Alejandro Jodorowsky & Mœbius: The Incal – Review

The Incal is possibly one of the most difficult books I’ve had to rate in recent times. The problem with rating comics is that I don’t know how to distinguish between the overall reading experience, the script, and the art itself. Jodorowsky and Moebius’ work really sums up this dilemma. On the one hand we have a comic script that is funny and clever in parts but often overly sporadic to the point of sometimes being incomprehensible (this shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with Jodorowsky) and on the other we have a collection of technicolour sci-fi imagery that’s as inventive as it is beautiful, but is often coloured very confusingly (characters will literally change shape and colour depending on the tone of the page). I’ve found this problem again and again with rating supposedly influential comics (Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comes to mind) but I think I’ve settled on 4* because the book undoubtedly has some elements of visionary genius tucked away in there amongst the madness. Overall The Incal took me on a journey. It creates a bizarre futuristic sci-fi world that comes across like the monograph of someone at the end of a two day acid trip – but maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Regardless of my thoughts it’s still a must read for Sci-fi fans in any medium.

Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49 – Review

I’ve been meaning to read Pynchon for a long time now and I really didn’t know what to expect. There’s no doubt TCL49 is a very interesting book. Much more strange, and even somewhat silly, than I was expecting. The book definitely has an air of 60s psychedelia to it (which is not at all surprising considering when it was written) and there were a few moments where the absurdity of it all legitimately made me laugh out loud.

Pynchon’s writing is a constant flux of densely packed images broken up by moments of witty surrealism. I understand how it can come across obtuse at times, but I’m surprised to see so many other reviewers have found it so difficult. To me it was not a particularly easy read but it hardly had that air of impenetrability that some of the other early post-modernists are known for.

Overall I’d argue that there are undoubtedly moments of genius in here but it seems like TCL49 only really gives the reader a taste of what Pynchon is capable of. To me, a style like Pynchon’s doesn’t seem suited to a short 150 page story, and that’s coming from a huge fan of short form literature. I can see why some people love it and why some people hate it but reading this made me really excited to dive into V. at some point in the future. Only then could I really decide if I’m a Pynchon fan or not.

E.E. Cummings: 95 Poems – Review

4.5* Absolutely beautiful. The work of a true master. Have never read anything quite like it. I’m not going to give it 5* purely on the basis that I read it so sporadically and many of the poems in the middle I didn’t give my full attention to. However, for me, the beginning and the end were absolutely stunning.

I feel like these
were poems
I could read again
and again (and again
and again)

and still find
meaning (the truth
that I had always
sought) within
them

Cummings’ experimental (yet thoughtful) style really makes you take a step back and analyse the poem as a poem. The length of the lines, the punctuation, the depth of the stanzas, they all have a clear purpose and they all change how the words themselves are experienced — more so than anything I’ve ever read before.

Reading these so randomly over the space of a couple of months (in PDF form on a laptop [the formatting didn’t work on kindle]) was somewhat of a disservice. I’ll next pick up a book of Cummings poetry when I’m in a situation where I can purchase a hard copy and keep it with me at all times. I have no doubt I will get even more from it than I did from this edition.

William Gibson: Neuromancer – Review

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…

How can I describe Neuromancer? Probably by writing something with far too much unnecessary alliteration. A rip-roaring roller-coaster ride resembling a prophetic vision of our recent reality maybe? That’s something that I could imagine being on a blurb of a sci-fi book in the 80s…

Anyway, I got about halfway through this book almost 2 years ago before drunkenly leaving it at a friends house in somewhere in the sprawl of suburban London. Fast forward to the present and I’m living in a different kind of sprawl amongst the neon lights of East Asia. It seems quite appropriate that I finished the book here.

Neuromancer is really somewhere between a work of utter genius and the speculative ramblings of an inexperienced sci-fi writer. It’s extremely difficult to follow (even the second time round) and many of the characters and settings are unexplained or underdeveloped. However, in a sort of backwards way this is arguably one of the book’s biggest strengths. You are thrown head first into a world of technological acronyms and digital codes that are not explained to you by any omniscient narrator – you the reader have to try and work out what’s going on while it’s all happening, and this is no easy task. There is no break in the action for any kind of sustained explanation and this leaves you with a real sense of what life in a dark digital dystopia must feel like. In other words, Gibson’s scatty, action packed, fast paced writing is the perfect aesthetic style for the world he’s trying to envision, and it’s a world that has, as many readers are well aware, become eerily close to our own.

The fact that this book was released in 1984 is absolutely staggering in my opinion and it’s honestly a pretty big surprise that it hasn’t dated badly at all. Gibson actually joked that one of the only things that kids these days would found completely off about Neuromancer’s predictions is that no one is carrying around smartphones.

