The Annotated Mantooth collects the adventures of Rex Mantooth, a talking gorilla superspy. It was Matt Fraction's first published work in comics, andThe Annotated Mantooth collects the adventures of Rex Mantooth, a talking gorilla superspy. It was Matt Fraction's first published work in comics, and his first line of dialogue is a talking gorilla yelling, "Shit the bed!" He broke into the scene with a spy who fights ninja robots, lesbian commandos, and zombie Nobel laureates.
Mantooth is off the fucking wall. Each issue is only thirteen pages long since it shared space with another comic, but those thirteen pages are packed with ridiculous dialogue, hilarious captions, and plenty of explosions. And then the annotations are sometimes even funnier than the comic. That Matt Fraction, he's a funny guy. It's a book well worth picking up. Even the introductions are funny!...more
I haven't read a lot of anthologies in my day, so the following statement may not hold much weight, but: THIS IS THE BEST ANTHOLOGY I HAVE EVER READ.
SI haven't read a lot of anthologies in my day, so the following statement may not hold much weight, but: THIS IS THE BEST ANTHOLOGY I HAVE EVER READ.
Seriously. Out of the 34 stories in this collection, I was only meh on maybe one or two of them, and I liked all the others. The creativity on display is astounding: the various authors all have different approaches to the concept. How would the world react to the Machine of Death? Would such a machine be banned? Or would it be embraced? Would people begin living for their deaths rather than their lives? What does your death say about your life? Does knowing the method of your death, however ambiguous, change the way you live? Should you attempt to escape your inevitable demise?
Honestly, I almost want to say nothing at all about the individual stories because I loved discovering each new world, each new take on the idea. So many different characters! We have insurance salesmen ("Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions"), doctors ("Despair"), lab assistants ("Almond"), soldiers ("Starvation," "Shot by Sniper"), the inventors of the Machine itself ("Exploded"), Yakuza ("Improperly Prepared Blowfish"), politicians ("Exhaustion from Having Sex with a Minor"), infomercial writers ("Cocaine and Painkillers"), and many more. Each title is a method of death predicted by the Machine, but—and this is important to know going in to keep from being disappointed—it is not necessarily the way the protagonist will die. And, no, the protagonist does not always die at the end of the story. The obvious story to write is "Character tries to avoid death and then dies ironically," but only a handful of stories end that way, and when they do, it's not the point of the story. These stories are about how individual characters and society react to having their fate handed to them on a strip of paper. Some are funny. Some are sad. Some are sweet. Some are devious. Some have strong character relationships that transcend the premise hidden in the background. Some seek to analyze the very concept of predestination and fate on the level of quantum physics. Some...just fucking read it. It's clever and lovely and ironic and cute and creepy and thought-provoking and epic....more
Good-bye, Chunky Rice is the tale of a turtle named Chunky Rice who leaves his best friend, a deer mouse named Dandel, to find a place where he belongGood-bye, Chunky Rice is the tale of a turtle named Chunky Rice who leaves his best friend, a deer mouse named Dandel, to find a place where he belongs or something. He travels on his landlord's brother's ship and meets some Siamese twins. And I don't know, stuff happens.
The art is pretty. I expected that. But, man, I could not really get into the book at all. Chunky Rice, the apparent protagonist, doesn't really have a personality. Dandel isn't actually a character; she just spouts poetic sentiments. Strangely enough, the most developed characters are the landlord and his brother, except I didn't like or care about them, so. And then there are Siamese twins for some reason. The book is supposed to be about friendship and loneliness or something, but, gah, I don't even know.
Blankets is notable for several reasons: it won three Harveys and two Eisners, it was one of Time's Top 10 Graphic Novels, and it's nearly 600 fuckingBlankets is notable for several reasons: it won three Harveys and two Eisners, it was one of Time's Top 10 Graphic Novels, and it's nearly 600 fucking pages long. A true graphic novel, it tells the story of Craig Thompson's coming-of-age by focusing on several key relationships in his life: that with his little brother, his extremely Christian parents, his first love, and God. He struggles with his beliefs and how they may direct his life. The main focus of the book, however, is a very sweet love story, and his relationship with Raina helps him learn a lot about the world and his place in it.
