Yellow Blue Tibia, by Adam Roberts

Yellow Blue Tibia is the first novel by Adam Roberts I’ve read. I chose the novel, in great part, because of Kim Stanley Robinson’s claim, reproduced on the novel’s cover, that it “Should have won the 2009 Booker Prize.” Robinson feels that science fiction novels are marginalized; he may have a point, but to make a claim that a certain novel should win a prize is fatuous: it would have been enough to state that he thinks it should have been considered for a Booker Prize, but to state that it should have won is provocative and no-doubt invites undue criticism.0575083573.02.LZZZZZZZ

I began the novel with a certain prejudice because of Robinson’s statement on the cover; at first, I was won-over by Robert’s prose (such an excellent set-up!), but I don’t think it should have been considered for a major literary prize. The main character, Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, is an enjoyable invention; sarcastic, and teeming with wry wit. And the story is quite engaging. But there simply wasn’t enough depth to fully immerse me as a reader, and Roberts has an annoying tendency to overdo things. A few examples of the overdone:

The dialog is purportedly in Russian (it appears in English to the reader), with some English, which is differentiated by [placing it inside square brackets], but Roberts felt the need to remind the reader for far too long that certain words were said in English, or that someone had switched to Russian, far past the point that I understood without being told. I don’t like authors who assume I’m thick; readers should be required to pay attention, and the careful reader should be rewarded, not punished.

There is a comical interrogation in which a tape recorder is used: the interrogator turns the recorder on and off in order to separate the ‘official’ recorded version from the interrogation sections filled with threats. The interrogator becomes muddled and begins to turn the recorder on and off at inappropriate times, recording his threats, and stopping the recording during the ‘official’ sections. Roberts tells the reader for far too long that the switching on and off are recording the incorrect sections; the interrogator’s reactions when he realizes his mistake are also overplayed. I would have appreciated  a little subtlety throughout this scene.

An interesting character, Saltykov, has a ‘syndrome,’  which is mentioned ad nauseam.

I enjoyed the novel (and, although you cannot tell a book by its cover, the art is remarkable), but it didn’t strike me as a particularly brilliant work of literature. As I mentioned, Kim Stanley Robinson believes (stated, in an article for the New Scientist) that Yellow Blue Tibia should have won the Booker Prize in 2009 (won by Hilary Mantel, for Wolf Hall). In the article, he maintains that the novels that win tend to be ‘historical’ novels, which “…are not about now in the way science fiction is.” Robinson lists a few other science fiction novels that he believes could have won in previous years; I have only read one of the other books he mentioned (Air, by Geoff Ryman), and it is a novel that I think should have received more attention as a work of literature, but that is only my opinion, and — oddly — I’ve never been asked to participate in a Booker Prize panel.

I’m glad I read Yellow Blue Tibia; for the most part it was well written and I’ll probably try another of the author’s books.

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Retrospeculative View, 1985

Some of the notable short fiction of 1985:

Frederik Pohl’s Fermi and Frost, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1986)

Nancy Kress’s Out of All Them Bright Stars, which won the Nebula Award for the best short story

James Tiptree, Jr.’s The Only Neat Thing to DoFantasy_and_Science_Fiction_March1985

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars

John Crowley’s Snow

Harlan Ellison’s Paladin of the Lost Hour, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette

Robert Silverberg’s Sailing to Byzantium, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

William Gibson’s The Winter Market

Roger Zelazny’s 24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai, which won the Hugo Award for best novella

George R. R. Martin’s Portraits of His Children, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

 

Some of the films/Television from 1985:Brazil_DVDcover

Amazing Stories, a Steven Spielberg television show, similar in scope to The Twilight Zone.

Back to the Future, a lighthearted time-travel movie that became an integral part of pop culture and spawned two sequels.

Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s bizarre, but exceptional movie: a bureaucratic satire that is part slapstick, part totalitarian dystopia, part fantasy-daydream, and part love story.

Enemy Mine, a movie adaption of Barry B. Longyear’s 1979 novella.

 

Some of the notable novels of 1985:

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. I enjoyed the novel when it was published but, as I’ve aged, it has lost its charm (my daughter enjoyed it immensely, so perhaps it is best read when young). A movie version was released in 2013; it followed the story fairly well, but I think it worked much better as a novel.

