Volume 6 of American Vampire is a collection of individual short narratives that add to the vampire mythos already established by Scott Snyder, many o...moreVolume 6 of American Vampire is a collection of individual short narratives that add to the vampire mythos already established by Scott Snyder, many of which focus on Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire. There are several big names in comics here, both writers and artists, all taking a turn at playing in Snyder's sandbox. Overall, it's an uneven effort, both in terms of art and narrative.
The stories skip around in time and location, offering a sweeping history of vampires in North America, both before and after Skinner Sweet. Jason Aaron, Gail Simone, and Jeff Lemire offer the best stories here--especially Simone's take on Hattie Hargrove's revenge on the powerful Hollywood men who used the desire for fame and fortune against wannabe-starlets. The least successful story is penned by none other than Rafael Albuquerque, which feels underdeveloped and cliched. Despite the weakness of the story he contributes, there's no denying Albuquerque's artistic talents. He is one of the reasons American Vampire has been so successful as his artistic style perfectly captures the brutality and violence of Snyder's narratives, and is every bit as integral to the storytelling and world created here.
If nothing else, this collection solidifies the fact that the real success of American Vampire lies in the collaboration between Snyder and Albuquerque. While some of these stories are entertaining, one could certainly give them a pass as they do nothing to advance the main plot points forward.
The collection also includes the one-shot The Long Road to Hell, a longer and more successful story written by Snyder and illustrated by Albuquerque that reminds you why American Vampire kicks so much ass.(less)
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.
**I received a free copy of The Pilgrims from Tor in exchange for an honest review.**
Ah, the fantasy quest novel. Been a while since we've bumped into...more**I received a free copy of The Pilgrims from Tor in exchange for an honest review.**
Ah, the fantasy quest novel. Been a while since we've bumped into each other, but, damn, we used to have some good times when I was a teenager. I swear you haven't changed a bit since the last time I ran into you. So, anything new with you? No, not really? Still just rambling off down the road to adventure, eh? Meet a mage or two, maybe some stone giants, a few angels? Choose some ordinary schmuck to save the world from an omnipotent evil overlord hellbent on world domination? So, nothing new in your bag of tricks? Well, it was good seeing you . . . maybe we can meet up again sometime and you can tell me the same predictable tale. No, no--don't call me, I'll call you. Take care now! Buh-bye.
Yeah, I'm a little jaded when it comes to the fantasy quest. Granted, I cut my teeth on this genre, so folks who are new to fantasy may enjoy this tale far more than I did. The only way I enjoy this type of novel these days is if it's a new, inventive twist on the standard journey through a world that is not our own. Unfortunately, The Pilgrims by Will Elliott never rises above the formulaic presentation of an unlikely hero going on an unlikely adventure.
Eric Albright and his homeless friend, Case, find themselves in a strange world after opening a door that appears on a London bridge. In this new world, Eric and Case have the instant ability to both understand and speak the languages of all its denizens. Joining a merry band of rebels against Vous, the man who would be a god, Eric and Case meander without much purpose, encounter all of the aforementioned creatures and then some, and do little to endear themselves to the reader. Eric becomes convinced that he's meant to be a savior--though does little to prove it other than occasionally picturing himself as Batman. While the fantasy world created by Elliott has some intriguing elements, they fail to stand out when surrounded by so many cliches. The characters themselves are also flat, especially Eric, who seems so at ease with this strange place and his role in it that the narrative loses the tension created by a character confused by and at odds with his new surroundings.
Another strike The Pilgrims has against it is the "door between worlds" trope. I've mentioned in other reviews that I usually find this to be a charmless, hackneyed plot device. I despise The Wizard of Oz, Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland. The only time it has worked for me is in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and in the movie Labyrinth (and that probably has more to do with David Bowie in tight pants than anything else . . .). So when our hero, Eric Albright, opens a door between our world and that of Levaal without immediately find a well-endowed Bowie on the other side, well, you can imagine my disappointment.
