The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of MiraclesHey, look, another book club book! This one turned out much better than the last one, thank goodness!

I picked this one for my in-person book club off of a list of suggestions I got from my online book club friends, because man, I am so out of book ideas. (Do you have some? Let me know! Ahem.) I had heard enough of it to be like, “Oh, is that the one where the Earth’s spin slows down?” but not much else, but that sounded like a pretty good premise and something to talk about so I put it on the list.

Sometimes with these apocalyptic-ish books you get a story where it’s heavy on the plot and the Big Event is super important, and sometimes you get a story where a Big Event is happening but that really doesn’t matter at all except for setting. This book was, kind of surprisingly, right in the center of those two styles. We have a super important Big Event, but the focus is on the humans and how they’re reacting to the Event, both as humans do and possibly as is caused by the Event itself.

What happens, of course, is that the Earth’s spin starts to slow for no apparent reason. Scientists are like, WTF, but for most people it’s not a hugely big deal that there are now a few more minutes in the day. Except that the spin keeps slowing, and soon there are a few more hours in the day, and eventually a few more days in the day, and of course this insane day and night pattern takes its toll on the Earth and its plants and animals, especially those emotional humans.

What makes the book most interesting to me is that it’s told in the past tense, so we know that people are going to survive but we’re not quite sure how, and also that it’s told from the point of view of a young teenager, giving us the double uncertainty of adolescence and apocalypse.

It helps, too, that the sort of Big Conflict laid out in the story is so unexpected to me, this completely baffling conflict between the people who choose to live “on the clock”, following the standard 24-hour day regardless of what it looks like outside, versus those living off the clock and following the sun for their days and nights. You’d think it would be as simple as ignoring the people doing what you think is a crazy thing, but if you’ve lived in this world for any amount of time I think you can guess how ridiculous the tension between the groups gets.

Outside of that Big Conflict, the rest of the book is really a look at relationships and how they function under big stresses and little stresses and the everyday realities of life, which is a book I can totally get behind.

It’s not a perfect book, sadly, as the characters end up being a bit simplistic and certain actions and events are more cliché than I wanted them to be, but I think it does such a great job with its premise and elsewhere that it’s worth your time, especially if you have some people to hash out the details with.

Recommendation: For fans of quasi-apocalyptic books, weird science, and teen protagonists.

Weekend Shorts: Saga, Alex + Ada, and MIND MGMT

I’ve been doing a lot of snappy, quippy titles on my Weekend Shorts posts lately, but I had to go back to a boring title for this one because I just couldn’t find the through-line for these three series. If you can figure out where I could have gone with this, I will give you ten points and a cookie!

Saga, Vol. 5Saga, Vol. 5, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I actually read this about a million years (read: three months) ago, but it slipped off my posting radar. Luckily I own this one, so I can grab it off my shelf and remind myself what’s up.

:skims volume:

Ah, yes. We drop into this volume with all the bad things in full swing: Hazel is kidnapped, Alana and Klara are trapped, Sophie and Sophie and Gwendolyn are fighting dragons, Marko is stuck with Prince Robot IV on a crappy mission.

But of course, things only get worse from there, as drugs lead to drug-induced flashbacks to horrible life experiences and well-intentioned plans get completely derailed by reality and greed.

And then Brian K. Vaughan channels his inner George R.R. Martin and just kills the shit out of everyone, including a favorite of mine, and I’m not sure I can forgive him for that but luckily his characters aren’t too thrilled about it either, so I think things will be getting interesting in the aftermath. This book continues to be one of my favorite things ever.

Alex + Ada, Vol. 1Alex + Ada, Vol. 1, by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughan
I stumbled across this title on hoopla and remembered hearing good things about it, so I grabbed the first volume and read it before even getting out of bed one morning. I wasn’t sure at first that I would like it, but it definitely grew on me.

The plot is sort of reminiscent of the movie Her — in a near-future world people can buy, for many many dollars, an incredibly realistic robot companion that is indistinguishable from an actual human except for a tattoo and the fact that the robot is, well, a robot, and not really capable of passing the Turing test. If you’re the kind of person who just wants a companion who will agree with you and do all the things you like (and I mean ALL the things, eyebrow waggle, etc.), then it’s perfect.

