Who Sent the Sentinels? — Andrew Rilstone
A short but brilliant analysis of Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s classic graphic novel Watchmen (see below). Rilstone peers at the original comics and the 2009 movie from many different angles, supplementing his observations and insights on these works with more general thoughts about comics derived from reading golden-age DC and silver-age Marvel.
What emerges is a profound but fragmented view on the whole Watchmen phenomenon, arrived at not by following a single careful train of thought but by the gradual accumulation of understanding from multiple perspectives and the progressive accretion of a synthetic view.
Rilstone’s analysis to some degree mirrors the structure of Watchmen itself, and does so with enough integrity and panache to make it work. It’s an invaluable companion to the comics, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves them (or the film).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — J. K. Rowling
Despite the superb character that is Dolores Umbrage in Order of the Phoenix, I found the book as a whole something of a place-holder. There is incident, but most of it relates to the tale being told right then rather than the over-arching story. As a result, you could cut out say 80% of Order of the Phoenix without harming the thread through the seven books.
Half-Blood Prince is not like that: it’s where the Potterverse gets serious again. Aside from the occasional digression into quidditch, pretty much everything that happens is directly relevant to the ongoing great battle with Voldemort and his disciples. The last third of the book, in particular, is absolutely packed with crucial plot development, to the point where it becomes a little breathless: not something that the later, longer Harry Potter books are often accused of. I will say nothing specific about the ending, in the hope of avoiding spoilers. but I do remember being legitimately shocked by the key development when I first read the book.
Watchmen — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
I re-read this on the heels of having re-read Andrew Rilstone’s critical analysis (see above), and it’s hard to overstate how brilliant this is. Watchmen is a quite dazzling work, fully deserving the reverence in which it is held, and well worthy of its place on Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list — the only graphic novel to make the list. This is, I think, the fourth time I’ve read it, and I kept on and on finding things I’d missed the previous three times. It’s rich.
Watchmen tells the story of a loosely affiliated group of costumed heroes in an alternative-history USA, set mostly in 1985 but with lots of flashbacks. In the “present”, we follow Nite Owl II, Rorschach, The Comedian, Silk Spectre II, Ozymandias, and Doctor Manhattan; and in the 1940s we follow an older group of their predecessors, including the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. Doctor Manhattan is the only one with superpowers: the others are just vigilantes with varying physical prowess, some of them with special equipment. The whole thing is impressively realistic, and fully delivers on the old Marvel Comics idea of heroes as real people. Alan Moore’s script and Dave Gibbons’ art sell the story, but more importantly sell us the characters, so that we can to some extent sympathise with every single character — even the “bad guys”. The climax of the story poses a genuine moral dilemma, with the fate of world at stake and a handful of damaged, complex characters trying to work out what to do about it all.
I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
Pro Git — Scott Chacon
A free book which I should have read seven years ago instead of whining about how git doesn’t do things they way I expect. If only I’d taken a few hours back then, I could have saved myself years of pointless frustration and confusion. Seriously, if you use git at all, then go and read this book now. You’ll thank me.
Only now do I grasp, for example, the core fact that there is only one branching and re-merging) history of all commits, and that all the so-called “branches” — including “remote branches” — are merely pointers into this one history. That makes a huge difference: for one thing, the notion of a remote branch on the local machine makes perfect sense.
The book is far from perfect: the prose is not great, and some of the chapters (“Git on the Server”, “Customising Git”, “Git and Other Systems”) were really a waste of my time. But the core of the book is informative enough to override these complaints. Chapters 2 and 3 (“Git Basics” and “Git Branching”) are key; chapter 5 (“Distributed Git”) was an interesting but inessential insight into ways of managing different git workflows on projects of different sizes; and chapter 10 (“Git Internals”), which I nearly skipped, turned out to be a revelation, helping to make sense of how it all fits together.
I will be re-reading chapters 2, 3 and 10 to make sure they sink in fully. I recommend those chapter to any software developer. (And while you’re there, you may as well read the rest of the book.)
Complete Future Shocks — Alan Moore (and various artists)
Having been fascinated all over again by Watchmen, I wanted to go back to some of Alan Moore’s earliest published comics, in this collected volume of his contributions to the British comic 2000 AD. (Despite the title, the collected strips are not only Future Shocks, which in fact make up only about 40% of the volume. The others include Time Twisters, the collected Abelard Snazz stories and some miscellaneous one-shots.)
This is the second time I’ve read the volume, but the third, fourth or even fifth time I’ve read some of the strips, as I had the original comics when they came out and re-read them every now and then.
As you would expect, these strips are of wildly varying quality. Some are simple vehicles for not very good puns (“The Clone Ranger”); some are appallingly dated, as in the strip where Abelard Snazz gives the Ares, Greek God of war, a “contemporary” rebranding as the God of Space Invaders machines. There is also some pretty flagrant plagiarism in there.
But there are places where Moore’s talent shines powerfully through. For example, there is a conceptually brilliant story, Eureka, in which a search for extraterrestrial life is successful, but the aliens that are discovered have no physical presence but exist only as ideas — as a mind virus. (We see the beginning of the specific idea: “If all time is simultaneous and all events happen in a single instant, then time is but a figment of mind and …” This of course is how Dr. Manhattan will see the universe three years later in Watchmen. (It’s hard to believe how much Moore progressed between 1983 and 1986; probably much of the apparent progress was simply due to the limitations imposed by 2000 AD’s short-story format: usually three or four pages, never more than six.)
Best of all, even in the context of a two-page story, the early Alan Moore can be genuinely emotional. I’ll leave you with One Christmas Day During Eternity, probably my favourite story in the volume. (Click through for full size.)
Now that is writing, whether in a kid’s comic or in Actual Literature.