If I was going to get stuck in an auto repair shop on Tuesday, then I'm glad I had this copy of All the Birds in the Sky. It soothed a painful wait wiIf I was going to get stuck in an auto repair shop on Tuesday, then I'm glad I had this copy of All the Birds in the Sky. It soothed a painful wait with its charming world and its premise: two childhood friends grow apart as they follow their dreams, one wanting to become a witch, the other to become a super-scientist. They were each other's only friend, and though their lives will weave back together, they're haunted by a prophecy. Some day, there will be a cataclysmic war between magic and science.
The book opens with a totally charming encounter, as Patricia rescues a talking bird from a cat. She briefly turns into a bird herself, meets bird society, and is darn-well hooked on this magic stuff. She's just got to find a way to become a witch and change the world.
Over on the flipside is the YAest boy ever, Laurence Armstead, whose parents don't appreciate him, is constantly bullied at school, and just wants to study sweet rockets. This kid is brilliant, if socially stunted, and winds up being Patricia's only friend. You see, these two weirdos (who don't seem that off to me, but I love weirdos) can chat about videogames, world domination, or the upsides of Satanism, with equal enthusiasm. Now, I'm a true weirdo, but less-weirdos are probably going to feel a pang when these two have to part ways to follow their passions and grow up. There's a wonderful moment when Patricia finally gets the Hogwartsian invitation, and considers turning it down because Laurence is in trouble. No spoilers on what she does next, but it sure kept me turning the pages.
My favorite parts are the stray details about the world around Patricia and Laurence. You feel clever when you recognize that the disturbance the witches feel are the black hole generator Laurence's team is working on, or when Laurence is confident he's getting the better part of a deal-with-the-devil that magicians would think twice about. And then there are moments when you see Patricia having to dress is sexualized clothing to do witch's work, which she doesn't comment on, but which silently comments on the culture war she didn't realize she'd bang against to live the dream. Eventually there are cell phones that ride the line between mathematical algorithms and kismet; just having one on you seems to increase the chances of running into friends, or of good things happening.
Full disclosure: I currently have a short story pending publication with a lot of magical cell phones; I like this book's ideas quite a bit.
The scenes move quickly, there's a great deal of awkwardness and cuteness, and altogether it feels like a fun YA novel - except it's not YA. Patricia and Laurence grow up, get jobs, have sex with people, crossing all the content lines that make something an Adult book rather than a Young Adult, and yet it always feels like YA. Laurence having an erection doesn't add any nuance to the book. It always feel simple, the challenges of development the characters face feeling distinctly unchallenging to the reader. You're never given a good reason to doubt that these characters won't get together eventually, and you're even more certain that together they'll thwart the evil prophecy.
It sounds like the sort of book my friends have demanded for a while now. It's got all the comfortability of YA without necessarily being about young adults. The characterization and consequences of choices never feel robust like Naomi Novik's Uprooted - in contrast, where Uprooted wants fights to feel uncomfortable, a tragic flood in All the Birds in the Sky is glossed over with only a mandatory amount of named character tragedies flicking by, no one we ever got that attached to, and even if they should be important, the text won't dwell on for too long. Instead it's back into the excitement of floods and averting the end of the world.
None of this is a strike against All the Birds in the Sky. I imagine readers who want a novel that subverts a bunch of Harry Potter stuff will enjoy it being so accessible and full of adolescent yearning. It's just a funny feeling the book gives.
