Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Brigid Alverson points to a website selling manga translated into French (as well as other French-language books, CDs, DVDs, etc.). A much wider range of manga is available in French than in English, including a lot of alternative manga; so if you can read French but not Japanese, or would rather learn to read French than Japanese, this site is worth investigating. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find any indication on the site of what their shipping charges are like. I guess you have to wait until checking out to see.)

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Monday, November 26, 2007


Last week I saw a non-shrink-wrapped copy of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier at my local Borders, and took the opportunity to flip through it. (As of this evening there's still a pile of shrink-wrapped copies there, but the unwrapped one is gone.) I didn't read enough to review it, though what I did read didn't make me hungry for more. I will say one thing, though: Moore does a lousy Wodehouse. (I may elaborate if and when I have the opportunity to read it again.)

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Sunday, November 18, 2007


Hugs: Bloodpond is a 36 page long hardbound comic by Michael Ogilvie which I've had on my "to be reviewed" list for quite a long time. One reason it's taken me so long to review it is that while I knew I liked it, I couldn't figure out why I liked it.

A plot summary may help to explain my perplexity. The book begins with a chicken crossing a road. Via a circuitous chain of events, this eventually leads to the protagonist, a mute, fat-bellied, perpetually grinning bear named Hugs, being shot to death by a black dog out of revenge. Hugs goes to heaven, where everyone is perpetually high on heroin. Enraged at Hugs' bliss, the black dog uses his connections with the Pope to have Hugs sent first to hell and then to a pitch-black void, but Hugs manages to enjoy himself each time. Finally the Pope tells the dog that he shouldn't have killed Hugs because there is no suffering worse than being alive, and in exchange for a sacrificed virgin has Hugs resurrected by an obese, crucified Christ. The dog blows his own brains out, while Hugs, seemingly unaffected by his experience, goes home to his human wife and their children, who are miniature duplicates of Hugs or his wife. In an echo of its beginning, the book ends with a whole bunch of chickens crossing the road.

All this is told in thirty-five and a half pages, each (with one exception) divided into two horizontal panels of equal size. Interspersed throughout are various epigrammatic statements, some of which are quotations from literature, which by and large have no apparent connection to the action.

And the art? Hugs is drawn in a sort of Disney-ish bigfoot style, with a precision that suggests he was drawn with a computer: with a few exceptions, his facial expression is exactly the same throughout. Most of the other characters have a similar computer-drawn appearance, though the black dog is drawn by hand in a much rougher style. The backgrounds are either pure white (or occasionally black) or in muted colors or grays: these latter seem to be drawn from various sources, including photographs, stills from animated cartoons, and the "screaming pope" paintings of Francis Bacon. There are some samples from Hugs: Bloodpond on Michael Ogilvie's website, which also has samples from Hugs: Bloodpond's predecessor, Hugs: Thoughtlead, as well as other works. (Some of those latter images are NSFW.)

As I say, I like this book a lot. And yet, looking at its component parts, I found it difficult to understand why. Taken on its own, the story is rather sophomoric blasphemy, and is the sort of apparently pointless story that normally irritates me. The art is skillful and attractive: I particularly like the increasingly outlandish Tex Averyesque expressions of shock on the black dog's face as he observes Hugs' progress through the afterlife. But given the amount of repetition, and the extent of found material, the art by itself wouldn't carry the book. Then what?

In part, it's Ogilvie's mastery of the subtler aspects of comics: coloring, panel composition, and visual storytelling. But basically, this is one of those rare cases in which all elements come together to creat a perfect little gem which can't be changed in any part without destroying it. For instance, I noted that the story taken alone is nothing much. But "improving" it would wreck the balance between story and art. Likewise, if the art were less repetitive, it would be a completely different book.

In most comics, either the story is primary and the art is secondary, or the art is primary and the story is secondary. In Hugs: Bloodpond, both the story and art, as one usually thinks of them, are secondary. Instead, the book seems to be an experiment in getting the maximum mileage from the rearrangement and repetition of a limited set of elements, in both art and story. In the story, we have the circularity of Hugs' journey. And looked at more closely, the structure of the story as a whole is broadly palindromic: elements and motifs from the first half are repeated in reverse order in the second half. In an email to me, Michael Ogilvie wrote that he was "trying to create a new language," and that aspiration is visible here.

True, $11.95 is a lot to pay for 36 pages, even though the book is a nice-looking hardcover. But I don't regret buying it.

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Friday, November 16, 2007


I'll wrap this series of posts up with some general reflections. The first two parts are here and here.

First, is Never Let Me Go a realist novel or not? Remains of the Day, Ishiguro's breakout novel, was a realist work. The Unconsoled, the novel following Remains, was emphatically not realist. When We Were Orphans, Ishiguro's next novel and Never Let Me Go's immediate predecessor, began as if it were a realist novel, but as the book continued the reader encountered things inexplicable in realist terms.

