Even before I was shown the meaning of life in a dream at 17 (then promptly forgot it because I thought I smelled pancakes), IThe universe is a joke.
Even before I was shown the meaning of life in a dream at 17 (then promptly forgot it because I thought I smelled pancakes), I knew this to be true--and yet, I have always felt a need to search for the truth, that nebulous, ill-treated creature. Adams has always been, to me, to be a welcome companion in that journey.
Between the search for meaning and the recognition that it's all a joke in poor taste lies Douglas Adams, and, luckily for us, he doesn't seem to mind if you lie there with him. He's a tall guy, but he'll make room.
For all his crazed unpredictability, Adams is a powerful rationalist. His humor comes from his attempts to really think through all the things we take for granted. It turns out it takes little more than a moment's questioning to burst our preconceptions at the seams, yet rarely does this stop us from treating the most ludicrous things as if they were perfectly reasonable.
It is no surprise that famed atheist Richard Dawkins found a friend and ally in Adams. What is surprising is that people often fail to see the rather consistent and reasonable philosophy laid out by Adams' quips and absurdities. His approach is much more personable (and less embittered) than Dawkins', which is why I think of Adams as a better face for rational materialism (which is a polite was of saying 'atheism').
Reading his books, it's not hard to see that Dawkins is tired of arguing with uninformed idiots who can't even recognize when a point has actually been made. Adams' humanism, however, stretched much further than the contention between those who believe, and those who don't.
We see it from his protagonists, who are not elitist intellectuals--they're not even especially bright--but damn it, they're trying. By showing a universe that makes no sense and having his characters constantly question it, Adams is subtly hinting that this is the natural human state, and the fact that we laugh and sympathize shows that it must be true.
It's all a joke, it's all ridiculous. The absurdists might find this depressing, but they're just a bunch of narcissists, anyhow. Demanding the world make sense and give you purpose is rather self centered when it already contains toasted paninis, attractive people in bathing suits, and Euler's Identity. I say let's sit down at the bar with the rabbi, the priest, and the frog and try to get a song going. Or at least recognize that it's okay to laugh at ourselves now and again. It's not the end of the world.
It's just is a joke, but some of us are in on it....more
Lewis' greatest strength as a writer is his sense of social satire, bolstered by his humanist treatment of characters. He sees people as ultimately flLewis' greatest strength as a writer is his sense of social satire, bolstered by his humanist treatment of characters. He sees people as ultimately flawed, always in danger of succumbing to their fears, insecurities, and egos. However, this is no reason to condemn man or his works. Humanists do not expect people to overcome their flaws, like idealists, nor to descend into apologetic guilt in hopes of redemption.
The hope for humanists is that we may come to recognize our flaws, and then to limit their effects. The danger in this is treating it with self-righteousness, since basing self-worth on a recognition of one's flaws rather defeats the point. Coming to terms with our faults is not a superlative act, but merely a definition of how we live our lives.
Thus, the work of the satirist is to make clear and obvious the faults that we humans share. It is often delightful to read satire: the author takes something hidden in our society, something unspoken and taken for granted, and pulls it from the darkness, so that it appears as if by magic, now undeniable and unable to slink back into hiding (at least until we stop looking).
Magicians and comedians may pull this same trick again and again, and it will always delight us to realize that there is no such thing as 'ordinary', there are only unquestioned assumptions. It takes an active and a creative mind to archive the effect of revealing the normal to be strange, and this is what we call 'wit'.
Lewis has wit, and he is able to uncover the things we take for granted, to startle us or make us laugh with little, innocuous things. In 'Elmer Gantry', he takes on a very grand assumption--religion--and its related hangers-on, and deals blind faith a deadly blow. In 'Elmer Gantry', there is no need to ask about god, since all the faith sent his way is intercepted by righteous men before it has a chance at anything holier.
In 'It Can't Happen Here', Lewis provides commentary on another favorite target of satirists: politics. In particular, he aims at the rise of totalitarian tyrants who are granted power by the frightened masses. He was inspired by the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe, and even though his book was written before World War II, it still reflects the fears such regime changes inspired in America's liberal republic.
The most evident of these fears, as presented by Lewis, is the idea that the unwashed American masses might enthrone their own warlike tyrant. His grand political critique is an early example of the literary movement to critique and explore the methods of totalitarianism, from which sprung Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon' and the dystopian politics of '1984', 'Fahrenheit 451', and 'Brave New World'.
Unfortunately, Lewis is not content with poking holes, as he was in 'Elmer Gantry', but also falls to the temptation of presenting some his own ideals, his own solutions to the problems of totalitarianism. His condemnation of the uneducated and the self-serving tempts him to become occasionally righteous about his own intelligence.
