Weekend Shorts: Wayback Machine Edition

So, this summer went kind of insane on me, and I ended up reading a bunch of comics and then not blogging about them. So this post is about things I read, uh, two or more months ago and am just now getting around to writing about. Please forgive me for everything I am about to forget to mention!

Locke & Key, Vols. 2 & 3, “Head Games” and “Crown of Shadows”, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key Vol. 2Man, I really do love Locke & Key. The art is amazing, the colors are amazing, the stories are amazing… it’s a complete package.

In Volume 2, our creepy ghostly Bad Guy, Zack, has failed to think about the fact that teachers remember their students, especially when said students show up in the exact same high-school age body decades later. While Zack’s cleaning up that mess, Bode finds a key that literally opens up a person’s head and lets you put things in and take them out. This is useful for both studying for a test and for removing debilitating fear, but of course these benefits don’t come without consequences.

In Volume 3, we get an awesome Bad Guy Spirit Fight to start things off, which, awesome. Then we see Kinsey making some new friends who lead her off to see some weird and dangerous stuff for funsies, and we see that Nina’s alcoholism is both out of control and maybe possibly kind of useful in this strange house. But mostly out of control. Also, even better than the Spirit Fight, we get a creepy-ass Shadow Fight, which is really kind of horrifying if you stop to think about it too long.

I’m going to stop thinking about it right now, and maybe go grab some more of these trades off hoopla. Love!

Giant Days, #13-14, by John Allison and Max Sarin
Giant Days #13After the Great Binge of Spring 2016, it took a while for new issues to show up on hoopla. But when they did, I grabbed them! (Of course, now there are a bunch more and I must go get them all!) Issue #13 is a day in the life of Esther — she’s run away from university back to mum and dad, and although it seems like a great adventure at first, it’s not uni and therefore is the worst. Luckily Susan and Daisy are on the case! Issue #14 covers the college student’s worst nightmare — putting off housing so long that there’s nothing left to find! A mad dash and a secret app may or may not get my favorite girls a home in the end. Can’t stop, won’t stop, loving this series.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThis one’s not a comic, but an audiobook. One of my book-club-mates picked this one out as an easy summer read, which, yes, but after my discovery, uh, seven years ago (so ooooold), that the series doesn’t really hold up to a second reading, I was not terribly excited. Then I discovered that I had the option to have Stephen Fry read the book to me, and I was like, oh, well, that’s all right then.

As I said oh those many years ago, a lot of this book relies on its unexpectedness, so again, it wasn’t really the most exciting re-read. But! If you have the chance to talk about the book with a bunch of people reading it for the first time, it’s totally worth it, even if the book club meeting is just people going, “42! Slartibartfast! Vogon poetry! Fjords!” Also, Stephen Fry.

Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer

AuthorityHmm. This book. I was prepared to be all sorts of excited about it, but my reaction when I realized this was next in the queue to be reviewed (to wit: “Ugh, that book?”) shows approximately my level of actual excitement at reading the thing.

Authority is one of those novels that I probably would have put down “except”. In this case, “except” was a… let’s call it an unplanned and very depressing vacation, and let’s call Authority a terrible book to read during such a vacation, especially when surrounded by lots of other books that could be read. But I didn’t have the brain power to pick a different one, so this was it.

So… yeah. In my review of the first book in this series, Annihilation, I mentioned that I had a lot of questions and no answers and I hoped the other two books would give me some of those answers. On the plus side, this book is chock full of answers. So many answers. I kind of hate answers now.

This is possibly by design, as the book is almost a love letter to bureaucracy. The story takes place just after the events of the first book, but from the point of view of the Southern Reach rather than its scientists. After the very strange return of the first book’s scientists, the Southern Reach wants its own answers, so they send in a new guy to take over the office and get them. But you soon come to find out that the new guy is more or less terrible at his job, that he has no idea what’s going on, that no one else has any idea what’s going on, that Area X probably doesn’t know what’s going on, and that nonetheless there are people to report to and paperwork to file. Exciting?

The interesting bits of the story are our new guy’s interactions with the returned biologist, who is acting oddly even for the Southern Reach and who creates the few intriguing questions this novel contains. I wanted to know so much more about her story and so much less about basically anyone else, but no, of course I can’t get the answers I want out of this series. Siiiiiiigh.

