Sunday, 26 January 2014

Storyteller - A Found Book

Storyteller - A Found Book

Storyteller began life as a list of also available from the same publisher titles found in the back of some old paperback by Nick Campbell who, so intrigued by the notion of what sort of missing-presumably-overlooked stories might be told by novels such as Strangers from the Sea or Grandad With Snails, posted the list online; which in turn prompted Cavan Scott to observe that this would be a great writing game, specifically to have a bunch of writers take those titles and see what they come up with. Being as I would guess at least a third of the books I've ever read have been picked up on the strength of some weird promise suggested by the title, I can see the appeal of this, and so we have this short story collection with a contents page reading a little like the track list of a Nurse With Wound album. The contributors are mostly Obverse Books regulars who happened to be around on that day, from what I can tell, united by the love of telling a story for the sheer joy of telling a story; and the book has come out as a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in memory of Matt Kimpton, a contributor to Obverse's first Faction Paradox anthology, amongst other things, who suffered from the disorder and who died entirely too soon.

It makes for a surprisingly pleasant change to read a collection such as this in which the only common theme is that of storytelling itself; and that Storyteller is quite unlike those anthologies wherein individual efforts feel like strategically submitted pitons hammered into the vertical surface of a career. Here we have an assemblage of genres, none of which are allowed to overpower their supporting tales, so expertly told as to amount to a collection which should appeal to anyone with a genuine love of the written word. For the sake of balance, to at least confer some value on my praise, I will admit to experiencing two minor hiccups - one story reading more like a television programme than I want from something appearing on a printed page; and Richard Wright's contribution, an otherwise absorbingly unpleasant horror tale which made use of a character repeatedly identified as the Texan Slug. It's possible that I'm being oversensitive here given that I live in Texas, but I have a feeling the term Texan is used in what is at least a partially pejorative sense, reliant upon a mutual understanding of the stereotypical fat, ignorant burger-chugging Texas bully boy. It's not that such people don't exist, but to me it reads somewhat like the Lazy Mexican or the Scheming Nigerian and as such carries a bit of an aftertaste, despite Wright's obviously stellar credentials as an author. Nevertheless, these are minor details, and it would probably be stranger had I failed to raise an eyebrow at some juncture during three-hundred pages of thirteen very different authors.

Particular stand-outs for me were Nick Campbell's Grandad With Snails - a sort of Graham Greene with the Max Ernst turned up a notch; Sarah Hadley's excellent Put Our More Flags, possibly my favourite of the collection and the best science-fiction short I've read of this kind since John Wyndham's Dumb Martian, to which it bears some comparison; Cody Quijano-Schell's hauntingly peculiar Seal Morning; and actually, pretty much all of the others. This is not only the best Obverse collection I've read - keeping in mind I still have at least two others sat in waiting on the pile at the side of the bed - but it's the best multiple author anthology I can recall having read in ages.

Available here, or as a real version here.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Defiant Agents

Andre Norton The Defiant Agents (1962)

This was poking out from a pile of old but otherwise unremarkable titles at a used book store in Fredericksberg. It seemed like it needed a home, plus I was curious at being unable to recall my ever having read anything by Andre Norton, and most importantly, the premise of the novel seemed so unashamedly ludicrous that I just couldn't walk away.

A distant, Earthlike but otherwise uninhabited planet is colonised by a group of pioneers who, by means of futuristic Redax technology, have been reverted to their pseudo-ancestral state as Apache warriors, the idea being that this will better enable them to survive in the wilderness, what with Amerindians being more in touch with nature and that. They are aided by a small pack of coyotes who, due to exposure to radiation during an atom bomb test in Colorado or Nevada or one of those places, have become sort of telepathic. Unfortunately, the Reds - rather hard not to think of them as Soviet Commies despite what the internet may have to say on the subject - have had the same idea and are attempting to settle a group of their own on this planet, specifically Mongol tribesmen reverted to the sort of guys with which Genghis Khan used to share the occasional pie and pint. This would not in itself be a problem but for said Mongol tribesmen being for the most part under the thrall of the Soviet brain control machine.

