Is it just me, or have we reached a point where it has become cool (perhaps hipster cool?) to hold Alan Moore at arms length and dismiss his work? I dIs it just me, or have we reached a point where it has become cool (perhaps hipster cool?) to hold Alan Moore at arms length and dismiss his work? I don’t think it is just me. It certainly feels like that was the everyreader (if not the critical) reception to Alan Moore’s Fashion Beast.
Travelling around to the comic book stores in my region (my decidedly rural Canadian region, it should be stated), I have not found anyone but myself who has actually read this entire series. Two people I know read a couple of issues then stopped, and a few read the first issue but no more. Only I have read the entire series in my less than immediate vicinity.And when I’ve brought up Fashion Beast it has been to a universal cool. Even those who’ve read some of the series responded with little more than a shrug and a “meh.”
This is a shame because Fashion Beast is as accomplished a piece of fiction as anything Moore’s written with (perhaps) the exception of From Hell (yes. I am actually saying it is as accomplished as Watchmen). It is a tormented and tortured retelling of Beauty and the Beast characterised by sexual ambiguity, abuse, power struggle, dystopia and psychological horror. And that is just the crust of the story. Dig deeper from the crust to the inner core and Fashion Beast is revealed to compress itself into subsurface layers of storytelling, layers we must work hard to uncover but whose uncovering is absolutely rewarding.
There are layers of perception, of reality and hyperreality, of anarchy, of fascism, of evolution and human interference with evolution, of fable, of morbidity, of asexuality, of transexuality, of subjugation and domination, of class and economics, of signs and semiotics, and these are just some of what make up the earth of Fashion Beast.
I have read some criticism of the screenplay structure of the tale, since it does come from an original Moore screenplay written in the eighties, because the screenplay structure doesn’t mimic the issue to issue structure of a comic narrative. I understand that feeling, and perhaps that has something to do with the response of those who’ve only read a couple of issues. This structure does mean that the story takes time to reveal its shape, but if one gives the cinematic orogenesis of Fashion Beast time, if one allows for a different pace of graphic storytelling, one will find the shape as pleasing as the more natural shapes we read everyday.
I suppose it is unfair to suggest that the lack of interest in Moore has to do with hipsterism. I think, in the end, it is simply that he challenges us too much (whether in form or substance).
He is like Orwell of comic book writing. Everyone says his name in hushed tones, everyone has read Animal Farm (Watchmen), and everyone claims to have read 1984 (V for Vendetta), and hard core readers (scholars and activists) have read The Road to Wigan Pier (From Dead), but going any farther is just too damn much work, so we admire Orwell (Moore) from a distance, recognize his importance, claim to be fans, but stay away — always — from the literature on the periphery. It’s easier that way.
So I get that. It just bums me out because genius tends to go un(der)appreciated....more
WARNING: This review contains language similar to the book it discusses, including a few f-words. Please don't read this if you do not want to see theWARNING: This review contains language similar to the book it discusses, including a few f-words. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the words spelled out.
I’ve been playing around on the periphery of the bizarro for a while now, and though I haven’t fully committed to becoming an aficionado, I have come to expect and demand that the bizarro I’m reading contains some seriously fucked up shit. Shit that wouldn't just be "too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts," but would give said aunts coronaries or embolisms. But that fucked up shit needs to feel like a justifiable part of the story. It needs to be integral to what's happening and not just tacked on for the sake of being fucked up.
The Menstruating Mall, my second foray into the wacky mind of Carlton Mellick III, was a big disappointment. You'd expect that a title with such amazing coolness would deliver some crazy bizarro thrills. I went in hoping for the sloughing off of shoppers who'd helped to shape the Mall's endometrium. Or maybe the shoppers would be giant, living tampons used to absorb the flow of the Mall's menstruation. Or perhaps the Mall itself would be sentient, going through cycles of abdominal cramping (look out poor shoppers) and maybe even succumb to one of those rare psychotic PMS episodes. I expected lots of menstrual blood, something to do with fertility, and the Mall's halls as fallopian tubes.
But nope. For most of the book it is a mildly funny, sorta witty, rather mainstream attack on us zombified, consumerist folk and our "mundanity." A bunch of idiots are stuck in a mall; they can't get out, and one of them decides to start killing the others because they are too lame to live. They can see some sticky menstrual flow in the parking lot, menstruation from the titular mall, and it keeps them in the Mall’s uterus (although that reading is really pushing it). So for most of the book they wander from store to store, get to know one another, and share the things that they think make them unique prints on the tips of the world’s fingers.
