In which we veer slightly off-piste

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!

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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25 Responses to In which we veer slightly off-piste

  1. Cath Ennis says:

    I haven’t read The Watchmen properly, but I did flick through a copy that my husband borrowed from a colleague (he worked on the upcoming movie, and the sets look amazing). The artwork is very striking – I would have liked to read it properly, but we had to return the book to the art department after only a couple of days.
    Mmm, Christmas present for him maybe? There’s a thought…

  2. Maxine Clarke says:

    My husband enjoyed This Thing of Darkness, I gave it to him for Christmas a year or so ago – the twin themes of science and sailing would be irresistable, I thought. I think he enjoyed it – I’ll have to see if he wants to apply to join your January salon!

  3. Maxine Clarke says:

    Shocking! Irresistible.

  4. Stephen Curry says:

    I am finding The Watchmen a bit intense, though I agree with you that some of the story-telling is quite clever. Apparently the movie is out next year…
    By the way Jenny – I think you mean the 12th Jan for the Fiction lab (and the RI link appears to be mis-firing – why do they have such a useless web-site?).
    Looking forward to Jan – I thoroughly enjoyed This Thing of Darkness. Would be good to have some fresh blood in the salon…

  5. Åsa Karlström says:

    Jenny> If you would like to give another adult Comic a go I can recommend Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It’s a bit different from The Watchmen…* and maybe Preacher or V for Vendetta .
    Or, if you’d rather read a adult comic that is reality based “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. A really intriguing story about her life in Iran/Persia growing up, and a fair bit of dry humour.
    *I never really caught on to this one. Maybe I should try again?!
    Cath> That thing with your husband building all these sets for movies makes me green with envy 😉 I am just happy that I can read more about those opening parties… and drinks and all the other fringes 🙂

  6. James Aach says:

    FYI: Received my copy of experimental heart today direct from CSHLP, in a plain brown wrapper in a plain brown box. Covers and inside printing look fine and I have determined the text is in English.

  7. Richard P. Grant says:

    And.. I’ll be there. Woohoo!

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    conforms to the usual boffin stereotype of aloof, inhuman and slightly out-of-control experimenter
    You see, before the accident, he was quite a normal guy though, even if a tad obsessive and driven. He was falling in love and all that kind of normal human stuff. It was only after he became inhuman that he started being stereotypical, I think.

  9. Jennifer Rohn says:

    As if there wasn’t already enough hot air in the room.
    I think the only thing that is making The Watchman bearable to me is that it’s so meta — it’s about washed-up masked adventurers. At one point someone is reading a comic and that character is shown in old-fashioned Worholesque dotted coloring. Because it’s sending itself up, it doesn’t take itself so seriously as a work of art. I’m not so sure I could stomach something trying to be a bit more serious about itself.

  10. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Our posts crossed, Richard.
    I don’t really agree with the before assessment — he seemed to be the classic painfully shy geek to me. Although he did manage to bed the lady in the end, so that was a plus.

  11. Ian Brooks says:

    Alan Moore is God. Damn anyone who says otherwise.
    Now, that’s your review done, what’s next?

  12. Richard P. Grant says:

    We could review the service at Black’s… I don’t think Tania ever did get that glass of water.

  13. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Brooks! You’re alive! What news of NdGT?

  14. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Damsel in distress:
    If anyone is still reading this thread, I’ve worked out why the RI links aren’t working. They contain the character ‘&’, but NN’s platform keeps rendering this as ‘&amp’, which makes the link non-functional. Does anyone know a way around this problem?
    E.g. Should be:
    But when I upload the revised post, it comes out as
    Any ideas??

  15. Karen James says:

    Well then, how very convenient that just last week I borrowed This Thing of Darkness from my library.
    scurries off to fiction lab website to get the scoop

  16. Karen James says:

    Oh geez, I didn’t mean to bolden that text; c’mon Nature Network webmasters, don’t you know people use asterisks to indicate action?

  17. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Karen, I thought you were too ill to go to the theatre, so why are you breathing germs into my humble salon?
    Go to bed!

  18. Heather Etchevers says:

    @Asa – ditto all that! Especially Sandman and Persepolis.
    For those of you who don’t like too much text with their graphics, Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival” is absolutely stunning.

  19. Karen James says:

    Jenny, I am in bed. You see, there’s these modern thingies called laptops…

  20. Jennifer Rohn says:

    It’s official: it’s not possible to use links here that contain the character ‘&’. ‘&’ is being replaced with ‘&’ rather than ‘&’, which breaks the URL link.
    I’ve reported the bug and hopefully they will fix it. Meanwhile, you can just go to the RI main site and navigate to find the Christmas lectures and details about the Fiction Lab.
    p.s. Karen, you missed an interesting play. It had a lot of problems but also a lot of good points. I hope you are feeling better!

  21. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hey Jenny, are you going to review the play for us…?

  22. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Bill is reviewing it, should go live this evening!

  23. Tom Hopkinson says:

    i thought that & should work. but you could try using ‘%26’ to replace the ampersand – works in my browser..

  24. Tom Hopkinson says:

    by the way, if you want to write &, you need to type & as otherwise it just gets coded as an ampersand, which is why both your links look the same in the comment.
    Monday is Nerd Day.

  25. Richard P. Grant says:

    And Tuesday is “when are we going to get that decent blogging platform they keep promising us?” day.