A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that Andre Norton really churned them out, mostly science-fiction and fantasy but some crime, romance and so on. I'm not sure quite how many novels she wrote in total, but it was a lot. I gather a number of these were aimed at teenagers, and whilst The Defiant Agents is still better than your average Terrance Dicks, it does suffer from the consistency of novels hammered out on a production line. In its favour, there are some pleasingly insane ideas, not least of which is the back story of humanity discovering the ruined remains of a technologically advanced galactic empire as told in a series of novels, of which The Defiant Agents is the third; and Apache culture is referenced with just enough attention to detail to suggest that Norton did at least some of her homework, and so her characters are possibly not quite so hokey as they might have been.

Unfortunately, none of this really ameliorates the sad fact of The Defiant Agents making for a surprisingly boring read, quite a feat given the premise; but even assessed with - as a last resort - kitsch-tinted spectacles, it still jogs along at its own non-committal pace, focusing on details no-one could possibly care about, stubbornly refusing to do anything interesting as its cast stand around describing their surroundings in the sort of humourless Tontospeak promised by the cover.

Perhaps many men have read these words, and perhaps it is true that many men have read these words with happiness upon their faces, but regrettably, like the coyote, I have found myself treading a different path in this respect.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Brakespeare Voyage

It has occurred to me that there are people who may object to the following on the basis of its revealing certain details of a book they may not have read, or spoilers as is the generally accepted but nevertheless irritating term. Whilst I can appreciate that if one is a fan of detective fiction, a review praising and detailing the ingenuity of the means by which the butler did it might diminish one's reading pleasure, but there are limits - one of which was crossed when I recently found myself berated for revealing a specific plot detail of a television show first broadcast fifteen years ago. Seeing as I write these reviews principally for my own pleasure, as a means by which I compel myself to attend greater scrutiny upon a particular story than I might ordinarily have done, I feel no strong obligation to protect the fragile enjoyment valves of those whose reading pleasure is based principally on plot twists and revelations, who might be better served by a fucking jigsaw puzzle than a novel or comic book. So just to be absolutely clear, if you can't stand the thought of discovering something about a particular piece of fiction prior to actually reading it, please don't bother with my reviews.

Whilst we're here, I suppose I should also admit to a possible degree of bias on my part in respect to the following in that I wrote Against Nature, the previous Faction Paradox novel published by Obverse Books, and I painted the cover of this one, and will probably be painting the cover of the next one.

Jonathan Dennis & Simon Bucher-Jones The Brakespeare Voyage (2013)
I've been waiting for this a long time, at least since Mad Norwegian Press dropped the Faction Paradox ball and a seemingly wistful Simon Bucher-Jones posted the proposal and outline for a then abandoned novel called Nebaioth on his blog. Nebaioth sounded phenomenal - an author renowned for massive, wonderfully bizarre ideas extrapolated from the weirder realms of nosebleed physics really turning the volume up to eleven and letting it all hang out, if that isn't too gruesome a simile. Years later, I experienced a minor resurgence of squee upon discovering what all the banging noises coming from the cell next to mine had been, and then a fairly serious nerdgasm when our beloved Faction Paradox hitched its wagon to one of those publishers which likes to put out a book every once in a while just to see what happens mutter mumble don't get me started...

The Brakespeare of the title is a ship the size of a small universe, its decks, bridge, and rigging made up of stars, planets, and entire cultures. Its mission is the retrieval of an earlier ship from the outer darkness beyond our own spacetime, and ultimately a quest for the sort of extracosmic biodata which can only be found out there beyond the brane universes described by some of the stranger theories of contemporary physics, biodata which it is hoped will yield an advantage in the War of the Faction Paradox mythos.

You can pretend it's the Doctor Who Telly Zoo time war if you like, and whilst you're there you might also like to pretend that Busted were the Sex Pistols.

Simon Bucher-Jones - assuming The Brakespeare Voyage to have been his baby in its formative stage - is a master of this sort of fiction, specifically the novel which can be only a novel because it wouldn't work in any other medium, and does one hell of a lot more than simply describe a sequence of visual images. I'm less familiar with the writing of Jonathan Dennis, although what little I've read has been of a quality to suggest this collaboration being effected on very much equal terms; and the end result forms a beautifully woven whole with no suggestion of variant voices bolted together.