The protagonist sometimes acts as a fairly transparent author surrogate, especially in the philosophical unfolding of the denouement. Other times he allows him to be small, flawed, and narrow-minded, but the lows are more infrequent than the highs. The satire becomes incomplete because there are places Lewis himself cannot or will not extend it.
Since Lewis fails to see the place that totalitarianism has for Academia, for intellectualism, he also fails to present the rise of totalitarianism as entirely credible. As Machiavelli observed, a people who are unused to being ruled openly by a prince will chafe at that rulership. For them to progress into a political state with which they are unfamiliar requires a dramatic social and economic shift.
Though America had experienced a comparatively drastic low in the Great Depression, it was never as serious nor as pervasive as the effects of the global economy in Europe. It was this level of poverty and desperation which allowed a few men to gather up power, because the majority of people were too concerned with getting food to properly resist.
Lewis could have posited a more severe extension of the Depression to account for the American political shift, or an event grand enough to create a culture of fear by which the dictator could grab power, as Hitler did after the burning of the Reichstag, or Crassus in the Third Servile War.
Perhaps it was Lewis' intent to present a more gradual and insidious shift in America, but if so he quickly abandons this for a more extreme depiction. To show both becomes merely hyperbole, and hyperbole without sarcasm is disingenuous. It conflicts with his ostensible purpose of presenting an otherwise realistic progression of events.
The wavering of his satire, whether in character or facts, weakens it as a whole, and though the purpose and vision of the work have borne fruit in others of the genre, from Orwell to Heller, Lewis' seminal and enjoyable totalitarian critique falls short of the less biased satire of 'Elmer Gantry'....more
A sprawling, many-faceted, satirical series, Illuminatus! is difficult to rate and more difficult to review. There are so many aspects which one couldA sprawling, many-faceted, satirical series, Illuminatus! is difficult to rate and more difficult to review. There are so many aspects which one could address, so many points of divergence, ideas, philosophies, and influences, but at it's heart, it's a rollicking adventure story that, despite its many political and social themes, rarely takes itself too seriously.
I can certainly say I liked it, but it's hard to say how much. Some parts were better than others, but there are many parts to be considered. Unlike other reviewers, I did not find the numerous asides and allusions to be distracting. If one piqued my interest, I looked it up and more often than not, learned something entirely new. Some didn't intrigue me as much, and I was happy to let them be.
I treated the book like I treat life: following those threads which seemed, to me, to be the most fruitful, and refusing to become bogged down in the fact that I can't know everything. If a reader tried to track down every reference, they'd be going to wikipedia three and four times per page and likely lose the thread of the story entirely. The sheer volume of research behind the book is an achievement in itself, sure to keep the attention of detail-obsessed trivial pursuit players of the internet generation.
Others have also complained about the structure of the book, switching as it does in place, time, and character with no forewarning, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph. Certainly these switches can cause a moment's uncertainty, but they hardly make following the plot impossible. The authors could have put more line breaks in, it would be a minor change. So minor, in fact, that I find it difficult to take seriously any claim that the lack of such breaks somehow ruined the story.
It was a deliberate effect by the authors, meant to impart information realistically and force the reader to take a more active role. In life, we are constantly inundated by information and it is up to us to decide what is important and where to make strict delineations. Likewise, in this book, the authors want us to take responsibility for our own parsing of data, refusing to spoon-feed it to us like so much propaganda.
The authors, themselves went through huge amounts of data to combine all of these conspiracy theories into a grand ur-conspiracy, too large and detailed to be believed and too ridiculous to be doubted. I've never had much interest in such theories, so it was nice to have them all in one place where I could enjoy them as part of a fun spy story.
I also admit a lack of interest in the beat poets, psychedelic culture, and World War II, so I'm glad to have gotten those all out of the way in the same fell swoop. This book is, at its heart, a chronicle of a certain point in American history, a certain mindset, a baroquely detailed conglomeration of the writings and ideas of the raucous sixties.
The book is at its least effective when it is taking itself seriously, particularly in the appendices. When it seems to believe in its own conspiracies or Burroughs' bizarre understanding of history, it becomes a victim of its own joke.
It is at its best when it takes nothing seriously, least of all itself. The authors were involved in the flowering of the Discordian Movement, which has been described as a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion. The movement plays a large role in the text and is analyzed from all sides, but basically boils down to religion as imagined by Mad Magazine.
