Archive for graphic novel

prime suspects [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2019 by xi'an

I was contacted by Princeton University Press to comment on the comic book/graphic novel Prime Suspects (The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations), by Andrew Granville (mathematician) & Jennifer Granville (writer), and Robert Lewis (illustrator), and they sent me the book. I am not a big fan of graphic book entries to mathematical even less than to statistical notions (Logicomix being sort of an exception for its historical perspective and nice drawing style) and this book did nothing to change my perspective on the subject. First, the plot is mostly a pretense at introducing number theory concepts and I found it hard to follow it for more than a few pages. The [noires maths] story is that “forensic maths” detectives are looking at murders that connects prime integers and permutations… The ensuing NCIS-style investigation gives the authors the opportunity to skim through the whole cenacle of number theorists, plus a few other mathematicians, who appear as more or less central characters. Even illusory ones like Nicolas Bourbaki. And Alexander Grothendieck as a recluse and clairvoyant hermit [who in real life did not live in a Pyrénées cavern!!!]. Second, I [and nor is Andrew who was in my office when the book arrived!] am not particularly enjoying the drawings or the page composition or the colours of this graphic novel, especially because I find the characters drawn quite inconsistently from one strip to the next, to the point of being unrecognisable, and, if it matters, hardly resembling their real-world equivalent (as seen in the portrait of Persi Diaconis). To be completely honest, the drawings look both ugly and very conventional to me, in that I do not find much of a characteristic style to them. To contemplate what Jacques TardiFrançois Schuiten or José Muñoz could have achieved with the same material… (Or even Edmond Baudoin, who drew the strips for the graphic novels he coauthored with Cédric Villani.) The graphic novel (with a prime 181 pages) is postfaced with explanations about the true persons behind the characters, from Carl Friedriech Gauß to Terry Tao, and of course on the mathematical theory for the analogies between the prime and cycles frequencies behind the story. Which I find much more interesting and readable, obviously. (With a surprise appearance of Kingman’s coalescent!) But also somewhat self-defeating in that so much has to be explained on the side for the links between the story, the characters and the background heavily loaded with “obscure references” to make sense to more than a few mathematician readers. Who may prove to be the core readership of this book.

There is also a bit of a Gödel-Escher-and-Bach flavour in that a piece by Robert Schneider called Réverie in Prime Time Signature is included, while an Escher’s infinite stairway appears in one page, not far from what looks like Milano Vittorio Emmanuelle gallery (On the side, I am puzzled by the footnote on p.208 that “I should clarify that selecting a random permutation and a random prime, as described, can be done easily, quickly, and correctly”. This may be connected to the fact that the description of Bach’s algorithm provided therein is incomplete.)

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE. As appropriate for a book about Chance!]

Blake & Mortimer [volume 20]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , on January 8, 2011 by xi'an

The second part of La Malédiction des Trente Deniers has now been out for a month. This is volume 20 in the Blake & Mortimer series, but the drawings are (predictably) done by yet another artist, Antoine Aubin! The style is not that bad (despite yet another awful cover!), but the scenario by van Hamme is very poor and the story does not move much when compared with the first volume: both heroes manage to find the location of the tomb of Judas and survive the trap set by their enemies… In the previous post about the first volume, I was mentioning the Indiana-Jonesque feeling about the plot, but it got much stronger with this volume! A ray of light comes from the heavens and burns the bad guy on the spot, while Blake & Mortimer escape by an unlikely underground river, along with the young Greek woman who had betrayed them to save her fiancé… The story borrows to earlier Blake & Mortimer stories, for instance the underground exploration is reminiscent of the beginning of l’Enigme de l’Atlantide, but the connection with Hergé s Tintin is stronger: the evil Beloukian behaves like Rastapopoulos in Flight 714, the shipwreck and the escape on a home-made raft is very similar to the one in The Red Sea Sharks, and several drawings evoke the atmosphere of The Black Island. Hopefully, the next volume will see a clear improvement by the new team, Sente and Julliard, but their botched Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent is not very promising…

logicomix

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on December 11, 2010 by xi'an

Thanks to Judith Rousseau (who gave me the book to read), I have enjoyed very much Logicomix: An epic search for truth, which is written in the format of a comic book or a graphic novel (just like Nietzsche, even though it is drawn in an altogether different if pleasant and colourful style). This bestselling book is about Bertrand Russell‘s doomed quest for the logical foundations of mathematics and about the intense debates in the philosophical and mathematical communities at the turn of the  century, ending with Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Philosophicus. (Which reminded me of another book, Wittgenstein’s poker, that I read ages ago.)

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La Voie du Rige

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , on March 27, 2010 by xi'an

I have just received from amazon the last tome of the series La quête de l’oiseau du temps written by Serge Le Tendre and drawn by Régis Loisel. (The series has been partly translated in English as Roxanna and the quest for the time-bird.) I have loved this series since the first cycle was published, about twenty years ago, and the second cycle (which takes place thirty to forty years before) is even better! The quality of the drawings by Loisel is superb, with a clear mastering of colour and shade, and the fantasy plot is deep enough to keep the series more than attractive. The end of the first cycle was highly climactic and the second cycle contains enough threads and first rate characters to be gripping despite the slow publication rate (the first volume appeared in 2004 and the second one in 2007, as advertised below).

The story is slightly less innovative/informative in the third tome than in the two previous ones, with less of a “global picture” , but the central character of “Le Rige” only appears after a tense expectation and the final redemption words (“do you want to become my pupil?”) are quite surprising.