What actually is a strike is the characters' frequent references to undesirable traits as "crazy," and people misbehaving as "psycho." The language of ableism against mental illness run throughout the book, which feels odd because it's so thoughtful to avoid sexist and homophobic language. It's clearly generally well-meaning enough that you wish it would do better by the disability community. Especially with the looming actually-evil character, you can wind up on edge, fearing the novel is going to pull a full Super Evil Crazy Dude on you. Thankfully it never gets that bad, but there are enough things to form a cognitive bruise that the book keeps jabbing....more
In a limbo between Somalia and Kenyan lies the world's largest refugee camp. Its 500,000 occupants fled war and famine, but the U.N. has struggled soIn a limbo between Somalia and Kenyan lies the world's largest refugee camp. Its 500,000 occupants fled war and famine, but the U.N. has struggled so badly to relocate them to safe homes that thousands have spent most of their lives there. It's been around for so long that children are growing up there, having never lived anywhere but the tents and tenements. Ben Rawlence's excellent book is somewhere between journalism profiling nine lives of people in the camp, and an ethnography of a concentrated diaspora.
This is Dadaab, and it's home to a wide array of personalities. The life of a pregnant woman with no husband is very different from an eligible young man, and neither of them are anything like Guled, a former child soldier who today lives for soccer. Soccer is huge in the camp - watching it, and playing it, the greatest means of escape.
Everyone engages in trickles of luxury, hoarding meal tickets and selling even base necessities for an advance. A few children have opportunities to move to Australia or Canada if they score high enough on tests, so their families, many of whom are illiterate, desperately try to educate them. Escaping this place could make you the family money-winner, guaranteeing an easier life in the camp. Many people don't even believe they'll leave it. They have to be practical.
The tidal shifts in hope are drastic. Rumors that Spain or France might take some in put people in high anxiety, but when it turns out that's a false rumor, violence is expected. Their outlets are few. Over two thirds of women report having been raped, and this is in a culture where admitting it can put you at risk. Their greatest hopes are that wars in their homeland will end, that the U.N. will convict the murderers in charge of their country. But with the U.N. dragging its feet, you watch people disagree, split, some even risking going back into war zones, just for a different life.
Powerful and thoughtful, City of Thorns is an important look into the world of aid and crisis management. If you don't look, it only gets worse....more
This demands its way onto my Favorite Sequential Art List, right up there with Persepolis, Bone, and Kingdom Come. It's unlike any of those, in that iThis demands its way onto my Favorite Sequential Art List, right up there with Persepolis, Bone, and Kingdom Come. It's unlike any of those, in that it uses episodic comics to tell Slice of Life, about a struggling band that's probably better off giving up and keeping their day jobs, but that'd crush their souls. Meiko and Taneda have been sweethearts for longer than their parents approve, united by a support for finding themselves in music. Their futures aren't going anywhere, and the drama they're facing is if being together for this day, week, and year is enough.
This is put into sharp repose by an early chapter of an old man who's constantly trying to mail letters, often multiple times a day. When the band approaches, he explains his wife wanted to know everything he did. Since she died, writing descriptions for her is the only way he can honor her wishes - and getting the notes the next day helps him feel like he's lived. It's a great wake-up call to tweens who think they aren't accomplishing enough when they're surrounded by each other.
Their goal isn't to change the landscape of music - it's really just to express themselves in a life that suppresses all creativity. Anyone with a 9-to-5 can relate to hunting for that outlet, and the beauty of Solanin is that Meiko and Taneda manage to share that with others. The band isn't supremely talented so much as they're on similar wavelengths, able to support each other in emotional tragedies and to play along in the weirdest shenanigans. It's the sort of core group you'd easily root for to win a music competition or giant recording contract, but this book is more compelling because they want something simpler. They want the release that only comes from working together in an industry that doesn't appreciate that....more
A dystopic thriller set in a world where our water crises go unchecked. In a few decades it’s expected that 80% of the population will not have adequaA dystopic thriller set in a world where our water crises go unchecked. In a few decades it’s expected that 80% of the population will not have adequate water, and so Bacigalupi envisions a United States divided along state lines, viciously fighting each other for river and underground water rights. We follow a few citizens and body guards who’ve run across some very valuable paper, which corporations and states alike will kill to get. The bearers might have claim over the biggest water source in the region, but it puts a price on their heads that might even turn them on each other. It’s a novel that feels more fun and less dystopic as it goes along, which leaves one wondering if Dystopia itself is more a venue of politics or entertainment today. But as someone who usually bores quickly with Dystopia, this one provoked me all the way to the hard decisions of its final pages....more
Perhaps well-meaning but too cynical a book to fly with me. This reads like an amateurish reaction to Perry Bible Fellowship - but while it's just asPerhaps well-meaning but too cynical a book to fly with me. This reads like an amateurish reaction to Perry Bible Fellowship - but while it's just as defeatist and mean-spirited, it's nowhere as clever. Instead the point of the joke, over and over again, is that the result is sad or underwhelming. Instead of riffs on internet fights or theology, it's just how crappy being a kid is. The opening story about a kid getting superpowers to repel a robot is so obviously going to be that kid's fantasy, and when it is, there's no twist beyond that. It's just supposed to be depressing. A statement that didn't need to be made.