Mellick III incorporates the scatalogical artwork of a friend -- one Food Fortunata (I imagine a mustacheod Twi'lek from Ryloth) -- but it feels like it is only there to remind us that the book is supposed to be Bizarro. (Don’t ask me why the sketches are all about feces; I’d have thought menstrual themed sketches would have been far more appropriate.)
On second thought, maybe the sketches are there to remind Carlton Mellick III, too. Unfortunately it takes until Act III for his reminder to kick in, and we are finally thrown a bizarro bone or two way too late. We get some really nasty sex, including a girl-on-boy anal rape that makes the latter fall in love with the former, a non-lethal Bat’leth impalement, and some hybrid life forms (human-demon, human-toaster, human-helicopter, etc.). It’s all too tacked on to be interesting or fitting, and all of my hopes for a truly insane foray into menstruation were dashed on the rocks of a fairly worthless piece of fiction.
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 planWARNING: 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.
It is because while The City and The City is both of those things, it is also -- and more powerfully -- a love letter to his fans and an act of oeuvre snobbery of the first order.
What Miéville has done is to build a story upon his favourite themes, and to require that his audience is familiar with other occurrences of these themes in his work to fully appreciate what he's done (perhaps inadvertently, but there it is). The unseen and the uncity occur throughout his work in varying forms, but they come together in The City and The City with an intensity and concreteness that he has only flirted with before.
Saul Garamond (King Rat), Silas Fennec (The Scar), Toro & Spiral Jacobs (Iron Council), The Weaver (Perdido Street Station), are all characters that move unseen. Each have their own reasons for moving unseen and their own methods for achieving it, but all of them move in and through the spaces that others cannot see or fail to see or choose not to see. And all of the motives and reasons for unseeing these characters culminate in the Beszel/Ul Qoma /Breach unseeing that Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Besz Extreme Crime Squad moves through in his search for the killer of a young American archaeologist.
But the murder mystery, and even the potential conspiracies that swirl around the murder, are nowhere near as important as the way these two cities crosshatch and overlay and grosstopic, and the way people from the mundane to the Breach move through and around and in and outside all the permutations of these places in one place.
And that concept of cities being more than what we are willing to see is the other piece of Miéville's narcissitically intertextual puzzle. In The City & The City it is two cities in the same space with a possible third city in the cracks. In Un-Lun-Dun it is an ab-city for every city. And in Reports Of Certain Events In London, Varmin Way is a rogue street that hides and moves and won't let itself be found, and Miéville himself is the care taker of the files that speak of the streets existence.
And even when Miéville's cities are behaving like cities should, their presence is so powerful, like Armada and New Crobuzon, that they are almost entities in their own right.
The City and The City is the culmination of just over ten years of China Miéville's already impressive career, but it won't receive the love it deserves, at least not for now. Once David Fincher or some other visionary director decides to put it on film, however, it may well become Miéville's most respected work. Too bad Orson Welles wasn't still alive. The City and The City would be right up his dissensi....more
They can be fun if you approach them correctly. You need to find a small section of the orgy and focus on that spot. ThiHave you ever been to an orgy?
They can be fun if you approach them correctly. You need to find a small section of the orgy and focus on that spot. Think about your pleasure first and don’t be tempted into straying from the spot you’ve chosen. But if you are unable to find your spot, if you are unable to focus your sexual energy in that spot, you are more likely to have an overwhelming and, ultimately, unfulfilling experience.
You'll see beauty, you'll feel pleasure, you'll probably even have an orgasm, but you’re also sure to wind up with the most unattractive swinger in the room, feel a whole bunch of discomfort and find yourself on your knees a lot more often than you’ll like.
That's also what you'll get with Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air. It is the closest thing to a literary orgy I’ve ever read. It is like a particularly horny night in the bedchambers of Caligula. I loved it; I hated it; I liked it; I disliked it; I hated it; I loved it; I disliked it; I liked it. It was too much. It wasn’t enough. It was all over the place.
There were some absolutely gorgeous moments of original prose and inventive creativity, but these were matched by painfully clichéd prose and derivative banality. Hunt’s diametric proclivities create maximum frustration. Who would put together pseudo-Aztec gods with fey-misted mutants, or barely veiled Marxists with undying steammen? But then how could he allow his characters to speak with every tired metaphor known to modern man, and let those tired words flow from the mouths of characters stripped from Mel Gibson movies, Marvel Comics and Stephen King’s longest monstrosity? The competition between these two Stephen Hunts is a constant irritant for the reader, and it turns The Court of the Air into a bit of a slog.
