Stuff I Read - In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang Review
It's not everyday that you pick up a graphic novel that combines fantasy massively mul...moreStuff I Read - In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang Review
It's not everyday that you pick up a graphic novel that combines fantasy massively multiplayer online role playing games and economics and labor practices. But of course those two things are linked, because MMORPGs do have their own economies, and sometimes those economies overlap with real-world economies, and that's the space that In Real Life explores using a young girl getting interested in online gaming and finding out that it's a lot more complicated than she thought.
The story is split between the real world and the game world. In the real world, Anda is an introvert, a bit overweight, self-conscious, and wanting some connections. She finds an MMO and finally finds something like that, joining a guild and teaming up with an online friend, Sarge. Inside the game Anda is strong and confident, thin and idealized. She's what Anda wants to be, her own fantasy, and that's where the problems start. Because she gets involved with quests for real money which involve killing gold farmers inside the game, and doesn't really understand what it means until she meets a gold farmer who lives in China and works playing the game.
It's at that point when the game world and the real world start to merge a bit, because the pure fantasy is broken. Instead of it merely being an idealized world, the problems of the real world bleed into the game setting. And from there, Anda tries to help her new friend using labor tactics that work in America. Of course, that backfires and things get a bit out of hand and Anda doesn't realize her own privilege a bit. But by continuing to try to do the right thing she does manage to accomplish something, and the book does a good job showing someone trying to do the right thing from a privileged position, and how labor tactics can be a force for good.
The artwork does an admirable job throughout the book, as well. The styles change from real world to game world a bit, and the characters as well, but it is interesting to see how game-Anda is like real-Anda, how they are similar, how they merge in some ways as the story goes. Everything is rendered well and facial expressions especially are spot on and sometimes haunting inside the game. The art fits well with the message, with showing the gold farmers as smaller than the rest of the players, little things like that. And, oh my god, Penguin with Crazy Hat is the best background character ever. Long live Penguin with Crazy Hat!
And in the end I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a bit complicated, a bit bit dense, but it's very well done and works for what it seems to be trying to do. I like the character of Anda and how she tries to do the right thing, from her work inside the game to not being a gatekeeper when it comes to gaming. For me, this book succeeds, and earns an 8.75/10.(less)
YA apocalyptic fiction isn't something that I've read an awful lot of. But H2O provides all the framework...moreStuff I Read - H2O by Virginia Bergin Review
YA apocalyptic fiction isn't something that I've read an awful lot of. But H2O provides all the framework for both a YA tale and a suitable apocalypse. The premise, that the rain has suddenly become deadly, is fitting and works and is well executed, and the character seems genuine, seems to be young but also capable of surviving. There were a few conventions that perhaps could have been skipped (I'm looking at you, Saskia), but overall I think the book did a decent job of setting the stage and making the action compelling.
Ruby is something of a strange main character. She's rebellious and a bit superficial, which is an interesting choice for person to survive an apocalypse, because normally she would not be someone you'd read about and think "survivor." But the story is structured in such a way as to make it understandable. She gets help from the onset, and survives many times just by dumb luck, and yet as the story moves on she begins to learn, and to get better and better, though she doesn't develop the sort of deviousness that would make her unsympathetic.
At the same time, the book does make some choices that are a bit less than ideal, like casting classic loser/nerd Darius as her partner and romantic interest, because while I understand that the end of the world would make people do things that otherwise wouldn't, I didn't like the implication that it takes an apocalypse to make Darius appealing. It just sends some wrong messages. So sigh. But overall I think that the book did a nice job showing how people would react, from the craziness surrounding the water everywhere to Ruby wanting to be dressed well.
The book certainly moved, to, as Ruby went right along traveling across the country trying to find her dad. But I was left wondering what the point of it was. In a lot of apocalyptic fiction, there is some sort of warning or message that the end is supposed to embody. With this work, the end of the world is something of a fluke. It happens because of an asteroid that had a bacteria on it. Kind of random. Nor did the action of the book really speak to me of more going on than telling an interesting story. And it does that, is entertaining, but doesn't go deeper.
