I've just reacquainted myself with Joe Haldeman's anti-war sci-fi classic The Forever War. First published in 1974 the book tells the story of William Mandella, one of the first conscripted troops to be trained and thrown at an alien race the expansionist human race has encountered unimaginable distances from Earth. After his first tour of duty, lasting two years, Mandella returns to Earth to a home that has advanced by a decade due to the relativistic nature of long distance space travel. The alienation and disconnection with the world he returns to echoes Haldeman's own experiences of returning home from his tours in Viet Nam. As more time passes, Mandella becomes more divorced from the human race as a whole, compounding the meaningless of conflict to preserve a race he no longer identifies with. It's all cleverly written, leading the reader to consider the nature of war and man's relation to it. He explodes the glorification of war and all its cliches one by one, bringing the act of war down to something mechanical with its human components as mere specialised cogs in the machine. The book won the Nebula, Hugo & Locus awards which is no mean feat considering the hot bed of sci-fi talent operating when The Forever War first appeared. Ridley Scott is said to be interested in bringing the book to the big screen.
I'm in one of those in between periods of the year. I'm not finishing anything worth writing about, nor am I starting anything. This part of the year sometimes gets me that way. The autumn has mostly wrapped up barring the last of the migrations and the winter keeps poking at me saying, "I'm coming, just you wait." Recently it poked so hard it whipped up a storm powerful enough to blow the dome off the top of one of our local landmarks - Darwen Tower - perched up on the heights of the Darwen Moors. My trips out have been like the snowbound mouse from last Christmas, nipping out into the cold to search for a crumb of sustenance and then darting back into the warmth to my cozy nest. I know I should look up more, or scrub the condensation off the windows and let the world give me something, some inspiration or spark, but it's only when I'm sat here thinking of something to write, to prove I'm still here, that I realise that I didn't.
Ah, the autumn. The wonderful colours, the spectacle of migrating birds, the.... damn it's so dark... and so wet.... and windy... and I'm coughing again... and my nose is running again... and is this a cold... please don't be flu... or octopus flu... or whatever the hell is coming next. Anyway - the autumn... isn't it great? It's out there and I'm in here reading my comics again. This time it's Gerard Way's comic book debut with the remarkable first collection of The Umbrella Academy written when he was still on the road with My Chemical Romance deep in a world Black Parade tour. Well before he rose to fame as part of a successful rock band Gerard began writing and drawing comics. It would be easy to dismiss this book before reading it, thinking that the only reason it succeeded was on the back of MCR's popularity but a lot harder to maintain such an opinion after you finish the first issue. No mean feat considering the first issue is titled The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk, which you might think is some kind of oblique metaphor but no .... the Eiffel Tower does really go berserk, striding about Paris shooting laser beams with only a bunch of weird kids calling themselves the Umbrella Academy the only thing standing in its way. After such an incredible first issue come the remaining 5 issues, mainly featuring the adult incarnation of the Academy after their break-up. It's completely bonkers, full of wit and creativity but still very grounded with strong characters and an off kilter plot. Gabriel Ba's off-centre art brings to mind Hellboy artist Mike Mignola but with a rougher edge that suits the narrative perfectly. The wonderful James Jean covers are all here too. The collection is completed with some pre-launch publicity shorts and some early character and concept art which features Gerard Way's original drawings. He's actually a very good comic book artist in his own right but obviously he wouldn't have been able to find the time to be front man of MCR and do more than script the series.