Furthermore, there was one constant in The Court of the Air, that further degraded my enjoyment of the book, and that was Hunt's constant need for action. There is very little downtime. Hunt sets up a dual narrative, flipping between Molly and Oliver as they try to stay alive and come together (even though neither knows they are looking for the other). This leads to action sequence after action sequence, escape after escape, and each time one of the main characters thinks they might be safe they are suddenly caught in another trap. It's like a Saturday Movie Serial without the week long break to catch your breath. It's like moving from group to group in an orgy without taking any time out to replenish your fluids or take a pee. It just increases your discomfort and makes you long for quiet.
And Hunt's orgy of action doesn't do his characters any favours. There is very little depth of emotion; they all have minuscule interior lives, and that makes them very difficult to care about.
In the end, I don’t know what to make of The Court of the Air, and I don’t really know what I think. It is going to take another reading to be firm in my opinion, but that extra reading is going to be a long time coming. I would much rather reread The Anubis Gates or Perdido Street Station.
So will I really get back to it? Someday, but I don’t know when....more
*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but consider*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but considering the book's form I doubt that will matter.*
Dradin, In Love As Dradin experiences the rain, I am straining with the brightness of our first sunny day reflecting off the silky pages of City of Saints and Madmen, and I am struck by the sensuality of the experience a mere forty pages into VanderMeer’s opus. The weight of the book is comfortable in my hand, and it seems to reflect the weightiness of what VanderMeer is trying to achieve. And those pages. I don’t think I have ever felt a book whose pages made me want to open the covers just to run my fingers over the paper. It is the Bantam Trade Paperback Spectra Edition for any who’d like to feel what I am talking about.
If this book becomes any more sensory, I don’t know if I will be able to handle it.
So Dradin is as mad as his Mother, maybe madder (assuming she was really mad, of course).
It just struck me that the murderousness of Ambergris during The Festival of the Freshwater Squid, might not have happened at all. What if Dradin had a full psychotic break after he killed Dvorak? What if the murderousness of the Festival was in his mind? What if the woman he loved wasn’t a mannequin at all? What if he killed his love himself so that he could keep her with him, dismembering her as he did his sweaty Priestess from the jungle?
Even if all of these questions are answered in the negative, the story of Dradin, In Love is a frighteningly cool kick off to the City of Saints and Madmen. The murderousness of the Festival reminded me of a spookier, chillier version of the classic Star Trek episode, The Return of the Archons. It makes me wonder if the bloodletting of the Festival is convention. Do people attending the Festival expect it to be so sanguinary? If so, many of them enter the streets to sacrifice themselves, so what does that tell us about Ambergris and the people who inhabit its streets?
Dradin’s naiveté is positively shocking if he is not psychotic. To trust Dvorak, to expect aid from Cadimon, to wander unwittingly and boldly through the streets, to pass through the Mushroom Dwellers (Gray Caps), to fall in love with a mannequin, even to expect her to join him at The Drunken Boat, Dradin’s innocence seems almost impossible, but it does make him sympathetic despite his flaws. Of course, innocence and psychosis are often complimentary states. Many psychotics have an odd innocence about them, almost a weird light of unassailable optimism.
Whether the entire story is an expression of Dradin’s psychosis or Dradin is merely psychotic within a crazy story, madness, as the title of VanderMeer’s book suggests, is an integral part of Ambergris. I can’t wait to move on to the History.
The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris
Fictional histories of fictional worlds always throw me straight into Baudrillard mode, and Duncan Shriek’s overindulgence in footnotes sounds so real that the model seems better than the real could ever be. As fictional historians go, moreover, Shriek is one of the most likable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. His commentary is far more interesting than the Manzikerts’ creation of Ambergris on the backs of their genocidal destruction of the Mushroom Dwellers and Cinsorium, although the story of early Ambergris is damn good too.
But before I leave behind what seems an intentional use of hyperreality on VanderMeer’s part I must mention the succession of Manzikerts, the early Festivals of the Fresh Water Squid, and the Saint of Saints. All very hyperreal and all very cool.