Nebaioth himself turns out to be a central figure, significantly named after the Biblical son of Ishmael who in turn gave a name to the narrator of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Further specific parallels are not overly pronounced beyond, I suppose, Captain Robert Scarratt's obsession representing a more measured version of that which drove Captain Ahab onwards, and Leviathan entities beyond the edge of our universe roughly equating to whales, although there's a reasonable chance I may not actually know what I'm talking about here. A more general comparison can be found in the strongly nautical thrust of the entire narrative which proves so dominant as to surely warrant The Brakespeare Voyage being termed nautical science-fiction despite the cosmic setting. Given the predominance of high-seas imagery coupled with a certain seventeenth century flavour, this novel puts me strongly in mind of the ur-science-fiction of Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe and others - voyages made beyond the limits of the world as was known at the time, and the investigation of terra incognita discussed as an imaginative rather than purely scientific endeavour. I'm inclined to suspect this may be significant given the purpose of the mission driving both the Brakespeare and its predecessor, ultimately the introduction of new data to a closed system, in this case our universe. This presents a broader restatement of a central theme of the War, as mapped out in The Book of the War and others, namely the
forces of the inverted in conflict with those of the imaginative.

If that possibly verbose summary casts The Brakespeare Voyage as one of those novels about which people on bulletin boards make observations along the lines of I couldn't get my head around it, what with all the words and stuff before dashing off elsewhere to praise the stratospheric brilliance of a slightly Shakespearey episode of Charmed, then it probably shouldn't. Even the most ludicrous concepts found here are beautifully communicated with the atmosphere and sobriety of Ursula LeGuin at her finest, and whilst the narrative is sometimes information dense, it flows like a good wine. I occasionally had difficulty recalling quite who was working for what, but not so much as to present problems, and I've a feeling certain allegiances may have been purposefully ambiguous in a few cases.

In all honesty I haven't read anything this good in a long, long time, and nor have I read anything quite like it. It really has been worth the wait.

Purchase your copy here, then purchase additional copies for all of your friends, and just keep buying until it outsells Alastair Reynolds and accrues the recognition it most certainly deserves.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Doctor Omega

Arnould Galopin Doctor Omega (1906)
It's nice to see a ton of vintage science-fiction titles returned to print through Black Cat Press, and Arnould Galopin's Doctor Omega is but one of many, purchased out of curiosity and because I'd actually heard of it. The reason for my having heard of it was a 2003 reprint offered for sale by numerous retailers of Doctor Who fiction. This earlier edition was translated from the French, or specifically adapted and retold as it stated on the jacket by Jean-Marc and Randy L'Officier who had seen in the original novel an apparent precursor to William Hartnell era Doctor Who, and thus was it marketed as a sort of ur-Who, if you will. I was curious, but the suggestion that material had been added in order to emphasise parallels with a 1960s television show annoyed me a little for reasons that should be frankly obvious to anyone with critical faculties - specifically that due to my being a fully grown man I am capable of appreciating written material without requiring that it be tied in to a fucking TV show.

Happily this new edition is a different translation - by renowned artist and author Ron Miller who also appears to be the driving force behind Black Cat - and one which I assume to be faithful to the original, and which makes use of Bouard's illustrations. My one gripe is that this version seems a little typo-prone in places, occasionally yielding sentences like I am you will not regret having taken me along; but on the positive side, the material is otherwise of such standard as to remain enjoyable and surprisingly absorbing regardless.

The main character is a crochety, elderly scientist with white hair who titles himself Doctor, which is as far as the resemblance goes and makes me particularly glad I never bothered with the 2003 edition. More striking is the obvious influence of H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon, particularly with space travel effected by means of an anti-gravitic substance, here named repulsite rather than cavorite. Galopin even appears to playfully acknowledge the influence of the Wells novel as Fred, one of his three space travellers, anticipates their arrival on the moon and is repeatedly set straight by Doctor Omega who reminds us that they are in fact heading for Mars. This may be taken as additionally significant in that Doctor Omega reputedly represents the first science-fiction novel to visit the red planet, thus anticipating Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis and the rest. H.G. Wells of course brought his Martians to Earth, and this is perhaps acknowledged in the form of a familiar heat ray device which crops up in the later chapters.