Our protagonist, Alex, is gifted one such robot from his grandmother, who loves her robot sooooo much and thinks Alex will love his, too. He is, let’s say, not thrilled, and tries to return the robot, but it’s hard to return something that just wants you to like it and he ends up keeping it. Her. Ada.

But Alex isn’t content with his new friend that likes everything that he likes, so he seeks out a way to make her more human. Turns out there’s a secret society of people and robots that have done just that, and Alex can make his robot as sentient as possible… for a price.

I liked this book all right, though it took far too many issues to get to the good stuff. It says some really interesting things about friendships and relationships and sentience and humanity, and I’m hoping that the next volume will get some plot going. But if it doesn’t, eh, it’s hoopla, so I’m only out my time.

MIND MGMT, Vol. 1MIND MGMT, Vol. 1, by Matt Kindt
Another serendipitous find on hoopla. I love free comics, guys. Well, comics paid for by my tax dollars, which sounds even better, actually!

In this world, which I think is roughly present-day, there’s a journalist, Meru, who is banking on a crazy story to get her career back on track — a plane full of people that managed to land safely even though everyone on board developed a terrible amnesia that persists, two years later. Meru is sure that if she can just track down the one person that mysteriously vanished from the scene, she’ll have a story and a new book and maybe some cash to buy groceries.

But there’s definitely more to this story than Meru knows. She’s being tailed by mysterious agents, she’s finding people and places that are not as they should be, and the story’s narrator indicates that this is not the first time Meru has followed the same clues to the same ending. Suspicious!

In the midst of this main story, we learn more about the titular MIND MGMT, a secret organization that trains up promising young people with special mental abilities to do relatively mundane things like impart subliminal messages in advertising or relatively insane things like survive certain death. It’s a crazy organization, and it obviously has something to do with Meru’s quest, but it’s not quite clear yet exactly how they fit together.

I am so intrigued by this story, and so in love with the artwork, which is sketchy and watercolor-y and generally very pretty, that not only am I excited to read the next volume in this series but I have bought the first issue of Kindt’s new series, Dept. H, which has the same lovely art style and an equally weird story summary. I hope I’ll be able to report back with love for both!

Weekend Shorts: Put Your Hands Up!

Why, yes, it’s time for yet another round of “Read all the single issues lying around Alison’s house!” This is a super extra long post today because I have been reading ALL THE COMICS lately, so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Sparks Nevada, #3-4, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone
Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #3Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #4Okay, so, who even knows where we left off here, but we pick up in the midst of Sparks and Croach rescuing the Johnsons and Felton from what turns out to be a space bounty hunter who thinks that Mr. Johnson, the lemon farmer, is a highly dangerous alien outlaw. This seems suspicious to Sparks, but if you’ve been ’round these parts before, you know things are never quite what they seem. There’s varmints and fightin’ and shootin’ and snarky talkin’ and so much onus and some quick retconning to make sure it all fits in with the show continuity. I loved it, and I’m sad to realize there aren’t more to come! (Yet? Please?)

I don’t remember from the first two issues, but these issues are particularly interesting in the way they play with the panels, with lots of two-page spreads and inset panels and sometimes it worked, with the speech bubbles guiding me through the maze of panels, and sometimes it really didn’t and I had to read a page (or two pages) over again a couple times to figure out what the heck was going on. But it made for some very pretty pages, so I’m not complaining too much! More? Please??

Back to the Future, #3-5, by Bob Gale and various artists
Back to the Future #3Back to the Future #4Back to the Future #5I’m ever so thankful to this series for having self-contained issues. Instead of being like, where did I leave off here, I can just say, hey, five cute little stories! Win!

In these three issues, we get our stories in the form of Marty’s parents seeking some relationship intervention from Marty but getting Doc instead, future Biff taking that almanac back to young Biff, Marty learning to stand up for himself (and getting the girl in the process), Doc visiting the future for the first time, and Doc and family preparing to travel… back to the future. Haaa. As always, they’re not the greatest comic stories ever written, but they are fun and well-drawn and catnip for Back to the Future-lovers like myself.

