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Graphic Novel Round-up: Beginnings and Endings

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black DossierThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (Moore): The first two volumes of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are pure, unadulterated brilliance. Moore is simultaneously at his most clever and his most welcoming - creating two adventures that both comic book lovers and comic book newcomers could enjoy. His spectacular literary wiles made for rewarding stories, more than ably backed up by the terrific art and coloring.

Unfortunately, with The Black Dossier, Moore relinquished his hold on accessibility and succumbed to the peculiar arrogance that occassionally takes hold of great writers.

While the rest of the series challenged and rewarded the reader, this volume spirals into vanity, madness and despair. Moore relies on world-building instead of character development - a mistake that he warns against in his own essays on writing for comics. The error is compounded further - the majority of the book is so wildly experimental and devoid of plot as to completely alienate the reader.

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Underground Reading: The Man with the Golden Torc by Simon Green

The Man With the Golden Torc The Man With the Golden Torc (2007) is the first volume in Simon Green's latest series effort. Ostensibly an occult/modern fantasy pastiche of James Bond, the book quickly degenerates into a depressing regurgitation of Green's previous plots and characters.

Although he consistently designs and populates creative worlds, Green has a tendency to escalate  the action in his books to a feverish pace. In some cases, this makes for an intense, cinematic read. However, in many others, his hastily contrived plots and paper-thin characters can't keep up.

Too often his books resolve in a scenario where everyone runs around finding bigger and bigger guns (with grim-sounding names in Capital Letters), only for everything to be neatly resolved with a Power that Was Inside All Along.

The Man with the Golden Torc falls into the latter category. And is further damned by the unfortunate fact that Green brings nothing new to the book. The lead characters - male and female - are simply rehashed from previous series. The plot, with its so-called 'twists and turns', is unfortunately predictable, as the same villains, traitors and secret allies are lifted whole-heartedly from previous Green stories.

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From Pornokitsch tipster Pete:

"There's a book fair on 16 May and last time I went there were loads of old Penguins. It's at St Giles - the old church stranded in the Barbican. At the same time there's a glorious concert given by organ scholars who use the massive church organ. The music starts at 15.30 but I bet the fair begins earlier [11am]."

Barbican + Organ music + old paperbacks.

Don't forget that the Pornokitsch events page is updated continuously. Are you in London and like books, comics and geekery? Check it out. And if you're in London and running something bookish, comicish or geekish, let us know.

Underground Reading: The Day New York Went Dry by Charles Einstein

The Day New York Went Dry The Day New York Went Dry (1964) is a Fawcett Gold Medal original, and the lone novel, by Charles Einstein. The brilliant Gold Medal brand (yellow spine = buy, buy, buy) is taking a plunge in this book, with an offbeat, blackly comedic, science thriller about drought hitting New York City. 

Far from a strangely-premised John Wyndham apocalyptic thriller, The Day New York Went Dry has a simple idea at its heart. Low rainfall plus high water consumption adds up to a very thirsty city. 

Einstein is good at getting simple, environmental messages across without making them sound like lectures as well. By the third chapter, the reader know where water comes from, where it goes, and why the industrial world is starting to look a little parched. 

The book's hero is Don Marlowe - a wise-cracking journalist with political connections, a liver of iron and a certain disheveled sex appeal. 

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Underground Reading: Mordant's Need by Stephen Donaldson

Mordant's Need is a two-volume series published by Stephen Donaldson. The first volume, The Mirror of Her Dreams, was published in 1986 and the conclusion, A Man Rides Through, in 1987. 

Mordants Need Donaldson has never shied away from writing challenging genre fiction. 

His lengthy Thomas Convenant series has been captivating and/or alienating readers since 1977. In science fiction, Donaldson's Gap series was five volumes of terrifyingly brutal 'space opera', loosely based on Wagner's Ring Cycle. And, not to leave mystery untouched, under the pseudonym of Reed Stephens, Donaldson created the self-destructive, alcoholic private eye Mick Axbrewder.

Mordant's Need is, compared to the rogue's gallery above, probably the most accessible thing that Donaldson has ever written. 

The books are superficially high fantasy, with all the appropriate trappings of the genre. The protagonist is Terisa, a lonely woman from the 'real world'. She is drawn into a magical realm where she meets Geraden, a lowly apprentice with a heart of gold. The two discover that they have great sorcerous powers and are just what the Mysterious Prophesy required. The land is saved, etc. etc.

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Goodbye, Mr. Ballard

J.G. Ballard passed away yesterday, at age 78. 

Although most famous for his literary fiction like Empire of the Sun and Crash, Ballard also created some haunting dystopian science fiction in The Drowned World, Concrete Island and many of his short stories. He was never afraid of literary experimentation - or controversy - as shown in his work for Ambit and other edgy magazines and journals.

Mr Ballard was also a good speaker and very polite to fans at signings. Small things, but they make a big difference in how he is remembered. To this fan, at least.

Graphic Novel Round-up: New & Old Europe

Largo WinchThree graphic novels with European connections - the English occultist John Constantine in Hellblazer: Freezes Over, a French take on Victorian crime in Green Manor II: The Inconvenience of Being Dead and globe-trotting action in Largo Winch: The Dutch Connection.

Hellblazer: Freezes Over (Azzarello / Frusin / Dillon / Davis) collects three story arcs in Brian Azzarello's run on the famous London occult detective. The collection takes place midway through Constantine's travels across America. In all three stories, Constantine serves more as the catalyst than the protagonist - a type of narrative device that will be familiar to Azzarello's work on 100 Bullets. All three stories share a similar structure as well - an establishing set-up with the non-Constantine characters, the introduction of Constantine as an agent of change and a mysterious 'twist' ending that leaves some mystery alive for the future. 

Individually, all three of the stories (especially the title one - "...Freezes Over") are pretty good. However, as a collection, it becomes a little repetitive. Three story arcs, each straight out of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, each with an unresolved mystery. This is too much of a good thing, and just changing artists isn't enough to disguise it. 

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New Releases: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Although a PR blitz has made Pride and Prejudice and Zombies one of the most anticipated (or reviled) releases of the year, the secret to its success is a simple, easily explained concept. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Pride and Prejudice... and... zombies. The most popular classic romance of all time, plus the undead. 

In all fairness, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies probably took three hours to write. Two hours of which was spent with tequila, forty-five minutes eating cheese-flavored snacks and fifteen minutes programming a find & replace macro into Microsoft Word. For Pride and Prejudice and Zombies really is just Pride and Prejudice... with zombies.

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Underground Reading: The Blue Ants by Bernard Newman

The Blue Ants The Blue Ants (1963) is a 'history' of the Sino-Soviet War of 1970 (no, that never happened). Narrated as a dry research paper, the book recounts the events leading up to the explosive conflict between the two Communist powers. 

The book is intentionally dry - almost entirely featuring nations as the abstracted protagonists. The one individual to gain any real attention is Feng Fong, the Napoleon-obsessed Chinese dictator with dreams of world domination. Feng Fong is totally devoid of sympathy. When the reader is introduced to him in the early pages of The Blue Ants, he is revising his own memoirs and changing allegiances. Later, he grows into a ruthless political adversary, assassin and Machiavellian monster. His ambition and cunning are both admirable, but the man himself is a right bastard.

If any hero exists in The Blue Ants, it is military technology. The author stops short of salivating over individual pieces of equipment, but gushes effusively over tactical maneuevers. Cavalry charges are emoted with lavish intensity and Newman's descriptions of anti-rocket jamming technology are near-pornographic. 

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