The writing is very natural, but Thompson gets poetic when the occasion calls for it, although it sometimes takes you out of the story when it seeps into the dialogue. Teenagers don't talk like that! The art is simple black-and-white but lovely: while Thompson mostly draws in a realistic style, he also gets surreal and metaphoric to great effect, using the graphic medium to his advantage. I was most impressed with his ability to convey so much emotion with facial expressions.
Blankets, like life, doesn't give you all the answers, but it asks the right questions....more
You know how there are so many geek romantic comedies set at comic book conventions? Oh, you don't. Well, there's at least one, and it's One Con GloryYou know how there are so many geek romantic comedies set at comic book conventions? Oh, you don't. Well, there's at least one, and it's One Con Glory. In this cute little novelette—at under a hundred pages, it's too long to be a short story but too short to be a novella—Julie is covering GinormoCon for a magazine, but she's also a devoted fangirl of Glory Gilmore, a little-remembered character in the short-lived Marvel comic, The Periodic Seven, which is now a hit TV show. Glory means a lot to her, and after losing three action figures to different circumstances, she covets a fourth. She's accompanied by two entertainment website writers, her best friend, Mitch, and uberfanboy Braidbeard.
Part of her duties include interviewing pretty boy Jack Camden, an actor she believes was miscast as Travis Trent in The Periodic Seven. She's not looking forward to the interview, and she's deliberately hostile, but he surprises her by being more than just a pretty boy. Will there be a blooming romance? (Spoiler warning: yes, there will.)
Now, I don't read chicklit or stories where romance is the central focus, but I really enjoyed this story. It wasn't sappy or mushy, and it was full of geeky discussions about whether Scott should be with Jean or Emma and romantic displays of Guitar Hero prowess. And in the process, of course Julie learns a little bit about herself, but it feels earned and organic, even in such a short story....more
This is one of the strangest books I've ever read. It begins by informing you, the reader, that you have purchased Italo Calvino's new novel, If on aThis is one of the strangest books I've ever read. It begins by informing you, the reader, that you have purchased Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler, and are about to begin reading it.
That's right, it's a book about reading a book. But wait, it gets weirder! Because it turns out the book you're reading isn't even the right book. OR SOMETHING. Basically, the whole book is a bunch of first chapters (and not even the whole chapters) that end right as they get interesting. Meanwhile, you, the Reader, are trying to find some way to continue the stories you actually like, and you have a meet-cute with Other Reader. I was almost disappointed when Calvino attempted to actually give the book a semblance of a plot, as it kind of goes off the rails and becomes a bizarre Helleresque farce.
It's a strange postmodern metanarrative about reading and storytelling, fiction and truth, and the inherent lie in a translation (and of course, a layer of that winky-wink is added since I was reading a translation from the Italian). Also, it's funny!...more
The Shadow of the Wind has a great hook: a young boy, Daniel Sempere, is introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father. Here he choosesThe Shadow of the Wind has a great hook: a young boy, Daniel Sempere, is introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father. Here he chooses The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax, to keep and protect and remember. He devours the book and wants to read more by Carax...but he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book by Carax. Who? Why? How? Daniel's curiosity sets into motion a chain of events that will unearth the past and change his future.
Although it may seem like it on the surface, this book is not actually about some secret book-burning conspiracy. It's much more personal than that. It's a Gothic novel by way of Dickens, with startling coincidences and unexpected relationships. Daniel attemps to track down any information he can about Carax, trying to piece together his family history from the accounts of those still living, from letters, from mysterious photographs. This is not an easy task. Some people lie to him outright. Some people tell half-truths. And some people tell the only truth they know, even if it happens to be incorrect. In this sense, it reminded me of The Egyptologist: Daniel is not an unreliable narrator, but every single person he talks to sure is.