All in all as I’ve recently been digging down the rabbit hole of accelerationism and retracing my routes in the philosophy of technology Neuromancer was the perfect thing to read. Not quite worth 5 stars but easily deserving of 4. I’m going to give another book of Gibson’s a read to hopefully see if his ideas are as prescient as they were in this book when he has had more time to develop as an author.

A couple of my favourite quotes:

‘His vision crawled with ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines of symbols arranging themselves against the neutral backdrop of the bunker wall. He looked at the backs of his hands, saw faint neon molecules crawling beneath the skin, ordered by the unknowable code. He raised his right hand and moved it experimentally. It left a faint, fading trail of strobed afterimages. The hair stood up along his arms and at the back of his neck. He crouched there with his teeth bared and felt for the music. The pulse faded, returned, faded…’

‘It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way could ever read…’

‘But weren’t the zaibatsus more like that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their DNA encoded in silicon?’

J.G. Ballard: High Rise – Review

Very interesting book but damn it took me a long time to get through for something so (relatively) short. It was partly due to the bleak nature of the book, but partly because Ballard has a very particular kind of writing style. It just doesn’t draw me in instantaneously. Even though his speculative concepts are intriguing and the stories are often compelling enough on their own, I just don’t particularly enjoy reading his books as I’m reading them. However, as soon as I finish I become seemingly more interested to delve deeper into his oeuvre.

On a side note: The modern politico-philosophical trend of accelerationism has a lot of interesting things to say about Ballard’s writing which I find to be of interest. As Ballard had predicted, sf had become the only medium capable of addressing the disorienting reality of the present:

‘Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the twentieth century. What the writers of modern science fiction invent today, you and I will do tomorrow—or, more exactly, in about ten years’ time, though the gap is narrowing. Science fiction is the most important fiction that has been written for the last 100 years…’

I’ll certainly be coming back to explore more of his work at some point before the year is through.

Michael Moorcock: Sailor on the Seas of Fate – Review

Bloody fantastic bit of fantasy. Definitely better than the first one. Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish but now the story starts to take on more surreal and dreamlike qualities as Elric journeys out into different planes of reality. In particular, the first section which introduced the whole ‘Eternal Champion’ mythos culminated in an utterly bizarre battle sequence which ended up turning into some sort of psychedelic DMT trip. Anyone who knows anything about Moorcock will hardly be surprised by this since he actually fronted the great British psychedelic-prog band Hawkwind a few times in the 70s (which I just found out) and he’s best pals with occultist wizarding aficionado Alan Moore. I’m sure he’s dabbled with a few mind altering chemicals in his time. Anyway I’m really intrigued to see where the series goes from here and I can’t wait to read the rest of it.

P.S. George R. R. Martin just stole the whole Targaryen race from the Melniboneans. Just sayin’.

Italo Calvino: Mr Palomar – Review

Still undecided as whether to rate this 4 or 5. Brilliant little book. To try and assimilate a great book into a few words: it’s a series of literary meditations on the everyday world around us. Can be dense at times but I’m certain that giving this book series attention will give you serious rewards. Calvino’s style, from playful wit to head scratching philosophical observation, comes through beautifully as always. I’m also convinced Mr. Palomar is just a pseudonym for Calvino himself, and I’m sure Mr. Calvino had been reading some Deleuze when writing this book… Too many descriptive similarities to Deleuzian concepts to be a coincidence, especially at the time it was written. Again undecided whether to write a full length piece on Calvino and Deleuze or just review this book on it’s own but I will give it a go at some point soon. The quote at the beginning of the final chapter really sums up what the book is about:

After a series of intellectual misadventures not worth recalling, Mr. Palomar has decided that his chief activity will be looking at things from the outside. A bit nearsighted, absent-minded, introverted, he does not seem to belong temperamentally to that human type generally called an observer. And yet it has always happened that certain things (a stone wall, a seashell, a leaf, a teapot) present themselves to him as if asking him for minute and prolonged attention: he starts observing them almost unawares, and his gaze begins to run over all the details and is then unable to detach itself…

I have a bunch of quotes saved on my kindle form this book and this probably the least beautiful or insightful of them all but it gives a great depiction of what the book is about. I will get back to it soon. Up there with my favourite Calvinos.

EDIT:

I thought while I’m at it I may as well quote my favourite passage from the book. This is when Mr. Palomar decides to take a telescope and look at Saturn…

If the ancients had been able to see it as I see it now, Mr. Palomar thinks, they would have thought they had projected their gaze into the heaven of Plato’s ideas, or in the immaterial space of the postulates of Euclid; but instead, thanks to some misdirection or other, this sight has been granted to me, who fear it is too beautiful to be true, too gratifying to my imaginary universe to belong to the real world. But perhaps it is this same distrust of our senses that prevents us from feeling comfortable in the universe. Perhaps the first rule I must impose on myself is this: stick to what I see.

Echoes of the fascination with astronomy that Italo shows in Cosmicomics. It was awe inspiring to read this on my roof looking up at the stars. I think I’ll stick with 5/5.