Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Reading log - Q1 2012!

So, rather than writing about everything I read this year I'm taking a step back from blogging to concentrate on my fiction and also reviews. That's working OK, I guess. I've only written one review so far this year and haven't really made startling progress with my novel (some, but not much) but on the other hand I have been posting on the book pages of the Guardian.

I've also joined Goodreads, and have been noting my reading there (don't forget to nip in and give Panoptica a good rating if you're a Goodreads reader!) so if you're a Goodreads member  with an interest in keeping up with my tedious malarky then drop by and friend me up.

In order to satisfy my fans, though, I'm going to do quarterly reading updates here, and this is the first!

After a jump, I'm going to discuss the books I've read so far this year:

A Dreamquest for Unknown Kadath and Supernatural Horror in Literature by H P Lovecraft
A Reflection in Glass by Jeffrey Hewitt
A Short History of Western Thought by Stephen Trombley
Redlaw by James Lovegrove
Osama by Lavie Tidhar
WildC.A.T.S by Alan Moore et al
Ex Machina by Brian K Vaughn et al
Thor - The Black Galaxy Saga byTom De Falco and Ron Frenz

... and a cavalcade of contemporary comics.

My year started with A Dreamquest for Unknown Kadath, which I blogged about here. That's the last of the titles in the Necronomicon volume of HPL stories, so that's the end of that for a while. I did read the essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, and I had intended to do a capstone piece based on that, tackling HPL's aesthetic choices and influences but, well, I don't know how much I have left to say.

Hopefully I'll get around to it one day, but I will just note here that Supernatural Horror in Literature is a really poor essay. It's fanzine level stuff (I speak as a fanzine level guy myself) that just trawls through the history of the genre noting the classics, presumably for the benefit of the neophyte. Maybe in those days, when fandom and genre weren't quite as developed as they are now, this was sufficient, but there's precious little about HPL's aesthetic opinions in a general sense, and very little that gives insight into his own work.

Maybe if I had the time and inclination to read all the works quoted I might get a better idea, although I've read a good proportion of them and don't really see how they fit together beyond "Yeah, early horror." A big disappointment and a real blow to my image of HPL as an intellectual!

Next up I read A Reflection in Glass by Jeffrey Hewitt. This is a fantasy novel self-published on the Kindle, and like The Pale Queen's Courtyard by a chap I met via RPG.net. This one wasn't quite as polished as The Pale Queen's Courtyard, but it shows some promise. Definitely needed a bit more work, I think, and could have done with a bit of cutting. If you like Neil Gaiman-ish portal fantasy, though, it might be worth a try. I gave it an enthusiastic review on amazon, cos that's part of the deal, yo!

I did pause in the middle of that to read A Short History of Western Thought by Stephen Trombley after I read a review in The Guardian and was suddenly seized by a desire to reacquaint myself with my intellectual limitations. I'm pretty good up until about the time of Kant and his Critique of Pure Reason and then I kind of lose the struggle. This was a breezy and readable book, though, with good coverage of the last century, as well. I finally understand who Heidegger was and why he's a bit of controversial figure, and at 99p for the Kindle, worth every penny and more!

After this came Redlaw by James Lovegrove, which I reveiwed for the Zone. I think I've said  everything I want to about this one!

After that, and more happily, Osama by Lavie Tidhar, which is pretty good. I have to say it's one of those books that is so unique and curious I'mstill trying to decide whether I liked it or not. The reading of it threw up a number of elements that I wasn't so keen on - the noir referneces seemed a bit heavy handed at first - and I'm not so sure about the cumulative effect but it's very well written on the line-by-line level. It's heavy on atmosphere and a genuine surrealism (somewhat undermined by the climax, IMO) and it tackles a genuinely knotty matter of contemporary politics with real insight and precision.

And that's kind of it!

Aside from books I've read the kids (The Hobbit - still brilliant - and Clarice Bean Spells Trouble  - hilarious and somewhat wise) that's all the prose novels I've read this year. It's a poor showing even by my standards, but my new job has really cut in to my usual reading time. At the old place, I could happily spend over an hour at lunch slowly reading away, and enjoy the fruits of the internet while I supposed tobe working, but here I get half an hour at my desk clicking through The Guardian and Arts & Letters Daily and then it's back to coal face.

The problem is that I'm actually busy and have to actually work quite hard! What the hell is that about? They didn't mention that in the interview! It's a bit depressing, really, that this is the choice we have to make, between what we want to do and what we have to do to get by.

I blame you lot. If you bastard visitors would buy more copies of Panoptica everyday, then maybe I could have some hope that this would change. Oh well.

There is another thing that's prevented me reading more novels and prose generally: the Deptford Lounge. What's a Deptford Lounge? you ask. Well, it's we used to call a library before they had cafes, free wifi access and a kind of modern urban lifestyle edge. I shouldn't complain because it's a genuinely nice community building in a part of London that the Powers That Be seem intent on fucking up completely and what's more they have a terrific selection of brand new graphic novels.