It's a great book that draws you in with lively, intriguing characters, including a villainous police inspector (Dickensian, like I said). There are many surprising twists along the way, even though when the final truth is revealed, you feel like you should have known all along. And it was the perfect book to read (in Budapest) before visiting Barcelona since it really captures the twisty-turny alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. There's even a walking tour in the back that takes you through important locations in the book. I'm looking forward to reading The Angel's Game and any future books set in this same world....more
I really dug it! The second volume moves the Flamer story to the forefront and takes advantage of the book's conceit that comic books are fictional reI really dug it! The second volume moves the Flamer story to the forefront and takes advantage of the book's conceit that comic books are fictional retellings of actual superhero exploits. And there are some neat plot twists! I don't think much of the art, honestly, but it's a cute story for comic book fans....more
Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It is...well, it's kind of right there in the title. It has an awesome cover,Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It is...well, it's kind of right there in the title. It has an awesome cover, which is part of the reason I wanted to read it. Well, that and I know Tara, and Seanan McGuire and Mary Robinette Kowal also had essays in the book, which contains two dozen essays, three interviews, and a very cute comic (from the creators of Torchwood Babiez, which I have never read). As one Amazon review astutely notes, the essays generally fall into one of three categories: the origin story ("How I became a Doctor Who fan"), the fandom story (costumes, 'zines, conventions), and the meta (what the show does right and wrong).
The origin stories do start to get rather repetitive after a while, and it was hard for me to really be interested in details of Old Who. They kept naming Doctors and Companions and episodes, and none of it meant anything to me, so I couldn't appreciate or relate to that experience very well. I don't recall any women who discovered New Who first; there may have been one or two, but I think their essays fell into the other categories. The standouts in this category are Amy Fritsch's "Two Generations of Fangirls in America," which sweetly describes how she brought up her daughter as a Doctor Who fan practically from the womb, and Seanan's "Mathematical Excellence: A Documentary," which is about how she honest-to-god thought Doctor Who was a documentary. That kind of absurdity works even when you don't know who the hell Adric is.
The essays about fannish exploits are a nice window into fannish history. Jennifer Adams Kelley details her years making Doctor Who fan films back in the days of videotape. Kathryn Sullivan takes us into the world of fanzines. Tara takes us behind the scenes of a Doctor Who fan convention as she mans the green room. Some essays deal with fandom in general and how it enriches your life, which was something I could relate to. A few do touch on the experience of being a female fan in a male-dominated fandom (and how the ratio may have changed from Old to New).
The meta essays were interesting, especially because they tended to focus much more on New Who (except for the essay about Nyssa), so I was familiar with the text and therefore could understand the arguments. As is my way, I preferred the ones with more positive things to say over those which were more critical, although the critical essays did make valid points I agreed with, and all criticism was couched in love for the show: this is a celebration, after all.
And then there's the final essay, "Regeneration X," by Catherynne M. Valente, which I think is in a category all its own. She is one of the few New Who girls in the book, so of course I connected with her essay more strongly. She fashions the Doctor and Companion into metaphors for our ever-changing selves as we grow, and the imagery and poetry is so wonderful I wanted to read it aloud.
So almost two hundred pages later, I am very well convinced that chicks do indeed dig Time Lords. And I'm also more interested in checking out Old Who to see what grabbed these women's imaginations back when they were girls. Also, fan-run conventions seem neat and less insane than Comic-Con. If you dig Time Lords, check this book out! You may find some kindred spirits....more
Neil Shubin co-discovered Tiktaalik, the "fish with hands," in 2004. This creature represents an intermediate between aquatic animals and land animalsNeil Shubin co-discovered Tiktaalik, the "fish with hands," in 2004. This creature represents an intermediate between aquatic animals and land animals, and he uses it as a focal point for his thesis, which is that we can trace the development of the human body all the way back to prehistoric fish.
The first couple chapters feature a lot of paleontology anecdotes in order to show the reader how we learn information from fossils. Shubin is a paleontologist, so it makes sense, but I found myself less interested in reading about a bunch of a dudes digging up bones than I thought I would, given that I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was a kid. While they were mildly interesting, I think they diverted too much from the main point, which, when Shubin is really on, is truly fascinating. Using many examples, he makes you see every little part of your human body as something that's been in the works for millions of years. He tracks the emergence of characteristics as fundamental as limbs. I was already familiar with the fact that the structure of our arm and hand bones are conserved throughout animals, but he shows you how they got that way. Hell, he goes even further back and tries to figure out when and why life decided it needed a body in the first place.