And that, in the end, is what makes this book good but not great for me. It was well done and shows the character of Ruby well, shows the situation and what's happening with the country. At the same time, it doesn't do much else, and there is a sense that this is just the start of something. There is no real conclusion, no real ending, just a hook for the next book, which I found a little disappointing. So it was fun, it was nice, it had some good moments, but that gets it to a 6.75/10 for me.(less)
Stuff I Read - Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson Review
Sometimes it's strange how one gets a book. I've been meaning to read Johnson since I lear...moreStuff I Read - Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson Review
Sometimes it's strange how one gets a book. I've been meaning to read Johnson since I learned that she was one of the guests of honor at WisCon 2015, and bought the Summer Prince for just that reason, but haven't got around to reading that yet, and instead lucked my way into this book instead, which is a solid near-future science fiction with some old fashioned government conspiracy sprinkled over a high school drama filled with relationships, friends, family, and some delicious-sounding food. And while it didn't have as many spec elements as I normally want in my reads, Love is the Drug definitely delivered an entertaining and thoughtful story about expectations.
Because really, most of the elements of the story circle back around to expectations, to Bird trying to find herself amidst the bogs of expectations from her mother, her school, her friends, and the world at large. It's complicated by the fact that she is black, that her mother is a very successful, career-driven person and Bird is not. But she doesn't want to fall to the stereotypes, doesn't want to let her mother or anyone else down. It's an interesting journey from where her entire life is about living up to or escaping people's expectations to where she is finally comfortable with living her own life, making her own decisions and perhaps not being unmindful of what it looks like to everyone else, but still willing to act for herself.
It was very nice to find the book treat the relationship between Bird and Coffee as something that wasn't exactly toxic. It could easily have been something where they weren't good for each other, where he was just this different thing that she wanted because it would mean rebellion. It's what many people think, and yet it's something where Bird is the one with the greater power. As is pointed out in the story, everyone assumes that she is the passive party, that she's important only in relation to other people, mostly to men. And yet, as it turns out, it's them who are only important because of her. And as she discovers that and starts to use her power for something, that lifetime of having to bend to expectations turns out to have made her strong enough to push back.
That said, I wanted a little bit more from the conspiracy plot. It was layered and effective, where she is trying desperately to find out what happened to her, what she heard, but doesn't manage to until the end. It's also great to see just how much her parents end up disappointing her, how that relationship turns as she finds out what they've been involved in. But most of the twists were fairly standard for the genre, and while not less enjoyable for it, I had been hoping for a little more. I liked the chemistry angle, the chapter titles, the diversity of characters, but things were just a little too neat, pretty much everything wrapped up in a nice bow. And that's not a terrible thing. It's satisfying to find out who wins and who doesn't, basically, but I didn't really want to get the happily ever after, because I feel that things should have been left a little more open.
Still and all, it was a fun read with some great characters. The relationships really stole the show, because all of them are relatable and intense. Bird has all these people acting on her, and she fails sometimes, and has to recenter and try again, and all the while she's in the middle of this plot moving around her. I kind of wish a few characters had shown up again, more notably Cindy and Travis, because I was curious as to how their story would end, but perhaps just letting them drop away was enough. Not every question needs answering. It was a good read, though, and I can't wait to check out more from the author. So it gets an 8.25/10 from me.(less)
Stuff I Read - Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka Review
I picked this up mostly because of my fondness for the True Story of the...moreStuff I Read - Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka Review
I picked this up mostly because of my fondness for the True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which was a favorite of mine growing up. It was dark and a little twisted and some good fun. So I approached this book expecting something of the same thing. Unfortunately, this is a much more standard fare boy scientist chapter book. And that was slightly disappointing. It's not a bad book, and has its moments of cuteness, but it doesn't do that much knew with the genre and doesn't really offer much in the way of diversity or message.
