Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Rogan Gosh: Star of the East

Peter Milligan & Brendan McCarthy
Rogan Gosh: Star of the East (1990)
Revolver was another one of those 2000AD spin-off comics which came and went back in the nineties. It lasted seven issues and, brushing up on Wikipedia, I realise that I have absolutely no memory of at least half of its contents. I remember the name Happenstance & Kismet, but not Fighting Figurines - whatever the hell that was, nor Dire Streets, which looks horrible. I have the impression that Revolver was instituted in response to the then prevalent subcultural premise of the sixties having been like a really amaaaaaaazing time, yeah? which additionally served to launch a million terrible bands. Grant Morrison's version of Dan Dare appeared in Revolver, and I quite liked that, and there was some sort of biographical strip about Jimi Hendrix which probably worked better for people who care about Jimi Hendrix, and then there was Rogan Gosh, which I didn't really understand.

It's painted by Brendan McCarthy so you can't really blame me for revisiting this one. I still don't understand it, but then I don't think I'm supposed to. The narrative is impressionist rather than realist, and may as well be considered as nothing deeper than an excuse to have a certain quota of Brendan McCarthy pages assembled in the same place. There's an afterword offering explanations about how Rogan Gosh isn't a linear story - which funnily enough I'm sure most of us noticed - but it reads like whining excuses invoking dogs eating homework tagged on at last minute when someone realised that Milligan hadn't actually bothered to write a story, and it particularly reads that way when he invokes Einstein, Bohr, and Schrödinger.

Give me a break.

Nevertheless I'm a big boy, and I can handle impressionism and abstract narratives splattered across the page with a logic closer to music than writing. I've read William Burroughs, and so Rogan Gosh sort of works providing you keep in mind that the words are no more an explanation of what's going on with the pictures than they can be considered representative of any deep insight into the illusory nature of reality. Like most of the stuff we've bothered to remember of the sixties, Rogan Gosh spends a lot of time selecting which books to leave casually scattered across its coffee table prior to your arrival, and oh - there you are at the door - on goes the record: second track, side two so it doesn't look too obvious.

Come in.


Oh they were called the Vanilla Tea Kettle. You probably haven't heard of them. I listen to this album a lot.

Still, as something pretty much inviting its readers to BYOS*, Rogan Gosh is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to the art and the occasional flash of snappy dialogue. It slightly bothers me how this apparent attempt to engage with Indian culture is centred around a man named after a fucking curry, and for pretty much the same reason that Kula Shaker's continuing to draw breath bothers me, although this aspect is addressed a little way into the story, albeit not very convincingly; but providing you keep in mind that Rogan Gosh isn't really about Indian culture so much as it's about our slightly clueless reaction to the same - albeit possibly not deliberately - you should be okay.

*: Bring Your Own Story.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Mother Night

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Mother Night (1961)
Well, this is an odd one. Kurt Vonnegut draws you in with his characteristically timeless and engaging prose, conversational and forever scattering arrestingly surreal images in one's path; so it's probably technically impossible to be bored, unless you're some sort of twat; and he draws you in whilst writing something which doesn't quite add up, or at least didn't for me. It's decent, but compared to the others I've read, it doesn't quite get there.

Mother Night represented an earlier stopping point in Vonnegut's continuing mission to describe that which cannot be described, or at least earlier than Slaughterhouse Five which did a better job of dealing with the atrocities of the second world war specifically by acknowledging that the horror is simply too big, and that one can only describe it by showing it to be beyond description. Here we have a representative of the American Nazi party awaiting trial in Israel whilst backtracking through the misdeeds which ultimately put him there. He is initially a character which cannot be defended, an architect of the holocaust by word if not deed; and so we are invited to examine all aspects of his character except for those pertaining to that which can be neither excused nor forgiven. All very well, except this is all undone near the conclusion of the book once we discover our boy to be the ideological opposite of that which we believed him to be, and so he faces execution knowing he must maintain the illusion of his war crimes, I suppose becoming something of a Christ figure. The implication of the title, taken from Goethe's Faust, would suggest that we are each of us the stuff of darkness, coming to the light only through acts of will, through education and moral evolution. This squares well with what I gather to be Vonnegut's take on morality, namely that its absence relates to ignorance rather than anything specifically evil; although this also seems close to the notion of original sin, which possibly confuses things.

