I read a lot of comic books, and they mostly fall into two categories: comics about grown men wearing tights, and comics where people say "fuck" a lotI read a lot of comic books, and they mostly fall into two categories: comics about grown men wearing tights, and comics where people say "fuck" a lot. Transmetropolitan is a comic where people say "fuck" a lot.
Other than that, it's awfully hard to categorize. It's about the return of its protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, to investigative journalism after five years of almost complete isolation from the world. His editor has called him up asking about a book Spider was supposed to be writing, and Spider realizes he can only write when he's down in the middle of what he writes about, which is life in the City.
Once he's gotten himself set up in a crappy apartment and a regular job writing a newspaper column, Spider discovers a Big Story: a huge conflict brewing between City police and a group of people called "Transients", who have had themselves surgically and genetically altered to look like extraterrestrials. Spider immediately smells a rat, and goes to the scene of the riot and bangs out a column full of his observations and suspicions. The column is a sensation, and Spider winds up with a better apartment and an assistant, a beautiful young woman whom he decides to tutor in the art of gonzo journalism.
That's the plot, but the essence of this book is more in the bizarre details of character and setting that make Spider and his City unique. Here is the kind of person Spider Jerusalem is: his mountaintop cabin, where he's been hiding from the world all this time, is defended with minefields, "smartguns," a security A.I., and an "Ebola bomb" (triggered, one assumes, by someone entering the cabin in his absence). As he leaves for The City, he blasts this bar, the one place he's ever left his cabin to go in the past five years, into flaming wreckage with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The man is never without a ridiculously high-powered weapon, which he draws and pulls on people (and inanimate objects) whenever the whim strikes him. One of his favored weapons, in one of the book's many Swiftian touches, is a "bowel disruptor", a pistol-sized raygun capable of rendering any opponent helpless with diarrhea. The concept of overkill seems not to exist for him.
The above paragraph makes him sound one-dimensional, which he's not, really. His hostility and paranoia are extreme, but they are not his entire psyche. Not quite, anyway. He also has a commitment to Truth: wherever he thinks people are being lied to or stolen from, especially by people with a lot of power, he wants to nail the crooks to the wall for everyone to see. One doesn't find him all that easy to admire or sympathize with on that count, though, since his pursuit of Truth and Justice is so heavily tinged with sadism. He might have once heard the dictum "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," but it's only the latter half that he really takes to heart. There are a couple of times when he shows kindness, like when he adopts a starving mutant cat and when he tries to comfort his assistant after one of his rants makes her cry, and while these do add depth and nuance to his character, they're not enough to make him into anything resembling a good person.
I also have to say something about the art in this volume, because it's phenomenal. The level of detail in every panel is just amazing, and adds to the messy, anarchic texture of the story. Each panel, especially the crowd scenes, is like a page in a "Where's Waldo?" book in terms of how much is going on in it. ...more
The characterization of the Minotaur was the one thing I really loved about this novel; everything else --- the plot, which wasn't much; the other chaThe characterization of the Minotaur was the one thing I really loved about this novel; everything else --- the plot, which wasn't much; the other characters, who were kind of flat and never got all that closely involved with the Minotaur anyway; the settings, which were a dingy trailer park and the restaurant kitchen where the Minotaur works --- seemed flat, colorless and undeveloped to me.
But the Minotaur was great; weird how an author as relatively young as Steven Sherrill could capture such a sense of great age, inertia and heaviness.
You could make a case that some of the book's flaws --- its directionlessness, its weakly developed supporting characters --- grow out of this characterization of the Minotaur as someone who has lost the ability to initiate things. Thus, he keeps himself at a distance from other characters, and just drifts through life aimlessly, living and working in one place until he has to leave. Either way, if I could rate separate aspects of this book, the character of the Minotaur gets four or five stars; the story he's in gets two.
There were a few random episodes where the Minotaur runs into other mythological characters: a satyr running through some trees near a salvage yard; a nymph working as a waitress; and Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes and Aphrodite, advertising a phone sex line on late-night TV. These were my favorite parts of the book, and it's characteristic of this novel, and of Sherrill's Minotaur, that they never lead to anything....more
**spoiler alert** In the myth of Theseus, the king of Crete, Minos, commands his captive invetor, Daedalus, to build a maze so intricate that nobody c**spoiler alert** In the myth of Theseus, the king of Crete, Minos, commands his captive invetor, Daedalus, to build a maze so intricate that nobody could escape from it without help. In this maze he places the Minotaur, a man-bull hybrid who eats people. (The minotaur is also, I think, the king's wife's son. By a bull. Yep, we're definitely in a Greek myth here). Every year, Minos demands tribute from lesser kings (Theseus's father Aegeus among them) in the form of a shipload of treasure and seven youths and seven maidens, chosen by lot, to go into the maze to be eaten by the Minotaur. One year, Theseus volunteers to take the place of one of the youths, meets Minos's daughter Ariadne, who falls in love with him and agrees to help him by giving him a ball of string he can use to thread his way through the maze. He succeeds in killing the Minotaur and escaping the maze, but his father believes he has died and kills himself even as Theseus is on his way back.