Although the book isn't universally riveting, it made me look at my body and animals in a whole new way. It's mind-boggling to think of all the evolution that has gone into creating us, every little feature being developed over millions of years, adapting to an ever-changing world. Even though we're special creatures, we share so much with the rest of the animal kingdom....more
Clubbing is on the now-defunct Minx imprint, which published black-and-white young adult comics. Pretty much everything Minx looks like it's worth cheClubbing is on the now-defunct Minx imprint, which published black-and-white young adult comics. Pretty much everything Minx looks like it's worth checking out, honestly, and the books are pretty cheap. So Clubbing—and the title is deliciously punny, as it works on several levels—concerns Charlotte "Lottie" Brook, a seventeen-year-old London Goth chick who likes to go, well, clubbing. But she gets caught with a fake ID, and as punishment, her parents banish her to stay with her grandparents for the summer at their stuffy country club. As if! (Note: the phrase "As if!" does not appear anywhere in the book. What does appear, however, is a shitload of British slang, most of which is helpfully defined in a glossary in the back.) Lottie is generally likable, despite being spoiled and stuck-up about her new environs. She makes for a fun narrator.
At first, the story is simply about Lottie having to deal with country life, but then she stumbles into a murder mystery that she investigates with the help of the "gorgeous groundskeeper" who she's totally not crushing on, totally. The plot moves along swiftly, and 140 pages later, you're done, having enjoyed your little adventure with Lottie.
Josh Howard's art is great, stylized but crisp and clean, making every line and shadow count.
Clubbing is just as cute and fun as I hoped, with bonus [spoiler] at the end....more
On discovering that the first chapter was called "In Which Parasols Prove Useful," I decided I would enjoy this book.
Soulless is an urban fantasy/paraOn discovering that the first chapter was called "In Which Parasols Prove Useful," I decided I would enjoy this book.
Soulless is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance/what have you that takes vampires and werewolves (and ghosts), puts them in Victorian England, injects a post-Austen sense of humor, and then adds a dash of steampunk. Surprisingly, this genre mash-up really works. You do have to get past the central concept relevant to the title, however, which is a little hard to swallow: the main character, Alexia Tarabotti, has no soul. In a twist on usual supernatural lore, vampires and werewolves actually have an excess of soul, however that works. In any case, Alexia's soulless state has the ability to neutralize the supernatural: if she touches a vampire or werewolf, they become human until she lets go. It's a neat idea if you don't think about it too hard.
There's a lot of interesting worldbuilding that, again, may not hold up to much scrutiny, but is still a neat idea. In England, vampires and werewolves are integrated into society; they even have representatives in the government. They have their own social structures, and they still get invited to all the cool parties. Since this is the first book in what looks to be a series—because everything is a series—a lot of the book is spent on the worldbuilding. The plot is kind of thin and moves rather slowly, but the book is entertaining enough that you don't mind so much.
Unexpectedly, my favorite thing about the book is the love scenes. Because, like the rest of the book, they're funny. Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon are cut out of the Bennet/Darcy mold, so they are sniping at each other while they're making out, but at the same time, Alexia is also worrying about being improper. These scenes are funny, but they also manage to be sexy without making me feel uncomfortable....more
Once I started reading this book, I did not want to stop. It really is a page-turner. I would have finished it the night I brought it back from the liOnce I started reading this book, I did not want to stop. It really is a page-turner. I would have finished it the night I brought it back from the library if I could have. I burned through the last third a couple days later because I wanted to get to the end and find out what the fuck was going on.