Greg Bear’s Blood Music, a story dealing with transhumanism and the nature of consciousness. The protagonist, Vergil Ulam, is a brilliant scientist who injects himself with intelligent nano-organisms, which evolve within his body and are eventually capable of transferring to other humans. The end of humanity is certain, but the novel portrays an optimistic future with a new, improved species. This is a classic novel, and it is a foundation work for ‘wet’ nanotech fiction.

The Postman, by David Brin, expanded from his excellent novella, which had a tighter focus and didn’t require lengthening in my opinion. The story was adapted into a tedious movie (1997).

R. A. MacAvoy’s The Book of Kells, Based on the sublimely illustrated Book of Kells. The novel blends Celtic history, time travel and magic.

James Tiptree, Jr’s Brightness Falls from the Air. James Triptree Jr. was a pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon (she also wrote stories under the pen name Raccoona Sheldon). It was not generally known that her stories were written by a woman until many years after her first published stories, and she was instrumental in breaking sexist publishing barriers. Brightness Falls from the Air is well-written, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as her short fiction. The set-up was exceptional, and the plot was interesting, but I found some parts a bit manipulative, and the ending was disappointing. It is a work that has much to recommend, but I would more heartily recommend her short-story collection, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

Schismatrix_Plus_coverSchismatrix, a Bruce Sterling novel featuring his Shaper/Mechanist vision (he also wrote five short-stories using the same concepts). There are four intelligent species in the novel: Humanity, which has evolved due to genetic and technological alteration; the Gasbags, space-roaming beings; the Swarm, a consortium of species that are constantly altering their hive-like composition to better adapt to the rigors of deep space; and the Investors, huge, interstellar-travelling reptoids. The complete Shaper/Mechanist stories (the novel and the short-stories) are now available in a single volume, Schismatrix Plus.

Brian W. Aldiss’ Helliconia Winter, which is the final volume in the Helliconia trilogy ( Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983) and Helliconia Winter). Helliconia is a planet inhabited by two intelligent species; a species similar to humanity, and the phagor, a sentient bovine species. The real protagonist is the planet itself, and the trilogy is a fictional model based on the Gaia hypothesis.

Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali, which won the World Fantasy Award. I haven’t read this novel; it is a horror story, which is not my preferred genre (I do read an occasional horror story, but I tend to skip them unless something about it really intrigues me). In the Song of Kali, a journalist travels to Calcutta and becomes inextricably drawn in to strange, terrifying cult proceedings; the cult venerates Kali, Hindu Goddess of death and destruction.

Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin, who is one of my favorite authors, but I haven’t read this book! From the University of California Press: Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home is a major work of the imagination from one of America’s most respected writers of science fiction. More than five years in the making, it is a novel unlike any other. A rich and complex interweaving of story and fable, poem, artwork, and music, it totally immerses the reader in the culture of the Kesh, a peaceful people of the far future who inhabit a place called the Valley on the Northern Pacific Coast”.

Sekai no Owari to Hādo-Boirudo Wandārando by Haruki Murakami (Eng. Trans. 1991 by Alfred Birnbalm: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World). I think this is one of Murakami’s best (almost on-par with Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). This excellent novel is divided into two alternating views: the Hard-Boiled Wonderland, set in past-tense and in the ‘real’ world, and the End of the World, set in the present tense and possibly in a world that only exists deep within the protagonist’s mind.

And my pick for the Retrospeculative novel of 1985 is…

The Handmaiden’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and won the 1985 Governor General’s Award (Canada), and the Handmaid's_Tale_coverfirst Arthur C. Clarke Award (1987). As a Canadian, I find it a bit risky to admit this to the world, but this was the first of Ms. Atwood’s novels that I truly enjoyed. Her prose is consistently excellent; unfortunately, I rarely get drawn into her stories and find them a bit tedious (surely a lack in my intellectual maturation). The Handmaiden’s Tale is set in a dystopian, near-future America, which has been taken over by a racist, homophobic, moral-majority, the Sons of Jacob, who rename their claimed land the Republic of Gilead. Birth rates have declined due to sterility and the protagonist, Offred, is a concubine, a ‘handmaiden’, who is used by Fred (The Commander) as brood-stock. The novel is narrated by Offred (Of Fred), who has recorded events from her life as a handmaiden, as well as flashbacks to a time before the revolution that was launched by the Sons of Jacob. The story flows effortlessly, the character development is excellent, and the story is filled with tension. There are several disturbing sections, but a ribbon of hope runs through the plot.

