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January 21, 2007


Bruce Baugh

Ah, I'm happy to see more talk of this, and particularly your attention to the reaching out - I think that one of the crucial themes of the book is that those who wish reality to be no more than suits them are always in the wrong, and that the beginning of truth is the turning outward from oneself. It's what makes people as diverse as Luther, Rose, and Fairfax all on their way to a wisdom that will escape others.

Jones, one of the Jones boys

"Karmic payback for The Matrix?"

Morrison's accusation of plagiarism always seemed like horseshit to me. Although there are some other commonalities between the Invisibles and the Matrix, the main thing they share is just an extended riff on Cartesian hyperbolic scepticism. Or, as any first-year philosophy student can ask, like, how do we know we're not massively deceived about the external world, man? So they're both "just" rip-offs of Descartes (via Philip K. Dick, I guess).

But "Arkright" is indeed the bomb.


I'm thinking less of the Cartesian skepticism (or Platonism), more of the iconography and plot structure: magic mirrors, the ritual of the white flame/"There is no spoon," the skyscraper initiation, the average-guy chosen one being inducted into the revolutionary cell by the bald-headed sunglassed badass, even the look of characters as comparatively minor as Jolly Roger or as transitory as the leather-wearing Ragged Robin. "Bloody Hell in America" would seem to be the main point of overlap, and there are too many commonalities to write them off as "horseshit." (Seriously, this from a guy who sees Freamon/Morgan Freeman??)

Jones, one of the Jones boys

That sound you hear is me eating my words...


I should add that I'm happy to see none of those things in Arkwright, which never doubts that the world is real--any of them.

Bruce (if you're still reading), I'd like to hear more about Harry Fairfax. It seems like the story rejects the wisdom he initially offers Arkwright--hedonism licensed by absolute cynicism about the ability of anyone in the human race to amount to anything. But when Firefrost hits Arkwright with its illusions (remind anyone else of Dane and the Archon in "House of Fun"?), Fairfax's cynicism helps see him through. He must give Arkwright something of value, which makes him more than just another version of Elric's earthy sidekick, but I'm still not quite sure what. Any thoughts?

Bruce Baugh

Marc, I'd say that Fairfax is a guy headed in the right direction, just with more to learn. That's one of the things about Talbot's work in general - there are these gradations. He's not about to hit satori or anything, but neither is he living in his own head like most of the leading royalists and puritans (and at least some of Zero Zero's rulers, too). Onew ay of looking at it is that he has enough sense to disbelieve the illusions offered him, even though he hasn't yet found anything else, and of course disbelieving illusions is exactly what Arkwright needs later.


Revisiting the novel, I see that in their second scene together (the one with the Hogarthian splash page of the Maze) Harry's misanthropy masks a genuine question--what is the purpose of life? It's Arkwright who says there is none, that life is just a chemical accident (most likely in keeping with the doctrine of Zero Zero, whose only oaths are the names of scientists and materialists). He's the one who appears to be devoid of illusions--in their first scene he literally calls bullshit on Harry's belief in demonic possession. Maybe Harry isn't quite the cynic he thinks he is (The narrator later calls him "a self-styled realist"). When Arkwright rejects Firefrost's first illusion, he does so because its disdain for humanity reminds him of Harry's rant about "maggots"; Arkwright's response, "Bullshit," is a callback to his earlier dismissal of Harry's superstition. So Harry works almost as a negative example of the cynicism and superstition Arkwright has to overcome--Zero Zero materialism sees him through.

And yet there's something likeable about Harry. He's endured a shitty life (easy to see why he might think all of humanity, himself included, are maggots) and he still keeps going, surviving encounters that get Arkwright captured or killed and always staying one step ahead of the Puritans. His cynicism, even if it is half posture, is a refreshing alternative to all the people who are too wrapped up in their ideologies to assess the world honestly or practically (including Zero Zero councillors who debate the moral suitability of the Ragnarok program while the multiverse collapses around them). And in the end, a bit of Fairfax cynicism helps Arkwright through the second illusion, the false monk with the false promise of victory and enlightenment ("If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him"). Harry seems like someone who secretly believes life must have a purpose, he just hasn't found it yet; his cynical bravado is alternately useful and misguided, although by novel's end Arkwright has outgrown it, along with much of his old self.

Bruce Baugh

Harry has two obvious qualities in his favor: he's funny, and he's brave. The exchange "How dare you fart before His Majesty?" "Sorry, didn't know it was 'is turn" is the sort of thing lots of readers might wish they had the chutzpah to say. Certainly I do. And he's out there risking life and limb for a cause he's committed to even as he continues to doubt that he or anyone else is more than a biochemical automaton, which reminds me of the sort of heroism Camus talked about, and lived out.

Charles Hatfield

Damn, now I have to get the collected _Arkwright_.

I've read two or three scattered periodical issues, fished from cheapie bins at comic shops over the years, but never got in at the start, so the swirling complexity of the story sort of dead-armed me. As a result I've never essayed the thing from start to finish. But I've been waiting eagerly for Talbot's pending "Alice," and have taught the very ambitious _One Bad Rat_, to good effect, so it doesn't take much to convince me that _Arkwright_ deserves a thorough, attentive read.

Plus, the Moorcockian elements are like "old home week" to me. :)

Looking forward to getting the new model _Arkwright_.

What say you with regard to _Heart of Empire_?


Still waiting for Dark Horse to pump out the new edition... I've heard it isn't as good, but Arkwright sets the bar so high that the sequel can fall short without disappointing. And I'm glad there is a sequel, since Talbot paints the political situation so ominously at the end of Arkwright.

Bruce Baugh

Heart of Empire isn't as good as the original, but it is still mighty damn good, and the payoff is entirely worthy despite what felt like a bit of a slog getting there sometimes.

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