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....more
Surprised: I didn’t expect to like World War Z at all. I’m not even sure why. I like Brooks’ parents, so that shouldn’t have negatively impacted my expectations. I’ve loved Zombies since first I saw Return of the Living Dead in the movie theatre, so I was predisposed to like this book. So I dunno. But I had low expectations, and they were thoroughly exceeded.
It is a great idea, and Brooks’ total commitment to his mock history was convincing. There were times when I couldn’t help letting my imagination run to a parallel universe where this War had actually happened.
The best part, though, was the places Brooks took his Zombiepocalypse – places only The Walking Dead has even approached. Most Zombielit is about the outbreak. The Walking Dead takes the next step, letting us see what it would be like to be a survivor of the outbreak, what it would be like to live during the Zombie occupation, but Brooks gives us the aftermath. How he hell does the earth rebuild after something like that? Brooks takes a pretty convincing stab at imagining how, and it isn’t pretty, nor is it even all that inspiring. I buy it, though.
Fulfilled: My low expectations didn’t extend to the Zombie violence. Even with the oral history format, I expected gore and grotesquery and nastiness, and I got exactly what I expected. There were even a couple of kick ass violent – and not so violent – superlatives, like the marine-Zombies attacking divers, the madness of Yonkers (a pretty impressive moment, actually), the greed of Breckenridge Scott and his Phalanx, and the Redeker Plan (along with the Redeker Twist – which was my absolute favourite part of the book).
Disappointed: Once Brooks blew apart my low expectations with some strong writing and brilliant ideas, he created a new expectation – and a very high one that he failed to deliver on.
Brooks attempted to make his book a global chronicle of the Zombie War, and he populated World War Z with characters from nations on every continent. By the end of the book, though, they were homogenous. The Japanese folks didn’t sound Japanese. The Russian folks didn’t sound Russian. Everyone sounded American. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Brooks gave in to the temptation to make America and their “great” President the saviours of the human spirit. Yep, the Yankees led the charge to defeat the Zombies, to take the war to the Zacks rather than hiding in their fortresses and embracing safety.
We bought an antique piano today, and we were comparing middle C on our dreadfully out of tune piano and our electronic keyboard. The warbling shred of the antique piano made the kids sad because they wanted to sit down and play, but they knew they couldn’t until the piano is tuned. That sadness is exactly the way I felt about Brooks’ decision to make the USA the heroes of his War, but there’ll be no chance of a tune up to take away my sadness. ...more
This review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it waThis review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets indicate some additional information for the sake of readability). It is one of my lost reviews.
An epic fantasy of Tolkien-like scope?! Sounds good for a novel's back cover, doesn't it? But it is almost true with the Dragonlance Chronicles. Almost.
The key to that "almost" is the characters (cause there's no way it could be the prose). I'll begin with the character I hate, Tanis Half-Elven. He is the weakest link in the novel, yet he's the novel's chief protagonist. His apparent depth comes from his duality and its manifestation in his love for Kitiara and Laurana, but who cares? The other characters are much, much better. Laurana, Flint, Gilthanis, Alhana, Tika, Fizban, Tasslehoff, Caramon and Raistlin are all superior to the Chronicles' hero. And the last two are even better in their own series.
But the character who is the true Hero of the Lance is Sturm Brightblade. He is the best character that Weis & Hickman created because his tale is complete. He is complex without being cliché; he loves his honour, his destiny and Alahana, and he fights to fulfil all three right to the end. He is a straight-up, no-joke hero, and I love him -- which shocks me, to be honest. Sturm Brightblade. The Black Rose. A hero I love. Go figure....more
I love this book despite the fact that about half of it is steeped in serious suckiness. The fact is, at least for me, that the excellent bits in TimeI love this book despite the fact that about half of it is steeped in serious suckiness. The fact is, at least for me, that the excellent bits in Time of the Twins are far more excellent than the excellent bits in the three Dragonlance books that preceded this one (and those books had some excellent bits), making Time of the Twins a favourite of mine.
Sucky Bits: Sucky -- This story hinges on the corruption of the Kingpriest of Istar. The Kingpriest arrogantly (and weakly) calls on the gods to come down as peers and help him wipe evil from Krynn (the World of Dragonlance for the uninitiated). This is a solid idea for fantasy fiction, and it allows Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman to express their idea about the need for equilibrium between good and evil. The problem is that we never see enough of the Kingpriest, his court, his "good/bad works" or anything else related to him to fully accept the Cataclysm he brings to Krynn.
The authors rely on our Dragonlance-fed understanding of Krynn's history to fill in the Kingpriest-gaps rather than giving us the time we need in Istar to damn the Kingpriest ourselves. We know he's arrogant and foolish because we're told he is, not because they make us believe it. And that is sucky.
