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May 29, 2008

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Book 21 in my 52 books in 2008

This is a graphic novel, perhaps the most famous one of them all in the comic community, though perhaps not outside of it. This is quite likely to change however when the movie version comes out in the near future. When I found out they were turning it into a film, that was my impetus to finally go and buy a copy after all these years.

Now for the heresy - it's not really very good. I found it slow, plodding, repetitive, fairly dull from a superhero point of view, and its politics were heavy handed and obvious. The artwork wasn't my kind of thing either, being fairly plain, flat, and static; I like more colour, and more realism, unless it's stylised stuff like Frank Miller.

The story is an alternate universe scenario. What if a bunch of fairly normal people decided to become masked crime fighters, vigilantees like Batman, but lacking his gadgets and using mainly their fists. I'm nodding off already. This is what happened in the mid part of the 20th century, until there was a backlash, and most went into voluntary retirement. Now, it's 1985 (around the time the novel was published) and it looks like someone is killing them. One of the heroes, Rorsache, starts to inverstigate, writing notes in his journal, which we get extensive passages from that reveal the history of the Watchmen.

Most of the story is detective fiction. The only real superhero stuff is a character called John, who was in the traditional bizarre accident, and was transformed into an omnipotent being who can transform matter, teleport, and see all time. Pretty impressive stuff, but massively underused.

A kid sits on a pavement reading a comic throughout, and this pirate story is also reproduced, interlaced within the Watchmen story. There seem to be attempts to connect the two, and it was either too subtle for me, or too vague, but I just didn't see the point.

I wish I'd read it in 1985, as the cold war and the politics of the day are heavily featured, and our impending armageddon due to mutually assured destruction seemed a real threat then. I think I would have felt more engaged emotionally. The world's problems have changed, and I'll be interested to see if the film being made now updates the plot to include global warming, or the war on terror, instead.

Overall, I was sad not to have liked Watchmen, as I always thought I would. I was kind of saving it for a rainy day, which was a mistake. As always, I think my creed of less politics, more science fiction, would have helped massively.

Posted by se71 at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2008

A Quiet Belief In Angels - RJ Ellory

A Quiet Belief In Angels - RJ Ellory

Book 21 in my 52 books in 2008

Another "Richard & Judy" bookclub pick. When will I ever learn? I blame my sister for this one, we both saw it, and thought it looked good, and encouraged each other a bit to read it.

Ellory is trying to write like one of the giants of American literature, like Steinbeck or Hemmingway. He writes long paragraphs of flowery prose, and repeats things again and again, in case he thinks we didn't get it the first ten times.

Yes, I know there were murdered girls, stop telling me their names! It doesn't actually make a difference to the plot to repeat them again and again and again!

And relax.

But he isn't writing "To Kill A Mockingbird" - that's been done already! He's writing a thriller. But even a slow-boiler thriller should be a bit more exiting than this.

OK, back to the plot. It's not actually a half bad story, I quite liked it and it's quite rightly placed firmly in the detective fiction section. Joseph Vaughn is the protagonist, and right at the start we know he has spent his life tracking down a murderer, and shot him in an anonymous hotel. The rest of the book is told in flashback, as Joseph tells us about his harrowing life, and we try to guess whodunnit..

A serial murderer is stalking a small town in Georgia in the Southern United States in the late 1930s. He is killing little girls, ones Joseph knows. Joseph swears to protect the girls, but he fails, and ever afterwards feels overwhelming guilt about it. His life goes from one tragedy to another, becoming almost increasingly bizarre and unbelievable.

Very many authors these days seem to equate volume with quality. There are far too many words here. This needs tightening up. It's also only written from Joseph's viewpoint, so we get no idea about what's happening with the other people. This can work, but I noticed quite a few places where he knew things that happened when he wasn't even there, and his childhood views and vocabulary were far too advanced for his years.

All in all, quite a difficult book to get through, almost worth it in the end to see how the story pans out, but I'd advist not starting it.


Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks

Posted by se71 at 02:28 PM | Comments (0)

Close Range by Annie Proulx

Close Range by Annie Proulx

Book 20 in my 52 books in 2008

This is a collection of about a dozen short stories, the most famous of which is of course the final one - Brokeback Mountain.

All the tales are about cowboys in Nevada, and you can see Proulx has done considerable research on this, especially the history, as many feature the economics and weather of this part of the world. I'd like to say there is a good mix of comedy and pathos, but if I tell you that the most amusing part of the whole thing is a story about a man freezing to death and having his leg sawn off by someone who wants to steal his boots, you might start to get the measure of the piece.

This is all about tragedy. Rodeo riders get maimed and half killed, car crash victims go mad, people die in the freezing conditions. The depression is unrelenting, and 'Brokeback Mountain" itself is hardly a barrell of laughs, though I'm not giving away anything here in case you still need to see the film.

However, the writing is good, immersive, and I felt I started to get to know these people a bit. I still don't understand them, it sounds like a completely awful and unfulfilling life to choose.

You might be tempted to pick up this volume and just read "Brokeback Mountain". I'd advise against that. It is easily the best story here, but like a good piece of clasical music, where the variations of the themes in the opening movements make the finale even more satisfying, you need to consume the whole thing here to get the full emotional impact.

Recommended, but this is grim, gritty stuff.