After first being dragged their by the wife and kids, I came home with Alan Moore's WildC.A.T.S, one of his Wildstorm potboilers from the 90s, in the time between leaving DC in a huff and the V for Vendetta movie when his hipster cred dropped through the floor. It's a terrific collection, with Moore on top form. Tthrough a combination to taking the concepts very seriously and undermining them completely he takes someone elses cheesey crap supers nonsense and makes it seem not just clever but verging on the profound . This a joyous source of old fashioned Alan Moore-ishness and a reminder of the things that made us love him so first time around!

Next up was Thor - The Black Galaxy Saga, a classic Marvel tale from the 80s. I've never read much Thor, just  the first couple of Essentials, the Kirby years, which have that Kirby delerium about them that can make them hard going. I know lots of people admire this, but I don't think it did him any favours. The delirium took over Kirby's work in his Fourth World stuff, which I know lots of people admire a great deal, but looks to me like a lunatic given his leash. He's a great artist and there's clearly SOMETHING inside his head trying to get out, but he has no filter, no sense of what seperates the clever from the stupid. In the same context as Oberon and the Mother Box, you get the oddball guy in with skis and the weirdo helmet.

Well, anyway, The Black Galaxy owes a huge debt to Kirby Thor, both in the galaxy-spanning tale it spins and the art style which occasionally verges in on Kirby at his cosmic best as the story climaxes with the birth of a new Celestial. It's clearly very derivative, but done with a lot of gusto and a wash of 80s New Manism as Thor's alter Ego Name Namely has to deal with losing custody of his kid, and Hercules wrestles with his lost, uh, virility. It's not great art, but highly enjoyable Marvel cheese.

As well as these, I've read through the whole ten volumes of Ex Machina by Brian K Vaughn. I'm going to go on at length about why this didn't work for me, but it's worth noting that I read it all through and it kept me coming back for more, so Vaughn was doing something right. It's a neat idea - Mitch Hundred is the Great Machine, the superhero who decides he can do more good as a politician than a masked crime fighter, and Vaughn definitely pursues it with conviction, but the whole thing came across as a little shallow.

Part of that was because of the issue-of-the-week way the politics stories unravelled. It was like a vaguely left-leaning nerdly libertarian power-trip fantasy, where where this guy got to spout a lot of well-meaning drivel that didn't really have much relation to the way politics plays out in the real world. There was a kind of simplistic West Wing style thing about it, the conservative liberal I guess, who agrees with lefty causes but calls ladies ma'am and shows respect and isn't afraid to tell it like it is, left or right, usually in a couple of pages of dense speech bubbles.

Maybe I'm projecting but it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and I tended to skim these parts. The fantasy plot built up quite a lot of good tension in the first few issues but fell a bit flat towards the end, and owed a bit too much to Zenith for my liking (although it's many years since I read Zenith, so maybe I'm misremembering). I was intrigued for most of the story, and it was helped by some great other-worldly character design, but in the end it seemed clear to me that Vaughan's heart was in the poltical speechifying and not in creating an exciting fantasy plot.

The "Great Machine" and terror threat symbolism wasn't lost on me either, by the way. It was consistent and well-thought through symbology, which all came together pretty well, but seemed a little heavy to me. Maybe it looked less so if you read it drip fed over many months rather than in a single fat shot like me.

It's a good idea, and was decently executed, but it never quite shot the lights out. I'm glad I read it though, and super glad I got it out of the library because at ten quid a go it would have cost me a hundred quid (irony!) to have read the whole thing. That's what puts me off these series, spending quite a lot of cash on what is ultimately a pretty thin and disposable fantasy novel. I can't imagine ever reading Ex Machina again, and so that would just be too huge an investment for me to consider.

Despite this, I can continue to flush my money away on pamphlets, somewhere in region of four hundred quid a year, I'd say! This year I've been continuing to read The Avengers and The New Avengers and they've continued to deliver top-of-the-line supers fun. I'm really enjoying the return of Norman Osborne and his New Dark Avengers although I can't shake the impression that this second version is a bit rubbish, perhaps to underline how unhinged he is.

I'm also reading Bendis's take on Moonknight, a character I first discovered through the first two Essentials volumes, which start a bit wobbly but get steadily better and better, with vol 2 having some terrific gritty, street-level supers. The multi-personality thing develops into a really interesting side of his personality, that does verge into real mental illness at times. The new version is pretty great, too. Spector's madness is cleverly developed into a major strength and well depicted, and I like the stray Ultron storyline.

I've recently started picking up Mark Waid's Daredevil. This is a character that interested me much but I like what's happening here, although I'm only a couple of issues in as yet. I also started picking up The Future Foundation and Fantastic Four, both written by Jonathan Hickman. These look really good, but I fear I've picked up the story too late to make sense of it. I'll to catch up through collections... another trip to the Deptford Lounge coming up, I think! Hickman's also taking over on the Avengers titles when Bendis wraps up his storylines, so that looks good to me!

So there we are, Q1 2012 reading report. So far it's been a pretty good year. I'm reading Princess of Mars by EBR at the moment, in preparation for seeing the movie (which I missed out on in the end,l long story!) and after that The End of Mister Y by Scarlett Thomas, which is a bit of an unknown quantity, but came highly recommended from a couple of people of people whose opinions I respect. I'll be reveiwing that one for the Zone, so hopefully I'll see you then!

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