Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank only very recently entered my radar. Not that I’d learn all there is to learn about the giants of SF, but given the subject matter of the book I was surprised this did not come to my attention sooner. It’s an apocalyptic book, not post-apocalyptic like The Road by McCarthy, but I think marketed similarly in that neither would appear in any SF lists. But it is by far the scariest book I’ve read, and I’m reading Shining by King at the moment, and even that I’m not feeling too much yet.

I think it’s frightening because it’s so close to home. It’s frightening because it’s so possible, a reality oh so real. A post-apocalyptic world, imagined time and again in various pop-culture tropes like the zombie plague, or far future post-apocalyptic earths like in The Canticle for Leibowitz or The Book of the Long Sun, is something that seems so far away. But reading a story where nuclear destruction actually happens, and an unfolding story which deals with the fears and concerns of citizens after a disaster is truly chilling. I’ve learned about the breakdown of how our transportation systems will be tilted out of balance during a worldwide pandemic, and this one is very close in its estimation of the impact. The financial systems collapsing, the value of the dollar gone overnight, the economic equilibrium thrown out of the window with the rule of supply and demand completely overturned. Then comes the war of attrition, survival instincts kick in, martial law, every man for himself. It exposes the terrible truth of how inadequately prepared we are as a species in this modernized world, indeed how I’m inadequately prepared, to handle such a catastrophe, be it pandemic or nuclear holocaust.

Need to finish it quickly.

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There is a sense of the mythical about this story. Rereading it after many years, I found the story very simple and direct, without the many-tentacled subplots that plague many other graphic novels that tries a little too hard. It conveniently starts with Batman, arriving in Arkham Asylum, intending to have a heart-to-heart with the Joker in order to reach some form of a closure in their very tenuous relationship. There wasn’t a sense as to why Batman wanted to do this out of the blue, it seems to me. Anyway, instead of the Joker, Batman finds that a decoy has been put in his Arkham cell. Joy.

The Joker wants to corrupt Commissioner Gordon and drive him insane to ‘prove a point’. The point here apparently being that a perfectly good person can on a turn of a hat turn into a bad one by virtue of being prodded in the wrong way ‘on a bad day’. I find this conceit problematic, but then Joker is supposed to be insane, so maybe that’s the point. The problem isn’t just there. In the subsequent pages immediately after it was discovered that the Joker has escaped Akham, it was established that the Joker has escaped from Arkham before.  You’d think they’d do a little more to prevent this from happening more than once, but no. They couldn’t prevent a person who can’t wash off the white off his skin, unlike the decoy, from escaping a prison designed to hold super-criminals.

By far the resonating, rippling effect of this piece of work is not the story itself, but what happens to a pretty major character. [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – DON’T PROCEED IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF READING THIS]. It seems to me what happened to Barbara Gordon is the main reason why this story is so infamous, and not anything at all with either Joker’s origin story or his tendency to turn crime-fighting heroes insane. The book was originally published in 1988, and I think more than anything the act of violence against Barbara was really unlike anything that was seen in those days, and certainly not to a major character – an irreversible injury to a mainstream superhero. Moore already did his genre-busting turn on The Watchmen two years prior to this, but this one perhaps had some mileage because of Barbara’s goodness, and in a major comics universe to boot.

If you take out the implications of the Barbara scene, the story’s totally average. The chutzpah of the events leading up to the final showdown, however, elevate it just a little more about the average. Certainly the climate of the superheroes comicdom nowadays is so saturated with violence that something like this, a story touted as a major superhero tour-de-force or some blockbuster equivalent, such an event is not only common but expected. How very cynical the audience nowadays have become.

Art is excellent. Very 90s comics-art, but very well done.

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One of the best books I’ve read. Fantastic. I had such a hard time trying to pick a book to read in my list of Audible titles after finishing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and I thought I wanted something a little light. I hesitated over Vonnegut because he’s not exactly light, but I eventually chose Bend Sinister by Nabokov. That proved short-lived because I found that I had actually finished Bend Sinister before and *forgot about it*! Gasp!

So I thought since I took up Bend Sinister, I might as well sink into Mother Night. And what a decision that was.

I really like serendipitous reads. Something that I know I want to read, but don’t know what the book’s about, and hoping at the back of my head to be blown away with something magical, something truly amazing. All my exploits with classics are in the same vein. And it’s just a joy to discover this one.