Frank Einstein is a boy genius. He has a sidekick named Watson and a grandfather named Al. His parents are both bubbly idiots. He has a nemesis who is greedy and more capitalist than he is. There are some robots. I'm pretty sure there are a number of cartoons that are basically that exact premise, with perhaps the names changed. Now, it kind of works for what it is. The plot is goofy, the writing is decent. There is an ape. So it has some positive aspects.
Unfortunately, it also has a complete lack of diversity. Every character with the exception of the ape and Frank's mom are white and male and Frank's mom is around for two or three very quick scenes. And things are just so...easy for Frank. He's a genius, so it's never really in doubt that he'll win. Having a Watson there is on purpose. Frank is Sherlock Holmes, only one that can make up any invention he wants instantly and with whatever is on hand. Okay, it's a children's book, but the main obstacle that Frank faces is that no one recognizes how awesome he is.
Honestly, that's all I have. Because he solved the problem of his grandfather losing his shop as an afterthought, and that was supposed to be the main conflict. The book was cute, and filled with some nice, moments, but it just didn't strike me as anything really great. It was fine, okay, good. And as such I'm giving it a 6/10.(less)
First Reads Review - Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
I have to say that I wanted to like this book. I still retain the hope that I will like other books...moreFirst Reads Review - Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
I have to say that I wanted to like this book. I still retain the hope that I will like other books by the author, but this one fell a little flat for me. It definitely starts like a regular young adult fantasy, with a young boy who doesn't want to be king thrust into that role. More a thinker, a scholar, Yarvi has to deal with the pressures of the throne and then with betrayal, with hardship, with pain, with death and loss. And he does it with a disability, which makes it more impressive, only throughout the book I never warmed to him, never really wanted him to succeed.
I'll explain. Yarvi's main problem isn't that he has a deformed hand. His problem is that he has lived a very sheltered and privileged life and doesn't respect human life. So he gets sold into slavery in what is supposed to be his awakening that everyone, even slaves, are valuable and deserving of someone to stand up for them. The corruption, the greed, the power that leads him to being betrayed and nearly killed is supposed to be shown to be wrong, to be failing. Anything that treats human life like a plaything is supposed to be outed as wrong.
Instead the book seems to settle on the message that no, there's nothing really wrong with the system. Yes, Yarvi fights his way free. He commits himself to revenge instead of to peace, instead of trying to find happiness, and it gets him only dead friends and pain and grief. But the book then settles on the idea that this was still the right thing to do, that Yarvi, even after learning all these lessons and getting a new chance to do better, still chooses revenge and death, still chooses the system that works for no one. He still orders the slaves to be whipped, still kills to get what he wants, still plans on manipulating events to suit himself.
And that was just rather disappointing. The writing was fine enough. The characters were all right. The plot itself had some twists and turns that were well done. But I could not get over my disappointment when, in the end, Yarvi just sort of shrugs and decides that there's no use in trying. There is no sense that things are going to be different. Maybe things will be better with Yarvi pulling the strings, but he's not letting anyone have a choice still. It's still the same old system where people are made slaves and used and thrown away.
And while I can understand in some ways that the setting wasn't going to be turned on its head, that these systems are hard to fight against, I really don't like that Yarvi just decides to help himself. It's just a bit too pessimistic to me and not something that I tend to enjoy. I don't find it realistic as much as aiming at "gritty." And that's not something I personally care for. With another ending I could have liked this book. With what's there, I just didn't really, and give it two stars out of five.(less)
Stuff I Read - The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke Review
I should say that I have not read the earlier Zita books, and that well could have...moreStuff I Read - The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke Review
I should say that I have not read the earlier Zita books, and that well could have affected my enjoyment of this, the third book in the series. Judging this volume completely on its own, though, and I found that it was a fun and charming read, a light story with some heavier and darker elements and enough plot twists and interesting characters to keep things moving along nicely. The action was solid, the plot complex enough while drawing from elements from previous volumes in what I can assume is a satisfying manner, and it all worked rather well. It's cute and fun and worth a read.
