Sidekicks is a graphic novel about an aging superhero, Captain Amazing, who’s feeling the endless creep of years sneaking up on him. He decides it’s tSidekicks is a graphic novel about an aging superhero, Captain Amazing, who’s feeling the endless creep of years sneaking up on him. He decides it’s time to get a sidekick, and that’s when we learn that his pets, the real protagonists of the story, have been yearning to team up with him forever. There’s an indestructible dog, a static-energy cat, and a hamster with no appreciable superpowers. And an iguana. A few thoughts:
- This comic has a really positive message — it encourages us to think about all our gifts, and the way that understanding them as part of our whole selves gives us an advantage far exceeding that of the person who excels at one thing alone. - The hamster/iguana team-up is fantastic. They’re both brave and eminently vulnerable, fighting in a world fraught with danger. - Captain Amazing’s tale of aging and teamwork cuts strikingly close to the bone for me, a father watching his children grow up and acquire their own interests that diverge from mine, and at the same time, want to do all the things I do.
It’s a cute and fulfilling comic. Well worth the twenty five minutes it will take you to read. According to the school librarian’s notes in the inside cover, you will also earn “4 points” for reading it. So there’s that....more
Sir Maurice Newbury and Valerie Hobbes are back in another rollicking steampunk adventure in George Mann's The Osiris Ritual. Like the previous book,Sir Maurice Newbury and Valerie Hobbes are back in another rollicking steampunk adventure in George Mann's The Osiris Ritual. Like the previous book, The Affinity Bridge, there's plenty of great action and adventure and nobility and constrained behavior and running around London. The characters of the two protagonists develop a bit more thoroughly in this one, though they end up spending much of the novel investigating two separate cases and worrying about the other. A few more thoughts:
Mann really excels at gruesome description. In the first book, it was automata -- in this one it's a rotting cyborg. Gross and awesome. The fight scenes in the novel are where it's at. Great action! Alas, the relationship tension feels a bit tacked on to me. But I don't generally enjoy that part of these kinds of stories anyway. Thoughts about feelings? GROSS.
A nice romp. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. If you didn't read The Affinity Bridge, I think you could enjoy this just fine as well....more
Station Eleven is a literary, level-headed look at life after the apocalypse. It’s not a comet, nor a zombie plaStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is a literary, level-headed look at life after the apocalypse. It’s not a comet, nor a zombie plague, but a simple especially-lethal influenza. Imagine 1918, but far, far worse. St. John Mandel tells the story of several people, all united by their common acquaintance with one man who dies at the beginning of the novel. It’s a solid character study with a compelling through-line and expertly-crafted people. Reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Colson Whitehead’s Year One. It’s literary apocalypse, and very compelling.
A few thoughts:
The novel imagines the apocalypse in much less horrific terms than many of the books that I read, but it’s all the more chilling for that. The common struggle for survival puts us way back into the dark ages, at least for a time, and people find both the good and the bad in themselves. The mix of present-day and future storylines also works well, giving depth to the future with excursions into the past. St. John Mandel even works out an effective way to tie the younger characters (born after the flu) into the older storylines. My only complaint is that the novel gets a bit too cleanly tied up in the end. It’s fair to say that the story is being told in a way designed to wrap up when the narrative demands it, but it feels like there’s an awful lot of coincidence at work in the final shakedown. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Dickens did it, after all), but it feels a little too on-the-nose.
Also, I’d like to read the (fictional) comic book from which the novel’s title is taken....more
When Siggy gets a job at an interplanetary supermax prison, she doesn't know she's going to become a conversational pal with a pair of serial killers.When Siggy gets a job at an interplanetary supermax prison, she doesn't know she's going to become a conversational pal with a pair of serial killers. Or that this relationship will hinge on the fact that she's one of the few people who has encountered time pockets more than once. Also, ballroom dancing.
Broken Time is an odd book, with lots of interesting ideas but not tight enough to work well. A few thoughts:
- There are a bunch of great ideas and sketches of great ideas that the book doesn't follow through on. Among the ideas we don't learn enough about: a Lost Fleet that is trapped in time, showing up occasionally to attack a planet long after the war is over and an interstellar economy that's brutal and punishing but we only hear about a little bit at the beginning of the novel. The book also features an alien species, the speedies, who move far more quickly than we do. It's a cool premise that could also have had more attention. - I like the novel's focus on Siggy's interest in ballroom dancing, and it has a nice payoff later. The novel also takes some solid narrative steps to give Siggy the skills and ideas she will need later. - The references to differences in planets gives the book the feel of grandeur, but in practice the planets don't get enough descriptions to really show how they're different. Siggy might just as well have been in two different cities or countries on Earth. - I like the insight that in times of war, we will do whatever it takes, including science that destroys the people it aims to help. - Last, it's a little off-putting how much Siggy's job in the supermax prison feels like The Silence of the Lambs. From the hallway she has to walk down (passing rude and awful prisoners to get to the most horrible one) to his temperamental interest in her to his habit of standing very still, one can't help but see that famous film. Adding just a few touches to make it feel different would have helped this part of the book a lot for me.