I heart unreliable narrators. So of course I was into this woman spinning a far-fetched yarn about being recruited by a secret organization she couldn't prove existed, telling tales the psychiatrist comes back with verifiable facts to contradict. You know at any moment that her whole damn story, her whole life, everything she says could be revealed to be a lie, and you kind of don't care because it's still a great, rollicking story anyway. The organization is really cool! So what if her fiction is fiction? You're reading the fiction to be entertained, and if her fiction is entertaining you, isn't that worth something? Her story is intercut with scenes in the white room between her and the psychiatrist, and these scenes are told from an objective, third-person POV, as if you are a camera viewing the action. This, what you are seeing, is incontrovertible fact. This, you can believe, whatever Jane Charlotte says. This is reality.
Besides the battle between reality and fiction inherent in the narrative, there is a thread examining good and evil. Bad Monkeys, the division, is good, and they hunt down bad monkeys, who are evil. But who determines who's evil and whether or not they deserve to die? How do you know whether you're capable of evil? Is it something in your nature or something you can change? Which one is better for the world, good or evil?
Bad Monkeys is compulsively readable since there's so much urgency in the storytelling; you are being told the very long story that explains why Jane Charlotte killed a man. I'm not sure whether it's the writing or my mistaken impression that Jane was a teenager, but the voice sounds more like a mature 17-year-old than a 37-year-old woman. That does make it a very easy, quick read, though. The story does take some odd turns in the homestretch, and the final twists are somewhat convoluted, but no more so than you'd expect from a conspiracy thriller of this sort. You pick up a book like this, and you know that shit is going to end with everyone being dead or it was all a dream or actually this is 1962 or IT'S A COOKBOOK! or whatever. (Spoiler warning: it's not a cookbook.)
The series continues to have an unflappable heroine in books where nothing much HAPPENS, per se, but there are a handful of REVELATIONS scattered abouThe series continues to have an unflappable heroine in books where nothing much HAPPENS, per se, but there are a handful of REVELATIONS scattered about, and it's just silly fun. This book does have some interesting developments as well as a pretty rousing climax, but the actual plotline is sort of a mess and a little annoying for spoilery reasons. As usual, however, the end of the book does leave me intrigued as to what Carriger has planned for the next (and final) book....more
I enjoyed it, and it made me laugh out loud at points, of course, but it felt...like not as much was at stake as usual. I never felt a real sense of dI enjoyed it, and it made me laugh out loud at points, of course, but it felt...like not as much was at stake as usual. I never felt a real sense of danger, perhaps because Alexia is so gosh-darn unflappable. That's part of the lighthearted, romp-y tone of the books, I suppose, which has its charm, but it seems like very little HAPPENS in each book. There are basically one or two revelations or developments that move the plot forward (and I do like that Carriger is moving a continuing plot, of sorts, regarding Alexia's preternatural nature through the books and like the references to past books), but otherwise it's just silly fun, which is fine.
I did like that secondary characters like Lyall and Floote got a chance to shine. I got unexpectedly teary at one scene!...more
I liked this book even more than Soulless, really. Since it's the second book, we can get right into the actual plot without spending time explainingI liked this book even more than Soulless, really. Since it's the second book, we can get right into the actual plot without spending time explaining all the worldbuilding, so there's much more of a sense of purpose than in Soulless, which meandered about for hundreds of pages before really getting interesting. I liked that there was still some worldbuilding going on, and I saw subtleties about a society where the supernatural beings are commonplace that weren't totally highlighted or apparent in the first book, which seemed to be more about being kooky. Not that this one wasn't kooky and didn't make me laugh, but I don't know, it felt more assured. The plotting, while just as loose in style as the first book, was more complex, and I couldn't even follow some of the reveals at the end. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book....more
Shades of Milk and Honey has a great hook: it's the book Jane Austen would have written if magic were real. In this alternate Victorian England, manyShades of Milk and Honey has a great hook: it's the book Jane Austen would have written if magic were real. In this alternate Victorian England, many women (and some men) practice glamour, an illusory art that can make a dining room seem like it's in a jungle or can make buckteeth seem perfectly natural. The trick is that glamour is just a way of life. It's ordinary, a skill like knitting or painting. Kowal's descriptions of glamour, working the folds of magic to create specific illusions, are intricate and delightful, and, predictably, they were my favorite parts of the book.
