League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore

April 25, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 2 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment
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It’s good for a comic book, but it is unworthy of the pretentious term “graphic novel” and thus quite disappointing to someone like me who cut his teeth on the brilliant Watchmen. Moore is a talented writer but he hasn’t set his sights very high here. It’s a hey-how-about-that sort of story involving characters who, for the most part, will go unrecognized by people interested in hey-how-about-that stories.

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Reread: Watchmen by Alan Moore

April 19, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 5 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment
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I had read Watchmen already, but I went back to it after seeing a discussion of it come up in an unrelated conversation. There are to my knowledge only a few recognized auteurs in the graphic novel field, and Moore is the only one I’ve read and Watchmen is the only thing I’ve read of his. Perhaps I should try to find more, because Watchmen is great work. I rated it 4 stars when I first made this site and thought long and hard about that rating. It was always on the top of my list of borderline 5 star material. On the reread I decided to bump it up.

Why is Watchmen so good? It’s unbelievably smart…maybe too smart for its own good. The discussion of it that prompted the reread was on whether it could be considered “fascist” or not, whatever that might mean. The people arguing about it couldn’t even decide which characters were supposed to be considered heroes. This could be considered a weakness, but I view it as a sort of objectivity. Moore lays out the options and lets the reader choose, and the choice he gives is not an easy one.

I don’t have the time to write a spoiler discussion of it, but I suppose I should mention just what Watchmen is about. It’s an attack–I hesitate to use a term I despise, deconstruction–on the superhero myth. The story is set in a sort of alternate history where the first superhero comics in the early part of the century actually convinced certain people to take up “customed vigilantism”. From there, Moore takes a brutal look at the effects of unchecked power on those who wield it and the world they create. I gave it five stars because it is not just full of very smart thinking on these issues, but also very well executed in terms of both dialogue and what passes in the graphic novel format for direction. Recommended without reservations.

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

April 3, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 5 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment
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I have always found Arthurian lengeds to be rather distasteful. Generally when it comes to such stories I err on the side of favoring the harsh, grim reality, not fluffed up fables. How can one sit back and enjoy the story of a knight tromping around trying to do heroic deeds when you know he is supported by an oppressed and illiterate peasantry and following a moral code that has less to do with morals and more to do with chaining the knight to the nobility he serves? In any case, the core theme of those stories (like the Asian equivalent underlying most martial arts movies) are the twin ideas of warrior invincibility (that a warrior cannot be defeated, ever, by a warrior of lesser skill) and a correlation of skill and mental strength (that, depending on the story, morality, strength of will, or divine favor have more than a small influence on combat ability). Both ideas seem to result from the potent combination of wishful thinking and propoganda, not reality.

So why is it that I would not only like a two book sequence that explores what it means to be a knight and the code of chivalry, but consider it one of my favorite books? For starters, it’s written by Gene Wolfe. Those who have read his work will know his authorship means a book will not only be well-written but will have a few unforgettable moments and incredible ideas. Then there’s the borrowing of Norse theology. I’m something of a sucker for Norse mythology. However, upon reflection, although it seems to play a huge role, it is really the names, faces, and places of Norse myth without the ideas, and in truth it is the ideas I find so interesting. Odin is not interesting because he is blind in one eye and the father of Thor, but because he knows he will die at Valhalla but continues to prepare and try to win. However, ultimately Norse mythology has more influence on Lord of the Rings than it does on The Wizard Knight.

This is not Wolfe’s best book from a technical standpoint. The narrative has a peculiar lack of focus, even by his standards. Characters drift in and out and emotional setups seem to often go without payoff. However, lest you think Wolfe is asleep at the wheel, the intricate plot fits together perfectly. For a Wolfe book this is a pretty accessible story, but it wouldn’t be a Wolfe book if the reader could understand everything after a single read through. As in the past, Wolfe creates a world too complex for his narrator, or the reader on the first try at the very least, to truly understand, but he always leaves the firm conviction it is understandable and there are hidden rules governing it. And while this may not be Wolfe’s objectively best book, it at least for the moment is my favorite of his, and therefore one of my favorite by any author.

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