Shriek is playful, witty and fun; his most fun footnote indulgence is the war of words he seems to have going with his more extreme competitors: the state supporting, conservative Sabon and the state criticizing, “functional anarchist” Lacond.
The Lacond-Sabon-Shriek tension is the actual story in The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris. I wish these characters were hidden in some University nearby so that I could take them all out to the pub, order up a pitcher and let them fight out their debate over Tonsure’s true identity or the role of Sophia in her husband’s and son’s decision making processes.
Voss Bender is everywhere; he is a sort of Mozart-like figure, or a Shakespearean figure; the popular culture that ties all of Ambergris, and possibly all the city states, together.
The Silence. I didn’t find it as chilling as I was, perhaps, supposed to, but I found the telling of the Silence compelling. VanderMeer as Shriek has a voice that rivals the best historians in our supposedly real world, and I find myself not wanting this history nor Shriek’s commentary to end.
Mix ingredients well. Read in the dark of night. Allow your imagination to embrace terror. Expect any trust you have ever had in historians to be shaken to its core. Cook until done. Serves many.
The Strange Case of X
I started out not liking this chapter. First I was annoyed, then I was angry, but then I was captivated, and I kept going until the wee hours until I finished it and loved it. I could say more, but I don’t want to for fear of revealing too much of myself.
Letter and Notes: Straight away, I see that this story is not truly a tale of Ambergris and Ambergris alone, but a tale of how a city comes into existence. Is it imagined into existence? Does it exist before it is imagined? Does the imagining of a city already in existence overcome the real city, is it replaced by its “operational double,” as Baudrillard would have it? In order my answers would be: Yes; Yes; Yes. So it becomes a story of Ambergris, but of an hyperreal Ambergris made hyperreal by X (or VanderMeer, if you will), therefore it is also a story of X.
Ambergris + X = X + Ambergris = X = Ambergris.
And I am expecting the appendix to only deepen that relationship.
The Release of Bellacqua: To be a cognizant mind, an enlivened soul, then to be told you have only existed as a story, as another mind/soul’s written tale, then to be written away. Back into the nothingness from whence we all come and go. It is not just a tragic story for Bellacqua, but a sad "what if" for anyone, for everyone. What if X is God? What if we are nothing but God’s characters in a story It chooses to tell? Is that more comforting than being an independent, living being with only oblivion to look forward to?
King Squid: Every step is making me feel mad, as if the entirety of City of Saints and Madmen is a manifestation of madness, which is, of course, no stretch at all. Utter paranoia.
The Hoegbotton Family History & The Cage: So much detail. Everything about this book is in the details. The title of the book the Cage appears in is Details of a Tyrant & Other Stories, but we're only told by being observant of the header, the fonts, the pseudo-intertextuality, the hints of a unifying voice in the repetition of “X” and “pathetic” and “sour,” these are all powerful details that offer countless possibilities for interpretation. Are they clues? Are they red herrings? Are they intentional? Are they mere quirks of the real life VanderMeer? Do they mean anything? Is the hand in the Cage from the sweaty priestess? Did the cage belong to Dradin? Does it matter? I’m not sure that I care if any of this means anything. I know that I am loving my complete immersion in the waters of Ambergris, and I think that may be all that matters.
In the Hours After Death: Is Nicholas Sporlender the Ambergris manifestation of X? Possibly. But that doesn’t go far in helping me discern the meaning of In the Hours After Death. This is the only story where I feel cut adrift. They hyperreal elements are undeniable, coming as they do from a literary magazine, but what of the walking dead, the adrift soul? Perhaps that is what it means. I wonder if it will come clearer next time I read City of Saints and Madmen.
The Man Who Had No Eyes: This was mind-blowingly compelling. I stayed up until 3:30 am decoding the last paragraph. The act itself, the writing, as X tells us, is a bringing into existence and a prolonging of what already exists. The writer as god, and all of us as the writer. That X/VanderMeer implicates us in his own creation, in this his greatest moment of genius. The readers are the writers are the madmen are the saints are the gods of Ambergris and Earth.