The problem with Mother Night is that, whilst it's a fairly straightforward narrative, it attempts a few too many about-turns with our understanding of its main character and the message becomes confused so it doesn't quite hang together so well as it might. I suppose this is odd considering how Slaughterhouse Five played the same cards whilst juggling time travel and a narrative occurring in what may as well have been random order, and that Slaughterhouse Five got it right. Mother Night still does more than most authors would attempt and is obviously worth a read, but he wrote better.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

I, Claudius

Robert Graves I, Claudius (1934)
One of the most celebrated and most gripping historical novels of all time, it says in a number of places, so here I am once again reading above my weight due to having experienced a feeling of passing foolishness on the occasion of having to admit I'd never read I, Claudius, which would be more forgiveable had I not read greatly in excess of fifty Terrance Dicks novels. Ignoro ab urbe condita Roma, which is possibly to say I ain't know nuffink when it comes to ancient Rome, but Graves' Seven Days in New Crete was decent so Claudius seemed worth a look.

I gather Graves has remained more or less faithful to a common form of Roman narrative, that somewhat having been his field, rendering this as much a reconstruction as a novel due to its major events and characters being historically factual. Claudius did actually write an eight volume autobiography, and although this isn't it, I guess it almost could have been. Our man's discussion of his approach to the recording of history at least reminds me of similar monologues by both Plato and Lucian of Samosata, which I mention mainly because those are the two classical lads I have read. Additionally, Graves exercises a certain degree of wit, at least without quite turning it into Up Pompeii, even casting a few knowing winks in the general direction of us readers, notably when the Sibyl informs young Claudius of the eventually impending Robert Graves' version of his life:

But when he's dumb and no more here,
Nineteen hundred years or near,
Clau - Clau - Claudius shall speak clear.


To further expose my roots, most of what I know of this story comes from John Wagner having rewritten it as The Day the Law Died in 2000AD comic, so it's a pleasure to return to the source and find it no less enjoyable. That said, gripping might be a bit of an overstatement, although I might find it so were I a little more engaged with Roman history. Certain accounts of military campaigns felt a little dry for my tastes, but the book generally did enough to keep me reading, and the intrigue and conspiracy, particularly once we come to the reign of Caligula, is thoroughly absorbing; and it's thoroughly absorbing in part because its dissection of politics is as valid now as then, then being in this case the times of both Claudius and his modern biographer, in respect to whom, it's difficult to miss certain parallels with Graves' own era:

Caligula was very angry. He sent a platoon of Germans along the benches and one-hundred heads were chopped off. This incident disturbed the conspirators; it was a reminder of the barbarity of the Germans and the marvellous devotion that they paid Caligula. By this time, there can hardly have been a citizen in Rome who did not long for the death of Caligula, or would not willingly have eaten his flesh, as the saying is; but to these Germans he was the most glorious hero the world had ever known.

So yes, jolly good. Quid a stupri fantastic est libri huius etc. etc.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Fashion Beast

Alan Moore, Antony Johnson & Facundo Percio
Fashion Beast (2013)

I had no idea this even existed until I saw it in the used book store, it being something Malcolm McLaren requested from Moore presumably in an effort to hitch his wagon to yet another rising cultural star, having probably read an article entitled Pow! The Comic Grows Up in Time Out. It was supposed to be a film, but I didn't realise it had ever gone further than a conversation, never mind anything of substance sufficient for transformation into a comic book. I'm not sure quite how to take this, given that its worth seems predicated on the popular image of McLaren as a lovable inventive rogue, as opposed to just a bit of a cunt; and even Moore seems to buy into this in his introduction, which if nothing else is at least consistent with his own clueless sub-Russ Abbott take on punk rock in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moore describes his meeting McLaren just as gingerbollocks was posing for Sun photographers in the wake of having lost his court case against the surviving Sex Pistols, and he speaks of the man in the terms with which we've all become roughly familiar always with a touch of the uproarious English pantomime tradition... Aladdin's uncle proffering new lamps for old, which for me sort of loses sight of why the fucker was in court in the first place, specifically for ripping people off, for his habit of making a parasitic living off those doing the actual work; not unlike DC Comics farming out Watchmen to persons other than Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in some respects.

