Skip to main content

Book Notes 12: The Last Temptation, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli

The last of my three recent graphic borrowings from the library, and the one I expected to like most. But it’s a bit lightweight for Gaiman’s work, and for my taste.

It’s based on work that Gaiman did with Alice Cooper for a concept album that the latter released in 1994. I didn’t know that people still made concept albums, but there you go.

Also there is one theme in particular that Gaiman was to revisit in American Gods; namely that of the town where children disappear periodically. In American Gods the periodic disappearance (and murder, let’s face it) of the child acts a kind of spell, which protects a town from the encroachment of the rest of the world and the forces of modernity and ‘development’. In this work, there’s no suggestion that the children’s absorption into the ‘Theater of the Real’ brings advantage to anyone other than the the semi-mythical ‘Showman’. Gaiman was perhaps using this work to develop some of the ideas that he would return to later.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but as I say, the work as a whole seems shallow and perhaps incomplete, compared to, say, The Sandman.

Book Notes 11: The Originals, by Dave Gibbons

More graphical stuff from the library. Quadrophenia with hover-bikes and -scooters. It’s beautifully drawn, and well-enough told, but really, why?

There is literally no other technological change. Oh, there might be differences in the materials of the clothes, of the contents of the pills: but the look is pure 1965 – or 1965-as-remade-in-1979. I really don’t see what the point of this was.

On Countries, Nationhood, and Being Invited to Write a Guest Spot

Dave Hill is a novelist, Guardian writer and prolific blogger. He is running a series of guest pieces on his blog. They’re on the theme of “What I Like About England (or not, as the case may be).” He was inspired to do this mainly by all the flag-waving furore during the World Cup (with maybe some influence from Andy Murray’s attire at Wimbledon).

I’m pleased to say that he has asked me to contribute. I’ll post here, of course, when my piece is up. In the meantime I’ve been thrashing out some of what I might say in the comments thread of one of the earlier pieces.

Dave’s overall title for this project is ‘Big England’. You can see all the pieces to date here

Middle-East Madness

I’ve been thinking that I should write about the state of things between Lebanon and Israel, as it is the most profoundly dangerous ongoing event in the world at the moment. But I would have found it hard to express what I wanted to say without coming over as anti-Israel, and so running the risk of being called anti-semitic.

In fact I’m opposed to the actions of both sides, where the ‘sides’ are defined as the Israeli government and Hezbollah. And it is the innocent civilians of both nations who suffer.

Anyway, it turns out that Tim Bray has already written a better post about this than I could have, expressing pretty much everything I wanted to say:

Once again: Military violence against civilians is wrong, and if you have an argument that convinces you it’s right, your argument is broken.


Those leaders, though… anyone who’s read first-hand reportage about the Hez leadership knows they’re bloodthirsty racist fundamentalist barbarians who would really like to kill all the Jews and revert the world to fourteenth-century ways. Scum.\ As for the Israeli political leadership, we have to act on the assumption that they actually kind of understand what’s going on around them, and that they launched this in full knowledge that they intended to kill hundreds, displace hundreds of thousands, and break a country. And there’s a sickening suspicion that they knew it wouldn’t work, that this is all playing to the domestic political theater; which would be getting into Milošević territory. Scum.

I recommend reading the whole thing.

Book Notes 10: Skizz, by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie

The local library is proving a great source of graphic fiction at the moment. Another early-early Moore, one of which I had heard, but had definitely not read.

It is Moore’s interpretation of a theme that was then very common, the alien lost on Earth. It wears its debt to ET quite openly: one of the characters even referring to the film for inspiration in how to deal with the alien.

That said, it’s entirely possible that Moore developed it without prior knowledge of the film: it wasn’t a new idea when ET used it.

Skizz is a gentle, heartwarming tale of respect between intelligent beings, regardless of difference. A human girl meets the “other”, and finds he is not so “other” at all.

And it has a genuinely nasty and scary baddie, and reconciliation between generations. Highly recommended.

Book notes 9: Redemolished, by Alfred Bester

I found this in the local library, having never heard of it before. It is a relatively recently-published (2000) collection containing some of his short fiction, some essays, and some interviews he did with people as diverse as Isaac Asimov and Woody Allen.

The title is, of course, a reference to his famous novel The Demolished Man, and appears to have been chosen mainly because the ‘deleted’ prologue to that novel is included here.

The non-fiction is interesting, not least in showing part of what Bester did for a living after he more-or-less dropped out of SF for a long time (he made most of his money by writing for TV).

The fiction, on the whole, is slightly disappointing. I enjoyed it well enough, but it hasn’t aged well: most of it reads as quite dated.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the stories was the one which taught me the meaning of the word “fugue” (both musical and psychological) many years ago. I recalled that I had learned it from a story, but not what story it was: ‘The Four-Hour Fugue’. Who said SF wasn’t educational?

