Monday, 7 August 2017

Nameless


Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham Nameless (2016)
Just to get it out of the way before anyone writes a tittering ten-volume slipcased comparison of the parallels, yes, I suppose this might be Grant Morrison revisiting H.P. Lovecraft because he saw Alan Moore do it; and I suppose the confessional we both liked the idea of creating a 'Lovecraftian' horror story without recycling H.P. Lovecraft, might indeed be suffixed with unlike certain other writers, not mentioning no names or nuffink; but otherwise, let's all just get over it. No conspicuously bearded Machiavellian allegories to see here, and aside from anything else, this might be one of the best things Morrison has done, possibly.

Oddly, more than anything, Nameless reminds me of Johan Harsted's 172 Hours on the Moon at least in terms of locale and atmosphere, although it's otherwise much better, obviously; and while it's a different story, arguably closer to all those films in which Bruce Willis saves the earth from collision with an asteroid, Nameless ticks quite a few of the same boxes as The Taking of Planet 5 by Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham. In fact, if you don't mind that we have Titans and Outsiders rather than Great Houses and the enemy, this is the closest we've had to a Faction Paradox comic book since Image's Lawrence Miles title went tits up back in 2003.

So what's it all about, Alfie?

We have an asteroid, possibly a chip off the old destroyed fifth planet, about to hit Earth, and which can only be understood in mystical terms, hence the astronauts covered in protective sigils; and it's fucking scary, and you'll just have to read it because that's all I'm going to give away. The art comes from another one of those guys who isn't quite all of the way there with his faces, but the whole is otherwise of such elaborate beauty that you don't mind in the least, and which almost gives the book the weight of something by Jean Giraud. The narrative is more like a piece of music than any conventionally linear scrape in space with rockets and monsters, and Morrison's afterword states this as having been intentional, which is nice because it works so well, doing that Nic Roeg thing of making sense despite that it feels like it shouldn't. There's also a heaping helping of mystic horseshit, but nothing which is allowed to get in the way of the story, and it all holds together beautifully without requiring that we skip to the reference section at the end of the book.

That said, I could have lived without the details borrowed from Mayan culture, presumably by way of Carlos Castaneda given the loose way in which terms such as tonal and nagual are tossed around regardless of original meaning in the actual language from which they derive; but the book works so well that I even got over that hump. Damn that Grant Morrison. Why can't they all be this good?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Player Piano


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Player Piano (1952)
Having been blown away by Slaughterhouse Five all those years ago, I somehow picked up the idea of Player Piano having been Vonnegut's other masterpiece, presumably somehow reading this into the arguably lesser distinction of it simply having been his debut novel.

Player Piano seems to aspire to inclusion in the canon of dystopian classics beginning with Yevgeny Zamyatin's We and continuing through Brave New World and 1984. Themes of men and women trying to get by within a carnivorous and capitalist society, and to which Vonnegut would return over and over, are here expressed as a future America in which mechanisation has divided society into a near useless consumer underclass and the Engineers who tend to the machines. Existence has become a routine, predictable and ultimately soulless process much like the notes plucked out on a player piano. Our main protagonist, the guy who notices how everything is actually a bit shit, is one Paul Proteus, essentially an inversion of the Gernsbackian science hero, for this is very much a novel with one foot in Hugo's tradition whether it likes it or not.

The main problem seems to be that history has outstripped Vonnegut's predictions by coming up with something arguably worse than his vaguely Gernsbackian technological society. At one point our lads pit themselves against a somewhat basic sounding games computer called Charley Checkers, and I found it quite hard to keep from thinking of Mitchell and Webb's Cheesoid; which is ironically fitting because Vonnegut's point is that the mechanisation of society has so often been seen as an end in itself, regardless of either consequences or whether the technology is actually doing anything which is worth doing, which unfortunately leaves the novel resting upon a point which isn't particularly well made.

Stranger still, at least to me, is that Player Piano is very much a linear tale with a beginning, middle, and end, in stark contrast to the rest of what Vonnegut went on to write; and whilst the humour is there, it seems hesitant. You can really tell this is a first novel. It's not without flashes of brilliance here and there, and Vonnegut's political testimony is devastating where it fully comes into focus, but I'm afraid I was just kind of bored for most of the book.