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Retrospeculative View, 1984

Some of the notable short speculative fiction:asimovs_mag_june-1984

Gene Wolfe’s A Cabin on the Coast

Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette

David Brin’s The Crystal Spheres, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1985). Within the story, Brin presents a possible explanation for the Fermi Paradox

John Varley’s PRESS ENTER, which won the Hugo for best novella

George Alec Effinger’s The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything

Gardner Dozois’s Morning Child, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

Lucius Shepard’s Salvador, which won the Locus Poll award for Best Short Story and the SF Chronicle award for Short Story

Some of the movies and television of 1984:

The Transformers, the cartoon series that launched a franchise that is still spitting out movies.

Highway to Heaven, a fluffy, feel-good series about an angel that helps troubled people overcome difficulties.

2010, which wasbased on Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two, a sequel to the wonderful 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). 2010 was not as powerful as the original.ghostbusters_logo

Dune, based on Frank Herbert’s novel. Read the book.

Ghostbusters, a ‘paranormal’ comedy that was loved by critics and the general audience.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I loved the original series when it was first broadcasted (yes, I’m that old!), but I was never a fan of the movies.

Some of the notable novels of 1984:

Vernor Vinge’s Peace War, which is about a group of scientist who invent an apparatus that is capable of producing an impenetrable force field. The scientist use the apparatus to end warfare: a force field is produced around any group that endangers peace, and the scientists prohibit technological progress in a bid to maintain control. A group of rebels discover that the force fields are actually stasis fields; within the spherical fields, time is frozen. Additionally, the fields collapse after a specific time has elapsed. As usual, Vernor Vinge has created an intriguing story. The novel has two sequels: The Ungoverned (a 1985 novella), and Marooned in Realtime (a 1986 novel). Across Realtime is an omnibus edition that contains all three stories.

Octavia E. Butler’s Clay’s Ark, a book in her Patternmaster series (each book can be enjoyed as a stand-alone): Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay’s Ark (1984): the series is available in an omnibus edition, Seed to Harvest. The series depicts a secret history, beginning in ancient Egypt and extending into the far future and involves eugenics, an extraterrestrial plague (the clay ark disease), and telepathic mind control. It is interesting to study the evolution in the writer’s craft as the series develops.

Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, which won the BSFA Award and the world Fantasy Award (a tie). Mythago Wood began as a short story (1979), was expanded slightly to a novella (1981), and was eventually worked into a novel that spawned a series, the Mythago Wood cycle (aka the Ryhope Wood series). The novel is set in England, by a fictional forest (the Ryhope Wood), just after WW II. After recovering from injuries sustained in the war, Stephen Huxley returns to his childhood home where his older brother Christian now lives (both parents have passed away). The brothers had often seen mythagos in Ryhope Woods, but their father had told them they were only peripatetic gypsies. However, their father, George Huxley, had been secretly studying the woods, and he’d kept thorough records of his adventures. Christian followed in his father’s footsteps, and Stephen eventually realizes that the mythagos are real. It is a wonderfully rendered fantasy world; the prose paints enigmatic tones, and English, Celtic and Welsh mythology are woven into the tale. A classic.

neuromancer_coverWilliam Gibson’s Neuromancer, a cyberpunk novel that defined the genre: it was the first novel to win the Nebula, Hugo, and PK Dick Awards. The novel is the first book in the Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988)), and is set in the dystopian, criminal districts of Japan’s Chiba City. The story follows Henry Dorsett Case: at one time, he was a gifted computer hacker (a cowboy, a rustler), but as the novel begins, he has been reduced to a life as a bottom-feeding hustler because he had the audacity to cheat powerful people. Case is approached by Molly Millions (first introduced in Gibson’s short story Johnny Mneumonic); Molly is a street samurai, and is working as a mercenary for Armitage, a shady ex-military man. Armitage promises Case a pathway out of his dismal existence, but Case must successfully complete a hacking job first. The plot is trite and jarringly convoluted, but the writing is dense and exciting; Neuomancer may not seem revolutionary today, but it was instrumental in the explosive acceptance of a new sub-genre, which was dismissed as yesterday’s news by many writers shortly after it was born, yet still survives as a sub-genre thirty years later.

Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, which won the world Fantasy Award (a tie). Subtitled A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was, it is the first tale of Number Ten Ox, a robust young man and the story’s narrator, and Master Li Kao, who has a ‘slight flaw in his character.’ Hughart adapted several myths and events from China’s history (in particular, the tale of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl) into an enjoyable, well-written story that transports the reader to an alternate realm. The characters are wonderfully flawed, but likeable, and the imagery and ambience created by Hughart’s prose draws the reader into the pages of the novel. In a different year, this could easlily have been chosen as my Retrospeculative pick as the best novel. Hughart wrote two more Number Ten Ox novels that were almost as charming as this one (The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen).

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1984 brought exceptional novels by Vernor Vinge and Octavia Butler, two fantasy classics, and a seminal cyberpunk novel that won three major awards and I still haven’t declared my Retrospeculative novel for the year. What gives? The novel I’ve picked was mostly ignored by the award categories; the author had won awards for previous works, but I think the novel he wrote this year is his masterpiece;

Without further ado, my pick for Retrospeculative novel of 1984 is…

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany. IMHO this is Delany’s crowning achievement in science fiction; it is a brilliant work.

Delany_SIMPLGOS_coverTogether with Dhalgren (1975) and the Return to Nevèrÿon series (1979 – 1987), Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand represents, to me, Samuel R. Delany at the height of his speculative literate powers. I enjoy just about anything Mr. Delany writes, but Stars is a mature, literate work that has aged better than others; it is wonderfully written, and the immersion in alien worlds and culture is unlike anything else I’ve encountered (the Nevèrÿon saga — allegorical sword and sorcery— is somewhat comparable, but I found it more pedantic). Stars has many themes: cultural and social diversity as a function of hierarchical structure, gender, technology, the role of information on civilization, and sexuality (sex is a significant theme: if you’re prudish, or homophobic, you’d best give this book a pass). And it has an enchanting chapter about a dragon ‘hunt.’

Delany did a wonderful job with gender; sometimes it’s difficult, or impossible, to identify the sex of a character. All characters are referred to as she (her, woman, and womankind are also used) unless the person is sexually interesting to the protagonist, Marq Dyeth, who would then refer to the character as him or he. The terms male and female are used, but they are often insignificant to Marq, who is a male from an affluent family. Marq is attracted to certain other males (in particular, those with bitten, dirty fingernails, a Delany trope). Fairly deep into the story, Marq meets an underprivileged male, Rat Korga (first introduced in the novel’s lengthy prologue), who is Marq’s ideal erotic partner (how and why they meet is an important plot-point). Rat Korga was a slave on the planet Rhyonon, and he was the sole survivor when Rhyonon was destroyed (presumably by cultural fugue, which occurs when a civilization’s culture and technology spiral out of control).

It is a dense book, filled with  ponderings and descriptive prose: the plot doesn’t move along quickly, but the patient reader is rewarded by the prose and the story’s construction (as an interesting aside, Delany uses subscripts to denote the relative importance of job-related words: “Marq Dyeth’s vocation1is as a industrial diplomat1 between star systems, but when he returns to his family home he is a docent2for visiting dignitaries.”Apparently, the subscript convention is based on an aspect of Alfred Korzybski’s theory of general semantics: see the style section in thisWikipedia article for more information).

Delany had originally planned the story as a diptych, but the second book, The Splendor And Misery Of Bodies, Of Cities was never completed (Delany’s motivation withered because of two separate events: he and his partner (Frank Romeo) broke-up, and the AIDS epidemic began, impelling him to work on Nevèrÿon). Delany completed 150 pages of the draft for the second book in the diptych; however, because of conflicting priorities, he suspects that he will never finish it; nevertheless, as a brilliant work of fiction, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is able to stand on its own.

I didn’t find Stars too demanding, but I suppose some readers might find it dry and interminable: the novel is certainly not plot driven. Perhaps it is one of those novels that demand an acquired taste (a bit of postmodern between the covers), but I recommend it to readers who enjoy a immersive, literary, science fiction experience.