The answers we do get are less exciting, as they largely pertain to the overall scope of the Southern Reach and to the running of the outpost and to the history of new guy who I sooooo didn’t care about.

And yet, I do still want to read the third book in this series, which I think is largely attributable to VanderMeer’s writing, which is lush and poetic and lovely even when it’s actively not be used to tell me anything of value. So rude. I did cheat and check the description of the next book, and it does not seem to have anything to do with bureaucracy, so I will probably, some day, eventually, get it from the library and move on with my life. If it’s more like the first book than the second, it’ll probably be worth it.

Recommendation: I hate to say skip it, but I really probably would unless you’re reading the whole trilogy in one sitting. And definitely don’t read it if you haven’t read Annihilation.

The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate“You want me to catch the fucking moon?”

Yeah, no, that’s it, that’s my review — that one sentence at the end of a preview drew me in, and if you’re not at least a little curious this book might not be for you. But if you are curious…

Unavoidable spoilers for the first book follow, though really this series is largely unspoilable due to the books spoiling themselves all over the place, so… your mileage may vary. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t read the first book, I really do very much recommend it and you can come back to this after you’re done reading it.

Okay, so. This book picks up just after the end of the last book, I think, with Essun chilling in Castrima-under, the world’s weirdest geode. Essun would really rather leave this comm and continue searching for her daughter, Nassun, but pragmatism and Alabaster keep her in Castrima, where she can better survive and maybe learn how to end the terrible season that Alabaster started.

But actually, the book starts with us finding out what’s up with Nassun. After her father murders her brother he realizes maybe murdering children isn’t the greatest idea, and so he decides to take Nassun to a comm called Found Moon, where, allegedly, orogenes go to become stills. But of course, that’s not exactly what Nassun finds when she arrives.

The first book of this series was a huge exercise in world-building, giving us the lay of this land through the history and experiences of Essun. This second book does a little bit more of that, explaining the moon thing and giving us more info about stone eaters and obelisks and Guardians, but it’s also about power and how it’s wielded and who gets to wield it and why and how.

The first book wasn’t exactly subtle about its allusions to our current racial tensions, but this book digs in a little deeper and makes some very direct comparisons that I found pretty interesting. I know it’s pretty common for fantasy stories to portray societal norms in a way that makes people re-think them, but I really like that this one makes sure you know that’s what it’s doing but still offers up a story that isn’t just the one thing.

I missed the emphasis on action and adventure of the first book, and it took me a while to get into the more talky aspects of this one, but I still really very much enjoyed this book. As always, the world-building and characters are excellent, and the writing is just absolutely amazing and includes all the right swears in all the right places. And, you know, it doles out all the good tidbits of story at precisely the right moments to make you want more. Like right now. It’s a good think I’m still catching up on Jemisin’s backlist, or it might be a code red around here.

Recommendation: Read only after reading the first book, but absolutely go read the first book.

The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible LibraryThis book caught my eye due to many things, but mostly that title, let’s be honest. An invisible library?? And then the descriptions promised librarians hunting down books across universes and I was SO SOLD.

When I started reading the book, though, I was torn. It starts off strong, with a Librarian hunting down a sneaky book in a magician’s boarding school and then returning to the Library to find yet more weirdness afoot. But then that weirdness leads to a posting in a quasi-steampunk-Victorian universe and I was like, well, at least that first part was good while it lasted.

I probably would have given up the book then, but I was off at a conference and not only was it the only print book I’d brought with me, but my hotel roommate was so excited that I was reading it that I figured I’d at least get far enough to give her a recommendation. And then I read the whole thing.

The Victorian-ness was still pretty meh, but once the book gets past building that setting it’s mostly all whiz-bang magic and sorcery and intrigue and subterfuge, so it’s A-OK in my book.

Aside from that setting, there’s also the setting of the Library itself, which exists between worlds and universes and collects books from all of them ostensibly to have a collection of ALL THE BOOKS and also to bring these universes closer together and to the Library and bring stability to the multiverse or whatever. This is much more interesting but very little explained, but I’m guessing that’ll change in future books (yay series!).

