Jerusalem by Alan Moore (Books 2017, 5)

Yes, it’s halfway through the second-last month of the year and I’ve just finished my fifth book. Five in a year. That’s very poor. But this book was a large part of the reason for that.1

At over 1000 pages of very small text — close to a million words, I’ve heard — this is a mammoth work. It’s also really, really good.

As befits such a large work, it is a whole made of many parts. It’s split into three main sections, with each of those having eleven chapters; along with a “Prelude” and an “Afterlude.” The first is a series of short stories or vignettes, most of which are not obviously connected. They are all set in and around an area of Northampton called the Boroughs, at various times in the past and present.

In the second we find out what happened to Mick Warren, the closest thing we have to a protagonist, after he died aged three, before he came back to life again. The third brings it all together, after a fashion. Moore has always had trouble with endings — just consider the mighty Watchmen, whose ending was actually improved by the movie.

Did Alma Warren’s pictures save everything, and stop the destructor? Of course not: it always happened that way and always will. That’s the central thesis of the novel, the idea of eternalism, that time is static, and we only experience change because we happen to be moving along that axis at one second per second. This is of course similar to the viewpoint of Dr Manhattan in the aforementioned Watchmen, so we could suppose it’s a worldview that Moore has had for some time, though in his acknowledgements he suggests that he came to believe it during the years he was writing Jerusalem.

There is a chapter in book three that is written in the style of Joyce in his Finnegan’s wake days. It’s hard work to get through, but well worth it (though with hindsight if you were to skip that chapter I don’t think you’d miss much of the plot). Anyway, it’s a monster work, and well worth the time it takes to read.


  1. To be fair, spending a lot of time reading on the web, plus some reading comics, etc: these also need to be considered. ↩︎


Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (Books 2017, 4)

Yes, the end of August and only my fourth book. What on Earth is happening? In short, Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is happening. All 1000-plus pages of it. I’m just over two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m loving it, but I think my target now must be to finish it by the end of the year!

But I got this one for my birthday, and it’s short, so I read it in two or three days while I was on holiday recently. It’s an odd one. It tells a story of some people and some strange videos in the days when there were still video rental shops stores and VHS tapes within them. Which allows someone to insert extracts from strange home videos into some of them, leading our protagonist to start investigating.

It takes place in the farmland of Iowa, and it’s interesting enough, but it’s one of those stories where you end up wondering, Why? Both why did the characters behave like that, and why did the author choose to write that particular story?

Not a bad story, but not that compelling either.


BSFA Awards 2016 by Various (Books 2017, 3)

Interrupting my Alan Moore reading to check on the short-fiction nominees for the BSFA Awards, reprinted as ever in an A4 booklet.

Good stuff, of course, but maybe not as good as last year (though I realised that I hadn’t read all of last year’s). Let’s go through them one by one.

Warning: spoilers follow.

“The End of Hope Street,” by Malcolm Devlin

This is a strange story, set in the present day, about houses becoming “unliveable.” This phenomenon is completely unexplained, but it is disastrous, and can even be fatal. And it accepted fatalistically by the large, and largely undifferentiated, cast of characters.

“Liberty Bird,” by Jayne Fenn

The favoured son of a noble clan races the family yacht. In spaaaaaace. But he has a shameful secret that should be neither in highly advanced future society. On the other hand, a highly advanced future society shouldn’t have a nobility. I guess societies can go back as well as forward.

“Taking Flight,” by Una McCormack

Another rich person mooches around with no real aim in life, this time in a society that has genetically engineered slaves.

“Presence,” by Helen Oyeyemi

This is the most disjointed, disconnected of the stories. A heterosexual married couple avoid communicating with each other because she’s convinced he’s about to leave her. Until they do, and it turns out instead that he wants to postpone their holiday so they can try out some sort of therapy for grieving people that he has developed. They do, and things get strange. There’s potential here, but all the initial setup about them not communicating is just ignored after they get to the point, so it could have mostly been left out. It really feels like it wants to be two or more different stories.

“The Apologists,” by Tade Thompson

A super-advanced alien race have accidentally killed all by five people of the human race. The five are put to work helping the aliens reconstruct a simulacrum of Earth, while a daily apology is blasted at them out of a sound system (hence the title). They seem surprisingly untraumatised by this situation.

“The Arrival of Missives” (Extract), by Aliya Whiteley

Not sure why this is an extract. Probably the original work is too long to fit in the booklet. A during the First World War a sixteen-year-old girl is in love with her teacher. She decides she has to let him know. The extract ends just when something out of the ordinary is revealed.

Thoughts and Conclusions

Well, I haven’t made them sound very good, have I? I did actually enjoy reading them all, but reduced to capsule summaries, they aren’t going to win any awards. Oh, wait…

I’ve no idea which one I’ll vote for.


A Song of Stone by Iain Banks (Books 2017, 2)

Started towards the end of last year, interrupted for Christmas and post-Christmas reading, and taken up again later. But yes, you read that right: I interrupted reading a Banksie. Now even though it’s a reread, that’s not something that happens normally.

But then this is not a normal Banksie. My memory of it was that although I hadn’t loved it, it was good enough. But all I remembered from it was two scenes, and the overall background.

I’ve got to say now, I’m afraid, that it’s down there with Canal Dreams as my least favourite. In fact when I reread Canal Dreams at some point in the past, I found it was better than I had remembered. This, though: this was worse than I remembered.

I mean, it’s not terrible. If it were written by someone else, it would probably be fine. But no more than that, I’d imagine: no more than fine.

What’s wrong with it? Well, it’s just not compelling in the way I expect Banks’s books to be. There are no characters to speak of, except for the narrator, who is not especially endearing. That shouldn’t matter, but he’s not particularly anything else, either. His attitude to the war-torn environment in which he finds himself is essentially that it is inconveniencing him (and, to be fair, depriving him of his ancestral home).

But the guy owns a castle. I mean, how sympathetic is he going to be?

I don’t know, I think the main problem is just that it’s so bloody bleak. I was convinced that it must have been written while he was getting divorced, or otherwise going through a dark period in his life, but the Wikipedia article doesn’t suggest anything of the sort.

Anyway, there we go. Another reread. But not one that I can imagine coming back to again. And there are plenty others still to come.


The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost (Books 2017, 1)

In case it’s not obvious, the reading year starts and ends on Christmas Day. This was a Christmas present, and is also preparation for the new Twin Peaks series, which is due to air sometime this year (though what we’ll have to do to see it in the UK is an open question, and one which I’ll discuss at another time).

Mark Frost was, of course, half of the team that created the original series. This book is presented as a mysterious dossier which has been given to an FBI agent to analyse. It consists of a series of extracts from government and newspaper reports, and comments by someone who signs themselves “The Archivist.” These are further annotated by the FBI agent.

The subject matter is mysteries: the many UFO reports, going back to Roswell and before; the mysterious goings on around Twin Peaks itself; stories of the Illuminati and the masons, and so on. Some of the quoted reports are, I assume, real. Many are part of the Twin Peaks universe. As a whole the work is entertaining if you like that sort of thing — which I very much do — if a little unsatisfying. Though it has certainly whetted my appetite for the new series.