The revolutionary thing about Mad was not that it undermined authority, but that it simultaneously undermined itself. Its humor lay in the insight that only a fool would believe any one thing to be the source of wisdom, but that you were perfectly justified in mistrusting everything.
Rather like the remarkable Sixties BBC series 'The Prisoner', the final message is that you must decide for yourself what is important, what is real, and what is misdirection. Also like 'The Prisoner', Illuminatus owes much to the spy genre of the sixties, from freewheeling sex to ultra-modern undersea bases and high-stakes secret missions. There is even an overt parody of the Bond franchise running through the books.
Unfortunately, it also seems to fall into the Boys' Club atmosphere of spy stories. Though it switches between narrators, all of them are men, and the focused sexuality of the book is usually aimed at women. There are moments where bisexuality, homosexuality, and feminist sexual power dynamics are explored, but these tend to be mere intellectual exercises while the hot, sweaty moments are by and large men taking their pleasure from women. I can enjoy porn, but I wish it were as balanced as the rhetoric to which the authors pay lip service.
Many male authors have shied away from writing female characters from the inside, despite having no compunction about getting inside them in other ways. I cannot reiterate enough the late Dan O'Bannon's insistence that the secret to writing women was writing men and then leaving out the penis.
He scripted 'Alien' without gender markers, all characters being referred to by last name, and Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of Ellen Ripley has proven one of the most realistic and unaffected of any woman in film. It was a disappointment to see Shea and Wilson so fettered by gender while simultaneously spouting the latest feminist sound bites.
In many ways, Illuminatus provides a bridge between the paranoid, conspiracy sci fi of Dick and the highly referential, multilayered stories of Cyberpunk. Conceptually, it represents a transition from Dick's characters--always unable to escape destruction at the hand of their vast, uncaring society--and Cyberpunk agonists who are able to adapt to their distant, heartless society and thrive where they can. The language of Illuminatus is flashier and cooler than Dick's, but has not yet reached the form-as-function linguistic data overload of Gibson or Stephenson.
The writing is quite good: crisp, witty, evocative and mobile. Far from the accusations of being a text 'written on an acid trip', it is lucid and deliberate, even if it does take itself lightly. There certainly are those aspects which are inspired by psychedelic culture, including the free-wheeling structure. The authors invite comparison between moments, events, and characters which, in most other books, would be separated by the strict delineation of the page break.
But then, the surest sign of genius is the ability to synthesize new data from the confluence of apparently disparate parts, as Da Vinci did one day while studying the eddies in a stream for a painting, finding himself suddenly struck by the notion that the heart would pump blood more efficiently by forming such swirling eddies in its chamber instead of working as a simple pump. In the the past decade, internal body scanners have proven the accuracy of his small corner sketch. By inviting you to make such comparisons and synthesize your own conclusions, the book respects the potential intelligence of its reader. But it is not all such conceptual exercises, and the lesson Cyberpunk authors learned was that a fast-paced, flashy shell can sugar even bitter pills.
But what delighted me was the realization that at its heart, this is a story of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Outside of Lovecraft and Howard, very few of the stories set in that universe are even passable, but this one comports itself ably, taking to heart the notion that an overabundance of data can break the human mind, which dovetails nicely with the cautionary lesson of conspiracy theory: it seems vast, inexplicable beings of unimaginable power can also be human, and have cults just as Unaussprechlichen.
Overall, the series is interesting, unique, informative, humorous, and entertaining. There are moments where it bogs down, but overall, it is well-structured and well written. There aren't many books where you get a fun spy story, a harrowing Cthulhu tale, and a rundown of the zeitgeist of an American era all in one, but there is at least one.
Unless you're a teenager looking for a counterculture to believe in, the conspiracy mish-mash probably won't be a life-changing revelation, but it might be food for thought. Conspiracy fiction is big business these days with 'The Name of The Rose', 'Foucault's Pendulum' and 'The Da Vinci Code', yet the originator of the genre gets insufficient credit.
But this book is not designed to be easy to digest. You are not meant to internalize its message thoughtlessly. It's funny, contradictory, and self-aware, and it's hard for people who take themselves seriously to get caught up in a book that, for the most part, doesn't. I could say this book deserves to be more than a cult classic, but at its heart, this book is a cult classic, and its cultural influence will continue to seep with or without grander acclaim....more
Mervyn Peake was, by all accounts, a powerful presence, an electric character, and a singular creative force. While Tolkien's poetry is the part everyMervyn Peake was, by all accounts, a powerful presence, an electric character, and a singular creative force. While Tolkien's poetry is the part everyone skips, Peake's invigorates his books. His voice and tone are unique in the English language, and his characterization is delightfully, grotesquely vivid. As an illustrator, he was perhaps somewhat less precise than Dore, but more evocative than Beardsley.
