HRSFANS Book Club – read-a-LONG up to our February 13, 2017 meeting: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, “Book One—The Boroughs.”
Reminder: proposal is now that the official Book Club plan for February 13, 2017 meeting be to discuss Jerusalem‘s “Book One—The Boroughs”: the first third of the book.
This post has a bit of plot spoilers clearly marked in the lower part of the heading “Authorial Intent.”
It has as much as I’ve got concept/perspective spoilers, based on content in the first two chapters of “Book Two—Mansoul.”
The beginning of “Book Two—Mansoul” reads like the actual second book in a series, with an overview of what you will have learned before about the characters being summarized in a “Thank you, Captain Exposition” manner.
The weird part is that “Book One—The Boroughs” reads NOTHING like the first book in a series (with the exception of the last chapter). “Book One” reads like a series of character sketches – not even a series of short stories, since nothing plot-related happens in most of them – just a series of “filling out the fictional world” bits for the author to have fun with. It’s like Seanan McGuire’s webpage of additional short stories in the InCryptid universe, except that those do have plot and are not published as if they, in aggregate, stand alone as a publication.
Honestly, having gotten through it now, I find it a pretty annoying way for Moore to have done things. Does he really have a big enough fan base and/or literary cred to get away with this? On only his second work actually published as a novel? Maybe so based on the tiny bits of reviews I saw on a Google search for Jerusalem, but in retrospect I would MUCH have preferred setting “Book Two—Mansoul” as our joint read. (NOT that I’m proposing that as a change at this point – we’ll totally go with what we’ve got.)
Partly I bring this up because over my time with Book Club I’ve learned that Ursula K. LeGuin can write complete novels full of plot and characterization in less than 200 pages, and even in only barely more than 100 pages. Genre authors just don’t DO that anymore, though my dad confirms that it wasn’t even unusual for ’70s SF. I don’t actually begrudge the additional time to read a Neal Stephenson or Nnedi Okorafor or Seanan McGuire novel, but it is starting to, well, annoy me. I’d like that as part of the discussion on Monday.
Life as book
I was TOTALLY right in Post 2 and Post 5 that though Jerusalem as a whole wasn’t written as if you were supposed to know all its parts already at any given point, it sometimes seems that way–and the first two chapters in MULTIPLE places confirm this is by design.
(Unlike in prior posts, I’m not going to name perspective characters or even chapter titles here for non-spoiler purposes: just know that each of these are paragraphs of dialogue.)
Only when we’re reading through the pages wizzle there be any order to ‘um. When the book’s shut, all its leaves are pressed together into paper inches that don’t really goo one way or t’other. They’re just there.
and, with greater detail –
Think of your life s being like a book, a solid thing where the last line’s already written when you’re starting the first page. Your consciousness is progressing through the narrative from its beginning to its end, and you become caught up in the illusion of events unfolding and time going by as these things are experienced by the characters within the drama. In reality, however, all the words that shape the tale are fixed upon the page, the pages bound in their unvarying order. Nothing in the book is changing or developing. Nothing in the book is moving save in the reader’s mind as it moves through the chapters. When the story’s finished and the book is closed, it does not burst immediately into flames. The people in the story and their twists of fortune are not disappeared without a trace as though they’d not been written. All the sentences describing them are still there in the solid and unchanging tome, and at your leisure you may read within the whole of it again as often as you like.
It’s just the same with life. Why, every second of it is a paragraph you will revisit countless times and find new meanings in, although the wording is not changed. Each episode remains unaltered at is designated point within the text, and every moment thus endures forever. Moments of exquisite bliss and moments of profound despair, suspended in time’s endless amber, all the hell or heaven any brimstone preacher could conceivably desire. Each day and each deed’s eternal, [redacted]. Live them in such a way that you can bear to live with them eternally.
I’m pleased about the “life as a book” quotes above also because they confirm that, as bizarre as this book is, Moore DID also write it to speak for itself, as in my opinion (inherited to a lesser degree from my father) fiction very much should. However, the first two chapters of Book Two—Mansoul also the bit I noticed in Goodreads Q&A page (“Ask the Author“), though, that Moore expects Jerusalem to become his most personal published work. It looks like he’s putting out not only what might very well be a fictionalized version of his own life and heritage (I say “might be” in that I’ve done not even any perfunctory searching into Moore’s history), but also his concept of a functional SF/F Grand Unifying Theory.
