This is an excellent primer on basic and intermediate functionality in Git. I found it especially useful, having worked first in Subversion and then fThis is an excellent primer on basic and intermediate functionality in Git. I found it especially useful, having worked first in Subversion and then finding myself in a collaborative environment that used Git, and needing to get up to speed quickly. ...more
I wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience wasI wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience was one in which I remember where I was during the story, one in which I sat in my car after the commute from the office, unable to move until the story had completed. I remember sitting there, in that car, as Gemma looked out over the icy river after her father. "I was his eldest child, and he taught me what he knew," one of the closing lines of the story, still echoes around my head. I searched out the story that same evening, and purchased this collection simply because of it.
I think the reason that "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" caught me so by surprise, struck me so where I live, is because of the intricate, fragile relationship between father and daughter that the story portrays. I read it shortly after the birth of our daughter, and in the midst of attempting to imagine our future and the care with which I was attempting to craft my relationship with her from the beginning, this story was...shaking...to me as Vaughn so clearly painted each character through the other's eyes.
This collection is filled with just that...moments that are familiar to each of us in some capacity, not in their setting but in their events, capturing the one through the eyes of the other. I found myself examining many of the moments through which I have already traveled, and anticipating those through which I still must, looking to the other individuals that inhabit my own narrative with fresh perspective. The events that Vaughn captures are astounding in their normalcy, familiar in their commonality. There are no moments here in which I found myself closing the book to examine what the author meant. What Vaughn is doing, and what she is doing well, is placing each of us, either retroactively or predictively, into these situations through her characters and giving us the opportunity to explore ourselves.
Vaughn is following the same cast of characters here through various settings and stages of life. I immediately equated this with Salinger's Nine Stories, but don't, because, while parallels are easily drawn to the approach, there is nothing nearly as metaphysical going on in Vaughn's collection. It's absence is in no way a detractor. Vaughn's stories are complex but never overwhelming. The timbre of her language resonates with a uniqueness, her prose is concise but never succinct, and always original. Her wit is quick, leaving the reader with a smile but never quite laughing aloud. This is not a lengthy read at just under 200 pages, but you may find yourself spacing it out into a story per evening as I did for over a week. This is because, what I did find myself pondering after each...the relationships in my own life...was worth the time to digest.
I wasn't aware of Vaughn prior to that podcast. I'm certainly glad that has changed. Sweet Talk is a touching and sincere addition to your shelf that you will find quite necessary. ...more
That is perhaps what rings in my ears the most at the conclusion of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a heavy novel at just noThis is a bad land for gods.
That is perhaps what rings in my ears the most at the conclusion of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a heavy novel at just north of 400 pages that alternatively was either difficult to pick up or difficult to put down.
I had never experienced Gaiman in literary form before this book. I knew him from his comics writing, most notably The Sandman, and was curious as to his other writing. The title of this one arrested my attention, and it took me a bit to decipher what's going on within the pages.
I'll set the stage: Our protagonist, Shadow, is released from prison days early because his wife has been killed. He encounters a gentleman who wants to hire him as a sort of bodyguard while traveling to the funeral, and he agrees. He is then caught up in a brewing war...a war between the old gods, those of Norse, Roman, Greek pantheons as well as from various other traditions and countries...and the new gods, the gods of technology, of media, of all the things that America holds dear. Those are the gods that Americans have come to worship, and leave the old gods are fighting for their survival.
Yet...this is a bad land for gods.
It sounds gripping, right? And certainly, at the end, you're drawn into the climactic conflicts in true graphic novel style. The book takes a while to pick up momentum...I was over 150 pages in before I felt like I was really moving, and after that point it was very start-and-stop. I found the novel outright difficult to continue at times, and, at around 250 pages or so, I was forcing my way through only because I refuse, on principle, to stop reading a book that I have started. Now, while that sounds bad, I'll say also that the pacing is my only complaint about Gaiman's craft here. His narrative is clear and imaginative, his dialogue nothing short of brilliant at times. I'm perfectly willing to concede that the pacing problem was me, not the author, and his craft at painting these gods...these gods in our country...is original, resourceful, and thought-provoking. Gaiman weaves in ancient religious traditions throughout the novel that I found myself wishing I knew more of, and I'm left with the feeling that these were frequently over my head.