His life and his vision were singular, from his birth in China to his years on the channel island Sark, and finally, his slow deterioration, until he was unable to speak, and drew only clowns in profile, capped as dunces. Though many suggest this deterioration marks the perceived failing of Titus Alone, Peake would complete his final illustrations more than a year later, and did not succumb to death for another decade.
There were some editorial problems with Titus Alone, and though they have been mostly repaired, there are still dissatisfied grumblings about the final form. The ultimate Titus book is not easy to come to terms with, and indeed it took me long thought and consideration. However, I will not coax or argue mitigating circumstances: this book is Peake's vision, and while not as expansive or exacting as the others, it stands as its own work, and completes Peake's philosophical and literary journey as well as we might wish.
Peake was never one to pander. He did not write for any crowd, and he certainly did not write to facilitate escapism. He may have fashioned his work by an aesthetic, so as to mesmerize or mystify the ear, tug at the mind, and certainly to tickle the eye, but he did not give comfortable or simple answers.
The first two books are rather congruous, despite the subtle shifts, the advances and retreats, the many skirmishes Peake engages the reader in, only to return the veil before any clear victory or defeat can be claimed. It was not Peake's intention to stroke and comfort his readers, but to take them from high to low, to present them with wonder and with a vast, unconquerable world of wretched beauty.
Over the long stretch of the first two books, the reader becomes accustomed to the castle Gormengast, to identify with Titus' everyday struggles against plodding tradition. Characters die, others take their place, filling out the ranks, buttressing the ancient walls with their very breath.
There is a safety in tradition, in the comfort we slowly gain from it, as we do in Gormenghast itself: always separate from the world without, unknown and forbidden. Like Titus, we imagine that the outside world must be like the inside one: it cannot be so different, after all, from this crumbling castle, this place which has become another home to legions of awestruck readers.
But any reader content to watch it all play out so familiarly has not been paying attention—has not been listening to Peake. Though there is always the susurrant coo of that comfort, that tradition, we must not forget that, for young Titus, tradition is death, is rot, is black and stagnant waters.
Many readers find themselves utterly thrown when they first begin to encounter the world outside Gormenghast, and realize that it is not what they expected. However, it is difficult for me to imagine how such readers could at once praise Peake for the the singular, spectacular world of the first two books, and then become upset when he continues to expand his vision. They find themselves well-seated by yesterday's revolution, and resent such an unwelcome start.
Peake continues a thread of literary exploration which draws through the great epics, from Homer to Virgil, Tasso, Ariosto, and Milton, to Byron, to Eliot. Like these great works, Peake explores the role and nature of the hero: his connection to tradition, and the purpose chosen for him.
Originally, the epic hero was governed by his own mind, like Odysseus, a mind devious beyond measure, it proved. Then Virgil created his hero of Piety, of submission. Aeneas grasped hold of tradition, trusting in it to lead him. This was a message to the populace: trust in our ways, our traditions, and our Emperor to provide all that you might need. While this message is useful to an empire, it can be rather destructive to the individual, asking that he give up himself to the greater good.
Milton eventually continues this tradition, except he promotes subservience to Church instead of Empire (though there was little enough difference at the time). However, Milton included the old, violent, self-serving hero as a cautionary tale: humility and piety are Adam's strengths, while Satan has the 'false' strengths of warlike might and Odyssean skepticism.
Many later writers, including Byron, found that the Satanic mode of heroism was more appealing to the individual, especially to the iconoclast and artist who was tired of being told to 'pipe down' and 'follow orders'. Nietzsche would carry this sense of heroic individualism to the cusp, when he stated that mankind would have to demolish all tradition, and each individual would have to create a whole philosophy of meaning for himself, and thus become a philosopher of the future known famously as the Ubermensch.
Of course, there is a point when we all must question the whole of tradition, and just as we did when we first learned the art of speech, test what happens when we respond to all questions and demands with a resounding 'no!' These later rebellions, these existential crises can happen at any time, whenever we find ourselves struggling to make a place for ourselves.
Titus leaves home--as he must to become himself. He cannot honestly accept or reject Gormenghast and its tradition unless he can see it objectively, which requires that he develop a more worldly point of view. Like anyone progressing from childhood to adulthood, he questions the fundamental assumptions of his parents and teachers, and by extension, their whole world, and so he sets out on his own. Also, like any of us on the brink of adulthood, he learns that the world the adults promised doesn't really exist.