The Exchange: Suddenly the bonds that separate the worlds are slipping, flipping and flapping in the wind like a skein of canvas giving glimpses of the opposing sides that slip between worlds like the rippling of cloth in the elements. Sporlender is X is VanderMeer (who exists in both worlds) + Verden is Schaller (who also exists in both worlds) and this slippage continues right into Learning to Leave the Flesh, wherein Ambergris is infected by Florida and the rest of our reality. The Victorian, the Rosetta Stone, ‘50s b-grade vegetable movies, cars (referred to for the first time in the language we would use), The Gainseville Sun and The Independent Florida Alligator all seep into Ambergris, and our world and the city seem closer to one than they could possibly have been with only X/VanderMeer(Sporlender?) stuck in the Voss Bender Memorial Mental Institute. I am exhausted and drained by this book. I must come back to Ambergris and dip into the puzzle all over again.
The Ambergris Glossary: Back to the lovably cantankerous Duncan Shriek and a nice burst of humour to finish off this mind-numbing ride of world creation. The glossary also marks the first time an author’s “building” work has felt appropriate for publication. Many authors add work like this to the story itself, thereby destroying any hope of pace and readability, but VanderMeer’s decision to shift the background work to a glossary eradicates the dangers this sort of generative work could do to the stories, and then makes it an enjoyable cool-down as you pull out of Ambergris and go back to the mundane worlds of other authors. Then A Note on Fonts gives us one last “taste” of sensuality, filling us with the flavours of word shapes. I’ll be keeping my eyes in my palms and hope to make a VanderMeer sighting/citing, although I’m not sure Bantam Trade Paperback Spectra Edition Books will really care. Or maybe they will....more
So like all Chuck Palahniuk books, Lullaby hooks me and gets me jazzed right at the start. It feels like sitting in a bar with the scruffy, fat guy wiSo like all Chuck Palahniuk books, Lullaby hooks me and gets me jazzed right at the start. It feels like sitting in a bar with the scruffy, fat guy with the greasy hair and the ratty jeans who has a brain that I didn't expect, and I listen to him riff all night about trivial stories of trivial things that add up to something profound.
I get this feeling and I want to listen to the guy fill me up with profundity. It's the same with Lullaby. I start reading Palahniuk, and I have to keep reading.
But then somewhere along the way -- as with most Palahniuk books since Survivor -- the fat guy goes to take a piss and my stool is taken by Palahniuk himself. Chuck's sitting there pontificating, and suddenly it's not compelling. It's just annoying. Picture watching Chuck masturbating over the dead and stinking corpse of Fight Club, trying to squeeze out some seed of anything that isn't a caricatured derivative of his own creative juices and you can picture how I feel midway through Lullaby.
But I continue because I am a masochist. And because the hint of Chuck's genius, which sowed the seed of Fincher's greater genius, is a whisper that I long to hear burst into full resounding song. I want to feel my atoms scattered to the wind by a spell as powerful as the "culling song," and I feel Chuck P's got it in him. So I enjoy the pain, sufferingly, and I hope for better than the whimper I've come to expect.
Lullaby surprises me in the end. In the end, it's not a whimper. It's clever. It's got a nice balance with the rest of the tale. It makes me smirk. But it isn't a roar either. It's not that maelstrom of creativity I have been desiring, so I am let down again. I wish Lullaby had been a short story because it could have taken it's place beside the Secret Sharer or Snows of Kilimanjaro as one of the great works of literature. Instead it is mediocre with some brilliant bits that are all Palahniuk.
For sheer ballsy creativity The Raw Shark Texts is an incendiary word bomb of conceptual fish, mad world hungry pseudo-immortals, movie geekdom, GreekFor sheer ballsy creativity The Raw Shark Texts is an incendiary word bomb of conceptual fish, mad world hungry pseudo-immortals, movie geekdom, Greek tragedy and cats with mundane names.
To say there is something lacking in Steven Hall's first novel seems unfair and trite, but I can't shake the feeling that something in Eric Sanderson's relationship with Clio/Scout felt too forced and way too indoctrinated by current gender attitudes. If that was by design I can't imagine what the design was; if it was merely the truth that Hall found in his characters I have to admit that I couldn't see that truth. That could be down to me.
Besides, it seems a petty complaint when weighed against the moments of sheer genius in Steven Hall's debut. I know I will be back for multiple reads because there are so many questions I need to examine again and again. I almost started listing them here, but instead I will simply provide words for which I am compelled to seek answers: Dr. Ryan Mitchell. Dr. Randle. Mycroft Ward. Ian. Greg. Ludovician (one of the all time great antagonists in any novel -- ever). Eric Richardson the first, the other, the second.