And, finally, the third strike: The Pilgrims is a standard quest novel that for, inexplicable reasons, has been split into a trilogy. Here's what I hate about series quests: the first book will be all "a questing we will go, a questing we will go, no resolution, yo, a questing we will go"; the second book will continue in the same vein until the last 50 pages when, wtf, you mean shit's going to start happening now?; and the last book, if one makes it that far, might actually be fairly decent. But the reader has to drag ass through the first two books before there's any payoff in sight. I don't like to be toyed with thus.
So, if you're new to fantasy, you might want to give The Pilgrims a whirl, but fantasy veterans need not apply.
Three childhood stories whose magic is lost on me: The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. I really, really detest every...moreThree childhood stories whose magic is lost on me: The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. I really, really detest every single one of them. In fact, there's something I generally dislike about threshold stories in which the "looking glass" between fantasy and reality is shattered by the curiosity of a child. While I'm sure there's some sort of Freudian field day to be had with this admission, I shall not speculate on why these tales failed to flip my imagination switch as a youngster.
So why am I stating this? Because when Dave, the owner of my local comic book shop, tried to get me to read this, I shook my head vehemently, made the sign of the cross, tried to back away. I may have even hissed. But he suckered me in with the "but it's a Western" angle. So I relented. And it wasn't as bad as I anticipated; however, it also wasn't as great as I had hoped. Still, for me to give a 3 star to Oz related material is a big damn deal.
The artwork is beautiful in a traditional sense, but takes very few risks. While conventional in other ways, I was particularly glad to see that, other than Dorothy being a little booty-licious in a few frames, the women aren't oversexed pin-ups for folks with fairy tale dame fetishes (the zeal shown for T & A of epic proportions was one of my main problems with Hutchison's Penny for Your Soul, also published by Big Dog Ink). Unfortunately, the story also takes few risks. There are some clever ideas (I really loved the Native American mysticism of the "scare crow") and some not so clever (such as making the Tin Man a lawman, an idea that might have struck me as brilliant if I hadn't seen it in SyFy's own Wizard of Oz re-imagining a few years back, which was actually titled Tin Man).
Basically, this is Oz in the West--same basic plot structure, same basic characters, and very few surprises. It's fun, but really doesn't develop the story in a new or complex way. Hardcore Oz aficionados would probably enjoy it, but, while I liked it, I won't be continuing the series.
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Girl in the Road focuses on the brutal journey of two women fleeing from violence in patriarchal cultures: Meen...moreSet in the not-too-distant future, The Girl in the Road focuses on the brutal journey of two women fleeing from violence in patriarchal cultures: Meena, a young woman from India, and Mariama, a girl enslaved in Africa. Told in alternating first person narratives, their stories converge by the end in not entirely surprising ways due to the symbolic overlap we see in each of their tales. Both have been attacked by snakes, both show signs of mental illness, both have suffered tremendous loss, both encounter words and images that have a spiritual significance to them alone, both are journeying toward a future they hope will be better.
In Mariama's story, she flees her home after finding a light blue snake in her bed. Heeding her mother's advice, she decides to flee and becomes a stowaway in a caravan transporting oil to Ethiopia. During this time, a beautiful woman named Yemaya joins the caravan and Mariama adopts her in her mind as a mother/lover/goddess figure. Born into a life of poverty and subservience, and bearing witness to her mother's repeated rape by their owner, Mariama is a surprisingly driven, courageous character, but her childlike naivete and bluntly sexualized view of the world are a dangerous combination in one so young.
In Meena's story, she awakens to find that a snake placed in her bed has bitten her; she immediately assumes someone is trying to kill her and flees India for Ethiopia, the place where her Indian parents were brutally murdered before her birth. She undertakes the dangerous journey across "The Trail," a bridge consisting of "scales" that runs from India to Djibouti. The bridge is intended to harvest wave energy and to cross it is an illegal, dangerous act. As Meena's trek goes on, she begins shedding that which is inessential and facing the truth from which her traumatized mind has been shielding her.