I’m not writing a review for this now. I will on my journal, obviously, but not now. Now my laptop’s due for a reboot, and after that, back to work.

But I cannot resist saying that Mother Night proved to be something that is heart-breaking, morally ambiguous, challenging. Something that will stay with you when it’s done. I prefer this one over Slaughter-house Five, myself.

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This book comes with a formidable reputation, it is shrouded in mystique, danger and a slight whiff of naughty things.

Almost done, and it is, uhm, a little over the top. More later. Maybe. Because I write my journals by hand. I don’t retype them here. And when I do type them here, I don’t write them down into my reading journal. It’s like I’m torn between two lovers. Uhm, no, bad analogy. I want to write there, but I also want to write here. I want to exhibit my poor writing here, a medium that encourages me to write a little differently when I’m not constantly experiencing some mild pain through the physical sensation of putting pen on paper. But I want to write there too, because it’s comforting.

So anyway. Gor. More covers, because I think it’s a little saucy.

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Big Bad Wolf 2013

Much smaller haul than my previous years. It’s buying fatigue, I suppose, due to my burgeoning library and growing list of Kindle books, Audible and Comixology buys. Can’t keep up with the consumption, so I’m limiting myself to just the ones I really like.

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I like the fact that there are so many implementations of email, as companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook all trying to rethink email and how we communicate. Emailing has always been important, and it’s interesting how these companies try to make it easier and more intuitive for us. from Microsoft is yet another implementation of the staple of our internet activities. It’s a clear move away from the negatively-perceived Hotmail brand which, like Yahoo Mail, seems to have lost its sheen of innocence simply by being around for too long. takes Gmail’s threaded conversation view, mixed it with the new Metro look to come up with a visually different mail client. Like a squarish and less busy Gmail interface. Let’s see how long this lasts, but do look like a better bet than Yahoo’s Ymail rebranding effort. So go ahead and get yourself some prime email real estate before the crowds come in.

I must say, however, that the one company that really changed the game for email is Google with Gmail. From the non-prank launch date of 1GB storage space for email when everyone else is offering  a supremely miserly 4MB, to really the game-changing layout of a threaded-conversation view for email, Gmail is in my opinion still the front runner in terms of clear innovation.

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This isn’t an easy book to read, and it isn’t easy to write about. This is usually the sort of book that I stay away from in the best of days, as it didn’t exactly promise to be an exciting ride. The subject matter is dire like heck. But its reputation as one of the best books ever written precedes it. When the opportunity presented itself I thought it too good a deal to pass up, so I may as well learn what the fuss is about.

The story revolves around one Moses E Herzog, who at the point of the story has come out from his second marriage. The divorce ended badly, and his now ex-wife, Madeleine, shacked up with his supposedly best buddy Valentine, and he’s pissed. Also, amidst this emotional turmoil he’s suddenly consumed with remorse over the fact that his second child Junie will be growing up without him. All this culminates in a scene where he attempts to confront Maddy when he learned that Junie was apparently mistreated during an argument with Valentine. The manner of his attempted confrontation and subsequent fallout from that forms the climax of the novel.

The unique component of this novel is Herzog’s imaginary letter writing – missives he composes to people living or dead covering all manner of things, from his emotions to politics, all revolving around his crumbling life. Sort of the novel’s way of revealing Herzog’s character growth.

So it’s a botched marriage by a has-been, and a plot to regain his self-esteem and child. What’s so hard about that? The thing is Bellow’s writing is quite precise when it comes to the emotions. The thoughts that run through his mind, especially during the first quarter of the novel, are raw emotions, complete with self-rationalization of what has happened. Anger at Madeleine and how he felt he was unfairly treated in the lead-up to the divorce were quite believable. There were parts in the prose where I thought Herzog described what I personally felt during various stages of disharmony in my own marriage. I’m still married, and nothing in the story even closely reflected what happened in my own life, so no, this didn’t feel autobiographical. But there are times when husband and wife are fighting (as all marriages will do) thoughts of who’s right and wrong cannot be suppressed, and I felt Bellow captured that accurately. Not that that’s very surprising, considering that Bellow himself divorced his second wife, who had an affair with Bellow’s long-time friend.

So really the resonance I felt early in the book carried me along. The story plodded in places, and the writing, while excellent, tended to ramble. Still, this wasn’t utter boredom ala Bridesheads Revisited, and for that I was thankful.

This is one book that I will probably revisit later on, which is more than I can say for the majority of the books I read, good or bad.

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