The real world is stranger, more daunting, and far more vast than the 'right and wrong' of parental morality, or the far-flung imaginings of the child. Even though his readers have been through this shift themselves, and should know to expect it from a changing young man, new to the world, Peake still manages to catch us off guard. Like Titus, the reader expects the world to be different and challenging, but like Titus, they cannot imagine how truly different it will be when it arrives.
Titus Alone has a self-contained plot. It has its own allies and antagonists, its own places, its own conflict, and its own climax. They all add to Peake's running themes of change, growth, beauty, and meaning, but they are their own. However, the climax in Titus Alone is only a dress rehearsal for the true climax, which comes only at the very end, and which remains unsure until then, as pivotal and sudden as the twelfth book of the Aeneid.
This resolution is the culmination of Titus' childhood, of all his former conflicts, of his life and purpose and individuality. It is the thematic culmination of the bildungsroman. It is the philosophical conclusion of Peake's exploration of the role of the hero, the self, and of tradition. It is also the fulfillment of his vision, his unyielding artistic drive. It is the final offering to the reader, his companion and rival on this journey.
He ends with beauty, with questions, with verve, and with a wink.
It still confuses me that many readers seemed to expect Peake to follow works notable for their strangeness and unpredictability with something familiar and indistinguishable. There are many who do this, it is true. There is the revolutionary who topples the regime only to supplant it with his own. There is the mountain climber who tops Everest, and then imagines that the greatest challenge is to do so twice.
You get no higher no matter how many times you climb the mountain. The true visionary adventurer climbs the mountain, and then, as an encore, paints the ceiling of a cathedral. It may not be expected, it may not please those fans who only wanted more of the same, but anything less is an admission of defeat. Peake earned his laurels in the first two books, and while we could hardly blame him for resting on them, he refused to.
Perhaps many readers became comfortable with his rebellion, his iconoclasm. They sympathized with his rejection of tradition, and then happily accepted that rebellion as their new tradition. Like Aeneas, they left crumbling Troy, trusting in their patron deity to carry them through. However, Peake was not content simply to add a new wing to his masterwork. He showed his authorial humility and his commitment to art by razing his own cathedral simply because it was more interesting than leaving it up.
As Nietzsche said: push everything, and abandon whatever topples, no matter how familiar it had become. He who can apply this to himself and to his own works is the only artist deserving of the title--and such is Peake.
I remember the sense I had as a child that sexual perversity had been invented in the 1960's. Before that, everyone did it purely for procreation, andI remember the sense I had as a child that sexual perversity had been invented in the 1960's. Before that, everyone did it purely for procreation, and only to people they were married to.
This was often the face put forward in the fifties, the dark ages of sex as culture. It's no wonder that this is where we get stories about couples having no idea what they are actually supposed to do on their wedding nights.
The depression and the war resulted in the centralization of cultural power. Nationalism, McCarthyism, church-based religion and patriotism are all about surrendering individuality for the safety of the group. Sure, the most eccentric 5% of the populace will be imprisoned, committed, or blacklisted, but the dull majority will be able to cling to the reliability of enforced normalcy.
This also allows the culture to transfer the energy normally spent on chasing tail to material production. There's a reason the puritans and Amish get so much done. However, once the war, persecution, and economic hardship disappear, leisure returns, and with it, recreational sex.
That isn't to say that there was no recreational or enjoyable sex in the fifties. It was not sex itself that went away, but the cultural discourse that has often surrounded it.
As usual, anyone who looks to the literature of the past can find all the peculiarity and perversity their heart desires. From Fanny Hill to De Sade to Sappho, there is plenty of sexual history to contend the myth that the clitoris was discovered in the 1960's. Most fourteen year old girls can tell you it doesn't take a team of scientists to find it. Fourteen year old boys might disagree.
The Satyricon presents a great deal of straightforward sexuality, including all the various sodomies and same-sex pairing. Particularly interesting from a sociological standpoint is the sympathetic presentation of pederasty. For the uninitiated, that would be a sexual relationship between a grown man and a pubescent boy.
Pederasty has been recorded among many cultures, from the Spartans and Athenians to the Romans, Japanese Samurai, and the most prestigious colleges of Britain and America. It was often a method to tutor the young man in the ways of life, not just sex.
After the West romanticized procreative sexuality under Christianity, a father might have brought his son to the town prostitute to 'educate' him. In my youth, it was vintage issues of Playboy passed from friend to friend. Now we have the internet and sex ed in school.
Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, but as the Satyricon shows, they are different means to the same end: producing a fully-fledged member of your society. Though pederasty is now a deviant practice, it is not inherently psychologically damaging (at least, not more than any other sexual relationship has the potential to be).
