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Posts for January 7, 2009

American Flagg episodes 1-30 (and special 1), by Howard Chaykin and others (Books 2008, 15)

I came upon these when I was digging out some old comics for my son. These are not for eleven-year-olds, but I realised I hadn’t read them in years, and I thought I’d see how they had aged (plus, I remembered next to nothing about the story).

The story is not bad, but not that great. In a post-collapse America, corruption and gang violence are rife, and the government (perhaps all the governments of the world) have left Earth, and are still ruling (or trying to) from Mars. On Earth the law - and to some extent, the peace - is kept by the Plexus Rangers. Or rather, as you eventually realise, the PlexUS Rangers, since there are also PlexUSSR Rangers. The Plex is the overall world government. Or something.

Reuben Flagg was a video star (ie TV or movie: there’s a lot about ‘video’ here, but it’s pretty much all broadcast stuff) on Mars. He played the eponymous ‘Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger’. But new technology has made actors unnecessary, and he has volunteered as a Plexus Ranger and been sent to Earth, to Chicago.

He is the one (relatively) good man in a corrupt environment, and with the help of a clumsy android, a talking cat, and various women in their underwear, he tries to keep things under control.

Oh yes, the underwear thing: Chaykin is unable, it seems to draw women wearing anything other than basques, stockings and suspenders. No matter what they’re doing, pretty much. There’s nothing like wearing your fetishes on your sleeve, I suppose. Or, you know, lower down.

Halting State, by Charles Stross (Books 2008, 13)

Posted out of sequence, for reasons unknown even to me.

Writing about this novel is kind of embarassing for me, because I had the chance to make it better than it is, and I, er, blew it because I read too slowly.

See, I was on quite a large list of people who saw a draft version of this, a year or two ago. I read most of it (or all of it, but it was incomplete, I can’t quite remember) and noted some mistakes and flaws.

But I didn’t get them all recorded properly and submitted to Charlie before the deadline. And now, when I read the published version, I find they’re all still there.

There’s nothing dramatic, nothing plot-shattering (although there are one or two places where things could be clearer, and where the cracks aren’t fully papered over: you can see where a section has been moved for dramatic purposes, but the knowledge of the protagonists hasn’t been adjusted to mark the events’ new location in the overall plot, for example). It’s mainly just niggles, misuses of terminology (school years called ‘primary third’, and ‘secondary two’, instead of ‘primary three’ and ‘second year’, respectively, for example). So, just some minor distractions. And the spelling of ‘dreich’ as ‘dreicht’ throughout is curious.

But no matter. Much more interesting are the questions of how well the multiple-viewpoint second person narration works; and is the story any good?

On the first point, I had no trouble with the second-person narrative at all, and it being multiple-person is effectively no different from any other book that does that. There is rarely any confusion, not least because each chapter includes the VP character’s name as part of its title.

The story is interesting, and it investigates an area - that of security in our increasingly-networked world - that is very important, and will only get more so in the near future. But I’m not, in all honesty, sure that it really works. The various parts don’t quite gel.

And yet, I enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed being on the trip, I just look back at it and think, “It wasn’t that great.”