Never mind.

I'm sure he was a lovely bloke in person.

Fashion Beast was therefore a script for a film, written by Alan Moore and based on something or other by McLaren - I suspect no more than the fucking title and a reference to Beauty and the Beast as worth ripping off given his usual methodology; it could just as easily have been Monkey Tennis or Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank. Anyway, Fashion Beast reads mostly as Alan Moore with flashes of McLaren's distinctively repetitive brand of complete cobblers showing through every once in a while: blah blah Dickensian urchins blah blah fashion blah blah sex blah blah young kids on the street blah blah London fashion blah blah blah playful and subversive etc. etc. Antony Johnson has clearly done as much as he can to turn this into something for page rather than screen, and while it's better than it probably has a right to be, and holds some historical interest in the context of Moore's career, in essence it remains nevertheless a mostly unpolishable turd.

The sexual ambiguity of the principal characters work very well, and there are some snappy lines of dialogue as you would expect, and there's a great speech about the medium being the message around the halfway mark; but otherwise it's a bit of a mess. The art is of promising fanzine standard at best, too many scratchy lines, figure work developed whilst reading comic books rather than attending a life-drawing class, and characters all wearing one of just three available facial expressions - regular pout, pissed off, or surprised. The beast turns out to be quite hunky - a real dreamboat in fact - which kind of misses at least some of the point I would have thought, and the fashions as illustrated suggest no actual research undertaken regarding the fashion industry or its history, even without taking into account that no-one sane or interesting ever gave two shits about the fashion industry or considered it in any sense important. Had they got, for example, Duke Mighten to draw this, they might just have had something, but they didn't, so here it is. I suppose at least they held back from giving Rob Liefeld a call.

Fashion Beast is true to McLaren's oeuvre in so much as he trots out the usual boggle-eyed observations about Dickensian London and Situationism, and then gets someone else to do the work; which isn't something I'd offer as a recommendation.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Subtle Knife

Philip Pullman The Subtle Knife (1997)
I took this with me on the plane last time I went back to England, and got some of the way in but hadn't banked on how distracting it can be trying to read something in a foreign country, or what has become a foreign country. Now nearly four months later I return to the book and start again with some of that reluctance which generally prefaces a second attempt on anything left unfinished, for which it turns out there was no need as the re-read is as much a pleasure as was the initial foray.

Obviously this is the second part of His Dark Materials, and with no real sign of the promised atheist diatribe just yet, at least not that I noticed. In fact, weirdly, not much really happens in this one. It just sort of trundles along for a couple of hundred pages mumbling to itself and getting ready for whatever goes down in The Amber Spyglass. Lyra discovers alternate worlds and meets this other kid and they pinch a knife from some geezer with initials similar to C.S. Lewis, and some other stuff happens, and that's it. It's hardly even a story, at least not outside the context of the trilogy. Ordinarily this might be a crashing bore, but Pullman's talents are such that it isn't a problem, and you don't really notice because it's such a pleasure to read. Of course, it isn't that nothing happens, but most of what does is fairly low key, meetings and conversations facilitating the occasional revelation, the stuff which we'll probably need to know so that the last one makes sense.

Significantly we begin to get something more of an idea of what the series is actually about, what with the suggestion of doing Genesis all over again but without the original sin. Specifically it seems to be about human spirit, or religion if you prefer, in contrast to corrupt authority figures having dominated human spirit for the duration of human history; which still doesn't quite read like any sort of build up to an atheist diatribe to me, but I guess we'll see.