But maybe it needs to be made for you. I can't think of a time in my life where this would have stirred anything inside me. It lacks the teeth of Horror, the insight of robust Satire, or the actual laughter-production of a Comedy. Fifty pages in, it felt like I was only reading to fill my time. There's too much in the world to read to settle for that. ...more
The publisher did a questionable job on this release, giving it the same title and cover art as a previous release that had some of the same issues inThe publisher did a questionable job on this release, giving it the same title and cover art as a previous release that had some of the same issues in it, but not all of them. For the original 144-page release covering just the abduction of Catman and Cheshire's kid, see this volume.
*This* Cat's Cradle contains more stories, and thankfully ones much better than the titular tale. The main story of the volume crosses the Secret Six over with Deadshot's old gang, the Suicide Squad. Amanda Waller, the mastermind behind the villainous squad, wants to turn the Six into her pawns. The two teams split up and invade each other's headquarters in what could have been comedy gold - except they're interrupted by Blackest Night. Yes, this is *that* tie-in event, where all the dead heroes and villains rise from the grave, and Deadshot has created quite a few of those. It's surprisingly fun watching the mercenaries run from (and sometimes decapitate) the evil dead.
This volume also introduces us to Black Alice, the latest minor character in the DC universe that Gail Simone has deigned to rescue and grant depth to. She's a teenager who can steal the powers of any magician or monster on the planet, at different points turning into a teen version of The Phantom Stranger, Blue Devil, and Etrigan ("the demon Estrogan!"). Unlike the seasoned killers who have walked through the team, she's young and eager to learn the trade, and harboring a tragic secret for why she needs the money. The reveal is possibly the biggest punch of the entire book. From her bonding with Bane to hitting on Ragdoll, she's an excellent addition to the team.
Now, The Secret Six is at its best when the team interacts with each other in a dynamic plot. That's why the titular Cat's Cradle storyline is perhaps the only bad story in the entire series: it takes the most boring cast member, Catman, and sends him alone to torture people to death. His character rarely has range, but here he's stuck on the "Badass" setting, which means winning fight after fight until you're skimming and hoping there's something else after this.
Cat's Cradle is not just about an angry superhero mauling no-name villains, though. It's also got a staggering amount of violence against women - lovers of the villains getting shot, flashbacks to Catman's mom being abused, and Cheshire getting hospitalized. Because Catman and Cheshire's baby son has been abducted, but a broken arm and a swollen jaw apparently sidelines Cheshire for the entire story. Given Gail Simone is outspoken about treatment of women in comics, I had to check to make sure she was responsible for writing this toxic male power fantasy.
The volume is certainly worth the read to see how Scandal is adapting to Bane's weird fondness for her, wacky strip club fight scenes, and the knockdown brawl with the evil dead. Just be warned that your corny grimdark meter is going to fill up once Catman's son is threatened....more
A great introduction to a cast of characters. This one feels short even for a novella, in part because the adventure the crew of the Giggling Goat goA great introduction to a cast of characters. This one feels short even for a novella, in part because the adventure the crew of the Giggling Goat go on feels like the start of something bigger. The world, and the relationships between the crew, don't have full arcs, so much as lovely existences in a story that feels shorter than they are. I wouldn't be surprised if Tor releases a series of these, if the first sells well.