Suckier -- Something similar happens with the other important characters in Time of the Twins. The gladiators, Kiiri and Pheragas, the priests, Quarath and Denubis, and the slavers, Raag and Arack, aren't given anywhere near the time they need to fulfill their potential as characters -- not even as supporting characters. Kiiri and Pheragas are supposed to be important to Caramon, but we're left to assume and accept their importance based on some barely developed camaraderie. Quarath, Arack and Raag are supposed to be the story's supporting villains, but they never movie beyond the Sneak, the pseudo-Mobster and the Muscle. Denubis (who returns later in the series) is the one true cleric left for Crysania to meet, and just as we are beginning to like him he disappears with an old, father-time style, Elven cleric. And all this is suckier.
Suckiest -- Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Tas is a favourite from the Dragonlance Chronicles. He is the lovable kender from who befriended a god and imbued the original stories with a sense of wonder. The authors lost their way with his character, though. He was designed to be a full-grown adult from a race cursed with insatiable curiousity and no fear. He is touched by the War of the Lance, and he learns how to fear for the lives of those he loves, which should make for a more mature character, a wiser more sober character. But Weis & Hickman blow it. They turn Tas into a little boy. He feels like an insufferable, annoying, spoiled four year old. And that is the suckiest of all.
Excellent Bits: Excellent -- All those sucky problems are offset by some cool stuff, though. One excellent element of Time of the Twins is Lady Crysania. She's second in commmand of the newly revived Order of Paladine -- cold, haughty, and utterly convinced of her natural superiority. But all that changes when she meets and is challenged by Raistlin, the dark wizard who has become the "Master of Past and Present." Her intellectual awakening at the hands of Raistlin is excellent.
Excellenter -- Caramon Majere, twin brother of Raislin, has his own struggle, but his is more a recovery than an awakening. He's a broken man when the story begins: broken by war, broken by being unnecessary when there's none left to kill, broken by his love for his brother. His story is the simplest, but also one of the most emotionally satisfying. Not a false note is struck in Caramon's rebirth, and there is even a promise of something more to come. This is even excellenter.
Excellentest -- Nothing compares to the opening chapter in Raistlin's journey to become a god, however. Time of the Twins is Raistlin's tale, and when he's onstage the story is better than any other thing Weis & Hickman have collaborated on. Raistlin does terrible things, it's true; he wears black robes (the mark of an evil wizard on Krynn), he murders people, he hungers for power, he manipulates and controls, he lies, and the god he wants to replace is Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness. He is a bad ass extraordinaire. But he also cares. He cares about dignity, he cares about the poor, he cares about the meek, he cares about his friends, he cares about his brother. He shows mercy, compassion and wisdom that no other character in all six of the core Dragonlance books possesses. He may be a badass, but he's also a hero, making him one of my all time favourite Fantasy characters. Raistlin's story is the excellentest part of Time of the Twins.
The biggest problem with Dragonlance Legends, then, and the main reason for the suckiness in Time of the Twins, is that each installment of the three part series needed three parts to be fully realized. This series should have stretched over nine volumes, only then could it have achieved its full potential. But that's okay. I love it anyway. Even with all its flaws (yeah...I know...it's probably a nostalgia thing)....more
Damn. I'd written this nice little meta-review about being a geek, and then some errant keystrokes backed me out of the review I was writing and everyDamn. I'd written this nice little meta-review about being a geek, and then some errant keystrokes backed me out of the review I was writing and everything disappeared. I don't have it in me to rewrite at the moment, so here are some quick thoughts.
•Vlad Taltos' little gangster turf war is the best part of Yendi, and I hope that we get a little more of that as the series goes on, although I sense that he may be getting closer and closer to going legit-ish, or at least becoming all political.
•the Sorceress in Green twist was a convoluted (on purpose), but it was a little too convoluted for my tastes. Still, it didn't take away any of the fun, so don't let it stop you from reading the story.
•the prequelness of Yendi was handled well, and I actually thought the Cawti-Vlad relationship was believable, even after the assassination attempt on the latter by the former.
•two books in, and Yendi confirms that this is a series worth reading -- even if it is fantasy gangster lite. I am definitely in for the long haul. ...more
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom may seem shallow, but there is a great deal of depth to be found if one approaches the book with a willingness to overcome the prejudices and perspectives of our current culture, to project oneself into the mindset and morality of the future world Doctorow has created.
I won't go into the story itself with any detail, as I don't want to spoil anything, but Doctorow's finest achievement in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is the way he explores the question of morality. In a world where death and disease are over, where scarcity is barely remembered, it becomes clear that morality, even our morality today, is formed and shaped by mortality -- or the lack thereof.