Curiously I've noticed that even without the anthropomorphic bears, Oxford colleges, and talkative disembodied heads paralleling elements of That Hideous Strength - which constitutes the absolutely worst kind of Christian diatribe - we have, as mentioned above, the somewhat malevolent Sir Charles Latrom almost sharing initials with C.S. Lewis, albeit in the wrong order; and I wonder if His Dark Materials will turn out to represent some kind of counter to the aforementioned literary monstrosity by the earlier Oxford-dwelling author; although I have no idea why Latrom backwards should read mortal. Maybe it doesn't mean anything. I still don't know quite what any of this is about, but I've thus far had a great time guessing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Swamp Thing: Family Tree

Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy & others
Swamp Thing: Family Tree (2013)

I sort of enjoyed the first seven issues of the revived Swamp Thing comic as assembled in Raise Them Bones, but somewhere in this collection it just seemed to stop doing whatever it was doing that worked for me. The artwork is beautiful, at least for the first half and very much in the vein of John Totleben; but then we whizz off somewhere else to reinvent Anton Arcane and it turns into something which looks like it's sort of trying to not resemble cutesy big-eyed manga shite with Alec Holland as a blue-eyed Kurt Cobain variation from some sappy 1990s autobiographical comic, but not trying very hard; and it isn't quite so bum-violatingly agonising as the Camden-Archieisms of Philip Bond or Jamie Hewlett, but it's closer than I would like. Annoyingly this particular weak-link exposes the other one, namely that the writing probably could have used a bit more elbow grease. The horror aspect is fine, and all very Alan Moore up to a missed point, said missed point being that Moore's horror worked in his version of Swamp Thing because it was played off the contrast with a well-written prosaic reality, scenes focussing on the minutiae of the every day and familiar so as to root the story in something we vaguely recognise. This version of Swamp Thing is, on the other hand, just one horror scenario after another tooled so as to resemble some kind of narrative. It lacks the aforementioned contrast and is, after a while, unsatisfying, reading much as though referring only to previous comics, films, or - shudder - games in the same genre.

The drooling abomination that is Anton Arcane bursts into the shack. 'What, no hug for your Uncle Anton, Abigail?' he slobbers.

'I've got your hug right here,' she growls just like Sigourney Weaver, levelling her shotgun at the monster. By hug she means two barrels of hot leaden death, you see.


Maybe I'm just too old for this, but I don't think so. I can read the earlier issues of Swamp Thing without wincing - the issues which came out when I was roughly somewhere within the age group at which they were aimed. This is just lazy writing, media which refers almost exclusively to previous versions of itself.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Solaris Rising 3: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction

Ian Whates (editor)
Solaris Rising 3: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction (2014)
I'm certain I remember enjoying previous Solaris anthologies, at least the three edited by George Mann, but this one just didn't do it for me. In fact so dispiriting did I find my route march through to the final page, that fuck it - I can't even be arsed to write about the bloody thing. Therefore here, for what little it may be worth, are the notes I made referring to the individual contributions as I went along, sentencised for ease of reading. Yes, that is a word:

I detect some craft to When We Harvested the Nacre-Rice by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, an elegant turn of phrase, but having read it I can't actually remember anything about it.

I liked The Goblin Hunter by Chris Beckett.

I also liked Homo Floresiensis by Ken Liu.

I couldn't finish A Taste for Murder by Julie E. Czerneda. It was too irritating.

Double Blind by Tony Ballantyne was okay, readable, although I couldn't really see the point.

I found The Mashup by Sean Williams hugely unsatisfying.

The Frost on Jade Buds by Aliette de Bodard: I hated what I managed to read of her novel Servant of the Underworld before giving up - about fifty pages I think it was. I didn't much care for this one either. It felt like career science fiction writing, calculated to hit certain literature buttons without any real inspiration behind the prose.

Popular Images from the First Manned Mission to Enceladus by Alex Dally MacFarlane is a story told as a series of descriptions of posters, or something of the sort. I didn't really get much from it.