The actual story is about a Librarian named Irene who, after escaping that Hogwarts analogue, finds herself tasked with taking a relatively new recruit, Kai, into his first field assignment to recover a book of Grimm’s fairy tales. Said field assignment is in a place where magic and science coexist, but not peacefully, and Irene and Kai soon figure out that they are not the only weird powered creatures seeking the same book. Even worse, one of those people may be a mysterious, mythical turn-coat Librarian whose very name scares the pants off of most Librarians.

It’s a pretty standard story, but this is one of those books that recognizes that it’s got a pretty standard story, and in fact plays not only with the tropes of fantasy stories but with the conventions of literature in general, using them to help shape the story. It works fairly well, too, and even when it doesn’t quite work I’m always apt to find it entertaining.

All in all I ended up quite enjoying myself with this book, and I will probably seek out its sequel when that’s published here in the US later this year (darn you, UK originals!).

Recommendation: If you like magic and fairy tales and libraries and have a healthy appreciation of librarian stereotypes, you should probably seek this out.

Necessity, by Jo Walton

NecessityThis is probably a very strange book to read on vacation, but nonetheless I found myself at my in-laws’ beach house, hiding out from the sun and the heat (because dudes, it is HOT in Florida lately), fully engrossed with this book. And then when I finished it, I went swimming, because I’m not a heathen.

My sister-in-law asked me for some book recommendations while I was in the middle of this novel, and I was like, you should totally read this series! The first book is about setting up Plato’s Just City, and then the second book is about how that actually works in actual life with actual humans, and then this third one is about, um, I don’t know, it’s weird?

Now that I’ve finished the book, it’s still kind of weird, though really, so is the whole series, so. But those first two books are really easy to summarize, and this one is… not. It’s partially along the same lines as the second book, in that there’s quite a bit about how Plato’s thought experiment is interpreted by different people and how the various cities made up of these people interact and how they’re all really striving to be their best selves no matter the interpretation. But then there’s also, well, lots of weird god stuff.

Spoilers ahead, especially if you haven’t read the first two books!

So this book sees the death of mortal Apollo, who’s been learning important lessons about humans and their significance during the series. But of course, he’s a god, so he’s not actually dead and spends some time doing god stuff and god things and whatever, until he’s called by Hermes to go talk to Zeus and on the way determines that Athena (who set up the Just City experiment in the first place) has gone completely and totally missing, which is not actually possible. So Apollo has to go on, like, a quest to find Athena, who has left him some clues with various people in various times and all of this is moderately interesting but then there’s a whole thing with alien gods and stuff and I’m just going to give this whole plot the side-eye.

Way more interesting to me are the chapters from non-god points of view, talking about the stuff I said above with the Just City and whatnot, but then especially the chapters from the point of view of Crocus, who is a robot Worker with sentience and probably a soul and lots of interesting ideas about all of that. His very straightforward chapters are a lovely contrast to the incredibly confusing Apollo chapters.

Probably no spoilers after this!

All in all, I quite enjoyed this book, largely because of the way it plays off of the previous books and continues its own version of Plato’s Republic with commentary. You definitely would not be able to read this book on its own, and I wouldn’t say you absolutely have to read this if you’ve read the other two books, but if you read and and liked the other two this is a solid entry in the series.

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell

Beat the ReaperSometimes the scariest thing about re-reading books is realizing how long ago you read them the first time… this one’s from waaaaaaaay back in 2009 when I was still posting reviews the day I finished every book. Oh, past self. You were so cute.

I picked this one out for my in-person book club because I remembered liking this book a surprising amount and because we’ve been reading a lot of relatively serious books lately and I thought a nice bonkers quasi crime novel would hit that beginning-of-summer sweet spot. After the turnout at the last few meetings, I was sure this ridiculous book would net me a handful of book clubbers, but instead this was our best turnout of the year. Don’t underestimate bonkers fluff, is what I’m saying.

My opinion on the book hasn’t really changed in seven years, although I thought it might when I started listening to it on audio. I guess I sort of had a voice in my head already for our hero, Peter Brown, and the narrator’s voice was just… not that. It was very impersonal and flat and matter-of-fact where I thought it would be more sarcastic and emotive, rather like that time I listened to The Eyre Affair. Also, I had forgotten about the twenty-seven (this is an estimate, I did not count them, though now I feel like I should have) F-bombs Peter lays out in the first, like, two pages, and I was very nervous that my book club would not make it past that minefield.

