Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Haggard Allan Quatermain (1885) - A real disappointment after King Solomon's Mines. This sequel slogs through a series of mostly random events until I could only hope the rest of the book was filled with the footnotes (it was an Oxford Classics edition where the editor felt he needed to earn his money by footnoting the most obvious references). Instead of the previous book's reasonable story mechanism this time the characters head off into the wilds of Africa just because they're bored and have nothing better to do. The rest plays out like a tedious travelogue which might be interesting if I could place more faith in the truth of the material about Africa. But the pages and pages about the hidden civilization are not only pointless (there's no payoff in the story or atmosphere or texture) but unlike a utopian text don't even offer contrast to our society (in fact a good bit of it sounds suspiciously like Victorian England). There's a battle with Masai tossed in only for a bit of excitement since it never comes up again in the story.


Fury (Marvel) - Garth Ennis might be an interesting writer when he grows up. Then again maybe not considering how much he relies on adolescent shock value. Preacher: Gone to Texas was aimed at 17-year-olds and wouldn't much interest anybody older. Fury seems mostly for 19-year-olds and might offer something for other ages. (At this rate, Ennis should get to mature work about three Presidential administrations from now.) The hook for Fury was clearly the "freedom" allowed by Max (Marvel's supposed mature readers line) though it's hard not to think the book would have been stronger even under the Comics Code. The best Ennis could come up with is a stream of endless and endlessly dull cursing alongside his typical grotesque violence (one moment lifted direct from Story of Ricky). OK so Nick Fury is a crusty old soldier; we already knew that. Even the idea that Fury is a deluded, amoral, murderous thug has its own charms. But portraying him as a no-nonsense man of action who cuts through the bureaucracy is as unrealistic and worse boring as any superhero cliche, bordering on right-wing fantasy. I don't really care that in "real life" such a person would have been courtmartialed a few pages into the story (wouldn't that have made an interesting book in the hands of somebody who would respect that material) but it does matter that there's little narrative conflict. Fury mostly comes, sees, conquers. Yay? Fury at least maintains a level of momentum (before the story degenerates into a hand-to-hand brawl the interesting part is how Fury tries to prevent a UN-sanctioned bombing) but more importantly tiptoes around the edge of a darkness in the character that Ennis seems reluctant to explore further. Fury didn't need to be Journey to the End of the Night but ultimately it stands as sloppy, timid work.


Composition 8865: Find somebody that you don't know in the street. Have them count to 74.