The only real immorality in Down and Out seems to be the destruction of another's work. Only the tangible creations of an individual or a team ("ad-hoc") have value. Adultery, theft, destruction and even murder have no real negative value. They may reduce a person's prestige ("Whuffie") for a short time, but it is not difficult for the "victim" of any of these crimes to remain close friends or become close friends with his or her "victimizers" once he or she is "rebooted."
What this suggests for ourselves is fascinating: that morality itself is based on our mortality. The shortness of our lives, the moment of death that we all face, is the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong. I am sure some would say, "So what? That doesn't change anything. Wrong is wrong. Bad is bad. Evil is evil." Perhaps. But perhaps not, and what makes Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom a victory for me is that it makes me wonder about the perhaps not.
Anything that makes us consider our morality rather than just blindly accepting what has been passed down to us is a good thing, as far as I am concerned.
And so that leaves me with one nagging question: how can a book that expects us to make considerations about mortality and morality really be considered shallow? Very simply, it can't be....more
Eastern Standard Tribe reads so quickly and flows so well that it feels like it must be light weight fluff -- a throw away entertainment and nothing mEastern Standard Tribe reads so quickly and flows so well that it feels like it must be light weight fluff -- a throw away entertainment and nothing more -- but it doesn’t take much, only a little thought and a willingness to engage with “dead bodies” and “living flesh,” to see that it is much more.
Cory Doctorow is an unrepentant blogger, and it shows in this, his second novel. His language fizzes and crackles like three bags of Pop Rocks burning their carbonated pleasure on a tongue, popping out computer geek jargon in one line and imaginary pop culture in the next, before spinning off into a welcome tirade full of compelling arguments.
One minute Doctorow’s revealing truly terrifying insights into the field of mental health, demonstrating how a pseudo-science bent on homogeneity can wield enough power to put people away without due process or any process at all. The next he’s casually envisioning a mobile, futuristic Napster to rule the highway airwaves with piracy turned privateering.
It is sci-fi so successful in its plausibility that it almost ceases to be sci-fi. In Doctorow’s future there are cars that run on vodka or fry grease, airplanes with hot tubs, comm sets that nullify texting and turn it into chatting, and circadian tribalism that offers a new system of societal organization just waiting to take over those systems we’ve long accepted, embraced and grown tired of.
It’s all either already happening or is going to happen. And if it doesn’t happen it will likely only be because whatever it is has taken another form. It’s not prophetic, but it is fascinatingly observant.
A non-nihilistic Chuck Palahniuk - Chuck’s always disappointing third act + a smart, sci-fi kick in the ass = Cory Doctorow.
Check out how his “Chi is flowing” before they turn one of his books into a movie and taint his prose forever. He may not be the most literary rat on the ship, but his energy makes him the most likely to escape the scuttle....more
It's paradoxically inspiring and frightening that the things the Greek playwrights were writing about still resonate today: inspiring that their insigIt's paradoxically inspiring and frightening that the things the Greek playwrights were writing about still resonate today: inspiring that their insights and idiocies remain relevant to modern readers, and frightening that humanity has made so little progress that the insights and idiocies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles still concern us.
I picked up the Oresteia because I thought it was about time I put the plays to the tale I thought I knew. I found what I expected:
The children were eaten: there was the first affliction, the curse of Thyestes. Next came the royal death [if we ignore the sacrifice of Iphigenia:], when a man and lord of Achaean armies went down killed in the bath. Third is for the saviour. He came. Shall I call it that, or death? Where is the end? Where shall the fury of fate be stilled to sleep, be done with?
The familiar bloody tale of cannibalism, infanticidal sacrifice, vengeance, more vengeance, and the Gods ordained entrenchment of patriarchy were all there. The three plays of the Oresteia -- Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides -- were brutal, lovely, frustrating, illogical, brilliant and exciting in turns. I spent some of my time trying to suss out a way to stage these entertainingly without wholesale change, and some of my time thinking about the insights and idiocies that the Oresteia offered.
Amongst it all, I was shocked to discover something fresh -- at least to me. We often talk about the stultifying power of patriarchy, how that power has twisted up our cultures into the ugliness we know now, and the blame for that power is widely accepted to be the responsibility of those who made the power, hold the power and don't want to give it up.
What struck me in the Oresteia is that most people, from that day to this, from Ancient Greece to our modern globalized world, are responsible for the power of patriarchy (at least partially) because they desire infantilization. Few, so very, very few, want to be adults (metaphorically speaking). They don't want to make choices, they don't want to accept responsibility, they don't want to face conflict, they don't want to think. They want protection, they want to be told, they want to justify, they want to conform, they want to remain permanent metaphysical children embracing illusory comfort.
In the Oresteia the gods are credited with every act taken, so the players live or die believing that another is responsible for what they've done. They remain willing children of the gods.