Doctor Omega is a travelogue, visiting a Mars populated with wild and dangerous animals and pseudo-tribal people as though it were a more exotic dark continent. It lacks the politics of Wells or the slightly harder science of Jules Verne, and is thus content to simply present itself as an adventure; and as such it bursts with imagination and is hard to fault. Why anyone would feel the need to "improve" on this by adding references to a television show is beyond me.

Available here.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Supergods - Our World in the Age of the Superhero

Continued from here.

Grant Morrison Supergods - Our World in the Age of the Superhero (2011)
I've had this one for a few months but haven't quite been able to face reading it for fear of coming across some point so annoying as to drive me to a reaction like that lorry driver who famously kicked in his television set when the Sex Pistols used some of those street-credibility words on the Today programme. Grant Morrison has written at least two of my all-time favourite comic books, and at least one that I've loathed almost more than anything else I've ever read. From Zenith to Doom Patrol, the boy could do no wrong in my view, and although I'd read the tripe he'd had published in Near Myths back in 1978, that was clearly early material produced before he'd learned how to stop being a tosspot which could thus be dismissed as uncharacteristic, or so I believed. Unfortunately when The Unreadables was published, it became suddenly and painfully obvious that Morrison himself hadn't regarded Gideon Stargrave or Time Is a Four Letter Word as clumsy formative fumblings so much as the purest, undiluted strain of what he'd really been trying to say; and what he'd really been trying to say was look at me - I'm weird and a bit mysterious. See me walking to school with a Gentle Giant album under my arm. I could have put it in a carrier bag, but then you wouldn't have been able to see what the album was, or to appreciate that I'm not like other boys.

For sake of further contrast with Alan Moore - returning to the theme of the supposed eternal duality of two comic book writers - I briefly encountered Grant Morrison at a comic convention in London in 1990 or thereabouts. My friend Carl and I were crossing a road outside the hotel at which the convention was held when we ran into Rian Hughes, designer turned comic artist for Morrison's version of Dan Dare. Carl knew Rian fairly well and all three of us had worked for Million Dollar, a company set up by Trevor Myles who had sold the Let It Rock store on the King's Road to Malcolm McClaren. Accompanying Rian was a weasely looking person in black clothes and sunglasses who stood at a sulky distance busily sucking his cheeks in. 'This is Grant,' announced our mutual acquaintance, and the penny immediately dropped. We said hello, but he gave no reply. He didn't even turn to look at us. I couldn't tell if he really wanted to be elsewhere or was simply effecting studied indifference, and I found it peculiar to come face to face with a writer whose work I admired with such passion and to find myself unable to get over the impression of him being a complete tosser.

It was a first impression of course, but then so was that of Alan Moore a year earlier, and both encounters, regardless of whatever behind the scenes details had shaped them, now seem consistent with other aspects of the work and conduct of these two very different writers. In particular it seems telling that whilst Morrison has publicly made an issue of his having hit the big time as a comic book professional back when Moore was still drawing cartoons of Elvis Costello for the NME, the point seems dubiously made given the quality of the work. I haven't seen whatever masterpiece Morrison wrote for Starblazer, but the Near Myths material was frankly fucking shocking, particularly when compared with Moore's lumpy yet enthusiastically witty Roscoe Moscow and The Stars My Degradation drawn for Sounds music paper only a year or so later.

Furthermore, it might be argued that the supposed parallels expose the futility of drawing such comparisons between the two writers in the first place. Alan Moore has always been essentially an underground comix artist in the tradition of Robert Crumb, Bill Griffiths and others, albeit an underground comix artist who dabbles with the mainstream. Morrison on the other hand has only ever really aspired to the mainstream, to produce superhero and similarly operatic material which occasionally borrows from counter-cultural sources. To suggest that he either works in Moore's shadow, or conversely that his work is in some way artistically superior to that of Moore is bollocks, and meaningless bollocks. Whilst Morrison's attempts at subversion are no doubt sincere, he appears to miss the irony of so much of his yappy counter-cultural bleatings being owned and distributed by Time Warner. His supposed narrative subversion serves as window dressing, a stance which walks the walk in pursuit of a particular aesthetic, and his poor judgement is revealed in Supergods by, amongst other things, the apparent inability to distinguish a William Burroughs novel from a 1960s Batman comic.