Even sexual abuse is not necessarily harmful outright. Psychological damage can also come from social moralizing after the fact. The culture of victimization and powerlessness saps all strength and identity from those who have been forced to endure unfortunate circumstances. In cases of abuse, children often do not feel frustration and depression until people around them make it clear that they are supposed to feel this way. A man who becomes bankrupt is not hurt by the loss of pieces of paper, but by losing the freedom and power the culture ascribes to them.
Some have argued that youths cannot make informed decisions, and hence are liable to fall into manipulative and unequal relationships. While this is certainly true, many full-grown adults are equally uninformed and prone to manipulation.
I don't mean to suggest any need to change our laws, since our cultural traditions have no role for pederasty, there is no way for it to operate as a healthy relationship. However, I would suggest that people try to appreciate that our traditions are just as arbitrary as those of the Romans. There's nothing like history to remind us that there are many, many ways.
The Satyrican is also historically important for its uniquely accessible form. It is one of the only surviving examples of a novel-type narrative from the Roman tradition. It depicts the lives of small people and their everyday activities, from theater to dinner parties to beggars, prostitutes, and impotence.
The tale even follows the form of a comedic picaresque romance. Even though there is no direct tradition linking the development of the modern novel in seventeenth century Spain and the nearly identical narrative structure of the Satyricon, it provides an example of parallel evolution for the edification of literary critics.
The lighthearted tone and humorous situations give this work a remarkably modern feel. Indeed, it is more accessible than many newer works. It is intriguing for its presentation of Roman life, for its similarities with the novel, and for its frank depiction of the unheroic.
The Greeks and Romans developed calculus, crossbows, and steam power a thousand years before they would enter common use. Why should they not also innovate realism? I find comfort in the fact that the funny sex novel predates the codification of the bible. It seems history is as much the property of the prurient as the holy; maybe even moreso....more
Most of the time, comics do not benefit from deep and patient consideration. The vast majority owe their popularity to a world of powerless men trappeMost of the time, comics do not benefit from deep and patient consideration. The vast majority owe their popularity to a world of powerless men trapped in a work-a-day world that provides them little pride and less edification. Readers of history often fantasize about living in another age, readers of travelogues imagine impossibly pricey vacations, and fans of Romance want an 'unbound pillar of desire', which I think is a piece by Rodin.
Likewise, many comic readers have been happy for little more than sexy, fast-paced excitement. This demand has been met by a bevy of innumerable authors over the years, but usually with the same old band of familiar heroes. This preponderance has lead to a wealth of stories and histories for each character, often contradictory ones. However, none of that mattered until some of the more leisure-gifted fans tried to make sense of it.
The ever-blossoming result of these hundred thousand monkeys can be at turns humbling, nonsensical, horrifying, and depressing. If you are the sort who teases tigers at the zoo, then perhaps you'll enjoy the effect of whispering the word 'continuity' amongst a band of the faithful. You'll have to be careful, of course, as breathing the word at ComicCon is liable to end in broken marriages, sundered friendships, oceans of tears, and rivers of blood.
It was not always so dire. Alan Moore carelessly sauntered over from England and after writing two or three things, made it okay to take comic books seriously. His dangerous artistry spawned a generation of new writers, who all, to one degree or another, have come to consider comics to be Art.
These writers have been trying to 'fix' continuity since about when I was born. They write year-long series called "Secret Countdown to Final Infinite Earth Civil War Crisis: Zombie Zero Hour", just so you know that they mean business and once they're done, you can finally get along with the escapist power fantasies in peace.
Warren Ellis is one of those literary writer guys inspired by Moore to use things like 'tropes' and 'metaphors' in his 'tales of existential exploration'. It's all quite serious. In this particular philosophical exegesis, Ellis takes on a common theme of artsy writers, namely: what would the lives of superheroes really be like, if they were real people.
He chooses a group of heroes to represent, each chosen for being forgotten and mishandled by the 'continuity gestapo'. He then imagines what it would be like to live in a world where giant dragons in purple underwear threaten the peace of the world on a daily basis. His exploration (exploitation?) of the contradictions inherent to heroism in a world where battles often level cities is particularly poignant.
Like Watchmen, Nextwave holds a wink and a nod up to the genre, stomping thoughtlessly on the already blurry line between the ideals of right and wrong, the point of inescapable gray where the serious cannot escape the ludicrous, and the ludicrous cannot escape Warren Ellis. But unlike Watchmen, this is a satire which attempts to maintain the absurdity of its genre. In the end, however, Ellis must bow respectfully to the men who came before him, and he duly admits that he could not be as ridiculous on purpose as they were by happy accident.
