Book Review: Illuminations, by Alan Moore

This week, I’m reviewing the new short story collection from the living legend that is Alan Moore. Illuminations promises much, but does it deliver? Read on to find out!

From the Waterstones website:

The first collection of short fiction from legendary comic book writer Alan Moore.

Illuminations is a momentous, wildly original collection of short stories from ‘the king of comics’ (the Guardian), each featuring some kind of illumination or realisation.

From the four horsemen of the apocalypse to the Boltzmann brains fashioning the universe at the Big Bang, Alan Moore’s beguiling and exquisitely crafted tales reveal the full power of imagination and magic.

In the world of comics, there are few – if any – writers as highly regarded as Alan Moore. And with good reason. Who else has a career that includes the likes of undisputed masterpiece Watchmen, the revered reinvention of Swamp Thing and the phenomenal The Killing Joke? And that’s not even close to being all of his celebrated works. Recent years have found him falling increasingly out of love with the comics industry, culminating in his apparent retirement from it. Whilst this is undoubtedly a sad loss for comics, it’s a victory for fiction. With 2016’s Jerusalem, Moore showed he still had plenty of stories he wanted to tell. Nine of those stories are collected in Illuminations, and it’s fair to say that he shows no sign of creative burnout any time soon. 

Both Moore’s desire to experiment with how we tell stories and his creative genius are repeatedly demonstrated across this collection. In The Improbably Complex High-Energy State, we get Moore’s take on the Boltzmann brains theory of creation, and it’s genuinely hilarious. Title story Illuminations is more reflective, brimming with nostalgia and dwelling on the unreliability of memory, while other stories send shivers down the spine. Opening tale Hypothetical Lizard is ingeniously constructed and perfectly executed; to go too much into detail over it would spoil its dark surprises, but suffice to say it’s an incredibly strong opener. Moore’s ability to inhabit his wildly different characters with consummate ease ensures each story is possessed of a singular and unique voice; that he can be so playful and experimental with the form at the same time continually elevates this collection to new heights. 

Central to the collection is the novel-length story What We Can Know About Thunderman, where a world very much like our own has its own comics industry with plenty of sharply observed parallels. Rival publishing houses Massive and American have spawned a raft of beloved characters, just like Marvel and DC, with the fictional pair’s fortunes dictated by interfering propagandists, government and developmentally arrested man-children. One could almost think that Moore has an axe to grind. Crossover events are treated with withering scorn, with both Secret Invasion and Crisis on Infinite Earths clearly referenced. Characters in this fictional world are satirical send-ups of the likes of Superman, the Avengers and the X-Men (to name just a few), with the personalities who create or oversee them presumably references to real-world industry professionals too. Across its twenty chapters, Moore eviscerates the comic book industry utterly, sometimes with horror, sometimes with humour, always with flair.

Bold, playful, hilarious and horrifying, this is a fantastic demonstration of what can be achieved by a skilled writer in just a few pages. Every story in Illuminations is wholly unique and stands perfectly alone from its companions; added together, they make up a very special collection indeed.

Illuminations is published by Bloomsbury, and is out now.

Currently reading: Embers of War, Gareth L. Powell
Currently listening: Arson, Harakiri for the Sky
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