Of course, Never Let Me Go is not realist in the sense of imitating the real world. But it might be realist in the sense that most science fiction is realist: starting out with a world different from ours (or quickly introducing an entity or event not found in our world), but having events unfold as they supposedly would in real life, given that starting point. When I wrote my first post on Never Let Me Go, I believed it was realist in this sense. So did a number of reviewers, including some who criticized it as being bad SF because its extrapolation wasn't plausible: i.e. it was failed realism. I now think I was wrong. Instead, Never Let Me Go is a book which, like When We Were Orphans but more subtly, conceals a non-realist intent beneath a realist facade.

As one instance of Never Let Me Go's implausibility, several critics have cited the absence of resistance or escape attempts on the part of the adult clones. Originally, I saw no problem with this. Kathy M. is writing for her fellow clones, and just like a realistic narrator, doesn't tell them things they already know (unlike much SF, which contrives ways to have characters convey information which, in the book's world, everyone would already know). So it's perfectly reasonable to deduce that there's a security apparatus which Kathy doesn't discuss because her readers would know all about it.

I would still go along with this up to a point. But as I reread the parts of the book which take place in "regular society" -- the Norfolk expedition, and Kathy and Tommy's quest for Madame -- I realized that it just was too implausible for the security apparatus to be unobtrusive enough to not even be mentioned in these scenes, given that clones are visually identical to non-clones and that carers are allowed to drive, and apparently live, without supervision.

Another issue is the surface normality of Hailsham life. Is it really believable that everyone's reaction to learning that they will be murdered by having their organs removed would be so subdued? I do think it's plausible that many, perhaps most, would respond this way. But would there really be nobody who would freak out upon hearing Miss Lucy's speech? And when Lucy tells them: "you've been told and not told. You've been told, but none of you really understand" (81) -- something Kathy affirms -- well, I have a hard time seeing how you could tell a child that when she grows up her organs will be cut out and have her "not understand." (I'm pretty sure what my reaction would have been.) And Ishiguro is deliberately vague about how this "telling and not telling" would work.

Another thing Ishiguro is deliberately vague about is the sequence of donations. Kathy frequently reminds us that a "donor" will, if all goes well, make four "donations" in sequence, of which the last is invariably fatal. The first two would presumably be one kidney and one lung, but there is no obvious third "donation" which would not be fatal. There are possibilities, such as transplanting part of a liver; but Ishiguro's choosing a non-intuitive number of donations and never explaining it may be a clue that the book is not to be taken as realist.

Finally, there's the whole concept of a parallel society of "carers" and "donors" extending throughout England and existing in the same space as "normal" society, but only glancingly interacting with it, except for those few "normals" who deal with clones as part of their jobs. While this is not impossible, it's something one would expect to find in Kafka (think of the omnipresence of the "court" in The Trial), rather than Tolstoy.

Of course, one could also interpret all these points as indicating, not that Ishiguro did not intend the book as realism, but that he failed at realism. But given his clear interest in non-realist fiction, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt.

I understood the book better on this reading than on previous readings, but I don't understand everything, by any means. As I said, in an earlier installment, I don't understand the significance of the song "Never Let Me Go"; nor do I understand Miss Lucy's breakdown. When I reread the first post I wrote on the book, I think that at that time I only partially understood the book. I had grasped one important aspect -- the victimization of the clones -- but missed another, even more important one: the psychological imperatives that led them to collude in their own victimization. It may be that when I reread this series of posts after another reading of the book, they will seem equally partial.

(Speaking of donations, something occurred to me after I posted my previous post. The nightmarish rumor Kathy describes -- to which "even the doctors had no certain answers" -- that "maybe, after the fourth donation, even if you've technically completed, you're still conscious in some sort of way ... there are more donations, plenty of them, on the other side of that line ... there's nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off" (279) is not completely clear, but seems to be the clones' idea of an afterlife. If so, how horrible that this is the afterlife they imagine.)

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As long time readers of this blog may know, I haven't been impressed by most of the work Alan Moore's done since 1993 (when he started writing for Image), and that includes the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But in this interview (via Journalista), Moore states that The Black Dossier contains "a Jeeves and Wooster novella by P.G. Wodehouse." Now that sounds like it would be worth reading. (Though not worth buying the book for.)

