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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I learned about Battle Royale many years ago, but was in a sense put off by the premise of having schoolchildren kidnapped and isolated on an island somewhere, and forced to kill each other to survive. Sounded interesting, but didn’t really like the idea of bloodbaths with children.
A quick exchange elsewhere in a book forum made me turn my eye on the work again, and decided I will take the plunge after all, although I cheated in a sense. Instead of turning to the novel, I turned to the manga adaptation. I was intrigued, and it was literally a quick series of taps away on my iPad.
The story is set in an alternative timeline where a totalitarian regime gripped Japan. As a means to control the population, and as an outlet of entertainment, the military conceived what is known as the Program, where every season a group of 42 kids are kidnapped at random, placed in an island, and whatever, I said it already at the top. And it’s broadcasted nationally on a state-sponsored TV channel. It’s kinda reminds me of the gladiator battles in ancient Rome – violent spectator sport.
The story follows the current season’s group of kids, and we watch as the dynamic of the different individuals play out in a violent fashion. The violence you’d expect are present, but what surprised me is the detailed backgrounds for some of the kids, and you get a sense of their motivation when faced with such odds and situation. There’s a kid though whose idealism started to grate after the first 20 pages, The word tinderbox was playing on my mind as the story developed, especially in scenes where groups of students who’ve taken to an alliance, and that was well done.The diverse cast and the genuinely different outlooks that each of the characters brought to the table showed the many facets of the human condition, not just in the immediacy of the situation but a reflection of the totalitarian society as a whole. Fight the system and face the potential consequences in the face of overwhelming odds, or fly high and reap the rewards of conforming and playing to the rules of the game? Not a completely mindless bloodbath, this.
Overall it was enjoyable.
There’s this series of books by Suzanne Collins called the Hunger Games which is apparently quite popular nowadays. I don’t know much about it, but the plot involves young children being isolated and they have to fight each other to survive. And apparently Collins denies ever knowing about the Battle Royale until after she submitted her manuscript. Uh.