The Windspeakers can swallow storms and control the weather in a world that badly needs the oceans for commerce, but the critical point for me was how the women treated each other. Captain Tazir is pricklier, but step by step, as battles are lost or people tremble in anxiety, what kept me hooked was Foster's habit of having the crew comfort each other, and their guests. They're uncynical, insisting a paying guest take the better bed, not because it'll help their PR, but just because that's how they do business. It was relieving, after reading so much brutal and dark fiction, to see some decent people. Decent pirates, even.
Expect a lot of reviews to complain that they wanted more. If you pick it up, expect a warm feeling for all the pages that last. I'll stand by and hope for a sequel....more
Batman is in about twelve panels of this entire book, but putting his giant mug on the cover probably helps sales. This is actually a collection of BaBatman is in about twelve panels of this entire book, but putting his giant mug on the cover probably helps sales. This is actually a collection of Bane's origin story, and of the miniseries of his fallout after failing in Knight's End. Bane is the South American mercenary, raised from birth in a brutal prison, who suffered night terrors of being swarmed by bat demons. When he broke free, he hunted Batman both out of conquest for Gotham and for catharsis from his lifetime of trauma.
I hadn't read these original Bane stories in almost twenty years. The verdict? I absolutely see what an angry teenage boy loved about it.
It's a power fantasy, full of dark horror being overcome by force of will and extremely muscly arms. The biggest storyline here sees him tangled with Talia Al Ghul and R'as Al Ghul, who play his naivety about the outside world against him. These legendary terrorists dangle the secret of his parentage in front of him while he plots how to take over their organization. He's a student of languages, histories, and tactics, but what he picked up from prison libraries pales before R'as's centuries of conquest. As he's never touched a woman before, you can imagine how a 90's comic book treats his relationship with the cunning Talia.
Yeah. It's three awful people who deserve each other in the most cynical supervillainy way. I can't say it's great by the standards of a 34-year-old mellowed man, but you know that's not who it's for....more
This is nothing like Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, and nothing like anything else I've been reading either. Jennifer Egan continues to be a fresThis is nothing like Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, and nothing like anything else I've been reading either. Jennifer Egan continues to be a fresh voice in Literary Fiction. Here we follow two parallel stories: Howard and Danny buy an old castle because of how its emptiness stirs imaginations and get lost in it, while across the world another man spends time in a prison arts program, trying vainly to express his imagination. He is writing the story of the cousins and their possibly-haunted castle, but claims to have heard it all from somewhere, and that place is real.
All the trite arguments in the writing circle ping off the other story's woo-woo notions of what separation from the modern world can do for us. The parallels are rich and provocative, examining both the irrational places inspiration comes from, and the utter difficulty of turning inspiration into anything others can understand.
Howard's plan is to turn the eponymous Keep into a fancy resort for rich patrons who will pay out the nose to be cut off from the modern world. They'll only have their experience of this bygone place, which seems to have made believers out of the umpteen volunteers serving here. Howard's cousin Danny is an outsider, skeptical of Howard's aims, suspecting he may have invented all of this just to cover up a childhood of neglect and trauma. There was that time Danny almost got Howie killed...
But Danny has strange experiences here, like a conversation with an old woman claiming to be centuries old. It never veers into The Shining territory of Horror, lingering instead in the surreal passage of what can't possibly be happening. Egan is too original a thinker to resolve this as a mass haunting, or some colossal monster tearing the building down. Instead Danny has his faith in himself shaken, which makes sense since he has a history of drug use and was never as together as he insists people believe. He's becoming the oldest guy at all the parties he attends, someone who's losing his touch on culture.