The Raw Shark Texts is a rich mine of thought that I look forward to returning to, and Steven Hall is threatening to enter the rarefied upper region of my personal literary canon. I just hope he doesn't slip in the direction of Chuck Pahlaniuk with his next work. Promising beginnings can so often become failure to live up to potential. Oh well, who cares? I'll always have The Raw Shark Texts to enjoy if the future doesn't work out....more
We live in a culture that desires fragmented stories; stories that are told quickly and compellingly, so we can move on to the next tale. It is why weWe live in a culture that desires fragmented stories; stories that are told quickly and compellingly, so we can move on to the next tale. It is why we love visual forms so much. It is why YA fiction is increasingly popular with older crowds. It is why graphic novels are on the rise as a literary form. But where are the novellas? Where are books like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness, The Awakening, A Clockwork Orange?
I have been looking, waiting, hoping, for a resurgence of the novella as a popular form, but it doesn’t seem to be coming. Roth’s The Humbling was a novella and so was Meyer’s The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, but novellas from a literary giant like Roth and a throwaway sequel by a hack like Meyer hardly suggest a healthy return of the form. So I’ve been growing despondent, wanting desperately to see the form I love become a form of choice once again.
But then I noticed something. The novella isn’t gone. It’s just hiding.
I’ve discovered the novella is still out there; only now it is hidden in the middle of bigger works. Publishers are unwilling willing to publish novellas because publishers think novels are the safer, more familiar bet for the consumer. Novellas, after all, are for University students and academics; they are not for everyday teenagers, housewives and grumpy old men. But when novellas are hidden, they’re no threat at all. Sometimes they can be a part of a novel, and sometimes they lie in combination with other novellas to create a loosely linked group of stories posing as a novel (see the works of David Mitchell) – but they’re out there still; they just don’t look like novellas.
Case in point is one of the finest novellas ever written ... by anyone ... anywhen -- anamnesis: The Perpetual Train. This unparalleled tale is hidden in the center of China Mieville’s most ambitious Bas-Lag novel – Iron Council – and it is a breathtaking display of everything that makes the novella a beautiful form.
Its prose is sparing; its story is tight, compact, compelling and rich. It focuses on one man, Judah Low, and his journey from corporate funded adventurer to anti-imperialist somaturge to founding iron counsellor is perfect and complete all by itself. Nothing more is needed than anamnesis: The Perpetual Train’s cancerous spread across the land turned iconic standard for worker solidarity. The rest of Iron Council is superfluous.
Which leaves me even more in awe of Mieville than I have ever been, but a little frustrated with him too. The events in Iron Council, which sprawl around anamnesis: The Perpetual Train like suburbs, are beautiful in their own right. They bravely incorporate sexual politics, economics, uprising, war, poverty and corruption, fleshing out Bas-Lag with a perspective that raises a middle finger to the more conservative traditions of speculative fiction. But, as impressive as it all is, I don’t think it was necessary, and I wish that Mieville had simply left good enough – actually, great enough – alone.
anamnesis: The Perpetual Train would have been one of the greatest books ever written. I really believe that. But we’ll have to settle for Iron Council being merely excellent.
Since joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be unSince joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be universally loved, and I’ve been skeptical of this emotion that borders on worship. These books are good and all, and I recognize their general accessibility, but I don’t personally find any of them mind blowing literature. Gaiman’s prose is no match for China Mieville’s or Iain M. Banks’ or Ursula LeGuin’s (and countless others who write speculative fiction), and the way he recasts mythology into contemporary settings is more clever than inspired. The love accorded Gaiman, therefore, feels disproportionate to the quality of his work – at least to me.
Lately, however, I’ve been reminded that I once loved Neil Gaiman, and that reminder was my return to The Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes. Like his other fine work, The Wolves in the Walls, The Sandman series plays to Gaiman’s greatest strength: his ability to conjure beautiful images from artists. But it also elevates many of the things that Gaiman is usually only able to do adequately. His writing, when confined by thought and dialogue bubbles, is inspired (mostly because its goal is to be natural and believable rather than aspiring to literary greatness); his contemporizing of mythology is much more palatable (happening, as it does, in a comic book universe predisposed to gods and heroes); and his naturally cinematic pacing works better in a graphic format. Yes, indeed...graphic novels are Neil Gaiman’s best form.
