that for beautiful?(less)