Book notes 8: The Complete DR and Quinch, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I found this in the local library. I thought I hadn’t read it, but I remember reading the ‘Something something, oranges something’ episode (AKADR and Quinch go to Hollywood’) back when I was at university in the 80s. I expect they were reprinted by one of the American companies (possibly coloured in?) and I got some of them.

This is early-early Alan Moore, and of course is nowhere near the quality of his later-early work such as V for Vendetta or Watchmen, or his more recent work like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it’s quite fun.

As a parent of young kids, though, I now see it as surprisingly violent. Not that I’d censor it, or anything: just that it’s something I’m more aware of. Or aware of in a different way. Back when I was a student I’d probably have celebrated the violence for its wild- and cartoon-ness.

Indeed, I discovered that the book used — presumably coined — the term ‘napalm dispenser’, which I borrowed for a round-robin work that I was involved in back in my university days, and which had hilarious, and nearly calamitous results. I should probably write a blog post about that one day. It involved cucumbers.

Heat, streets and beats

I was in The City,1 this morning. The client’s offices were at Vintners’ Court; the street sign next to it says, “Formerly Anchor Alley”. Which is a much better name: almost worthy of JK Rowling herself.

The newer name is pretty good too, mind.

Afterwards I walked across Southwark Bridge and to Waterloo along the South Bank. London sparkled as it sweltered.

In other news, Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses has posted a lovely piece in her blog, ThrowingMusic, about her son’s birthday:

I met a toddler named Ryder in the airport last night, of all things. Then I came home to a six foot man named Ryder that I call my son. Crazy how the past keeps walking out the door and not even saying goodbye. It colors our present images to an extent that allows us to believe it’s real, but it isn’t. It’s gone. Pioneertown is burning. Today is the anniversary of my stepfather, Wayne’s, death. How can Baby Ry, Pioneertown and Wayne be nowhere?

  1. The City of London, that is: the Square Mile. 

Welcome to Torchwood

Well, Saturday the 1st of July, 2006 will go down in my personal history as something of a special day. First I manage to end up actually feeling sorry for the England football team (except for the idiot Wayne Rooney) — or more for their supporters, really, in the form of my kids. Then Russell T Davies and the BBC give us the glory that is ‘Army of Ghosts’. Warning: spoilers follow.

At last. At long, long last, Daleks and Cybermen together (and doubtless against each other). I remember long ago in my university days, my friend Andrew (who co-edited Nova Scotia, as I was saying the other day) putting forth the proposition that there should be a Dalek-Cyber war. It being inevitable that two races each so destructive and inimical to other life forms, should fight if they ever met.

And maybe that’s what’s going to get them out of this one: somehow or other the Doctor’s going to have to use one set of baddies against the other.

But what of Rose? How can she be saying,”This is how I died”? I wouldn’t be surprised if she got trapped on the alternative Earth, but that’s not exactly death. Could she end up trapped in the Void craft (and in the Void)? The beach at the beginning could be virtual reality. But even that wouldn’t exactly be death, and it couldn’t provide any way that she could be telling her story.

The only thing that could make anything like sense, as far as I can see, is if she was telling her story knowing that she was about to die. But I don’t really see how they could get to that state of affairs in the forty-five minutes remaining of the series.

Still, all this speculation will look pretty stupid by this time next week, I suppose, as the speculation about “Army of Ghosts” does now.

My son was crying with emotion when the Daleks flew out of the sphere. We had, of course, seen the Dalek blast in the trailer, and he had said,”I think there’ll be Daleks in it.” While I said, “No, it’ll be Dalek technology that Torchwood have scavenged, and maybe even needed the Doctor’s help to get it working.” But how right he was.

We should have seen it coming, of course. When the Doctor said, “There’s a storm coming,” it was obviously an allusion to “The Oncoming Storm”, his supposed nickname amongst the Daleks. So what could his oncoming storm be? And then when he said that you could survive the end of the Universe inside a Void craft, it should have leapt out at us as an obvious place to survive the Time War.

But I thought I had heard that there weren’t going to be any Daleks in this series. In fact, I though that Russell T Davies himself had said that. If so, then it was a great piece of misdirection — of lying, let’s face it — and I don’t hold it against him for a moment. At last we got a properly non-trailed, non-spoilered surpise baddy arrival: the best since the Cybermen’s appearance at the end of the first episode of “Earthshock”. Almost as good as the Dalek’s appearance in “Dalek” could have been, if the episode had been called something else and they hadn’t trailed it.

Only one more week: what’ll we do without it after that? And The West Wing ends the week after that. Bah.