Sleep of the Just – This may be the greatest first issue of a comic ever written. The capture of Morpheus/Dream/Sandman (or whichever name of his you prefer), the sleeping sickness, his inevitable (and beautifully patient) escape and vengeance guarantees that any fan of fantasy or comic books or fantasy and comic books must continue with the series. Even better, though, Sleep of the Just could have been its own stand-alone issue, and that would have been good enough. There are few single issues of a comic that are so fulfilling. I buy it all, and everything I had to know was given to me. Luckily, Gaiman left me with plenty beyond what I wanted to know. My personal favourite: the introduction of Sandman’s helm. Killer.
Imperfect Hosts – A kick ass follow up episode that includes a taste of Sandman’s powers, the characters that populate his Dreamworld, and the beginning of his search for the three artefacts stolen when Burgess captured him instead of Death. This episode is most notable, however, for the way Gaiman weaves his Sandman into the existing universe of DC. I am not a DC fan. I read Batman and Superman because they are cultural requirements, and what I know of the DC Universe is filtered through the pages of those books, but Sandman was a rare piece that warped and wefted its way into the DC universe without letting itself get bogged down in DC’s usual shabbiness. Imperfect Hosts is where this all begins to happen.
Dream A Little Dream of Me – A weakened and vulnerable Morpheus is busy looking for his sandbag, the first of the three stolen artefacts that can restore him to his former splendour and power. So he tracks down John Constantine, the Hellblazer, who bought the sandbag years before and put it into storage, but the sandbag is gone, stolen by Constantine’s ex-lover, Rachel, a heroin addict who needed money for a fix. She never got it; instead, the sandbag took control of her mind, throwing her into a forever nightmare that included the transformation of her father into a room sized, living, breathing, tortured, mass of flesh. Dream a Little Dream of Me is a horror show that hints at the depths of nightmare Dream will combat in future issues, and it embeds Morpheus more deeply into the DC Universe. It’s a satisfying chapter in Morpheus’ rebirth, and this is where the patient build towards the story’s literary quality begins.
A Hope In Hell – This is the one issue that really doesn’t thrill me too much. Morpheus goes to Hell and meets up with Lucifer, Beelzebub and Azazel – Hell’s triumvirate of Dark Lords – demanding the return of his helm. He ends up dueling Choronzon for his helm in a "reality" battle. Each takes a turn in the shape or form or concept of something or other. Each incarnation is slightly tougher than the opponent’s until the victor’s incarnation can’t be beat. Morpheus defeats Choronzon as "hope," which totally sucks. Hope?! Please. I can see hope as a stage in the battle, perhaps, but as the ultimate incarnation of victory? No way. Hope can be good, but it’s also an emotion that can derail thought and action -- and that makes hope potentially bad and self-defeating. Still, Lucifer was cool and his parting words about Dream give us plenty to look forward to in the series to come: “One day, my brothers...One day I shall destroy him.”
Passengers – A creepy start to the search for Morpheus’ last artefact – the Ruby of Dreams. A decrepit Doctor Destiny is sufficiently mad when he escapes Arkham Asylum, Morpheus runs into J’onn and Scott Free from the JLI, and the Doctor Destiny corrupted Ruby throws Morpheus into a catatonic stupor on the floor of a storage garage in the middle of nowhere, all setting the stage for the most terrifying chapter of Volume One:
24 Hours – Bloody, nasty, marvelous. Dreams in the hand of a corrupted man become corruption, and the whole Earth suffers. This is the best issue of The Sandman in Preludes and Nocturnes, so I'll let it speak for itself. But be warned: this one is not for the faint hearted.
Sound and Fury – This is a satisfying resolution to Dream’s return to power. Sandman shows John Dee mercy, he bestows the Earth with a night of pleasant dreams, and he returns to his Dreamscape to rebuild his kingdom. It’s not quite as powerful as 24 Hours, but it does what it needs to do.
The Sound of Her Wings – Death is a beautiful thing. If there were no other reason to love Neil Gaiman, this realization would be enough because Death really is a beautiful thing -- both in the comic and at the end of our lives
I’m glad I revisited Gaiman's greatest moment. Maybe now I can enjoy his new stuff more and appreciate him as much as so many of my friends do....more
WARNING: This review probably contains some (but not many) spoilers, so you may not want to read this if you haven’t read Perdido Street Station yet.WARNING: This review probably contains some (but not many) spoilers, so you may not want to read this if you haven’t read Perdido Street Station yet. This review also contains plenty of vulgarity. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the "f" and other words. Thanks.
