This final book in Greg Rucka's "Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition" series of comics compilations is the only one not to feature super spy TThis final book in Greg Rucka's "Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition" series of comics compilations is the only one not to feature super spy Tara Chace. Instead, we flash back into the past to learn how some of the men she's worked with became the people we meet later on.
The first chapter introduces us to Paul Crocker, now head of operations for Chace's unit, as a young man on a 1980s mission under the Iron Curtain. Chapter two features Tom Wallace in 1990s Hong Kong, just days before its hand-over from the Brits to the Chinese. The book concludes with Nicholas Poole, trying to prove himself while serving in the military in early 2000s Northern Ireland -- events that take place after the start of the "Queen & Country" series but before Poole joins Chace and friends on the fun.
The more I've read of this series the more it's grown on me. Rucka has envisioned a rich world. I'm planning to track down more of his work, including the two non-visual novels he's written about the world of Tara Chace and also some more of his comics....more
The more I read of the "Queen & Country" series, the more I like it. This book features some new back story into British intelligence operative'sThe more I read of the "Queen & Country" series, the more I like it. This book features some new back story into British intelligence operative's family history and love life, but politics and action remain at its core. As Chace uses guns and quick thinking to tackle two major missions -- even when things go awry -- we also watch staffing changes back home complicate things. It appears that this will be the last Rucka comic about Tara Chace, though there's still one more volume to read.
While the earlier books in the series each have three major operations, this has only two. The third segment of the book features Greg Rucka's annotated scripts. They're enlightening in that they show how the sausage is made, and how different writing for comics is from other kinds of writing. They could be a useful took for anyone trying to figure out how to write his or her own graphic novel. But it's hard to get into them in depth, especially if you've already read the first three books and are quite familiar with the story. In other words: sometimes it's better to eat the sausage than to dwell on how it's made....more
This book collects comics 13-26 of Greg Rucka's "Queen & Country" series.
Like the first volume in the series, it centers around an elite operatioThis book collects comics 13-26 of Greg Rucka's "Queen & Country" series.
Like the first volume in the series, it centers around an elite operations group in Britain's intelligence service, especially the exploits of Tara Chace, one of several people sent abroad to tackle covert assignments when official channels won't do.
Whereas the first volume focused heavily on international Islamic terrorism, which interludes to dwell on domestic political pressures in London, this book takes a different tack. There's relatively little about terrorism beyond an aside suggesting that our main characters are sick of U.S. pressure to focus on Osama Bin Ladin. Intrigues are more political, and in several cases involve the interactions between British businesses and foreign governments. More of the action seems to take place in London, as well, as the team we're following faces budget cuts and leadership changes that -- author Greg Rucka hints -- could ultimately transform the service. Paul Crocker, director of operations for the team, comes into sharper profile in these stories as he fights for funding and even to keep his job.
People who loved the action of volume one may be disappointed in the second "Queen & Country" collection, but I enjoyed the political games at least as much as I liked the fighting and killing of the earlier book. And there's still a decent share of fighting and killing.
For the most part, I also like the illustrations better in this book. Different artists drew each of the three story lines it's divided up into, and were given fairly free reign to interpret Rucka's characters and the worlds they inhabit. My only complaint -- and it's a small one -- is that Carla Speed McNeil seemed to draw many white male characters with very similar strokes. In several of the scenes she illustrated I had a hard time knowing who was who. ...more
This book compiled into graphic novel form the first 12 comics from Greg Rucka's "Queen & Country" series.
As you might guess from the title, theThis book compiled into graphic novel form the first 12 comics from Greg Rucka's "Queen & Country" series.
As you might guess from the title, the book -- though written by an American living in the U.S. -- centers on a very British view of the world. We follow several high-level intelligence operatives based in London who are sent out around the globe to protect their country's interests when things get messy.
It's a James Bond/Borne Identity type of world, with lots of intrigue, shooting, car chases and some killing. But Rucka is less fantastical than the creators of the Bond and Borne universes. He writes about office politics, international law, and the personal toll of top-secret work in terms that mesh well with what an informed citizen of the world might understand to be reality. That makes suspending disbelief easier and the story more entertaining for readers who, like me, get distracted by sloppy omissions of fact and reality.
These original stories were published in 2001 and 2002, and Rucka's awareness of international terrorism was clearly prescient. In tales that unfold before the events of 9/11, he depicts an intelligence community worried about al Quaeda and Osama Bin Ladin. He does not dwell on 9/11 at length, but does include a short, simple and appropriate acknowledgement of the event -- appropriate both in a literary sense and given the British, not American, world he's painting.