But either the narrator gets better or the story does or both, as I was quickly drawn back into the weird world of Peter Brown, ex-Mafia hit man turned doctor in Witness Protection. His hospital is weird and terrifying, especially when your fellow book clubbers tell you that yeah, no, it’s totally believable that that terrible thing would happen in a hospital. His childhood is weird and awful as you learn more and more about the circumstances of his grandparents’ untimely demise and his entrance into the Mafia world. His present circumstances are weird and nerve-wracking as everything keeps going wrong, and then vomit-inducing at the end when a certain weapon is procured. Ugh.

I’m not sure I liked the book quite as much this second time around, possibly due to the only-decent narrator and the lack of footnotes (!) in the audio version or possibly due to the lack of surprise when the craziest of things happen. But I still enjoyed it immensely, and I was happy to find out that most of my book club agreed save for two very upset members who came just to tell me, personally, how much they hated the book. But they showed up, so the joke’s on them!

If you’re intrigued by the “ex-Mafia hit man turned doctor in Witness Protection” conceit, and you like your crime hard-boiled, and you like your humor sarcastic and cutting, AND you don’t shy away from an F-bomb or twelve, this is definitely a book to pack in your beach bag this summer. There’s even a sequel, if you end up loving it!

Weekend Shorts: More Volume Ones

I feel like I read a LOT of Volume Ones these days, and then I just, like, forget to read the rest of the series. And it’s not like I’m reading a lot of terrible series; it’s just that there are so many new ones to try that the good ones still get lost in the shuffle.

But, whatever, here are three more Volume Ones to add to the collection!

Descender, Vol. 1: “Tin Stars”, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Descender, Vol. 1I read the first couple of issues of this series in my catchup binge a couple of months back, and I was like THIS SERIES HAS A ROBOT BOY YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID. Which still stands, really, but I’m a bit less excited about it now.

These six issues lay out some very interesting backstory with the promise of intrigue and subterfuge, which are things I am a big fan of, in the present. But the intrigue is less about strategy and more about brute force, which gets boring pretty quickly. I’m really not clear what is up with all the people trying to find my Robot Boy, and I’m not sure the book is either, what with all the trips into Backstory Land that are much more interesting than the main story.

I do have the second volume on hand, purchased at half price before I had finished the first one, and so probably maybe someday I will continue on with the series. But there will be dozens of other Volume Ones ahead of it, probably.

Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls, Vol. 1This one, on the other hand, I’m regretting reading only because the next issue JUST came out and therefore a Volume Two is still in the distant future. Which is appropriate to the content of the book, I suppose.

The first issue promised me aliens in Cleveland, so of course I was all over it, but what we get is even stranger — time travelling teenagers in some kind of war with a different set of time travelling people, with dinosaurs, and Apple products, and I don’t even know what’s going on but man Cliff Chiang’s art is the prettiest.

This volume could almost have fallen into the same “too much brute force” category as Descender, but there’s enough subtle intrigue with the time travelers (and such a smart cliffhanger ending) that I am happily looking forward to more.

Preacher, Book 1, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Preacher, Book 1I guess this isn’t technically a “Volume One”, as it collects a few more issues than the official Preacher, Vol. 1, but it’s got a 1 on the cover so it counts!

I read this because the people at my favorite comics podcast did a show on it and while I usually skip the shows about things I haven’t read, the discussion was interesting enough to keep listening. That sounds like a vote for a series in my book! And then it was free on hoopla, so it was clearly fate.

But, well, I definitely won’t be reading more of this. Not because it’s not interesting, which it is, with its concepts of gods and religions and hate and fear-mongering and all sorts of other fun human stuff. And not because the art’s not gorgeous, which it is, with incredibly detailed drawings and lovely colors.

What it is is that the story and the art are both just too gruesome for me. There’s this crazy scene that I had to show my husband, because I couldn’t be the only one to see it, with a guy whose face has been flayed and, like, tacked back on, and it is objectively a fascinating panel and an intriguing bit of story, but the fact that it’s only marginally weirder and grosser than other bits of the story means this book is just not for me. I’m really wondering how this has been turned into a TV show, but I really don’t think I want to watch it to find out!