The action started off with Zita captured on a prison world, and while this might have been something picked up from the end of the last volume, it might not be. Having not read it, I can't be sure, but I wasn't lost. The concept of Zita the Spacegirl, adventurer and hero of the stars, is one that can pretty easily be understood, and it was something where she's basically on trial because some of her good actions had some consequences she didn't really think about. And that makes sense, both as she is a rather rash person and because she is young. It's all part of the villain's plan to claim Earth, and it makes sense.
Imprisoned and doubted herself, Zita still manages to be heroic, helping who she can. When rescue comes from an old friend, though, the real message of the volume comes into greater focus. It's a classic argument that if she had had different experiences when she arrived she would care less about helping people. Basically that being kind and saving people is a luxury that she could afford, but that it's rather naive. And the volume does a good job exploring that idea and making it clear that trying to do the right thing is always important even in the face of defeat and destruction.
It's a story about heroism, too, because Zita tries to save everyone at the risk of her own freedom and safety. In trying to save her friends, she ends up losing just about everything that she had gained, and while the ending is a bit more optimistic about where she will end up, that she was willing to do that is a testament to her heroism. It's a good message, and fitting for a young adult sci-fi adventure. The art, too, is fitting, cartoonish but with a great sense of scale and danger. This is an epic story, and it is rendered well, with great expressions on the characters, great personality, and great action. The volume succeeds at what it sets out to do, and while it's not the most complex of things, and while it does make a few eye-rolling plot decisions, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it with an 8/10.(less)
First Reads Review - Fiji Random Volume 1 by Justin Raimey
I have no idea what I expected when I signed up for this manga. Probably not what I got when...moreFirst Reads Review - Fiji Random Volume 1 by Justin Raimey
I have no idea what I expected when I signed up for this manga. Probably not what I got when I received it from the First Reads program. I will say, though, that the title is incredibly fitting. This volume of manga is random. In both good and not so good ways. It's a volume that both seeks to tell a single story while also featuring a slew of short comics that expand upon the main story with additional characters and ideas and jokes. It's an interesting manga, one that reminded me a bit (in organization and presentation, at least) of Neko Ramen or other manga that are told more as strips than as chapter based installments.
The art is definitely comic-strip-esque in many ways, and like early strips for comics like Garfield, the style at the beginning isn't quite as developed or polished as it becomes toward even the end of this volume. And it flits a little back in forth with the strips that are spread throughout the volume, because they aren't given in order. Each strip is numbered, but they don't go sequentially. It's something that makes the artwork lack a little in overall cohesion but none of it is poorly done, and though the characters change they are still always recognizable.
To reach back, though, I still had some difficulty with how the manga is organized. I can get the idea of breaking up the main story with more random strips, but at the same time I felt a bit lost when those strips had characters who I didn't know. It made it more difficult to understand the jokes that were being made. Most of the time I could understand what was happening, but I have a feeling that I was still missing a lot by not having those strips presented in order.
And part of having the strips take up a large portion of the volume meant that the main story wasn't as robust as it could have been. Not much really happened in the main story, which is a bit of a shame because I imagine that a large draw to the series would be the interaction between Fiji and Saw and the two only just meet very briefly at the end of this volume and otherwise only are seen together in the random strips.
Still and all, it's a good series that's worth a look. The art might look a little rough around the edges, but it all still looks fine and the writing is good for some laughs. It's definitely a weird, random series, and it works as a manga, though I think that it might work better as a webcomic. It manages to do a lot, and to use some interesting twists of form to do it. The world-building and character work is solid, and I found that I liked this enough to give it three stars out of five.(less)