Al is short for Allison Carter, the first female to take up the family occupation of defending earth from the powers of evil that seek to bring about...moreAl is short for Allison Carter, the first female to take up the family occupation of defending earth from the powers of evil that seek to bring about the Apocalypse. As a present day private investigator, her time seems almost entirely devoted to this task--that is, when she's not bitching about how hard it is to find a decent guy. Her job brings her into contact with a host of supernatural characters, including Ultimate...Darkness (the pause for dramatic effect is a joke that becomes stale very quickly), a minion of Satan who enlists Allison's help to prevent a human from starting the Apocalypse party too early. Ultimate...Darkness's reason? Well, Hell kind of has this thing already planned out and they have a sweet gig until then, so why rush things? It's up to Al to prevent all Hell breaking loose.
J. Michael Straczynski says he wrote The Adventures of Apocalypse Al because he wanted to write a noir comedy. Does it work? No, no, no, no, no. And in case you missed it--no. Straczynski is also writing one of my favorite current titles, Ten Grand, a supernatural tale which is double-dipped in noirish goodness. So the man's got the "noir" part down; what fails here is the comedy. The laughs are so pat and predictable you can practically hear the rimshot. Al is supposed to be a sarcastic antihero--like Han Solo or Captain Mal, only with boobs. Frankly, I found many of her jokes to be somewhat insulting to women as they're so stereotyped. I don't think Straczynski means for her to read this way, but it's kind of the end result of a man trying to write a funny female character by focusing on her gender for the humor instead of a keen intellect, smart dialogue, and clever word play.
It also doesn't work for me that, while in the dreamscape, Al encounters her worst nightmares--being a June Cleaver-style wife or being a Mad Men-esque secretary. I kind of enjoyed these scenes, but then they were undercut by inconsistencies in her character. Al sleeps in baby-doll lingerie every night, lounges in bathtubs with candles burning about her, taunts Ultimate...Evil with her naked body, and wears so little during her day job that she looks perpetually in search of a pole to straddle. And, fine, yes, hyper-sexualized females is kind of what comics do, but it makes the character's stab at feminism a cup of weak tea.
All of this could have been forgiven if it had been funny, sharp, clever. But was it? As I said before--no.(less)
When Joss Whedon says, "read this," I heed the call.
Only 10 years old, Melanie is brimming with curiosity about the world and unabashedly enthusiastic...moreWhen Joss Whedon says, "read this," I heed the call.
Only 10 years old, Melanie is brimming with curiosity about the world and unabashedly enthusiastic about school. Blessed with a genius intellect, a kind heart, and a love of mythology, it's easy to fall in love with the precocious protagonist of The Girl With All the Gifts. However, despite these gifts, the world is very afraid of Melanie--every morning, two armed guards arrive at her cell, strap her by the legs, arms, and neck to a wheelchair, and escort her to her classroom. This is fine with Melanie as it's the only world she's ever known and as long as her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, is there, Melanie has everything she needs. It's not until the outside world comes crashing in and Melanie is saved by Miss Justineau that she learns how truly dangerous she is to others . . . and to herself.
I'm working hard here to avoid spoilers as most of the enjoyment of The Girl With All the Gifts comes from the fact that M.R. Carey plays his cards close to the vest during the first fourth of the novel. It's also obvious that the publishing company went to great lengths to keep the secret with that awful cover and perplexing title. To be honest, had I known what the book was about I would have never bought it because this genre (view spoiler)[zombies (hide spoiler)] isn't my bag, baby. I go out of my way to avoid it and it's hard for me to express how much I detest this genre, both in literary and movie form. Still, despite my strong bias against it, I enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts immensely.
Part of the reason as to why I was able to lose myself in a book I'm hardwired to hate is that, despite there being some of the obvious genre tropes, there are plenty of inventive twists. Carey has developed a believable world, complete with a devastating history and scientific origin for the tragic events that unfold (I really appreciate that there is a "why" offered instead of going with a "who-cares-how-it-just-did-so-let's-move-on-to-the-awesome-stuff" explanation).
The other reason I enjoyed it is because of the strong characterization of Melanie and her ability to constantly adapt as the world she knew crumbles around her. The novel's title is a reference to Melanie's favorite myth, that of Pandora, whose name means "all gifts." Melanie is a mystery to herself and, as she begins to open the box of who she is, she finds both the capacity for terrifying evil, but also for strength and resilience. The other main characters (Helen Justineau, Sergeant Eddie Parks, Dr. Caroline Caldwell, and Private Kieran Gallagher) are given depth by the same moral duality and by pasts that haunt them as they move into an uncertain future.
The quick narrative pacing and the inventive spin on a tired genre make The Girl With All the Gifts well worth a read.