I’m feeling very mixed about this one, and would ideally give it three-and-a-half stars. So, let me start off by listing pro and con.
I liked the stuff about alien languages and words that have hidden content programmed into their sounds. Okay, it’s clear that Grant Morrison knows about as much about linguistics as I do about American Football, but it’s still a nice idea. Though it was rather better handled by Phil Dick in VALIS. In fact, as a fan of Phil’s work, I was happy to see the repeated invocation of his ideas, such as the Great Iron Prison, etc. And thinking of references, in a link that would have appalled Phil, the linkage to H P Lovecraft, though inevitable, was nicely done.
Another good bit is definitely the art work; the use of deliberately varying styles is very appropriate and, at times, screamingly funny. There is always, indeed, a good amount of wit in the text, so even when one is feeling utterly confused by the extremely disjointed narrative (not that I was, it’s reasonably easy to find one’s way about) the crackling wit keeps one going. And the pace is definitely kept up: reaching the climax there was definitely a non-stop feel to the piece (even if the content disappointed on subsequent consideration).
But back to the point, the idea that there is secret knowledge coded in our minds that ‘they’ have hidden from us and that we must recover is not original, but was nicely handled, except that . . .
. . . it didn’t really go anywhere, so we had interesting ideas galore and intriguing plot-threads that got lost or were dismissed in a ‘and with one bound he was free’ kind of way. So, for example, the whole thing about secret languages fizzled, apparently having existed only to be used in one, largely incidental, minor plot point. And this abetting sin really went to the core of the book. After the massive build-up of the first six books, I would have expected something quite apocalyptic to happen. And yet the climax when it came was a massive non-event, rather like the bit in the Matrix where Neo stops the bullets, only not quite so interesting to look at.
Then, after the rapid fizzle of The Invisibles Vol. 5: Counting to None and the climactic non-climax of The Invisibles Vol. 6: Kissing Mister Quimper perhaps we should have expected this. I think that the problem is basically that Morrison is an ideas source. Now, very occasionally, as in We3, he applies self-discipline and produces a masterpiece, or he creates a book like The Filth where the whole point of the piece is to be a mass of ideas. But the Invisibles starts out as a reasonably tightly plotted conspiracy story, and such stories (as in Foucault’s Pendulum) can absorb lots of ideas, but only within a firmly controlled framework, and while Umberto Eco disciplined himself in the Pendulum (and what a shame he ceased doing so in his later books) here Morrison doesn’t seem to have been able to control himself. So every idea he had went in, even if it meant doing considerable violence to the plot, and even if apparently hugely significant characters and plot threads are left hanging at the end.
Minor points. It’s fairly obvious that Morrison identifies with King Mob. But King Mob is boring, he’s just a man who kills people. In Lord Fanny we have a truly fascinating character who has all kinds of depth, and yet (s)he is criminally underused, in the climax being there for little more than reaction shots. Poor Lieutenant Uhura had more to do. The mysterious Helga is fascinating, but drops out entirely for no apparent reason. And so on. I suppose, again, Morrison got caught up in new ideas and forgot about the old ones.
And as a final negative, maybe I’m alone, but I’m getting really bored with all the right on stuff. I mean, it was rather disturbing to discover that Morrison apparently believed 100% of the Serb propaganda during the Kosovo conflict, but I find it more disturbing that people who think they are being plucky individualists and standing out from the crowd repeat the same tired old line of ‘all of Western culture is, like, oppression, man’. If I were to write a conspiracy piece (which I might one day) in my conspiracy the counter-culture really wound be the bad guys, but due to mass stupidity, people would refuse to believe it, no matter how incontrovertible the evidence.
So, it’s a fast-paced action piece which will keep your attention when you read it, but afterwards you’ll feel doubts. It’s full of wonderful ideas, but they aren’t properly integrated. In a sense, it’s rather like the blueprint for the climax of The Invisibles rather than itself being the climax. So, depending on how charitable one is, one can draw one of two conclusions. Either Morrison is amazingly talented, but only sporadically disciplined, and so was unable to assemble his blueprint into a finished work of art. Or the whole point is that he has only given us the key to the door, and we must discover the Invisible Kingdom ourselves.