I can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone, spectacular as they are. While those books may provide a frantically laboI can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone, spectacular as they are. While those books may provide a frantically laborious definition of 'idiomatic' (if not merely 'eccentric'), Peake is more than simply Gormenghast.
There is his art, his (somewhat abortive) poetic career, and his minimal forays into drama, adventure, war reporting--and here, light farce. Published the same year as Lucky Jim, Peake provides us with another English vision of strange and liminal folk,--except his island is not the metaphorical isolation of academia, but the literal geography of Sark, where Peake relocated his family after The War.
Unlike Amis, Peake's satire falls much more broadly, often striking his protagonist as readily as any other target. As with his Titus books, there is a restlessness inherent in the fact that Peake never turns his hand, and so the reader is always left looking for purpose and direction. Just when you think you've pegged him, Peake tends to swerve.
The book meanders ridiculously, taking its time to arrive at the conflict. Until we reach the driving theme, the book is somewhat slow-going. It does not proceed ponderously, like the Titus books, but there is a measured pace which requires that the reader take the time to let things unfold.
In theme, it roughly resembles Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, which so shook up American religion twenty years before. Like Gantry, Pye is our swell-headed yet carnivorously charming proselytizer and self-promoter, but trades big-top evangelism for the good old C of E, and so his religious notions take a more chummy, upright bent.
While Lewis contents himself with exposing the ungainly, cruel man behind the pulpit quacksalver, Peake paints no such plain indictment. Peake lampoons not only his self-righteous hero, nor just religion, but the very physical and spiritual life at the root of any discussion of belief (or the lack thereof).
Peake doesn't fall hard on one side or the other, but gives us equally wonderful and absurd arguments for (and against) both at once. A reader looking to be instructed or justified will spend all of their time searching. Peake makes it clear that he doesn't have the answers, but he does provide a good number of questions, and each is arm-in-arm with chortles.
There is no preachy author surrogate here, nor the comeuppance of a fable. Yet this lack of direction sometimes injures the work. While Gormenghast moves about these difficult questions slowly, giving a reader a clear view before drifting on grandly, Pye alights quickly and then it's on to the next. There is little evidence of Peake's mastery of language and style, though a keen eye will see 'Pye' as a sleek and straightforward counterpoint to Gormenghast's wrought and grandiose.
Both books move slowly, and both are grounded in their settings. Gormenghast's measured pace is that of the ancient castle: the gait of a museum-goer turning always upon some new and unexpected wonder of yore. Pye's is more akin to it's dreary, peculiar island: a walk along the shore, where some sights will pique the eye, but will more often leave the mind roaming than rapt.
It is a testament to Peake's wryness and sense of character that this light, undecided, often pointless tale comes off as amusing, sweet, and even original. His mildly fantastical religious parable calls to mind both another Brit and another Lewis: Clive Staples, but Peake has writ a religious send-up that is more even-handed and much less bitter.
First the grand fantasy of Gormenghast deflates Tolkien's pretension, then Peake's follow-up highlights the short sight of yet another of the Inklings. Shame I'll never teach Lit, this one has a lot of intriguing cross-pollination....more
I've come to recognize that one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that I listened to the audiobook, performed by comedian Lenny HenrI've come to recognize that one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that I listened to the audiobook, performed by comedian Lenny Henry, whose background as a Brit of Caribbean descent made him the perfect choice to bring the characters to life. A lot of audiobooks aren't very good, but this one way great, and really brings out the fact that Anansi stories are meant to be heard.
It's recognizable Gaiman stuff, with the fish-out-of-water narrator in a modern fantasy world, with the author sxploring the history and the form of the mythic story, but there's a level of deprecating humor in this book that is lacking in other works by Gaiman.
One can catch snips of wit in any of his books. Any good book must include some humor: an author might as futilely try to excise pain or desire from life as humor. Gaiman has never placed any such artificial limits on his work; indeed, the only limits on his books are those he, himself cannot overcome.
Previously, his humor was only an occasional element, but there was apparently something in the writing of this particular book which finally allowed him to unleash his sense of the comic as a whole entity. The text swims and bobs with the ridiculous, the unfortunate, and the clever.
After reading 'Good Omens', written by Gaiman and Prachett, I was told that without Prachett, it would have retained none of the humor. I now begin to wonder whether if Pratchett added anything at all. Indeed, this work of Gaiman's overshadows that earlier work in both degrees and shades of the insightful and entertaining.