So, my disappointment in the novel has nothing to do with Gaiman's skill as a writer. What gives me pause is the discontinuity is what the novel says, the commentary (if I may over-use that word) that it makes. America is, in fact, a bad land for gods, as Gaiman states. It is a country of mis-matched origins, of disconnected histories woven into one, each bringing with it its own beliefs and traditions that have melded in a collision with a lack of history. Thus, traditions have been forgotten, and, in the rush of modern life, former religions are left by the wayside, discarded as futile and ancient, while new religions of business and technology replace them. Yet, even these religions hold little power, and are quickly forgotten as new religions are spun to take their places. And so, we reap the fruits of a shallow existence, of one without history or tradition or belief in anything other than what is most convenient. This is the world that Gaiman gives us in American Gods, and this is the critique that I find most true and lasting. And, in fact, had it been left there, I think that this would have been an outstanding novel because, agree with the statement or not, it is a powerful statement to make.
This, however, is merely (if I can apply that descriptor) the foundation for Gaiman to explore the concept and power of worship. The gods are left with power only when they are worshipped. The gods worshipped the most have the most power. As the protagonist tells us, human beings believe...it's what we do, and thus we will believe in something, however shallow that something is as the former things fade into the background.
Is it, then this scattershot belief that makes this such a bad land for gods?
Again, that question is worth unpacking, and is enough for two novels. I applaud Gaiman for letting this circulate through his story.
Then, however...then comes the excessively didactic proclamation that the gods are, in fact, created by man, and only have power when man worships them...that man has not accepted responsibility for his inventions of belief, which now run amok and do damage while left unattended, eventually withering and dying away, impotent and powerless when forgotten. The breadth of Gaiman's closure here seems to sweep all religions into this net, no faiths excluded, thus diminishing the very metaphysical statement that he makes earlier. Man, then, is the being with all the power, here, and the only true worship is self-worship...a remarkably shallow statement that leaves the reader empty after so much promise.
And yet...Gaiman hints at surprisingly redemptive moments through human belief. Shadow's relating of the account of the thieves hanging on either side of Christ during the crucifixion, and reminding that the thieves should perhaps be remembered because perhaps they know spiritual realities more than many others, is quick, simple, and wants to be powerful. Later, the gods tell Shadow that it didn't matter that he didn't believe in them, because they believed in him...both stories of faith in something larger that ourselves that can salvage us despite our inability to do anything in our own favor. Is this fundamental state of the human condition also manufactured, left empty as it relies only on gods that we have created and are thus less than are we? Perhaps then, we are sacrifical to ourselves, or to our own creations, as would seem to be the case when Shadow hangs on the tree in the final chapters, an attempt at a Christological metaphor so obvious and so dysfunctional that I couldn't have handled anything more glaring and in our face than it was.
I had read and heard much praise about this novel and, while certainly well-written, it left me profoundly disappointed in it's lack of coherency and connectivity. Gaiman's prose adeptly proclaims one thing, only to contradict it later. Perhaps that's the point, and I'm missing something larger here, but I expected more of Gaiman. This novel is worth exploring...sort of. If your curiosity isn't nagging you to read it, though, I can't say that you'll be happy it's on your shelf....more
Let's get in the way-back machine (well, the sort-of-way-back machine...okay, the one-decade machine, and you can decide whether or not that's way-bacLet's get in the way-back machine (well, the sort-of-way-back machine...okay, the one-decade machine, and you can decide whether or not that's way-back) and talk about a one-shot that Paul Dini and Alex Ross offered, "JLA: Liberty and Justice for All." This is an over-sized (by that I mean physical page size, not book length...you can easily read this in a sitting) graphic novel that grabbed my attention from the shelves of my local library. This is one of a few over-sized graphic novels to Ross' credit, and my first real experience with his art, which feels much more like a sequential painting that normal comic book art. This book truly shines because of the art: Aquaman's face, Batman's cloak, Wonder Woman's presence, Hawkman's and Hawkgirl's wings as they are in flight. I'll be the first to say that some of the portrayals of the heroes' faces aren't particularly to my liking (Superman looks too old, Green Lantern too conservative), but this is a matter of preference that shouldn't eclipse the fact that the art in this book is absolutely breathtaking. The final panel in which Superman and the Martian Manhunter hover over the Earth keeping watch is alone worth reading this.