If I remember right, these issues were supposed to be the end of a little mini-series run, but then people bought so many they decided to make more! I’ve got issue #6 waiting for my next round of catch-up, so we’ll have to see if and how they change the setup.

Survivors’ Club #1, by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen
Survivors' Club #1I picked this comic up back in October with a couple other spooky Hallowe’en-y picks in a fit of RIP inspiration. I wonder if it would have seemed spookier if I had read it back then…

The premise of this series, it seems, is that there’s a mysterious list of mostly dead people, and one of the “survivors” on that list rounds up the other still alive people to try to figure out what’s up. She thinks that everything is related to an equally mysterious video game whose current incarnation is making people, including the survivors, go a little (or a lot) crazy. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and even the extra-creepy little end bit wasn’t enough to make me wish I had more issues handy. This is something I might check out if it ends up in my library, but probably not any sooner.

Descender #1-2, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Descender #1Descender #2This series, on the other hand, had me super hooked. I had the first issue in my pile of things to read, and then I read it and I was like WHERE IS MORE and then I remembered that I had bought the second issue sort of accidentally and may have said “Hooray!” out loud. As you do. And now I need all the other issues. To the comics shop!

I wasn’t too sure starting out, though, as there is a Bad Thing that happens at the beginning that is not super well explained and then we flash forward ten years and several planets away and I was like wait, what? But then there’s this kid who’s been asleep for 10 years and everyone else on his planet is dead and I’m like, wait, seriously, what? but then of course he’s a robot and that makes more sense. Anyway, so, there’s this robot kid with a robot dog alone on a mining outpost, and he gets attacked by mercenaries but something something awesome robot fighting and in between there’s some flashbacks to how this robot came to be out here in the boonies and also there’s some stuff about a scientist back in the first place whatever ROBOT BOY. I love it. I can’t help myself.

Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor

LagoonWhat a weird book. This is one of the many books that ended up on my TBR list because the internets told me it would be good, and I read it because I saw it at the library and remembered that I thought it would be good. Maybe that’s not the best way to go into reading this book, because it is super weird and you need to be prepared. I can help!

Okay, so. This book. How to describe it. Besides weird. Which it is. Hmm.

Let’s start broad. This book is set in Lagos, Nigeria, in I think roughly the present day. A lot of the tension and interestingness in the novel come from this setting, particularly in the way that the people of Lagos treat magic and religion and how those interact with science and logic. I was very glad to have recently read Half of a Yellow Sun, which helped me sometimes to figure out what was “a Nigeria thing” and what was actually weird in this novel. Sometimes.

What really intrigued me in this book is that the main protagonist is a woman of science, fighting against her husband’s belief in the goodness of his religion and the badness of the magic he believes she has, but then also the book is full of actual magic and also aliens and so the fight isn’t between science and religion or logic and magic but between the people who don’t see them interact in quite the same way. This caught me off guard, but in a good way, I suppose, and I kind of want to go back through the book and know this from the beginning and see how it changes my reading.

If those overarching themes hadn’t already had my brain working overtime, the story itself would have done it quite nicely. It’s a deceptively simple story: what would happen if aliens showed up in Nigeria? But when you throw in lots of narrators and characters and points of view (including POVs of fish and, um, roads) and wade through all of the baggage that all of these characters carry, getting a shape-shifting alien an audience with the Prime Minister of Nigeria is really difficult.

I didn’t read this book especially quickly, partly because I was constantly wondering if I should even keep reading because I clearly had no idea what was going on, but I’m not sure it’s a book you should or can read quickly. If I had been prescient, I would have picked this for one of my book clubs so that I could have all the people to talk about all the things with. There’s still time, I suppose…. Until then, I do have this fancy comment section if anyone wants to help me figure out what’s up with those poisonous oceans!

Recommendation: For people with time for thinky-thought-thinking and those who love magical realism and aliens.

Weekend Shorts: Book Club Re-Reads

I don’t re-read books terribly often, but when I do, it’s for book club. This year is probably going to be seeing more than its fair share of re-reads as I’ve been tasked with putting the book list together for my in-person book club, which means several very popular or much-requested books but also some books I know we can talk a lot about — the re-reads!