I'm tempted to knock my rating down to two stars because I was so annoyed by illustrator Leandro Fernandez's interpretation of the special operations officer at the center of many of these stories. When we meet Tara Chace and follow her through the first two chapters, she looks like a very British and very real person. Yes, artists Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, Bryan Lee O'Malley and Christine Norrie all draw Chace as slender, buff and attractive, but she's also got human proportions, a long, British-looking nose, relatively slender lips. In the final chapter, Fernandez halves the circumference of her waist, doubles her bust, plumps up her lips, and imagines that she goes to the office wearing skimpy vests with cleavage-enhancing bras and nothing underneath. If the book had started out with such a gross and chauvinist interpretation of its most central character I'd probably have groaned but accepted a sexist comics world status quo. Because each artist was allowed his or her own take on the character, Fernandez's interpretation late in the book was especially jarring. Hell, if he'd included a few unbelievably sexy men in his eye candy collection, I might feel differently. That's not to say that women are the only people he likes to exaggerate for effect. Fernandez also likes to portray Arabs as big-nosed bad guys whose faces live in evil-infused shadows. Sounds like an enlightened guy, this illustrator.
Fortunately, the subsequent compilations feature many different artists. I've leafed through volume 2 in the series, and I'm glad to see that Tara Chace's boobs are no longer so big that they'd get in the way of any firearms she might have to use in the field, and her waist seems to be big enough that she can take a deep breath before zig-zagging across a field of artillery fire. ...more
I enjoyed "American Gods," really I did. So why only three stars? Because this is one of those fun-romps-through an idea that will appeal to people whI enjoyed "American Gods," really I did. So why only three stars? Because this is one of those fun-romps-through an idea that will appeal to people who like the premise, or who like fantastical romps, or who want to read something entertaining nonstop for a few days, but it's not great literature and it doesn't do anything earth moving or mind shattering.
The premise: Supernatural beings are created and fueled by communal belief, worship and tradition. Since America is populated by people from around the world, our continent is inhabited by a diverse collection of these gods and mythical creatures -- creatures like leprechauns and ogres, as well as out-and-out deities. These powerful beings often disguise themselves as mortals and walk among us. But belief in these ancient traditional deities has mostly faded, leading some gods to suicide, others to live their days with depleted power. Americans worship their televisions, laptops, wifi connections and modern conveniences with more fervor than they kowtow to old gods. A conflict between the new deities of American life and the ancient beings of pre-modern time is looming.
Shadow, our human protagonist, is just the guy to show us what's really going on. He's been in prison for three years, and is hired upon his release to serve a magically endowed stranger. Although Shadow did commit the crime for which he was accused, Gaiman also hints that our hero was a bit of a fall guy and unfairly singled out while is accomplices never did any time. Like many protagonists in works of fantasy, Shadow's a downtrodden and unappreciated guy, even though he's actually quite clever and seems to have some degree of supernatural influence upon the world. People are out to get him, but with his pure heart, honest efforts and willingness to sacrifice himself he may just save the day.
A lot of the action unfolds at roadside attractions, which -- it turns out -- are naturally occurring spiritual hubs where members of a more spiritual society might have built cathedrals instead of tributes to American kitsch.
I found a lot of the details that Neil Gaiman used to populate his book to be clever, in a chuckle-worthy way, though I'd hardly call this book deep. It suffers from long-list syndrome, something I've noticed more and more since the Harry Potter phenomenon: instead of describing a scene or advancing the plot, periodically Gaiman pads his page count by choosing some category and then composing a lengthy list of objects or ideas that fit into that category.
I also found it strange that a book about the spiritual force created by American beliefs doesn't touch on any of the religions that actually do dominate this country. "Jesus" exists only as an epithet, not as a manifestation of his worshipers' expectations. Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism don't even get a nod -- though Hindus at least have some representation at the table of the gods. Maybe Gaiman feels like he got the Christian stuff out of his system with "Good Omens," co-authored by humorist sci-fi/fantasy writer Terry Pratchett....more
The charming story of four sisters - Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth - as they navigate late childhood and early adulthood under the wise and watchful eye of thThe charming story of four sisters - Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth - as they navigate late childhood and early adulthood under the wise and watchful eye of their mother.
The writing is simple and straightforward, the characters are almost too pure to be real, everyone is good and well-meaning, but still life throws challenges -- disease, war, social pressure, death, character flaws and misunderstandings -- in the way. Although several story arcs follow our heroines through the book, this is almost a collection of short stories as much as it is a novel. Most of the chapters stand on their own as discrete units that unfold another element of the March family's lives.