To be fair, I've read other reviews that criticize the writing for plot inconsistencies. My primary negative reaction to the writing is the lack of inventiveness in some of the action sequences, an occasionally the dialogue could be more natural, to fit the realistic images of our heroes in the artwork. What I admire in the plot, though, is the fact that it explores important themes about super hero mythology. As hysteria about an alien plague begins to sweep over the world, rioting and chaos break out. The Justice League is forced to turn their powers against those that they have protected before in order to keep peace, and, while they are not violent, the writer explores the public's feeling of betrayal and stunned silence as the superhuman powers of the Justice League are suddenly not between them and danger, but rather turned toward them. All of us who were "good kids" in school remember the unease as the teacher's glare was turned upon us for the first time.
As the heroes stand at their press conference to defend their actions, Dini does a fantastic job of making the reader want to take their side, but feel uneasy doing so. In the spirit of another great graphic novel, I found myself thinking during the Manhunter's closing address, "but who watches the watchmen?"
Superheroes are the powerful, the ones who stand against the evil that we cannot hope to resist ourselves, selflessly acting in our defense when we need them most. That mythology falls apart when their power is turned against us instead, and so that is our tension: we want the heroes to save us, yet we fear of what they are capable should they choose to act selfishly, to cross the line between hero and villain. What Dini does so powerfully here is to underscore that that line...the very definitions of "hero" and "villain"...can be subjective.
Keep in mind, for those of us familiar with the stories, that this is a stand-alone book, outside of the canon of the regular DC story arcs. This book is worth the read for anyone remotely interested in superhero tales and what they mean to the human experience. Any reader will appreciate the themes that are explored in this book. ...more
I've always had a sort of bittersweet relationship with alternative takes on the Batman mythology. They interest me enough to explore, but I just can'I've always had a sort of bittersweet relationship with alternative takes on the Batman mythology. They interest me enough to explore, but I just can't consider them canonical to the Batman universe in any way. Still, these stand-alone stories show the way in which this hero resonates with nearly all of us in some way or another, and are often worth the read.
Death by Design was an unknown to me, but the premise was enough to grab my attention. The author, in the preface, indicates that his inspiration came from two historical events: the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, and the construction crane collapses in Manhattan in 2008. Weaving these events in to a "glorious, golden age" in Gotham city, Chip Kidd draws us into a noir-ish mystery featuring a young Bruce Wayne who is early in his career as the Batman. The Dark Knight must solve the mystery of industrial neglect that has resulted in lost lives and that is connected far more intimately than he cares to realize to the Wayne legacy. Along the way he meets an anti-hero, Exacto, that is taking the situation into his own hands in a way that he views as impossible for others.
Besides writing the Batman into an entertaining mystery, Kidd uses Exacto to call into question the line that Batman walks between hero and vigilante. Exacto crosses the lines that Batman will not, drawing a contrast to the police's perception of the Batman, who view him as an out-of-control vigilante, even though he adheres to his personal code of not killing those who are guilty, despite the fact that they are guilty. Exacto has no such hesitance, yet the Batman's heroism is not seen in any favorable light by the authorities.
Kidd brings technology into the story that feels to be too far-flung and science-fiction-like to have a place in the mythology of Batman, especially if we're to see the story as a period piece in a "glorious, golden age." The grappling gun is one thing, but a small device that emits a stasis field in order to prevent harmful impacts? My suspension of disbelief is broken at that point.
The Joker is written poorly by Kidd, but I have trouble holding this against him. This is an extremely nuanced villain who is difficult to get right, as difficult as the Batman in his own right.
Bruce Wayne's introspective voice, however, is significantly out of character, something else that broke my ability to completely inhabit the story on more than one occasion. He feels too flippant, too eager for the disturbed, fractured, traumatized man that is the Dark Night Detective.
And yet, for all of my misgivings, there is the art....