That becomes tantalizing when balanced against the prison narrative. Our writer has no liberty, no freedom to move, as opposed to Danny's story in the Keep, where he can go anywhere and indulge in wine and conversation. Behind bars, the writer has to hide his attraction to his teacher, or to badly hide it in his fiction. He can't tell her what she means to him - and when he tries to think how to say it, he can't fathom. But the freedom of the Keep leads to things Danny can't explain either.
So the novel is about the trap between having an experience and failing to share it. The desire to take and create, and to be more than merely witnessed. Much fiction questions how we observe what is said and done, but The Keep is interested in the spark that makes us try to express ourselves. It's a taut, smart story about eerieness inside and out....more
One day in Mauritania, Africa, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was invited for questioning regarding the Millennium Bombing Plot. He drove to the offices and gavOne day in Mauritania, Africa, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was invited for questioning regarding the Millennium Bombing Plot. He drove to the offices and gave his statement. He was requested a second day, drove over, and his family never saw him again.
Slahi has spent the last thirteen years in prisons and torture camps, in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Cuba. All of it has been at the behest of the United States. According to the law offices of his own country, he's never committed a crime. Outsiders have no idea why he's been held so long, and his captors won't tell him. His captors also won't let him speak to anyone else. When the U.S. government says it's releasing detainees from Guantanamo Bay, often what they really do is what they've done to Slahi: send them to another country that will continue to indefinitely interrogate and torture them.
Even his new captors were baffled as to why he was there, but they followed orders and futilely interrogated him. He was refused legal representation and mail from his family. For years he's been routinely beaten, hung from the ceiling, sexually molested, molested, and suffocated. He didn't know anything about the Millennium Bombing Terror plot, which has become obvious over the years as everyone involved was discovered. U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson, the only U.S. judge to ever hear Slahi's case, said there was no grounds to hold him and ordered him released. Yet he was never released.
Instead his interrogation transcripts have been translated and re-translated, and he was accused of newer crimes. Over and over again, officials have manufactured evidence never used in an open court, simply to try to scare him into admitting things he didn't know about, and when the results inevitably gave no useful intelligence, they discarded the "evidence" and started over. He was never charged with crimes, but in his decade of interrogations has been accused of trying to attack the U.S., and then Jordan, and then the head of his own country. Slahi would love to be charged with crimes in those other countries, because he thinks he has a better chance with their legal system than the lack of one he's currently stranded in.
The only correspondence discovered between himself and Al Qaeda was a letter he wrote to Osama Bin Laden pleading with him to see that his terrorist plots violated to Qur'an.
Edited by Larry Siems, Guantanamo Diary is a vital book. Siems decided to keep all the blackouts the CIA made on the manuscript, so stretches of text are replaced by black bars where names and details were omitted by Slahi's handlers. What we have is something Slahi wrote by hand, in his cell, hoping someone will help.
He relates disgusting details of transport with his ears plugged, eyes covered, and nose and mouth gagged such that all he could do was focus on the tiny amount of air he could taste. Of interrogators threatening his life if he didn't give details on things he couldn't possibly have seen, and masterminds forging communications from loved ones to try to break his spirit.
As I write this, 13 Hours is a big movie in the United States. What films like it and Argo exclude is the terror that the United States puts so many other people through - that often inspires terrorists to plot against the U.S. It's disgusting that a book like Guantanamo Diary has to be written, but it must be read, especially alongside the diet of anti-Islamic works prevalent in my culture. This is what's too common around the world, and too rare in our media....more
A cute comic for a rainy day about a summer camp for girls that borders a woods of weird things. Social yetis, an evil boys camp, some giant three-eyeA cute comic for a rainy day about a summer camp for girls that borders a woods of weird things. Social yetis, an evil boys camp, some giant three-eyed foxes that they get to kick around. At its best, it feels like it's on the same lake as Gravity Falls. It doesn't feel quite so outrageously creative or humorous, and the gender lines are more firmly drawn, but it's still a fun little book....more