I found the role of religion interesting and a little puzzling in this book. Author Louisa May Alcott was raised by a transcendentalist utopian, and my understanding has always held transcendentalism to exist outside of or detached from the dogma of Christianity. Yet these girls seem firmly Christian, though Alcott is circumspect in how she discusses faith. They aim to go to heaven by following the guidance of "Our Friend," they read their "little books" for lessons on life, they pray, and their father is a minister. But God, the Bible and church rarely receive direct mention. At a time when many protestants were afraid of Catholic influence, Amy mimics a French Catholic acquaintance's approach to worship, and only receives a smile -- no chiding -- from her mother. Another daughter is wed at home rather than in a chapel, to the consternation of a busy body aunt. I don't have a firm conclusion as to what this means, but Alcott seems to present an open-minded while still Christian way of looking at the world....more
This book ostensibly fills in some blanks for fans of "Little Women," by following the March girls' father as he acts as a minister to union troops duThis book ostensibly fills in some blanks for fans of "Little Women," by following the March girls' father as he acts as a minister to union troops during the Civil War. In addition to matching the chronology to "Little Women," author Geraldine Brooks also drew from Louisa May Alcott's own life, and from research into the Civil War.
Peter March is an idealist and abolitionist who worships his wife and four young daughters when he volunteers for the service. From the first page, we quickly learn that his gentle soul is not well equipped to handle the blood, gore, violence and moral uncertainties of war. His transcendentalist spiritualism, meanwhile, is of little comfort to soldiers in search of moral absolutes.
The first portion of the book is told through letters home in which March hides horrors from his loved ones, reflections on the reality he faces, and flashbacks that tell us how he made his fortune, won his wife, and later lost his financial footing. Later, when he is injured and hospitalized, Mrs. March has an opportunity to narrate, and she's shocked to realize how much her husband has hidden from her -- not only while away at war, but also from his life before they met and married. Then Peter March returns, shell shocked and broken, to narrate his return home.
I had not yet read "Little Women" when I picked up "March," and found myself frequently wondering if I'd like the book better if I could pick up on allusions that I instead might have overlooked. Having just finished "Little Women," however, I realize that the older book is only vaguely the framework on which "March" is based. Despite Brooks' author's note in which she claims to have tried to be true to the original, Peter March's character does not bear any semblance to the kind father of Louisa May Alcott's writing, and many of the facts don't mesh with Alcott's book.
Brooks also claims to have drawn from Alcott's life in writing "March." Wikipedia is hardly an authoritative source, but if it's to be believed Brooks succeeded in some areas and failed in others. Big names like Emerson and Thoreau intrude on the narrative in "March," which I found distracting and unrealistic, but apparently the Alcott family was close to those other early thinkers. On the other hand, Wikipedia suggests that the Alcotts may have welcomed one or two run-away slaves into their home, while "March" portrays a family that was a frequent stop on the Underground Railway.
These inconsistencies would not be so grating if "March" were a better or more interesting book. Brooks tries to dwell heavily on Peter March's spiritual agony, but these efforts fall flat. If the reflections of a liberal Christian appeal to you, I recommend the much more beautiful and compelling "Gilead" by Marylinne Robinson. Geradine Brooks is clearly capable of writing compelling historical fiction -- the Pulitzer panel would have done better to recognize her wonderful "Year of Wonders." I don't know what they were thinking when instead they picked this discombobulated and disappointing book....more
If you come to hard sci-fi in search of ideas about how humanity might change as we integrate with our machines, or how the universe (or universes) miIf you come to hard sci-fi in search of ideas about how humanity might change as we integrate with our machines, or how the universe (or universes) might fit together well beyond the observable world we know, you might well love this book. It's got some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, it's so bogged down by over-the-top "science-ish" writing, weak character development and two oddly stitched together plots that I kept cursing in annoyance as I read, rather than delighting at the novelty of author Greg Egan's ideas.
Each of the two stitched together plots is based on a distinct premise.
The first premise: It's the distant future. People can be male, female or genderless. They can inhabit mortal bodies like our own, or genetically altered bodies, or immortal robot bodies, or they can become converted into immortal human minds/souls that live forever in the digital realm. And some people -- including Yatima -- are born digitally, the result of a DNA-like sequence that allows randomness to shape the ingredients necessary for humanity into a self-aware being. People being what they are, those who inhabit mortal bodies think theirs is the only "true" way to experience humanity, the fully digital souls don't understand why anyone would choose to be limited by the constraints of the physical world, the robot dwellers think theirs is the perfect compromise, all seem to prefer separate spheres of existence as they remain warily aware of the other modes of being.