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Retrospeculative View, 1987

Some of the notable short fiction of 1987:

Orson Scott Card’s Eye for Eye, which won the Hugo for best novella

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Blind Geometer, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

Asimovs_July_1987

Asimov’s Magazine; July, 1987

Robert Silverberg’s The Secret Sharer

Pat Murphy’s Rachel in Love, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette

Kate Wilhelm’s Forever Yours, Anna, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers, which won the Hugo Award for best short story

 

TV/Movies of 1987:

Star Trek The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), a re-boot of the franchise. I wanted to like this TV series, and I gave it a good try, but it didn’t break much new ground, and even replayed many of the same themes supplied in the original series. There were a few moments that I found interesting, but I was never fully engaged in the series.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 – 1998). I’ve never been able to sit through an entire episode, but this cartoon became part of pop-culture.

Beauty_and_the_Beast

Hamilton & Pearlman

Beauty and the Beast (1987 – 1990). My wife watched this TV drama, and I managed to sit through several episodes, and it seemed like a fairly well-designed show, but I’ve never been able to enjoy a series that relied on an ongoing story-line. The series starred Linda Hamilton (of Terminator fame) as ‘beauty’ and Ron Pearlman (of Hellboy fame) as the beast.

The Princess Bride, a wonderful movie adaption of William Golding’s 1973 fantasy-romance.

Predator: Arnold Schwarzenegger battles an alien warrior.

Robocop, the first of a franchise.

Notable novels of 1987:

David Brin’s The Uplift War, which won the Hugo Award. I haven’t read this novel, but I read its predecessor, Startide Rising, which I really wanted to like, but didn’t care for it: it is a good genre novel, but I found it a bit unsophisticated (my snobbishness is showing through once more). If you enjoyed Startide Rising I’m sure you’d enjoy the Uplift War.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams, who described his book as a “…thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.” It was enjoyable, but not as clever as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Stanisław Lem’s Pokój na Ziemi (English Trans, Peace on Earth, by Elinor Ford with Michael Kandel, 1994). I haven’t read this novel, but I’ve read many other stories involving Ijon Tichy, and they are generally excellent.

Pat Murphy’s The Falling Woman, which won the Nebula Award. The protagonist, Elizabeth Butler, attempted suicide when she was a young woman; after her recovery, she was able to observe ancient Mayan spirits. As the story begins, Elizabeth is studying an archeological dig-site in Mexico. When her ex-husband passes away, Elizabeth’s estranged daughter travels to the site and the two women endeavor to reconnect. Elizabeth soon finds that a Mayan priestess is able to see and talk with her; the connection has the potential to provide Elizabeth with extremely valuable information, but the information Elizabeth desires will only be given to her if a sacrifice is made. Elizabeth must choose between the living and the dead. A very interesting, unusual novel.Card_Seventh_Son_cover

Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son, the first book in The Tales of Alvin Maker series, which is an early 19th century American alternate-history fantasy that uses superstition and folklore as the basis for magic elements. I enjoyed Seventh Son but, as the series progressed (six books so far), I thought the story ran out of steam: the plot seemed to progress very slowly and I became indifferent (note: OSC has also written two short-stories and a poem that tie into the story). There is one more book in the series that has not been published, Master Alvin, and I’ll probably read it for completeness, but I’m not clamoring for its release.

Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn, which is the first book in her Lilith’s Brood trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago). After a group of fanatics precipitate a nuclear war, humanity is all but wiped out. The only human survivors are saved by the oankali, an alien species with sensory tentacles covering their bodies. The oankali consist of three separate sexes (male, female, and ooloi), and they have mastered genetic manipulation. The novel — the entire trilogy — investigates sexuality, gender, visual prejudice, genetic engineering, and survival instincts.

Pat Cadigan’s Mindplayers, a cyberpunk novel that meanders with a dream-like quality. The novel depicts a society in which an individual’s personality can be modified; reworked, like software code. The ambling plot includes the use of drugs, computer-brain interfaces and telepathy-technology, to examine possible avenues of the human mind. Pat Cadigan has been labelled as The Queen of Cyberpunk, which is probably the easiest sub-genre to pigeon-hole her oeuvre into, but I think the bulk of her work could better be described as transhuman fiction. Her work explores the possible liaison of the human mind and technology, the effects that technological-enhancement could have on society for the pioneers that embrace modification, and for those who resist change.

Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers, a cyberpunk novel that was one of the first to use the term wetware. The protagonist, Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark, is a dead woman who escapes a ‘personality entertainment consortium’ by absconding with the body of another woman, Eucrasia Walsh. Eucracia rents out her body for wetware assessment and, although her mind is not in her body, dormant personality attributes awaken as Rebel escapes. Vacuum flowers are bio-engineered weeds that are able to live in space: Rebel finds work removing these weeds from the outer ports of canister worlds, artificial constructs that orbit the sun. Other intriguing ideas are the hive mind, The Comprise (which controls the Earth), and genetically engineered Dyson trees that grow in comets. The beginning of the book was a bit absurd, but the story grows into something quite grand. I’ve only read one other book by Swanwick (Stations of the Tide), but I think I’ll have to search for some of his other gems.

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. This novel created a sub-genre, the fantasy of manners (I read somewhere that the author referred to the novel as a “…melodrama of manners.”). I read the novel years ago (possibly shortly after it was published) and, although I didn’t love the story, it has stuck with me, probably because it was so different from the norm, the characterizations were excellent, and the descriptive prose painted an interesting and lucid picture. The novel was quite a departure from the archetypal fantasy I’d read previously: there are no magical elements (the action is set on a different world, or an alternate reality), and there is no ‘quest’ or other plot-point that is necessary to save the realm, empire, monarchy, or world. It is a story steeped in swordplay and passion; in particular, it is the tale of a swordsman’s love for another man: an unusual and interesting decision for a novelist of the time.

I’ve decided to roam outside my usual box to pick my Retrospeculative novel of 1987, which is…

Watchmen, by Alan Moore (writer), Dave Gibbons (artist), and John Higgins (colorist). So far, this is the only graphic novel that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Watchmen depicts an alternate reality, a representation of America in the 1980s that included the existence of superheroes who significantly altered the outcome of the Vietnam War and the political landscape of the United States (hence, the entire world). Although called ‘superheroes’, there is only one watchmen-covercharacter — Doctor Manhattan — with superhuman abilities (his powers are a result of an Intrinsic Field Subtractor experiment gone horribly wrong). The other characters have no superpowers: The Comedian, who is murdered in the first chapter; Rorschach, a vigilante who attempts to discover who murdered The Comedian (to hide his true identity, Rorschach wears a white mask with a shifting black pattern); Nite Owl, who utilizes owl-inspired machinery; Ozymandias, a genius who retired from the superhero trade to become a very successful entrepreneur; and Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan’s lover as the novel opens but Silk Spectre becomes involved with Nite Owl as the novel proceeds. The book is also peppered with chapters of back-story that contain more written word than graphic representation, including back-story on the previous generation of ‘superheroes,’ some insight into the interrelations between the characters, and the social and political atmosphere of the alternate reality.

As the story unfolds, America is progressing steadily closer to nuclear war with the Soviet Union (each chapter’s cover page includes a doomsday clock that represents how close the world is to nuclear annihilation: the first chapter shows the clock set at twelve minutes to midnight and each subsequent chapter shows the clock one minute closer to midnight. There are twelve chapters). The story is revealed in a non-linear narrative and the plot revolves around the relationships between the superheroes, the political climate, and the attempts to discover who murdered the Comedian.

There are countless visual symbols within the book; in particular, a blood-stained smiley face and many other shapes that mirror it (the bloody smiley face can also be seen as a representation of the doomsday clock). An interesting story-within-the-story portrays a comic book, Tales of the Black Freighter, one of the pirate comic books that became popular after the advent of superheroes within the social scene.

The art and the depth of story make this a fascinating foray into the realm of the graphic novel.

Watchmen has garnered acclaim both in the comic world and the mainstream press, and has possibly gained a higher degree of praise in mainstream circles. Watchmen was among Times list of the 100 Best English Language Novels published since 1923, and in 2009 Entertainment Weekly recognized it as # 13 on their list of the 50 best novels printed in the last 25 years, and Watchmen won a Hugo Award in the Other Forms category; interestingly, The Comics Journal ranked Watchmen quite far down the list (number 91) of best English-language comics of the 20th century.

Watchmen expanded the possibilities of the graphic novel and created serious interest from readers who wouldn’t ordinarily peruse a comic book.

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