Anyway, let's start at the beginning.

Supergods is two or maybe three different books seamfully woven into a single stream of consciousness of the variety that most would classify as thinking aloud. It isn't really about our world in the age of the superhero, and nor does it explain what masked vigilantes, miraculous mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville can teach us about being human, or at least no more so than any book purporting to relate ancient wisdom ever contains much that is old or in any meaningful sense wise. It's a selective history of superhero comics mashed up with Morrison's autobiography and some sort of peculiar self-help thing, presumably for the sake of a sense of narrative progress. As a history of superhero comics, it's reasonably engaging up until the publication of Watchmen providing you don't mind its being written from such an obviously subjective perspective and can overlook the occasional excess of editorial bullshit - the four colour printing process likened to alchemy, Captain Marvel's origin described as Shamanic and so on, the sort of thing one begins to imagine read aloud by Peter Cook:

As distinct as they were, Superman and Batman would eventually become friends. This future meeting would inaugurate the dawn of the shared DC comics universe—an immense virtual reality inhabited by fictional characters, spanning decades and hundreds of thousands of pages, with its own rules, laws of physics, and alternative forms of time. The first emergent comic book universe began with this grand separation of light from dark, is from isn't, this from that, up from down, in a kabbalistic, Hermetic symmetry. The first light had cast the first shadow.

A kind of alchemy was under way.

I read this passage out loud to my wife as we sat in bed one evening with our respective books. She had asked why I kept sighing.

'Jesus,' she exclaimed. 'How can you read that shit?'

Morbid fascination I suppose, and the most mystifying revelation is that whilst Morrison weaves prettily descriptive metaphors around his analysis of superheroes, he doesn't actually understand them as well as he seems to believe; and his understanding, such as it is, is hardly of sufficient complexity to warrant four-hundred pages. Morrison's superhero is an Olympian ideal to which we aspire, Godlike, something nice and bright with which to illuminate our thoughts as we live in the shadow of the atomic bomb, civil unrest, cancer, and ELO reforming to record a new album. He seems to miss the point that what makes our fictional superhuman interesting is not that he or she is super but that he or she is human, a mirror of ourselves which is able to overcome that which is otherwise beyond us. This goes right back to Gilgamesh who can be defined not by his supernatural heritage so much as by the fact of his being human and therefore very much like the rest of us. Ancient Gods were depicted as anthropomorphic figures rather than the disembodied forces they represented because it allowed our ancestors a better means of understanding them. The front cover of Action Comics issue one - as discussed by Morrison at such length as to yield the suggestion that even the whitewall tyre in the bottom right is trying its best to get away from the destructive muscleman - is significant not because some powerful force is destroying a car, but because that force resembles ourselves.

Much of what follows on from the dissection of the cover of the first ever issue of Action Comics relies heavily on Morrison's interpretation, which is fine in the context of autobiography, but can be irritating whilst the book seems unable to decide quite what it wants to be when it grows up. The author superimposes his own agenda upon the history of comics, which works providing we're all agreed upon the genius of the Beatles, John Lennon, Timothy Leary and others employed in service of dubious comparison, but for those of us who aren't agreed, it comes across as lazy, even slightly inane in a few instances. Allen Ginsberg, for example, I seem to recall as being the beat poet who wrote Howl, proudly homosexual, a big fan of the old space fags and a pal of William Burroughs. Maybe he did write a few issues of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen but I definitely don't remember his having done so, and I would suggest comparisons may be stretching a point at least as much as all those hey, comics aren't just for kids articles of the late 1980s. It seems almost like excuses, like Mystic Baldy needs a more profound reason to be writing about what are mostly no more and no less than comic books aimed almost exclusively at young children, as though he fears that we view him as a grown man reading something frivolous and juvenile, on which note...