There is a lot to like about The Girl in the Road. The futuristic setting is at once recognizable and alien, but doesn't overshadow what is essentially an emotional and spiritual story about violence and healing. The world of Meena (which is set a few decades after the story of Mariama) is a racial, cultural, and sexual melting pot, and reading a book with characters from diverse backgrounds was a pleasure. Byrne's prose is lovely and minimalist, and her inclusion of Indian and Ethiopian cultures is seamless.
However, there was a lot that I did not enjoy. First off, the persistent phallic imagery, both the snakes in the bed and The Trail itself, is fraught with psychological and symbolic implications that had me expecting the big reveals in the end. I'm not a prude faulting an author's use of phallic imagery; rather, my complaint is that it lessened the suspense toward the novel's end because it seemed a little heavy handed. I was also disappointed that, in a novel that initially challenged the stereotypical view of transsexuals, it ultimately bolsters that stereotype.
And then there was THE SCENE, a scene that has apparently generated a lot of debate. The scene involves (view spoiler)[an adult woman masturbating a female child (hide spoiler)]. And, yup, I am going to be a prude about that, mainly for the way it was presented as some sort of transcendental experience (view spoiler)[initiated by the child (hide spoiler)]. This was a relatively brief scene and not overtly graphic, but enough to make me uncomfortable.
I do want to make it clear that this scene is not responsible for my 2 star review. The disappointment I feel stems from the book blurbs leading me to believe that this is a sci-fi action/thriller. This is certainly a very different reading experience than the one I thought I signed up for. In addition to my misguided expectations, this is a novel of unlikable characters that engendered my sympathy, but not my empathy.
At the ripe old age of 36, the fact that I have purchased more books than I can read in this lifetime has begun to nag at me. There was a time when I...moreAt the ripe old age of 36, the fact that I have purchased more books than I can read in this lifetime has begun to nag at me. There was a time when I would have persevered through anything I picked up because a younger me would have thought, "Oh, but I have all the time in the world to read all the books. Onward!" And like a dung beetle, I would have continued to tumble that turd to the finish line. But the older, wiser me is determined not to let the time suck that was The Age of Ra happen again.
So about a third of the way into American Craftsmen I began to get the distinct impression that the whole thing was going to go tits up. There were several early warning signs:
*weak world building *sloppy attempt to intertwine history and fantasy *a plot that seems predicated on coincidence and happenstance *flat, one-dimensional characters *some awkward prose ("Scherie averted her skillful yet embarrassed eyes," comes to mind--and that's about the point I decided to leave this turd untumbled)
I'm leaving it at a 2 star because the premise is interesting though, at least at the point I left off, poorly executed.
Does the book get better? Maybe, but I doubt it. As previously stated, I didn't finish it because there are too many other books that deserve my attention before I shuffle off this mortal coil. A book that can't hook me in 90 pages? Ain't nobody got time for that. (less)
Maud Stack is a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent, and careless student. Professor Steven Brookman is a handsome, Hemingway-masculine, intelligent, an...moreMaud Stack is a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent, and careless student. Professor Steven Brookman is a handsome, Hemingway-masculine, intelligent, and careless instructor. Of course, we know what this means. It's not long before office hours become after hours, and the classroom becomes the bedroom. In terms of plot, there's nothing new or shocking in Death of the Black-Haired Girl. Professor Brookman is, of course, a very married man who, despite his occasional sexual liaison, is very much in love with his wife, who has recently discovered she is pregnant with their second child. Taking a personal vow to be a better husband and a better father, Brookman decides to end his relationship with Maud, but hell hath no fury like an undergraduate scorned. It's not long before Maud spirals out of control, leading to her eventual death under questionable circumstances in front of the Brookman home.
Despite seeming like the setup for a by-the-numbers whodunit, Death of the Black-Haired Girl is anything but. For those familiar with Stone's writing, this shouldn't be a shock and many of the negative reviews I've read come from readers who felt misled. I can't say that I blame them. With a title that conjures The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and blurbs and summaries that throw around words like "thriller" and "noir," it does seem to project the wrong image. However, I read and enjoyed Stone's Dog Soldiers, so I was eager to enter into Stone's morally-nebulous universe.
