Tag Archives: Literary

The Dreaming City

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dreaming City [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Julien Blondel, Jean-Luc Cano, and Julien Telo, foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet, vol 4 of the Elric series.

Blondel Cano Telo The Dreaming City Elric

This newly-released (in English) fourth volume completes the “first cycle” of Julien Blondel’s bandes dessinées adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories. Blondel takes a lot of liberties with the original texts–something on the level of a typical cinematic adaptation of a novel–but his choices are generally very good and have reportedly met with Moorcock’s own approval. One of the biggest changes was introduced at the end of the third volume and is central to this one. . . . . . . . [hover over to reveal spoilers] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I like the gloomy, shadow-heavy art by Telo in this book, but some of the compositions are hard to “read” in narrative terms, especially during the climactic confrontation among Elric, Cymoril, and Yrkoon. In some panels for example, I didn’t know which of the rune-swords is being shown: is that Stormbringer or Mournblade? These stumbles “work” impressionistically, reflecting Elric’s own confusion, but they are still a little frustrating for the reader.

The foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet (co-founder of Métal hurlant, who asks that you read his essay after The Dreaming City to which it is prefaced) is the least of these in the series, but like the others it contains some piquant autobiographical reflections and musings on international culture and the role of fantasy. It does include one amusing double-translation through French: the Moorcock novel “Here’s the Man” (i.e. Behold the Man, which is the biblical ecce homo).

The claim to have finished a cycle of the larger saga is a fair one here. Most of the story threads have been tied off, if not ruthlessly cut and burned, by this point. The issuance of these volumes has been at a pretty leisurely pace, and I hope that they continue without an even longer intermission than the ones before.

The Gone-Away World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gone-Away World [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nick Harkaway.

Harkaway The Gone-Away World

Although I came to this novel on the basis of my appreciation of a later work by the same author, it made an eerily good match for the most recent feature film I enjoyed. If you liked the martial arts action, twisted humor, melodramatic pathos, and reality-warping mindfuckery of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, you might find that Nick Harkaway’s doorstop 2008 first novel actually delivers a kindred experience.

The Gone-Away World contains about half a dozen major anagnorises or revelatory plot pivots, each with perfectly adequate narrative preparation and often outright foreshadowing. After getting caught with my pants down by a couple of these, I got really vigilant, paying special attention to what the story hadn’t told me at that point, and my effort was rewarded with being able to anticipate the next big surprise by maybe two or three pages. Then as I kept on reading, feeling pleased with myself, I got surprised again! (Well, I sort of saw that coming.) And again! (OMG, how could I fail to have seen that coming!) It was like losing a sparring bout.

The semi-fantastic post-apocalyptic setting is definitely sui generis (although comparisons others have made to Vonnegut have some merit), and it took me a few of the book’s longish chapters to get comfortable with the narrative framing. But even before that point I found the prose fast-moving and congenial.

There’s possibly an allegory here, certainly a parable. I had to wonder if Harkaway named “FOX”–“the gunk … inFOrmationally eXtra-saturated” (259) that stabilizes reality after the Go Away War has totally disrupted it– as a conscious poke at US propaganda media. The book takes aim at even bigger troubles, though, if you want to read it that way. The repeated tacit references to Andromeda in the final arc were poignant.

On the whole, I liked this novel a lot and found it to be a lively ride. It fell a little short of the tremendously high esteem I have for Harkaway’s Gnomon, but that’s hardly grounds to dismiss it. It is perhaps, as I’ve seen some suggest, more accessible than the later book, while still delivering a considerable taste of what the writer has to offer.

Ella Minnow Pea

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ella Minnow Pea [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Mark Dunn.

Dunn Ella Minnow Pea

This fable of alphabetic elision seems more urgent now, I think, than even in in the burgeoning days of the so-called Global War on Terror when it was first published. So much of our discourse is now mediated and overruled by algorithms intended to incite and/or placate that a Bureau of Letter Enforcement seems superfluous–and yet we are more thoroughly surveilled than ever.

The happy ending of the story, while cleverly constructed, rings a Lyttle hollow.

The Overstory

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Overstory [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Richard Powers.

Powers The Overstory

“To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs.” (383)

The profuse blurbs in my copy of this Pulitzer-winning novel include one from Nathaniel Rich at The Atlantic, highlighting author Richard Powers’ anomalous work in a field where “literary convention favors novelists who write narrowly about personal experience,” and Powers himself has been quoted as complaining that “Literary fiction has largely become co-opted by that belief that meaning is an entirely personal thing.” None of which is to say that this book lacks vividly-realized characters with complex interiority. But it may perhaps account for why the comparanda that occurred to me when reading it were more science-fictional than “literary.”

Certainly the “cli-fi” element will put many readers in mind of the work of Kim Stanley Robinson, who has treated this large theme in many capable novels. I also observed a kinship to Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, where the forest in Powers’ book takes on the organizing and animating function of the river in McDonald’s. Both of these novels have a regard for artificial intelligence that de-centers it from the human perspective. Yet another book brought to mind is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, a work of science fiction published as literary fiction. Mitchell’s “atemporals” have some of their role taken up by the trees in The Overstory, but more importantly his social and philosophical concerns and the way he illustrated them through personal situations seemed quite similar to what I found in this book.

In addition to beautiful prose and profound reflection, there’s a considerable amount of failure and death–both arboreal and human–in this novel. It is a sweeping tragedy that brought me to tears a few times. The final summation was a bit less intellectually honest than what I took away from Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, but I guess I would still call The Overstory good medicine for those willing to take it.

“And what do all good stories do? … They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.” (412)

Marching diverts men’s thoughts. Marching kills thought. Marching makes an end of individuality. Marching is the indispensable magic stroke performed in order to accustom the people to a mechanical, quasi-ritualistic activity until it becomes second nature.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Huxley Brave New World Revisited marching diverts kills thoughts end individuality indispensable magic stroke performed accustom people mechanical quasi-ritualistic second nature

The High Place

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The High Place: A Comedy of Disenchantment [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by James Branch Cabell.

Cabell The High Place

The High Place is Cabell’s most efficient and effective composition as a fantasy novel. It riffs on both the Sleeping Beauty and Faust legends, through the gallant dream of Florian de Puysange (who is, of course a descendent of Manuel the Redeemer, and thus entitled to be included in Cabell’s hyperwork Biography of Manuel). It uses its two seminal legends to put pagan and Christian religion into hilarious comparisons with each other, as well as a terrific culminating chapter (28. “Highly Ambiguous”) with a conversation between the Archangel Michael and Cabell’s Pan-Devil figure Janicot. Florian is conspicuously free of the ravages of moral conscience, a feature which distinguishes him slightly from the book’s second-most-entertaining character, the pagan-high-priest-cum-Christian-saint Hoprig.

Cabell’s arch sense of humor skewers the conventional mores of twentieth-century Americans quite well even when his stories are set in an imaginary France of the 18th century. This book is actually far more confrontational than the scandalous Jurgen in that respect. It’s an excellent choice for readers just trying Cabell for the first time, and it shouldn’t be missed by those who have already enjoyed his work.