(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910
By Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Top Shelf (US) / Knockabout (UK)
It's no secret that I'm a slavish fan of Alan Moore, creator of seminal comic after seminal comic over the last thirty years, including Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and a lot more; and of everything he's now done, perhaps none have been greater simply in terms of sheer delight than his current series, the now four-volume-spanning League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which during its first two story arcs told a series of endlessly inventive steampunk tales set in an alt-history British Empire, featuring a team of secret agents comprised of the best genre characters of the entire Victorian era (including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Allan Quartermain and more), which then in volume three expanded the history of this shadowy government organization into centuries past, giving Moore the chance to work his witty revisionist magic on such 18th-century fictional characters as Lemuel Gulliver and the like.
And now we have part one of the latest LoEG story arc, entitled Century, which will span a total of three related yet standalone 72-page books over three years, each of them set in a different period of the 20th century but telling one curiously connected uber-story; this first manuscript is set in 1910, and gives hints that it will cover similar ground to From Hell, the idea that the city of London is covered with semi-magical power nexuses where events of importance happen to occur throughout history over and over. And indeed, now that Moore is finally out of his troubled partnership with DC's Wildstorm, and now putting out Century in about as creatively free a way possible short of self-publishing, he has apparently professed relief in public that the series no longer has to follow the "boys' adventure serial" nature that we've seen in previous arcs, and that he's looking forward to telling a longer story with subtler points that takes its time in getting told; but after now reading Century: 1910, I've come to realize that it was the adventure-serial nature that made me love LoEG in the first place, and that something vital now seems to be missing without it.
I mean, it doesn't help that Moore picks much more obscure and simply less interesting figures from British literature this time to serve as our main characters (Thomas Carnacki? A.J. Raffles? Oliver Haddo? Really?), and that two of the characters are simply non-canonical children of previous team members, having not much of personalities of their own but rather pale shadows of their parents; and it also doesn't help that this entire book feels like a giant exposition-heavy Act One for a more exciting story yet to come, which won't matter once the collected 220-page graphic novel is out in 2012, but is kind of infuriating right now, in that we all now have an entire year to wait until volume two. A rare disappointment from Moore, although undoubtedly a project which will be much more enjoyable once finally finished and bound into a single book.
Out of 10: 7.7
Thank You, Death Robot
Edited by Mark Brand
Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror
Edited by S.T. Joshi
It's true that I don't much care for story collections, although I do have a softer spot in my heart for the related story compilation format; and I just had a chance to read two better-than-average ones, actually, Mark Brand's Thank You, Death Robot and S.T. Joshi's Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. Both are similar in set-up, a couple of respected genre authors being asked to assemble a collection of stories by other respected genre authors, all on a similar theme, with Brand's (a Chicagoan who I recently had the pleasure of meeting) being all about evil robots, and Joshi's (from our pals at PS Publishing) consisting entirely of tales inspired by either the style or mythos of HP Lovecraft; and that's why in general I tend to like compilations like these more than just random story collections by a single author, because at least these stick to one unified idea, and often try to reach an equilibrium of quality as well. Of course, that doesn't stop the trait from being there that I dislike so much in story collections, that the pieces found within tend to veer all over the place in both tone and length -- some are classical homages to their main subject, some ironic modern twists, some not much more than a short bad joke, others little novellas unto themselves. They're both excellent for what they are, and come highly recommended to existing fans of the subjects, but also deftly illustrate why I tend to do only short, non-committal reviews of such collections, in that I find it hard to say much more about them and have it remain true for the entire book.
Out of 10: 8.4
Explosions, Fires, and Public Order
By Sarah Pickering
Back when I was a photography major in '80s Missouri, it was Aperture's clever magazine-books that nearly single-handedly kept me in the know as to the latest in the contemporary art world; and I'm happy to say that the organization is still going strong, and that I recently received from them their latest publication, a hardbound catalog of four recent exhibitions from British neo-realist Sarah Pickering, entitled Explosions, Fires, and Public Order. Designed to coincide with Pickering's first major museum show (at the Museum of Contemporary Photography here in Chicago), it showcases the author's efforts over the years to document a series of public-safety exercises held by various London emergency service units, such as for example highly formal landscape images of a fake neighborhood called Denton constructed by London police, to help train officers to deal with things like riots and acts of terrorism. These cold, precise portraits of such cartoonishly minimalist training grounds is enough to turn the whole thing into a Fascist Deco dream, like what you might imagine Albert Speer thinking about at night while in bed; and along the way, they collectively have a lot to say about our current police-state times, and of the rapidly more blase manner we now treat explosions and other large-scale disasters. I encourage all locals to check out the show at the MCP, running from April 9th through June 20th, or at least pick up the book if living outside of the Chicago area.
Out of 10: 9.1