I get the impression Grant Morrison has given a great deal of thought to how he is perceived by others, even that this may be his main motivation - the presentation of an image concordant with how he would wish to see himself. His own comics are, in my estimation, at their best when they're all surface - Doom Patrol, barely mentioned here, is essentially a series of surreal gags without any particular strong message. The star of Zenith seemed to take pride in his own lack of substance. Even Seven Soldiers, for all the panoramic scenarios into which we may read meaning was a series of reference points which worked in so much as they served the illusion of satisfying depth, inspiring but not necessarily answering some meaty questions. There's nothing wrong with liking the Ramones more than Jethro Tull, but there's a lot of contradiction here, not least being Morrison's understanding of Alan Moore's Watchmen which I read as a quest for flaws made in order to support a hypothesis of Watchmen as inferior work. Morrison dubiously attributes to Alan Moore that which he has himself done on numerous occasions, and nothing like so well because his own counter-cultural credentials run no deeper than David Beckham wearing a Crass T-shirt. Most of his career has been a Gentle Giant album artfully placed in the crook of an elbow as he heads out of the door to school, hence The Invisibles, a stupid person's idea of deep and meaningful.

For the purposes of Supergods, an additional problem is that whilst Morrison may be prone to inspired bursts of raw poetry on the page of a comic book, he writes the prose of a complete cunt. Much of this reads like the autobiography of some footballer or Katie Price, and as such might as well be retitled Grant Morrison's How I Done It. This becomes particularly apparent during numerous paragraphs in which he desperately explains to us how cool he is or aspires to become, for example describing Zenith who shagged page three girls and pursued a vapid, style-conscious, utterly vacuous existence of the kind that I was still convinced I coveted. As juvenile aspiration this is probably no big deal:

Reading interviews from the time makes my blood run cold these days, but the trash talk seemed to be working and I was rapidly making a name for myself. Being young, good-looking, and cocky forgave many sins, a huge hit British superhero strip did the rest and proved I could back up the big talk.

Know what I mean, Harry? Unfortunately he doesn't seem to learn from any of this and continues to measure success in terms of space-age bachelor pad music and the latest CDs from Paris and Tokyo DJs played in my house of magic, swirling lights, and designer chairs. He revels in the friendship of cartoonists from the more self-consciously hip end of the spectrum, becoming drinking buddies with Philip Bond, Jamie Hewlett and other cutesy Camden-based peddlers of twee illustrated lists of fave bands, men who had, like, done it with real girls and everything; which must have been well weapon, yeah?

I'd also just met my wife, Kristan, a stunning, brainy blonde who dressed like Barbarella to go to the pub, worked as a corporate insurance broker, and read Philip K. Dick.

Oh wow, Grant, and a blonde too! If nothing else this proves that even if you do spend weekends filing your Superman comics in strict alphabetical and sequential order whilst wearing underpants bought for you by your mum, you're definitely not saaad and clearly have no trouble getting fit birds to nosh you off in cool clubs and that. How we envy and admire you, you complete fucking cock.

Worse is to come as he morphs from Katie Price, to Bez out of the Happy Mondays, to Deepak sodding Chopra, somehow having missed the memo that lengthy accounts of hallucinations experienced whilst off your tits on acid are invariably pure arseache for anyone other than the person who did the actual tripping, and that one should probably try to avoid taking drug-fuelled encounters with God too seriously. Grant of course regards his own visions as revelations on the grounds that they occurred specifically to him, thus allowing such mind-bending insights as:

I felt sure that in some way what we call consciousness would turn out to be the long-sought unified field.

Yeah, that's probably it. Typically and annoyingly so for one who spends so much time banging on about a wide-eyed sense of child-like wonder at colourful costumed characters unsullied by the dark, cynicism of that Alan Moore, he seems convinced that events or ideas have genuine significance by virtue of their specifically having occurred to him - basically the worst sort of religious thinking by which nothing is conceded value on its own terms: the Grand Canyon is not a spectacle due to geological factors, it is a spectacle either because I'm here to see it or because Jesus is love:

Because the numinous is everywhere, we need to be reminded of it. We live among wonders. Superhuman cyborgs, we plug into cell phones connecting us to one another and to a constantly updated planetary database, an exo-memory that allows us to fit our complete cultural archive into a jacket pocket. We have camera eyes that speed up, slow down, and even reverse the flow of time, allowing us to see what no-one prior to the twentieth century had ever seen—the thermodynamic miracles of broken shards and a puddle gathering themselves up from the floor to assemble a half-full wineglass.