With the focus on Anansi and stories, the book provides an amusing analysis of storytelling itself, so that anyone who studies the nature and classification of tales will find certain asides and references particularly amusing. It is rare these days that an author will write a piece of fiction which explores on a subtextual level a concept or idea fundamental to the work itself. I have come to wish that more authors could gain the audacity that Gaiman found here.
There is a degree to which this story matches Gaiman's usual monomythic progression from naive outsider to coy insider, which at the outset was my greatest difficulty with the work. The inevitability and redundancy of this trope makes me wish for Gaiman's more eccentric and perverse moments. However, I found in the clever and skilled text a story worth experiencing, and one which matches or exceeds Gaiman's other attempts in the modern fantasy genre.
The story is not as epic or dire as Gaiman's tend to be, and without that there is a loss of urgency in the story. This is not really a deficiency, however, as the playful humor could not cohabitate comfortably with an ever-steepening plot curve.
The work fits into Gaiman's usual mode, exploring the myths and psychologies that most interest him. It may lose some of his fans in that it is less dark and brooding, less hopeless, but this could hardly be counted a loss. Any reader who wants more of the same can re-read his old works. the rest of us may appreciate seeing a master storyteller exploring his form in a new and engaging way.
Sometimes, I grow the silly delusion that I might have the potential to be a writer. As a curative, I read this, Lycidas, and Hours of Idleness; thenSometimes, I grow the silly delusion that I might have the potential to be a writer. As a curative, I read this, Lycidas, and Hours of Idleness; then I recall that not only am I not a writer, I am old....more
I'm hesitant here, as anyone self-important enough to commit suicide is likely too self-important to be a thoroughly enjoyable writer, but even greatI'm hesitant here, as anyone self-important enough to commit suicide is likely too self-important to be a thoroughly enjoyable writer, but even great cynics are sometimes impressed by the procession of reputation. Just a little bit....more
Alright, so he's an old bastard. I know. He was generally wrong-headed and entirely conceited. He's also hilarious and witty. I would that all those wAlright, so he's an old bastard. I know. He was generally wrong-headed and entirely conceited. He's also hilarious and witty. I would that all those who disagree with me could do so in such a pleasing fashion....more
This send up of religious institutions was so devestating that many religious leaders called for Lewis to be stoned to death for writing it. His bitinThis send up of religious institutions was so devestating that many religious leaders called for Lewis to be stoned to death for writing it. His biting, insightful, and humorous look at religious hypocrisy is as pertinant today as it was when it was first written.
The pure strength of Lewis's prose is refreshing after reading more recent authors. His control and understanding of syntax, grammar, and words maintains a strength and clarity of voice throughout the work. However, he does not sacrifice wit or levity for all his precision.
There are occasions when his passion overcomes him and his critiques fall a little heavy-handed, but these moments are rare and short. He never falls to the sort of surrogate lecturing that many 'political' authors do, and so does not risk boring or underestimating his reader.
He certainly never partakes in the more grievous sin of lecturing the audience as the narrator. Indeed, he rarely makes a point towards his own opinions without undermining it with a little hypocrisy or hubris on the character's part.
The absurdity of Voltaire's satire has nothing on the ridiculous yet believable world created by Lewis. Hyperbole is the haven of the idealist. Realism is more interested in engaging reason than inciting passion, and while Lewis's understated wit never insults his reader's intelligence, it still presents an unsettling and prescient view of power, ignorance, and the masses....more
This series is much beloved of my friends, both here on Goodreads and out in the wilds of meatspace--he's even been referred to as Fantasy's answer toThis series is much beloved of my friends, both here on Goodreads and out in the wilds of meatspace--he's even been referred to as Fantasy's answer to one of my favorite authors: the superlatively funny and insightful Douglas Adams. As such, I was excited to start the series at the beginning, hoping the wit and wisdom would overcome the warts of this early outing. Unfortunately,the jokes drew more groans than guffaws, reminding me of Mark Twain's comments on the book of friend and fellow American treasure Ambrose Bierce:
"There is humor in 'Dod Grile', but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The laugh is too expensive."
Pratchett has none of the wry, oddball musings of Adams, and seems to me to be less the Fantasy version of that author and more the British version of endlessly 'punny' writer Piers Anthony (though thankfully without the unsettling implications of pedophilia). After finding this one unpalatable, a friend suggested I try one of his later books, so I started Moving Pictures, but while it was more competently crafted, I found it no more amusing. I guess you can't trust your friends.
I've since been told to try another of his books--most often Night Watch and Small Gods are mentioned, but I find it impossible to work up any enthusiasm for another outing with Pratchett--perhaps one day, I'll get there.