…[T]rees and certain other forms of plant life, they already have a structure that expresses perfectly a timeless life in more than three dimensions. Being motionless, the only movement is in their growth, which leaves a solid trail of wood behind in much the same way that we ourselves are leaving a long stream of ghostly images. The tree’s shape is its history, each bough of the curve a magnificent time-statue whih I can assure you that we folk Upstairs appreciate just as enthusiastically as do you humans.
As for pigeons they are not at all as other birds, and different rules apply to them. For one thing, their perceptions are five times as fast as those of people or most other animals. This means they have a very different sense of time, with all things in the world save them slowed to a crawl in their quicksilver minds. More interesting still they are the one of the only birds, in fact one of the only living creatures not a mammal, which can feed its young with milk. I don’t pretend to know exactly why the pigeon should be favored over all the other beasts in its relation to the higher realm, but I imagine that the business with the milk has got a lot to do with it. It probably enhances their symbolic value in the yes of management, so that they have a special dispensation to behave as psychopomps and flutter back and forth between the pastures of the living and the dead, something like that. I’m not sure what they’re for, but mark my words, there’s more to pigeons than most people think.
A few notes on those paragraphs
- The first paragraph matches one of my favorite parts in Doctor Zhivago:
He again thought that his notion of history, of what is known as the course of history, was not a all the same as the accepted one, and that he pictured it as similar to the life of the vegetable kingdom. In winter, under snow, the bare branches of a deciduous forest are as scraggly and pathetic as the hairs on an old man’s wart. In spring the forest is transformed in a few days, rises to the clouds; one can lose oneself, hide oneself in a leafy maze. The transformation is achieved by a movement that suprasses in speed the movements of animals, since animals do not grow as quickly as plants, and that can never be observed. A forest does not move; we cannot catch it, cannot surprise it changing place. We always find it immobile. And it is in the same immobility that we find the eternally growing, eternally changing life of society, history, in its unobservable transformations.
- In the second paragraph, each of these purported attributes of pigeons also matches something I’ve heard about insects: that the common housefly can see movement about 4 times as fast as a human, and that the tsetse fly has something pretty close to what humans recognize as a pregnancy and breastfeeding (which is SERIOUSLY GROSS). There’s a lot more to insects than we’d like to give them credit for, too, their capacities for agriculture and animal husbandry being my favorite “scare-the-pants-off-me” examples.
Another “Grand Unifying Theory” few paragraphs, which unlike the rest of this post has plot spoilers for Book Two, as well. I recognize these from such speculations as The Secret History of the World as Laid Down by the Secret Societies directly and am pretty certain is responsive to such authors as Blake and Milton indirectly –
You have to bear in mind that this was back before there was a time as we know it now, or a material universe of any sort. There wasn’t any trouble. Naturally, that didn’t last. It was decided higher up that part of the great being … should be pushed down to two or three dimensions to create a plane of physical existence. In effect, some of us were demoted from a world of naught but light and bliss into this new construction, this new realm of bodily sensation, of emotions and the endless torrent of delights and torments that those things entail. I’ll grudgingly admit that this disastrous reshuffle might well have been necessary, in some way that we who labored in the lower ranks were not aware of. Even so, it bloody hurt.
… what this whole new earthly plane had been created for. It turned out it was something called organic life. …
It is our hope that in a thousand or so mortal years we shall again attain the limitless, exalted state…. Mankind is the sole impediment to our ambitions. If we are to reach the highest realm from our current location in the lowest, then the middle realm must first be pushed up from below, ahead of us. If not, our one alternative is clawing our way through you, I’m afraid, should desire to ever see the sun again.
A last concept spoiler
Read the title of Book Two, “Mansoul,” as a compound word.
It’s called Mansoul because Mansoul’s its name. … I mean, you couldn’t give a thing a plainer label. It’s entirely self-explanatory and anyone with any sense would just accept it, although I can see you’re not included in that category.