A Quiet Belief In Angels by RJ Ellory
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks

Posted by se71 at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

The Neutronium Alchemist - Peter F. Hamilton

The Neutronium Alchemist - Peter F Hamilton

Book 19 in my 52 books in 2008

This is the second volume of the massive "Night's Dawn" space opera trilogy. I made a bit of a mistake leaving so long an interval between reading this and "The Reality Dysfunction". Hamilton has provided no synopsys, and you're expected to hit the ground running in terms of plot and characters, and I found that a bit tricky sometimes.

However, I quickly got stuck in for the marathon read, managing maybe 40 dense pages a day. This is challenging stuff, but always interesting and never slow paced. There are always battles, arguments and chases with spectacular ideas and revelations around every page-turn.

But when an author decides they need nearly 3500 pages to tell a story, you have to ask the question, Why? Couldn't some of the slack be cut and still leave all the important stuff? Isn't a lot of it unnecessary filler? And the answer is that I don't think you could here. It's a remarkably complex story, taking place across many star systems in the galaxy.

The story is about a type of very unusual virus. It is discovered and begins to spread in the first volume, and continues apace here. How would a planet cope, or an orbital habitat? You can be sure that there would be more than one way, and several different scenarios are played out here, which is interesting, as well as the interactions between the different 'solutions'.

There are big ideas about death here too, and the religious implications are touched upon a little more than before, but still not that much.

In short, I loved it. I could have read 5 other books in the same time period, but I'm happy with my choice.


Close Range by Annie Proulx
A Quiet Belief In Angels by RJ Ellory
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks

Posted by se71 at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2008

Leaving London

I've been lucky with recent jobs. I'm a contractor, and I've held onto them for longer than most, and worked in London, which I really like.

But my current employer are pulling the plug geographically, and from July/August, they'll be expecting me to turn up in Stockley Park instead.

Stockley is in the middle of nowhere. OK, it's quite close to Heathrow, but that doesn't mean it's transport links are any good. I'll have to get two trains and a bus I think, unless I can still replace some of the journey with the Brompton. But reducing it to one train, which I currently have, means increasing the first leg of my morning ride to nearly 4.5 miles to Slough train station.

I may have to get a car, or resurrect my old Mazda. I'd like to cycle the whole way, but 13 miles every day, especially in winter, is stretching it. I'll do a test ride soon, but I'm not confident it's desirable.

Probably, I'll need to do some kind of combination, doing different things some days, but I'm not happy, it is not going to be as convenient, and I'll miss London.

Maybe I'll look for another job instead.

Posted by se71 at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

Again and Again

Have a look at this new music video - great idea.


Posted by se71 at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2008


DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. In laymans terms, it means a company mangling your purchased media, whether CDs, DVDs, MP3s or games, so that you are restricted in the manner in which you enjoy it. If you have an iPod, and you've bought standard music from the iTunes Store, you've been DRM'd. Have you ever tried taking the file you downloaded and putting it onto a Sony MP3 player? Don't bother, it won't work.

Most people have no idea that this is being done to them, and don't care. You should care. One day, someone will decide that they can't be bothered licensing your music to you any more, and you'll lose the right to listen to it. Think that's far-fetched? Microsoft have already announced they are doing just that - read about it here in Mark Pilgrim's great blog post

DRM is crippled music - don't buy it!

I've been tidying my garage, 30 odd years of accumulated stuff, which is a still a lot even after the three skipfuls of crap I've already disposed of. While out there, I'm listening to old audio cassettes, some of which I have in fact owned for more than 30 years. I can do this forever, or until the tape wears out or breaks. I can do this because no one ever decided to encrypt the data so that I would only be able to play it on one particular cassette player. Think about that. What if each cassette was tied to one cassette player. You can't make a mixtape and send it to a girl/boyfriend. You can't take your tape on holiday with you and play it in a rental car. You can't play it in the living room, and the garage? If the company who sold you the tape suddenly say they've stopped supporting it, and you change your player, you can't play it any more, at all!

Thst's what DRM is all about, it stops you having the right to listen to your own music whenever you like. I'm not prepared to give up that right, and neither should you.

Posted by se71 at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2008

Heroes - Season Two

Heroes Season 2 512.jpg

So, we've had episode two now in the UK, and Season Two isn't turning out half as bad as we'd been led to believe. Tim Cring, the creator, even apologised to fans for it's slow buildup, which is as bad an indictment as you can get.

I have a theory about this: people in America don't like subtitles.

There is a new mexican couple - they speak Spanish most of the time. Subtitled.
Hiro is in ancient Japan, and speaks Japanese most of the time. Subtitled.
There are a few new Irish characters...oh wait, they're just talking in appalling accents. Subtitles missing.

I think the shows have been very good. Why do people die when the mexican twins are separated? Who is the spooky flying boy? When is Peter going to remember who he is? And if Clare keeps cutting off toes, could she take all the cast-off little piggies to market in a bag?

I have to say though, that I'm not a huge fan of the subtitles myself - this is science fiction after all, can't we have a character whose superpower is to make all Heroes understand each other in English. That - or a Babelfish

Posted by se71 at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

52 Books in 52 Weeks - April 2008

A very slow month indeed, as I expected. This is why I hammered through so many books in the first three months of the year. This month my commuting time was spent on a massive science fiction tome, full details next month.

I only actually finished a single book this month, and it wasn't even fiction.

William Goldman - Which Lie Did I Tell?

This is a book about how to write screenplays, and if anyone knows how to do that, it's Goldman. It's got some great insights, and realistic tips on what you should and and shouldn't do. It's also chock full of anecdotes where he namedrops Hollywood stars like mad.
And did he really write "Good Will Hunting" ? Find out here, maybe :-)

Posted by se71 at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)