That enthusiasm did not last very long.
Stone uses the aftermath of Maud's death to explore morality in both specific and broad terms. The novel's setting is a prestigious liberal arts college in New England, an academic institution whose motto, Lux in Umbras Procedet, or Light Will Go Forth Into Shadows, hearkens to a vainglorious past, its original mission to bring civilization and God's light to the wilderness. Ironically, in its 21st century manifestation, it has become the place that creates shadows, a place of locks and barriers--no longer seeking to interact with the world, it seems to insulate itself from it. In its attempt to protect itself from outside influence, it's evident that its insular nature is destroying it from within. It is a gray, dismal wasteland populated by the selfish and the insane. As Maud quotes Mephistopheles from Doctor Faustus as saying of the world, "Why this is hell . . . nor am I out of it" (15). After Maud writes a scathing indictment (although, from my perspective, a clumsy, rambling and ridiculously written diatribe that I cannot imagine anyone finding persuasive or brilliant) of the hypocrisy of Christian right-to-lifers that is published in the school newspaper, the college becomes a literal battleground between the secular and the sacred as hundreds of protesters flock to the campus and some go so far as to physically threaten Maud.
Many of the characters here seem to be in hell: Maud; her father, Eddie; the school counselor, Jo Carr; and Steve Brookman carry and create their own personal demons. There are also lesser angels presented in the form of the dean's wife, Mary Pick, whose tragic past in Ireland seems to have only strengthened her faith, and Ellie Brookman, who routinely leaves the college to return to the Garden-like existence offered by her Mennonite community in Canada. A woman of deep faith who believes her life to be firmly in the hands of God, Ellie serves as the embodiment of the platonic ideal for Brookman: a constant presence reminding him to do better and be better in light of his past. Discovering her pregnancy months after leaving their home to return to the fold of her family seems to remove her from the sordid sexual escapades at the college, making her pregnancy seem almost immaculate and her presence in Brookman's life divine.
So, yes, there's a lot going on here in terms of spirituality, repeatedly dancing at the edge of existential angst and then pulling back again. There's a lot going on in terms of abortion, Christian fundamentalism/radicalism, adultery, marriage, and temptation. There's some beautiful writing (the scene depicting the reaction of Maud's father, Eddie, after he learns of her death is heart-wrenching).
So what's the problem? Remember how I said Maud's editorial rant was rambling and clumsy? Ultimately, that's how I felt about the structure of the novel. The story isn't really about Maud's death at all, but splinters off into a dozen different directions, following secondary characters in such a hurried, abrupt way that the reader never finds resolution on any front. It's like Maud's death is a bare Christmas tree from which Stone hangs every vituperative, cynical, and nihilistic bauble he can find. But then he stands back and thinks something is missing. So out come the garlands of devotion and piety as a counterweight. But still, it's not quite right. Maybe some twinkling obvious symbolism lights? The plot becomes so weighted under these conflicting and ponderous messages that I just lost interest.
But the real death knell? The host of unlikable characters. Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting they should be likable in the sense that they should be good (in fact, it is the intended saints in the novel that I find particularly obnoxious), but there should be something about them that I still find appealing. Not so here. Part of my complaint comes from the fact that the novel does far more telling than showing, so many of the characters seem two-dimensional. It doesn't help that these are self-centered, pretentious, beautiful people who are careless with the lives of others. Surprisingly, the only sympathetic character is the one I thought I would loathe the most: Steve Brookman. Despite everything, there's the sense that he did love Maud in some way that went beyond lust. He doesn't come across as a lecherous Humbert Humbert in that what he loved and celebrated in Maud had as much to do with her intellect and her potential as her youth and beauty.
In the end, I can only state that Death of the Dark-Haired Girl ultimately seems tedious and unnecessary despite its grander aspirations.