Since I wrote the paragraph above, I learned that Moore's Wodehouse pastiche mixes Jeeves and Wooster with the Cthulhu mythos. Now I'm less excited. This combination has been done before, and not that well: it's hard enough to get Wodehouse right even without throwing in the fundamentally incompatible Lovecraft. Besides, Moore's already done Lovecraft.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007


The first part is here. I should say that here, as in part one, page numbers refer to the Knopf paperback. Also, when a note begins with a page number, I'm not necessarily claiming that proof for that note will be found on that page. Sometimes the page number simply indicates when the thought in the note occurred to me.

p. 126: The Hailsham scenes are parodies of the boarding school scenes often found in English novels, except that the "pupils" are all going to have their organs harvested. Similarly, the scenes in the Cottages are parodies of college scenes, except that the "college" is a set of abandoned farm buildings, the "studies" are meaningless, and the "students" have no future.

p. 132: The veterans at the Cottages rarely talk about the students who leave to become carers, or about the courses to prepare for being carers: again, averting their eyes from the future.

p. 139: When the students argue about what age their "models" would be relative to themselves, and some argue that "they'd use for models people at the peak of their health ... around here, we'd all sense we were near territory we didn't want to enter": the fact that they were created to be harvested.

p. 140: Students argue whether "possibles" tell you "something of what your own life has in store" or whether "it was up to us to make of our lives what we could." Both positions are equally removed from reality.

The entire lives of the clones revolve around avoiding the truth as much as possible: at first by refusing to face it at all; then by ignoring it as much as possible; then, when they become carers and this becomes impossible, by using the language of "carer" and "donation" and "completion."

p. 142: Kathy's remarks about the "dream futures": "Maybe ... it was possible to forget for whole stretches of time who we really were"

pp. 142-43: "just for these few months, we somehow managed to live in this cosy state of suspension in which we could ponder our lives without the usual boundaries." College is supposed to be a time to "ponder [one's] life without the usual boundaries"; but in the clones' case, not only is the pondering pure fantasy, but their ideas of "life without the usual boundaries" are so restricted.

p. 152: Christine says "I know how lucky I am, getting to be at the Cottages," implying that most clones don't get any break between the "homes" they grow up in and becoming carers.

p. 192: Kathy is fascinated -- one might say magnetized -- by Ruth because Ruth constantly creates an aura of specialness around herself through make-believe and lies. This is the thematic reason why Ruth is so important in the novel: her specious "specialness" parallels the specious "specialness" of Hailsham itself. Does Ruth's sabotaging of Kathy and Tommy's relationship symbolize the life-distorting effects of Hailsham's myth of specialness?

Even now, Kathy doesn't fully recognize her own culpability in the churchyard incident.

(In my first post on Never Let Me Go, I'd written "In fact, when I reread the book, the part I most dreaded coming to was not the final confrontation with Miss Emily, or anything to do with the "donations," but the scene when Ruth betrays Tommy by telling him of Kathy's joining her in laughing at his animal pictures." Although I didn't reread my post before this reading, I reacted in just the same way this time, too. In fact, when I got to this point, I put the book down for a couple of days before reading the scene.)

p. 202: The reason why students volunteer to become carers, and why Kathy is proud of her work as a carer, is that they need to believe that their lives have some meaning other than being sources of spare parts.

Ruth doesn't quite come off as a monster, although she does awful things, because she is desperately trying to preserve her sense of specialness.

p. 257: Emily's speeches throughout this conversation have a very odd, unnatural tone.

Miss Emily is the original creator of the Hailsham myth, and still sees herself as a heroic figure. This conversation reveals that Emily, like Ruth, needs to be special and to be the center of attention; but, unlike Ruth, she deceives herself as well as others.

In previous readings I was never quite sure why Kathy and Tommy were so devastated by their conversation with Emily. When I wrote my first post on the book, I had concluded it was because of the revelation that even their guardians were afraid of them. But later I decided that was wrong. For one thing, neither Kathy nor Tommy seem to have been terribly attached to their guardians. For another, they were upset even before that revelation. Now, I think it was not one specific statement that upset them, but the conversation as a whole. They had believed in the myth of Hailsham, believed on some level that because they went to Hailsham they were different from other clones. Now they learn that Hailsham was not interested at all in them as individuals: they were essentially experimental subjects, even if the experiment was done with humane motives.

I had actually formulated this theory before I reached this section in my rereading. When I read Tommy's question to Miss Emily: "everything we did, all the lessons, everything. It was all about what you just told us [demonstrating that clones had souls]? There was nothing more to it than that?" (266) this made me more confident that I was right.

p. 266: Miss Emily's statement "There was a certain climate and now it's gone," referring to the campaign to demonstrate the humanity of clones, is remarkably unfeeling, so much so that even Kathy protests.

p. 268: Miss Emily admits that "sometimes ... we kept things from you, lied to you. Yes, in many ways we fooled you." [emphasis in original]

Miss Emily, the idealist, can only see Kathy and Tommy as the beneficiaries of her heroic efforts, and is indifferent to their fates as individuals. Madame, who had been visibly frightened of the pupils at Hailsham and who is now cynical about the whole enterprise, is the one who finally reaches out to them as humans. (272)

That's enough for now, I think. I have some more general thoughts, but I'll save them for the final installment.

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