Very few of these details are conserved in Victor Pelevin's hilarious, thought-provoking and ultimately baffling retelling of the story. We meet eight characters: Ariadne, and seven pseudonymous strangers who find themselves in different hotel rooms sitting at computers. They are all confused as to where they are and how they got there, and find their chat (over some kind of in-house intranet) is being filtered to prevent the exchange of concrete, real-world facts (names, places of origin, addresses, etc.) and also swear words. The form of the novel is the online dialogue between these eight characters, replying to the single message posted on the sole online forum they can access (as I mentioned, they're not on the Internet, but an intranet): I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself, together with anyone who tries to find me - who said this and about what?
Ariadne, who posted the message, acts as a sort of guide through the "labyrinth" that seems to be both physical (the hotel) and psychological. The characters explore their literal and figurative environments in different ways: a know-it-all type named "Monstradamus" uses his academic knowledge to parse the hidden symbolic and etymological meanings of the few clues that are present; "Romeo" and "Isolde" jointly decide to leave their rooms and try to find each other, periodically reporting to the group what they find; "Nutscracker" uses his background as a computer programmer to try to understand what he comes to believe is the virtual reality they've entered; "Sartrik" gets drunk and disparages everyone else's suggestions; Ariadne, who seems to be a lucid dreamer, dreams about meeting a dwarf who explains the labyrinth and the Minotaur to her; and "UGLI 666" sees religious symbolism in everything around her, and decides that her imprisonment is a penance for her sins, which she must endure before finally meeting God.
Nobody gets very far in their attempt to make sense of the maze and identify Theseus and the Minotaur. (Monstradamus, interestingly enough, is named as both). Ariadne dreams of a "helmet of horror," which her diminutive guide tells her represents the Minotaur's mind: a machine that generates past, present and future from the immediate past. (The "stream of impressions", which come from both outside the helmet of horror and within its "horns of plenty", is diffracted through the "separator labyrinth" and changed into "bubbles of hope," which are enriched by memories stored in the horns of plenty --- Monstradamus is the first to discover that this process does not actually transform anything, since the stream of impressions and the contents of the horns of plenty are all memories --- past --- so logically nothing would seem able to enter the helmet of horror at all). Much time is spent discussing and speculating on the nature of the helmet of horror, and the implication of Ariadne's dream that they are all trapped inside a virtual reality, perhaps all wearing helmets of horror that filter and shape their perceptions.
I did not really understand the ending, except in the most abstract sense. What happens is that each character hears a loud knocking on their doors, and the doors are broken down and a stranger enters their rooms, his speech appearing on their screens under the name of "Theseus." He believes them all to be minotaurs, and they all shout "MOO!" at him. (Several times near the end, the characters all speak a nonsensical phrase in unison; it seemed to me like something was taking possession of them all when it happened, since it did not flow out of their conversation and clearly perturbed them). My understanding, at the end, was that the story started over again, with the characters now assigning themselves the role of Minotaurs (as opposed to Athenian youths and maidens). Thus the story is not a story, but a single arc of a(n endlessly recursive) circle.
Other reviewers have said that this book is not worth the effort it takes to understand what the heck is going on in it. I don't agree --- for all its inscrutability, the story reads amazingly quickly. (I finished it in maybe two or three hours). It reads quickly, the ideas flow well enough, and the dialogue (except for the occasional trippy descriptive passage --- lay off the acid, okay Ariadne? --- or random outburst) is laugh-out-loud funny.
Pelevin's introduction, "Mythcellaneous," a discussion of what myth is, and of the modern mythology of progress (in a self-consciously nonlinear narrative; I C wut u did there, Pelevin!) is also worth reading; it's lucid, interesting and witty in a more subdued way than the wacky, sometimes-profane dialogue.
Skip it if you hate authors who play tricks on their readers and characters; if you like a challenge, or even don't mind one, check it out. It's like "Neuromancer" meets "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."...more
**spoiler alert** A bit uneven. The premise of the book is that members of Generations X and Y, realizing that their parents' retirement is going to b**spoiler alert** A bit uneven. The premise of the book is that members of Generations X and Y, realizing that their parents' retirement is going to bankrupt them, refuse to pay into Social Security and launch a second massive youth-protest movement. The book's protagonist, Cassandra Devine, spearheads the movement from her blog, and is eventually hired by the presidential campaign of an obscure senator who hopes to harness the angry-young-people vote, which Cassandra advises him to do by offering tax breaks to Boomers who commit suicide before they reach retirement age. Though the dialogue sparkles and the political satire is spot-on, the story loses a lot of momentum as it advances. It was probably too lightweight of an idea to hang a whole novel on, and the characters mostly don't help with that; except for the three lead characters, they are all cardboard cutouts. The three non-caricatures are not all that complicated, either. It's still a very funny book, though; probably all it needed to get an extra star was a stricter editor. ...more