Sure that's amazing, but so are pussy cats, the night sky, planting and growing vegetables in your own allotment, reading a book about rocks, putting on a clean shirt, chicken fried steak at Jim's diner, a good night's sleep, and all the other less glamorous daily experiences. It's the guy who whines that books are booooooring, who is able to understand the profound only when it is saturated in novelty, garnished with explosions and flashing lights, who has not yet learnt to find wonder in anything, instead insisting it must be delivered to him in a fucking sippy cup designed by Philippe Starck. It's the clueless tosspot Doctor Who fan sneering at Mike Leigh because real stuff is like y'know, it's like boring and shit, yeah?

Every man and every woman is a star, wrote Aleister Crowley, little suspecting how literal those words might become in his prophesied new Aeon of Horus. With cameras everywhere, even on our personal computers and phones, we may as well be actors, performers, and stars in some filmic archive of the microscopically commonplace—every gesture, every frown recorded, filed away in some CCTV surveillance central AI that might as well be Braniac, recording us down to the last byte and love bite before he shrinks Las Vegas into a jar and routinely demolishes Earth on December 21, 2012.

Just because there's a resemblance, doesn't mean it's the same thing, or that the resemblance is meaningful. It has remained a source of surprise to me that people continue to take this sort of recycled Robert Anton Wilson material seriously, and I say that as someone who believes that the subterranean Mexican post-mortem realm of Tlalocan is real in all senses that matter; but of course, as stated at least once, it isn't so vital that what Grant Morrison writes is cool, as that we regard it as cool, yeah? In terms of sheer poetry of imagination, he may well be the greatest comic book writer we've ever had, but as to whether any of it means anything is in the eye of the beholder.

My theory is that Grant, I would suggest a possibly insecure individual, wanted more than anything to achieve fame by means other than anything reliant upon possession of a personality in which he did not have full confidence. He wished to be admired in the same way he had admired Moorcock or the members of some fucking awful psychedelic band, and so he worked at presenting the same mystique in both comics and music. Perhaps perceiving what he interpreted as a kindred spirit in Alan Moore, he reached out, hoping to find his praise returned by someone whose work he deemed genuinely inspirational. Alan Moore, possibly a little creeped out by the attention of someone he understood to be a bit of a goon - and perhaps with some justification - told him to piss off; and the rest has been butthurt all the way.

I'll really show that Alan Moore this time, as he rolls up his sleeves and writes another hilariously ironic tale of a wisecracking superpowered acid casualty buggering a suspiciously bearded kiddy fiddler from the town of Northapmtno.

Supergods would be a decent read if it were written by someone else - Andrew Hickey for example, but Morrison's strengths are to be found in his fiction, which is probably ironic on some deeply tedious level.

Magic Words - The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

For some time there's been a certain rivalry between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, roughly speaking the two most celebrated comic book writers of the British Isles; or at least there's been a certain  rivalry in terms of Morrison sniping at Moore every two or three months, occasionally having Batman say something like you know, Robin, I've always regarded bearded men from the English town of Northampton as little girls - which is of course very clever - whilst Moore generally appears to take no notice barring an infrequent rolling of eyes. Comic book enthusiasts being comic book enthusiasts have come to regard this rivalry with relish in some instances, somehow imagining it to be on par with the beef between Pac and Biggie, or at least the beef between Master P and Pastor Troy - which was something that happened out there in the real world in case you were wondering; and so we have examples like that of the individual presently writing his print-on-demand book about the mystic war between Moore and Morrison representing the two major currents of English culture, for what that may be worth. Whilst I'm reluctant to further expand this particular notional bullshitplex, it's out there now, and it isn't going back in the box any time soon, so what the fuck...