The story concerns Jane Ellsworth, the plain-looking sister of beautiful Melody. While Melody may be beautiful, however, Jane is a much more accomplished glamourist. But is that enough to attract a husband? What about Mr. Dunkirk, her sister's suitor? Or Captain Henry Livingston, the childhood companion all grown up and come back from sea? Or Mr. Vincent, the itinerant glamourist? And what of Beth Dunkirk, Mr. Dunkirk's sister, interested in learning the ways of glamour? What of her apparently shady past? Why is Mr. Vincent so grumpy all the time? This will not do, I say!
For much of the book, nothing really happens, per se. We just spend time with the characters as they interact. Conflicts subtly seed themselves. Kowal nails the Regency style, especially where manners and propriety are concerned, so Austen fans will feel right at home. Once the major conflicts begin to arise, the various stories begin to dovetail nicely into a climax that manages to feature practically every character in the book.
Kowal has created what seems to be an effortless hybrid of fantasy and historical romance, although there is more emphasis on the latter. The story could survive without the glamour, but it's the glamour that makes the story...glamorous....more
"Portrait of Ari": Two artists, Tom & the titular Ari, pull an all-nighter. They start out a loving couple, but it's the middle and end that make"Portrait of Ari": Two artists, Tom & the titular Ari, pull an all-nighter. They start out a loving couple, but it's the middle and end that make it really interesting. I was impressed and surprised by the fact that I didn't actually need a lot of explanation for this story to be compelling. It just...is. It's quite unnerving. A-
"Death Comes But Twice": A man writes a letter to his wife because he is about to die. His friend has concocted an elixir that brings you back from the dead. How are these two statements related? Oh, this story is deliciously clever, and it is the standard by which I measured all other stories in this collection. A+
"Some Other Day": An interesting concept—what if an attempt to curb the mosquito population worked a little too well?—is paired with a rather mundane love story. I liked the main character, but the love interest was just a Love Interest. I was more interested in the mosquitoes. B-/B
"Just Right": A very short story about a family learning things about each other at breakfast. Unfortunately, what they learn about each other seems completely obvious from the start so the "payoff" kind of deflated an otherwise effectively tense scene. C+/B-
"Scenting the Dark": A blind interstellar parfumier and his seeing-eye dog must fend for themselves against some sort of alien creature. Kowal's use of non-visual sensory detail in this story is brilliant. This would be a really fun scary story to read to people in the dark. Um, if you could read in the dark. A-/A
"Locked In": The shortest story in the collection, clocking in at only three pages, it concerns a man with ALS who, after being unable to communicate with his family for years, unable to even let them know his mind is vibrant and alive, is given the ability to do just that with a new brain computer interface. It's an interesting conversation. B+/A-
"This Little Pig": In a land where cars are basically obsolete and everyone rides buses or bikes, Aage just wants a 1952 British Racing Green MG-TD. Also, this hot chick named Concetta. Every other review I've read names this the weakest story, but I rather enjoyed it. B+
"Jaiden's Weaver": On a ringed planet where Bottom Day is a holiday, Jaiden just wants a teddy bear spider. It's a very cute story. B+/A-
I really wanted to love every story as much as I loved "Death Comes But Twice," but the style and tone of that story was very different from anything else in the book. Kowal's MO appears to be to come up with really cool sci-fi/fantasy concepts but relegate them to the background, instead focusing on the characters, who may be engaging in decidedly normal activities. It wasn't what I was expecting, even though it was done well and the characters felt real. I'm not used to that sort of storytelling; the sci-fi and fantasy stories I've read generally make judicious use of their SFF backdrops. But, of course, there's "All Summer in a Day," which is a story that sticks with you years after reading it, and Kowal's technique is similar to Bradbury's in that aspect. It doesn't matter what makes the gizmo work. It doesn't matter why these creatures exist. The genre trappings are not the point. The people and emotions are the point.
After each story is a postnote that gives a little background on the story and how it came to be. I loved these! Like Neil Gaiman's introduction to Smoke and Mirrors, they provided a lot of valuable insight into both the stories and the writing process. They made me feel bad for not loving a story since it was clear she loved them all in their own ways. I wish all short story collections had these, though. I love hearing short story origin stories!...more