It's a human willingness that I see all around me 2,468 years after the Oresteia was written. Is it any wonder the concerns of Aeschylus still plague us today?...more
One of my favourite lines in film is from Bull Durham. Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) asks Millie how the sex was with Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)One of my favourite lines in film is from Bull Durham. Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) asks Millie how the sex was with Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), and Millie says, "He kind of fucks like he throws, sorta all over the place." And that is EXACTLY how Neil Gaiman writes.
He has mad creative talent. There is no denying it. But too often that talent is uncontrolled, chaotic and even bafflingly silly. The Doll's House, written back when he was just becoming Neil Gaiman (and probably had editors forcing his work to be more restrained, which is a scary thought), is packed full of brilliant stuff.
The “cereal” convention that turns out to be a convention of serial killers is wicked genius. The cast of characters who make up one of the titular Doll Houses -- Ken and Barbie, the Spider Women, flamboyant Hal, Sandman's missing Fiddler's Green (a landscape of mountains and rivers and foothills turned man), and Rose, the Vortex of Dream -- is fascinating and rich. And then there's Rose's brother, the foster boy imprisoned in a basement dungeon for seven years only to be liberated by the nightmare Corinthian; it is a truly chilling scenario (and deserved much more of Gaiman’s time). But that's not all ... there's also a brief journey through time to visit an immortal man who rejects death, so he meets Morpheus in a pub that stands on the same spot every hundred years. In all of these we see Gaiman’s imaginative brilliance. But it is way too much. So much that nothing spooky remains and Gaiman's ability to horrify dissipates with every clever and half-developed new idea he throws at us.
Any one of these ideas would have been enough to sustain a seven chapter comic book arc. Perhaps Gaiman could have used two of the ideas in tandem without things getting out of control, but all of them together is as wild as a mascot dropping, Nuke LaLoosh fastball.
Every time I read Gaiman, I hope I am going to love what I am reading, and there are parts I adore (in The Doll’s House those things are Dream’s little family war with Desire, the Collectors and “Men of Good Fortune”), but I always close the cove r frustrated.
Control, control, you must learn control!
Oops, I think I just referenced too many movies. Sorry, but I was reading Gaiman, after all ;) I couldn’t help myself. ...more
Rarely have my feelings about a book been so jumbled.
I hated all The Haunting of Hill House's characters so much that I couldn't stand reading the booRarely have my feelings about a book been so jumbled.
I hated all The Haunting of Hill House's characters so much that I couldn't stand reading the book, yet Shirley Jackson's need to make us hate all the characters in the book, and her success impressed the hell out of me.
But then I wondered if the reason I hated the characters was not genuinely because of the book, but because of the crappy film version from 1999. Jan de Bont's remake, The Haunting, was abysmal, and the performances of its four stars were some of the worst of their careers (especially Lili Taylor, whose performance as Eleanor was the most insufferable of the lot).
But as soon as I picked up the book Jackson's characters became the actors for me. Liam Neeson was all I could see when I was reading Dr. Montague, despite the fact that Jackson's vivid descriptions of the Doctor don't match the Irishman in any way. And I had the same problems with Owen Wilson (Luke), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Theo) and Lili Taylor (Eleanor). Their performances were the characters for me, and I worried that I wasn't giving Jackson's characters a fair shake.
This hardly ever happens to me. I watch movies all the time -- sometimes before I read the books, although I try to avoid this -- and I've nearly always been able to avoid the actors' performances spilling into my fanciful renderings of the characters. This time, though, all four horrible performances stuck.
So was my disdain for the characters really Shirley Jackson's doing, or was it my personal issues with a bad rendering of her work? I hope it was the former rather than the latter, but I remain unsure.
I also ran into problems with my expectations of the story, and these seem to have been miraculously untainted by the movie. Even odder than my retention of the movie characters was my total lack of recall for the story itself.
Jackson kept me guessing throughout The Haunting of Hill House, but right up until the end I felt like all these false leads and potential "realities" were missed opportunities. She frustrated me again and again. I wondered if the hauntings were being staged as a psychological experiment by Montague, then I hoped that was the case, then it wasn't. I wondered if Eleanor was there at all, then I hoped she wasn't, then she was. I wondered if someone was already a ghost, then I hoped she was, then she wasn't. And so it went: Jackson kept setting me up with the story's potential then knocking me down with an overturning of my expectations.
Then I reached the end of the story, and Chapter Nine actually redeemed the tale for me. It didn't make The Haunting of Hill House one of my all time favourites, but it did bring me closer to believing that Shirley Jackson really expected us to loathe her characters, that she even depended on it, and that the control she exerted over her work was as deliberate and delicate as a surgeon repairing ligaments.