The bad news is that The Royal Institution has unceremoniously booted the Fiction Lab (our monthly science novel book club) out of its august halls for the entirety of December, during which the famous Christmas Lectures take precedence. The good news is that one of our number has organized a ‘rogue fiction lab’ instead – off site, and indeed completely off the lab lit mission statement.
So it is that tomorrow a group of us will be meeting in a private supper club in Soho to pick apart The Watchman, a classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
I used to devour comics as a child, but this is my first attempt at an adult graphic novel. I will admit it took a long time for me to warm to this book. The art, though striking, is a bit odd (too small of a head-to-body ratio, chiefly). There is a great deal of informative dialogue, and I thought the prose excerpts, though expertly written, were cheating a bit. Still, though I’m only halfway through, I’m definitely now sucked in. There are wonderful touches: intriguing flashbacks, flashforwards and other tricks with time and transition, and a dark streak of melancholy insightfulness that stays with you. The sole scientist character (Jon Osterman, a.k.a. Dr Manhattan) conforms to the usual boffin stereotype of aloof, inhuman and slightly out-of-control experimenter, but he is three-dimensional in other ways. Meanwhile, the creators of this story have a lot of things to say about the role of science in society.
Normal Fiction Lab service will resume in January (on the 12th) with This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, a novel about the voyage of the Beagle told from the eyes of Captain Fitzroy. Just in time for Darwin 2009!