Me reading my review: I decided to read this on SoundCloud, since BirdBrian has turned me into a recorded voice madman. You can listen right here if you'd like.
I fucking hate moths.
Seriously. I hate them. They freak me out. You know how Indiana Jones hates snakes? That's how I hate moths. I hate them so much that the disdain and fear extends to butterflies. I actually made a little girl cry when I was surprised by a butterfly and crushed it between the sole of my shoe and concrete, although I've never been sure if she cried because I squished the moth or because I let loose with the sanguine battle-cry: "DIE FUCKER!"
Moths and butterflies are frightening, fucking horrible, unholy, unnatural, freaks of fucking nature.
I sense you wondering why I feel this way. Well ... I'll tell you.
When I was sixteen years old, I walked out of my bedroom on a Friday night and headed for what I thought was a D&D marathon. Somewhere upstairs my Dad heard my bedroom door closing and yelled down, "Turn off the light." Even back then he was a stickler for energy conservation (but that had everything to do with being a cheap bastard and nothing to do with the environment). I heard him, but I ignored him. My friend Pat was honking for me outside, I had a pack full of D&D gear, and I was in a hurry. I was up the stairs, in my shoes and out the door before anyone could say anything more.
Now I had this fucking bizarre bedroom window. You see, I was and am the lightest sleeper the world has ever seen (even now I have double blacked windows, wear a black eye mask and 33 decibels ear plugs, and I still wake up at even the slightest shift in the air), and to try and buy me some more sleep without hurting the aesthetic of our home (a far more important concern for my Mom than combating my insomnia), my Dad installed a blind whose efficacy required the removal of my window screen. That meant that when my window was open in the summer, which it was the night I was out D&Ding, my room was open to all creatures great and small -- mostly small.
So somewhere between the time I left and the time I came home, my Dad came downstairs to make sure I'd turned off my light. He opened my door, reached for the light switch, turned off the lights, closed the door and went off to bed himself, but not before the light had attracted some fuzzy, beige, fluttering, dusty fucking creatures.
That night we didn't play D&D.
Nope ... that night we ate some mushrooms. My first time on hallucinogens. And what did I do? I invited the creatures of the night into my room. At around 4 a.m., I found myself back at home on the downturn of my trip. I needed to get to my room, put on some chill-out music and a soft light, and just let my cozy room ease me back to reality. I opened my door, closed it, flipped on the light switch and was fucking bombarded by HUNDREDS of moths.
I fucking lost it. I grabbed my squash racket and started killing while I screamed and swore and trashed my room.
There were probably only about a dozen moths in my room, but those shrooms did their job, and I spent the rest of that long morning obsessing about fluttering wings and the claustrophobic feeling of moth dust and guts settling on my skin, in much the same way that dreamshit settles on the minds of sleeping New Crobuzoners.
I am sure that you’ve figured out why I related this story now.
When I first read Perdido Street Station, I was enjoying Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin’s search for crisis energy well enough. The beauty of China Miéville’s prose and the complexity of New Crobuzon made Isaac’s rather pedestrian quest tale, whose goal was providing Yagharek -- the exiled, wingless Garuda -- a way to fly again, a compelling read. Then came the blindside of the Slake Moths, and my enjoyment was transformed into absolute horror, keep-the-lights-on-late-at-night-horror, stomp-all-fluttering-insects-into-the-pavement-horror, fucking-shit-my-pants-at-night-from-nightmares-horror. Miéville dumped the quest and changed the plot and raised the stakes, shifting the tale unexpectedly and fundamentally, and that coupled with the horror of the Slake Moths made me a passionate believer in his writing.
For me, the Slake Moths are the most terrifying creation in literature. Now I know that much of that is the psychology of my good trip gone bad, but when one considers all of my inadvertent personal subtext -- that Mieville’s Slake Moths feed on fear, and induce fear through their droppings, that their shit is sold as an hallucinogenic drug, that they suck the minds of their victims dry with an interdimensional tongue -- well, I hope my passion for the Slake Moths will be forgiven.
But then, I know that my love for Perdido Street Station goes far beyond my drug-induced psychosis. China Miéville’s writing bursts with sensuality, intelligence, politics, social commentary, fierce creativity and a thirst for life that is unparalleled. And those are just some of the reasons his fans love him.
For me, however, my loathing of the order lepidoptra means that Perdido Street Station must and will remain my favourite Miéville, and Slake Moths will continue to excite and haunt the recesses of my mind until I die....more