Dave Taylor draws us into this noir world with black-and-white art work that is nothing short of stunning. A two-page spread of Batman sailing across Gotham's skyline is worth reading the book in itself, and the close-ups of Cyndia Syl's face are breath-taking. There is just enough color to make these panels pop without breaking the murder-mystery feel, and Taylor draws your eyes across his pages masterfully.
This is an entertaining mystery with fantastic art, but it just doesn't connect with the Batman story as we know it. The departures are simply too drastic to ignore at times, but the capturing of the genre into which our hero is placed makes the book at least somewhat worth reading. I wish Kidd would have spent more time exploring the contrasts between Batman and Exacto, because there is potential to have saved this story here, instead of simply encountering another custom-written villain to balance the story. I would have difficulty recommending this for a dedicated Batman fan, unless you're just looking for a quick weekend read. ...more
Wonder Woman has never been a title that I read on its own. In fact, I can only recall buying one issue in my life, and that was somewhere back in theWonder Woman has never been a title that I read on its own. In fact, I can only recall buying one issue in my life, and that was somewhere back in the the mists of my childhood because the cover grabbed me. Like many DC titles, however, I became at least mildly interested after the launch of the New 52, inasmuch as I followed it's flagship title, Justice League. In those pages, I became interested in Wonder Woman as one of the primary three heroes in the DC Universe, now presented not as a character about whom my wife complains ("A Lasso of Truth? Really?") as still being presented as inferior to male characters, but here painted as a strong character worthy of her Amazonian past.
So, I was glad to (finally) make the time to read the collected first volume of her initial story arc in the New 52.
I was impressed, but I'll say up front that this collection didn't absorb me like some of the other New 52 titles. The art I found to be a bit sporadic. While the cover art, being particularly poor, isn't representative of the interior pages, I still found many of the pages displaying clunky characters drawn with heavy-handed lines and confusing movement from panel to panel. That said, there are moments of brilliance, particularly in the facial expressions of Queen Hera.
The writing far outshines the art, with delicate foreshadowing and powerful dialogue between many characters, but especially on the part of our protagonist ("Peace? Your mocking lips spit a word your tongue has never tasted."). The movement of the story is well paced as collected into a graphic novel, though I'm not sure how it would have felt in individual issues. The balance between narrative, dialogue, and action is thoughtfully and intentionally achieved, and the action sequences are violently intense when present.
The first installment of Wonder Woman's origin story is told here, as she realizes that the legend of the childhood in which she has grown up believing is a lie, and as she races to protect a girl pregnant with Zeus' illegitimate child as the wrath of Olympus threatens to kill her where she stands. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this story is the way in which the legendary Greek gods and goddesses are portrayed, at times very thought-provoking (Hades with his face obscured by the burning candles on his head, or Ares as a rail-thin African warlord drinking in a bar), and at times with particular humor (Hermes sitting on a sofa with a remote control in hand and his leg in a splint).
I originally rated this story at three stars. Why? Well, first off, stars are so arbitrary, but necessary on Goodreads. Secondly, because this story, while well written, just didn't move me along in it's premise. As a hero story goes, it felt...dry to me, as much as the craft of the writing may have had shining moments. My final decision when writing this, though, is a four-star review, because the character development sinks in after letting the book sit for a day or two. In these pages, we meet Wonder Woman as a hero for today. She is a warrior, one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe (watching her lift a car is impressive enough, but the first panel in which she enters with a shield and battle axe will alter your perception of the character forever). I wish that I had read these issues when the New 52 originally launched, as it would have helped me to make more sense of the character in the pages of Justice League. Here, I was about twenty pages in before I truly heard her voice, but then there was no turning back. Because we also see Wonder Woman as a woman, insecure in her heritage, mourning the loss of her mother before she could make amends, strongly drawn to familial connections, and strongly persevering through her losses. If you imagined a flat or two-dimensional character here...if your perception of Wonder Woman as been that of my wife's, a character with unrealized potential left to languish on the fringes of a male-dominated hero universe...then for that reason alone, I would recommend this book. Even if the story leaves you lagging behind a bit as it did me, you'll be glad that you now truly know Diana, the Princess of the Amazons. ...more