Red Lights, and Rain by Gareth L. Powell: Hard to believe we could already have a time-travelling techno-vampire thriller which could be considered clichéd and predictable, and yet here it is.

They Swim Through Sunset Seas by Laura Lam was passable, but not very interesting.

Faith Without Teeth by Ian Watson: I had to sniff around online in order to deduce his political leanings, which are to the left, thus hypothetically framing this as a parody of a right-leaning science-fiction parody of left-leaning science-fiction; except I wasn't sure at which point I was expected to stop peeling back the layers, and it reads somewhat how I imagine the oeuvre of Vox Day and his pals must read, which seems counterproductive.

Thing and Sick by Adam Roberts was readable, although I had no idea what it was actually about.

I couldn't finish The Sullen Engines by George Zebrowski.

Dark Harvest by Cat Sparks seems to be military science-fiction reading in part like a Burroughsian cut-up of dialogue from the second Alien film, generically grizzled gun-toting grunts in cautious Vietnamesque investigation of weird alien village: Let's do this, Shit just got real blah blah blah... that sort of thing

Fift & Shria by Benjamin Rosenbaum communicates the alien by doing that thing of overloading the reader with references which only seem to make sense to the characters in the story. I have a feeling this one might be half-decent, but I found it difficult to concentrate past my burning need to get to the end of the collection and read something else.

The Howl by Ian R. MacLeod and Martin Sketchley is one of those alternate world Schrödinger's Vulcan bomber tales somehow relating to the Cuban missile crisis. It was difficult to follow but that may be due to the nature of the story which was in any case absorbing. In fact it's probably about forty times better than anything else here, and was the first story in the collection I could imagine reading a second time.

The Science of Chance by Nina Allan was nicely written, but seemed to go on a bit longer than necessary.

...and as for Endless by Rachel Swirsky: I couldn't follow this one at all.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


Alan Dean Foster Alien (1979)
Supposedly one of the best novelisations of a film, and I've been warming to Alan Dean Foster of late, and Alien is a great film so here I am. This one certainly reads more like a novel than Foster's somewhat clunky Star Wars tie-in Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Reviews promised some elaboration and expansion on the original story, but aside from reinstating a scene near the end in which Ripley encounters a cocooned Dallas, Foster thankfully stuck to the script for the most part. That deleted final scene in which Ripley realises it was all a dream and then goes out to post a letter without noticing that she is being followed by three sinister figures in a transit van, her xenomorphic nemesis having teamed up with Dracula and Adolf Hitler - well, you won't find that one here either.

Alien was never what you would call a deep film but it was done exceptionally well, which was sort of the point, playing to director Ridley Scott's strengths, none of which were really in the thinky-brain-stuff department - and I've just noticed that not only is he the man who brought us the Hovis advert, but he almost designed the Daleks. Anyway, Foster's adaptation doesn't really add much in the way of depth, but nevertheless achieves an approximation of the suspense, despite it seeming quite a slow read in places. I suspect the pace is something to do with the grammar which alternates unpredictably between flourishes of poetry and weird patches of word not quite all good or to add up, such as are when Ripley for to confront Ash of the science officer, like thus:

But she couldn't still the suspicions. She almost wished Ash would get mad at her.

'You also managed to forget the science division's own basic quarantine law, something that's drilled into every ship's officer early in flight school.'

'No.' At last, she thought. A statement she could believe. 'That I didn't forget.'

'I see. You didn't forget.' She paused for emphasis. 'You just went ahead and broke it.'

I mean it's not terrible, but you really have to keep your eye on the ball in order to keep track of who is saying what, and as for:

A statement she could believe.

Just how did that get to be its own sentence? This sort of thing reoccurs throughout, so maybe that's just how Alan Dean Foster writes, but reading it can be a little like walking with your shoes on the wrong feet in places. Still, it's not a great book but is at least a decent book which is more than I expected, although I suppose there's a limit to how good an adaptation such as this can be given that it made me want to watch the film again. I can't tell if that's a recommendation or not.