The second premise comes a fair chunk of the way in to the book, after the first premise is firmly established: All these different kinds of folks have just become aware that world-destroying (and maybe even solar-system-destroying or galaxy-destroying) astronomical events are more likely and harder to predict than they've ever understood before. Now the race is on to find a way to escape or hide before humanity and life come to an end. It's not clear if survival requires traveling great distances across the universe, or innovations in science to create wormholes, or the discovery of non-human intelligence, or another path altogether. We follow a group of digital souls as they venture far from earth in search of understanding and salvation.
Both premises are intellectually interesting, though they seem kind of disjointed, as does the array of characters we meet along the way. The book starts by introducing us to Yatima, a genderless new-born digital soul, as "ve" explores "ver" world, and introduces us to this world along the way. We get to know and like a number of characters, and it's frustrating when, in the second half of the book, a huge chunk of these characters fade from view completely, or disappear until the last few pages.
Egan also doesn't know when to stop with his detailed explanations of the speculative/imagined science that underpins the vast world he's imagined. These explanations read like dense academic treatises, except that they aren't real science, and they bog down the book. As one of these quagmires of over-explanations opens the book, I'm amazed that thousands of readers appear to have been, like me, stubborn enough to push through to see what the story might really be about. As I read, I learned to skim the science-ese and start paying attention at the end of each of these passages. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have made it through....more
Genghis Khan's descendants are fighting hard to expand the Mongol Empire, while those who lie in their path want to avoid getting trampled. "The MongoGenghis Khan's descendants are fighting hard to expand the Mongol Empire, while those who lie in their path want to avoid getting trampled. "The Mongoliad: Book One" is well-written historical fiction on the micro level but suffers from too-many-characters, not-enough-plot on the macro level.
We first get to know Cnan, an Asian-descended traveler who specializes in delivering messages across long distances without getting caught. After delivering a message to a group of virginal monk/knights somewhere in Russia or Hungary, she decides her mission aligns with theirs and sets out on a quest of sorts. These folks hate the Mongols and hope to thwart their cause.
Then we're introduced to a young Mongol warrior who knows hunting, fighting and roaming well, but who's now been assigned to the court of Ogedai Khan -- Genghis' son -- with the mission of protecting the Khan from his own failings. The warrior takes a slave-woman as his tutor as he attempts to navigate a world far more politicized than any he's ever imagined. These folks exist to advance the Mongols.
Then we get to know another group of knights, this one with motives more questionable than Cnan's allies.
*Then* we get to know some low-level fighters who engage in arena battles to entertain the Mongols, and aren't very pleased with this assignment.
As more and more characters are introduced, the reader may have flashbacks to George R. R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" series. Martin doesn't know how to turn down a new side-plot about a new character, but at least he threads life-or-death tension throughout his multiple character logs, and each new person he introduces comes with his or her own personal plot. The characters in "The Mongoliad" are interesting, but their plots are not well articulated.
And then the book abruptly ends. I'm not sure what the story is about, what the conflict is, where things are headed. This book left me wanting to learn more about the Mongol Empire and the lives of ordinary people within it, but not particularly interested in the fates of the characters I'd just spent several hundred pages getting to know. I won't be reading book two, but I am interested in finding other writing about the era....more
The earliest companies were consortia of tradesmen. The earliest organized non-governmental units were probably churches and universities. But for cenThe earliest companies were consortia of tradesmen. The earliest organized non-governmental units were probably churches and universities. But for centuries, legal constraints kept all but a handful of profit-seeking ventures from growing large. The few exceptions existed in the form of government-granted monopolies, most prominently the huge trading companies that dominated the global world of business from the 1600s through the 1800s.
"The Company" quickly walks its reader through a condensed early history of business growth before fixing on two factors that revolutionized the world of business: Industrialism and the Limited Liability Company. Limits on corporate liability were born in London and quickly spread across Europe and the U.S., also reaching Japan in adapted form. The book shows how the U.S., Germany and Japan each adapted this legal innovation in different ways, and makes an argument that without limited liability, and the joint-stock trading companies it allowed, the capital-intensive business enterprises that underpin our modern economy and quality of life would not be possible.
This is a pretty good introduction, with two caveats. One: It's written by two "Economist" contributors, and the free-market laissez faire capitalist ideology that underpins that magazine also infuse this book. Two: This is a survey of other people's research; it draws on few primary sources, but does have decent footnotes that can lead you towards others' thinking and work on the topics....more