Lance Parkin Magic Words - The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (2013)
I met Alan Moore at a comic convention in Coventry in 1989. This is not to directly contradict Lance Parkin's assertion that Moore had ceased attendance of comic conventions a few years earlier, having tired of two hundred drooling fanboys following him into the toilet every time he tried to do a poo. The convention held on the campus of Lanchester Polytechnic just opposite the steps of Coventry Cathedral was barely advertised and very poorly attended with guests almost outnumbering punters. At the time, Charlie Adlard and myself were attempting to break into comics with material which I'd written and Charlie had drawn, and so we were working the convention circuit in our own small way. Alan Moore had, I would guess, just turned up for a grin given his native Northampton being only thirty miles away, and so his name had not appeared on any publicity material. Scarcely able to believe our luck, Charlie and I approached him, our hands quivering as we held out photocopied samples of our work for his mighty approval. My own hands were particularly aquiver as they conveyed unto Him a copy of a strip I'd drawn taking the piss out of obsessive comic fandom which featured Moore as a character, and which would never have happened had I not spent a couple of years chuckling over the material he'd drawn for Sounds music paper:

Larger version here.

Alan Moore accepted our offerings, flicking through as we made the usual apologies submitted when in the presence of greatness, and began with 'well, Charlie and Lawrence, here's what I have to say to you,' in thoroughly genial tones before delivering an encouraging fifteen minute speech on the topic of sticking to your artistic guns and not letting the bastards grind you down. With hindsight I realise this encounter seems particularly astonishing given its dating to a period during which Moore had supposedly turned his back on snotty little turds such as ourselves asking him when we can expect Watchmen vs. X-Men; and contrary to received wisdom, he was lovely.

We also spoke to Garth Ennis - who was similarly a nice guy, although I dislike everything he's done since Crisis - and Neil Gaiman - who was just a bit rude - and then suddenly a couple of years later, Charlie became sickeningly rich and famous as artist for The Walking Dead and others.

Anyway, moving on from issues of fame by spurious association with international megastars, there's this biography which paints a seemingly faithful picture of Alan Moore, from what I can tell, and it appears that the man himself is happy with Lance Parkin's account, which has to be a recommendation.

The great strength of Magic Words is in the fine balance which is struck, acknowledging Moore's triumphs whilst keeping its feet firmly on the ground. I'm a fan of much of his work, but he's done a few things I really haven't enjoyed, even that I would regard as a waste of time; and so it's appreciated that no attempt is made to sell every last eccentricity as symptomatic of genius, or to suggest that Alan Moore is incapable of making huge mistakes. Lance Parkin allows the reader to judge each aspect of Moore's work on its own terms which does much to distance the man from his possibly overinflated reputation, and the resulting portrait is fascinating - someone prepared to take risks rather than who necessarily always knows what he's doing; and after several hundred pages, it's hard not to admire the guy, and perhaps to admire him even more than his comics. Even the deal of Moore declaring himself a magician is handled with grace, clarity, and absolute honesty considering how ridiculous it may seem in most contexts, which is hugely refreshing given the sort of po-faced nebulous bollocks that's usually spouted in the name of the subject, as I'll come to later.

There may have been previous books, or at least essays, on the life and work of Alan Moore, although I've not read any. I've seen one online person whining about how Magic Words doesn't really cover any new ground or go into enough detail, although I'd say there's most likely plenty of new material here for anyone who doesn't weigh seven-hundred pounds or spend eighteen hours a day having online arguments about Power Girl's costume - sorry if that comment seemed judgey or made anyone feel a little bit inadequate; and I can't really see how more detail could be achieved without giving Alan Moore a colonoscopy. In any case, I don't know why you would need more detail than is given here.

As biographies go, this is pretty much perfect. I found it fascinating. I also found it significant that Magic Words, which for the sake of argument could probably be considered the definitive work on Alan Moore, is written by someone other than Alan Moore, which contrasts with Grant Morrison's Supergods - the work of an author who seems almost pathologically obsessed with how the rest of us see him, who often becomes the subject of his own stories, and whose equivalent tome is thus, quite naturally, a semi-autobiographical history of the superhero genre; and to be clear I find this significant because Alan Moore's comics tend to have a subject besides their author's navel.

Further whining here.