Overall, this wasn't my favorite. It took a long time to capture my interest (I actually said "If I don't like it a lot more tonight, I will put it down"), but the main character is nicely developed and the book focuses more on her character than on techno-wizardry....more
Shea’s novel is a light romp through a dark future where most of the Earth has been ravaged by economic and environmental collapse. Many people live iShea’s novel is a light romp through a dark future where most of the Earth has been ravaged by economic and environmental collapse. Many people live in floating cities high above the Earth, and a few others vie for the limited slots among the global elite. Just making her way in the world is our titular vicious mercenary, who has been working as the owner of a brothel for the last few years. Alas, her past comes back to haunt her and she must make a run for it.
- Koko is an enjoyable adventure, if a bit light on the plot arc. The main character is empathetic in as much as someone who used to be a mercenary can be, but the future Shea describes is so bleak that we need not worry too much about particular bleakness facing individuals in the world. Yikes. - One of the plagues of the floating cities is a kind of suicidal depression that’s diagnosed as an incurable disease. There’s an implication in the book that this sort of depression is just in one’s mind, which could imply some deeper readings of Shea’s view of modern mental health issues, or it could just be the view that the overlords of the future might employ a cynical terminal diagnosis to control population growth. (And thus, I just realize, I build a link between this novel and the under-rated Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan film Joe vs. the Volcano.) - Shea seems to have an equally dark view of corporations of the future — global capital has not been all that good for people in the world. That said, there’s an implication that the world collapses under some other malady and it’s only global capitalism that gets us going again, so maybe these vicious corporations are good? I would love to read another book written with a Margaret Atwood-ian seriousness in this particular world. (Actually, without too much tweaking, you could see this as a version of the Oryx and Crake world.)
This book comes as close as I’ve found to the edge of the nickel. It doesn’t offer enough, to me, to push it onto the recommended pile, but it has a few enjoyable facets that make it hard to recommend against. It’s a fine beach read, but that’s about it....more
This remarkable, entertaining horror novel has a simple premise: a haunted IKEA. It's not actually the Swedish flat-pack behemoth, of course, but an aThis remarkable, entertaining horror novel has a simple premise: a haunted IKEA. It's not actually the Swedish flat-pack behemoth, of course, but an also-ran called ORSK, a fictional store designed, the narrator asserts, to copy IKEA as closely as possible. The tale follows Amy, her supervisor Basil, and a couple other employees as they stay late at the store one night to catch the vandals who have been sneaking in at night, breaking merchandise and messing up the place. Of course, it turns out to be something more horrible.
A few thoughts:
The novel builds on the way familiar places can seem frightening when they're shifted out of their usual place in our minds. When Amy and friends stay late, the massive store becomes otherworldly, and the gleaming expanse of the showroom shifts into a frightening wasteland of modest furniture. The novel's design is its most compelling feature -- the cover looks like an IKEA catalog, and each chapter starts with a blueprint drawing of an ORSK product with a name like Brooka or Kjërring, and a description consistent with IKEA's rhetoric. As the story grows darker, the chapter drawings do too. The supernatural element that arises is pretty well-crafted and thoroughly creepy, and will certainly show up in my subconscious next time we wander out to IKEA. It's not the scariest book I've ever read, but it's got a good eerie factor, and solid characters.
Overall, Horrorstör is a solid creepy novel with an innovative design that fits the novel perfectly. Worth a read....more
I’ve read my fair share of old science fiction. (By old here, I generally mean things written before 1980.) I acknowledge this line is relatively arbiI’ve read my fair share of old science fiction. (By old here, I generally mean things written before 1980.) I acknowledge this line is relatively arbitrary, but so am I. Some old sf gets dated pretty quickly, and feels foreign and a little weird. The Cosmic Computer comes to mind. Some old sf holds together pretty well, remaining both entertaining and illuminating its age well–The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, for instance. And then there are sf books that age badly–they don’t comment on their own era except by accident and their storytelling style stales. Just putting this out there.
Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer disappoints in far more ways than it pleases. It’s got a killer hook — what if a hyperspace-traveling planet showed up on our doorstep, closer to the moon than we are? Chaos would rule on the Earth, where tidal forces would go bonkers, earthquakes would wrack the land, and people would die in droves. The Wanderer uses multiple plots to follow the experience of people all over the Earth over the course of the first three days after the mysterious planet shows up next to ours. Awesome premise, terrible execution. I don’t know how this book won the Hugo.
A few thoughts:
- As an end-of-the-world tale, The Kraken Wakes is far better, using many of the same tropes a decade earlier and doing a better job of it. - The casual misogyny famously part of the SF boys’ club is on a rampage in this book, with women being either flighty or harlots, but always being condescended to. Despite the book’s setting in the future, Leiber fails to imagine any change in cultural norms about, say, race or gender. - The cat person is amusing, but petulant and childish too. Oh, and it’s the only representative we have of the alien race. It was pretty hard to distinguish the character’s flaws from Leiber’s sense of how women act. - The people in this novel have sex at the strangest times. And often it’s in the vein of women who don’t want to have sex being convinced by an eager man. - All the casual misogyny and racism aside, the book is boring. It’s too long for the tale it tells, and several of the storylines don’t change or grow at all.
Spoiler alert: There is one aspect of this particular tale that deserves a bit more discussion — it turns out that the traveling planet is part of a huge coalition of space entities that have a set of rules about what you can and can’t do as an interstellar space faring race. The people on the Wanderer don’t like the rules, so they’re on the run from the agency. I’m not sure if Leiber was criticizing a rising nanny state idea (it feels like he was), but the society they’re running from reminds me a lot of The Culture from Iain F. Banks novels, in a good way.
The dark and shadowy world of Empire State is kind of like New York in the late 20s, but not quite. This tale of adventure, mystery, weird technology,The dark and shadowy world of Empire State is kind of like New York in the late 20s, but not quite. This tale of adventure, mystery, weird technology, and haunting atmosphere will have you running in circles, marveling at the buildings, and peering into the fog. A few thoughts:
- The first half of the novel is fantastic. I mean that both literally — as in: it includes fantastical science-fiction elements and a complicated plot set in an alternate New York called The Empire State — and figuratively, in that it’s quite enjoyable. The second half, for me, was not quite as good. The novel explains more than I wanted it to, and the mysteriousness of the first half overwhelmed the result of the second half. - In mood, Empire State resonates with dystopian city sci-fi scapes like Brazil, The Manual of Detection, and Kafka. It also injects noir tropes and pulp science heroes into the mix. The result is a world that draws on many of the same tropes in vogue throughout speculative fiction right now, but does so with verve and gusto. - Most impressive about the first half of the novel are Christopher’s casual world-building moments. He excels in writing sentences that open new doors on the world, shifting the whole nature of what you see as you read. I enjoyed these moments so much that I’ve excised a lot of references from this review so that these syntactical gems can remain inviolate. To explain what I mean, though, consider the classic example from Heinlein: “The door dilated.” With the simple use of a word in a new context, Heinlein downloads a whole new set of expectations and ideas about the world. Christopher does this several times (at least three that I can think of), and it’s a delight. - At the same time, some of these reveals are cheats of narrative convenience. For instance, at least one “big reveal” from fairly late in the novel depends on visual information that, had we been watching this as a film, we would have understood from the beginning. Thus, the value of carefully excluding details. - I like that Christopher includes a playlist and an invitation to fan contributions at the end of the book.
All in all, very enjoyable. Phil Gigante does a good job handling different voices in the story, particularly given the complex relationships between some of the characters....more
Two gentlemen with big manors face off in a legendary fat pig growing contest, and right in the middle is the brother of one of the men, Gally ThreepwTwo gentlemen with big manors face off in a legendary fat pig growing contest, and right in the middle is the brother of one of the men, Gally Threepwood. Of course, there’s some confusion with mis-matched lovers, a farce involving an uptight butler and stolen pigs, and an awful lot of bally great language. A few thoughts:
- I don’t like these quite as much as the Jeeves and Wooster novels. Gally Threepwood isn’t quite as goofy or dopey as Bertie Wooster, and Beach is no Wooster. Of course, I should probably read more before I pronounce judgment, but there it is. - Vocab: pre-phylloxera – wine from before the great French wine blight. “Beach helped himself to a third glass of port. It was pre-phylloxera, and should have had him dancing about the room, strewing roses from his hat, but it not so much as bring a glow to his eye.” (194) Apparently wine made after the plague was less heady or something. - Favorite phrase from the book: “Penny seemed listless… It may have been merely maiden meditation but it looked to Gally more like the pip.” I love the phrase “the pip,” which means “to be angry, or depressed.”
There are perhaps some class issues to write about with regard to these books, but really, Wodehouse books are just darn fun....more