Of course, re-reading a book doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will…

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name VerityOh, man. I picked this book for my book club for several reasons, including that it’s short-ish and we were short on time, I remember loving the heck out of it, and it had been a while since we read a WWII book. It seemed like a winner.

What I didn’t remember from my first reading is the fact that the first half is slow as molasses in winter. It’s slow, it’s kinda boring, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for what’s happening, the narrator’s kinda weird… it’s bad. About half of the people who showed up for book club hadn’t made it past this part, and they were like, we are here to determine what you were smoking when you chose this book. The other half had finished it, with the redirect and the new narrator and the Actual Plot, and while they didn’t all love it they at least understood what I was going for!

True story, even I only just finished the first half before going to book club, so it was kind of hard to convince everyone else they should finish. But finish I did, and yes, again, the second half was much better, though I didn’t find myself shedding a single tear at the end of it where a few years ago I was ugly crying in public. I’m not sure if this is a function of reading it soooooo slowwwwly this time, or the conversation with people who didn’t like it right in the middle of my re-read, or just the fact that I knew what terrible things were going to happen. But it was just… an ending.

Recommendation: Absolutely yes you should read this. Maybe don’t read it twice.

Lock In, by John Scalzi
Lock InLet’s be honest, and TOTALLY SPOILERIFFIC IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. I mostly wanted my book club to read this to see how many of them thought Chris Shane was a lady. I had Shane in my head as, like, robot first, dude second; my husband totally thought she was a badass chick. There weren’t a lot of book clubbers at this meeting because apparently sci-fi-based procedural crime stories are not my club’s jam, but of the handful who were there it was a mostly dude-Chris consensus, and in fact a sizable white-Chris minority who had missed the “angry black guy with a shotgun” line about Chris’s father.

I had actually tried very hard to get myself into chick-Chris mode, going so far as to use my free Audible trial to obtain the audio version of this book narrated by Amber Benson (you can also get one narrated by Wil Wheaton). It was a very weird experience. Sometimes my initial read of the book, and Benson’s not-super-feminine voice, kept me thinking Shane was a dude. After a while at each listen, I could get into chick mode, but only if I imagined that Amber Benson was Eliza Dushku instead. I would totally watch this movie with Dushku (or her voice, whatever) as the lead, by the way. And with Joss Whedon somewhere at the helm. Hollywood, make this happen!

Outside of all that, though, the book was just as weird and twisty as it was the first time, enough that I couldn’t exactly remember what was going to happen and all the big reveals were still pretty much intact. My book club was not a big fan of all the intrigue and subterfuge, which of course I loved, but they all agreed it was at least interesting.

Recommendation: Totally pick up the audio book in whichever narrator you didn’t expect the first time. It’s weird and fun.

Weekend Shorts: Volume 1 Edition

Comics are weird. You can read them in single issues, or you can wait until a bunch of them are collected in volumes, and it can be hard to tell by any one issue, or even any one volume, what that series is really going to be like. (See: The wild difference between early and late volumes of The Unwritten.)

This is definitely the case for both of the volume ones below. I’m not sure about either of them as a long-term comic relationship, but I’m definitely going to have to check out their second volumes and see if things go any differently than I expect.

Shutter, Vol. 1: “Wanderlost”, by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca
Shutter, Vol. 1I pretty much picked this one up because of the cover, which has a girl with a camera (like!) and a Felix-looking cat thing (weird?). I’m not sure if I’d’ve picked up this book if I had looked at the back cover, though, which is more indicative of the insides with its giant-gun-wielding suited lion and giant-sword-wielding armored… fox? Yeah.

The opening pages had me hooked, though, with a dad and his daughter hanging out on the moon (the MOON!) and hints of other wild adventures to come. Fast-forward to the future and we meet our protagonist, Kate Kristopher, a 27-year-old whose best years seem to be behind her. She’s a popular novelist but hasn’t written anything in ages, and she’s spending her birthday at her dad’s gravesite, as you do.

Don’t worry, though, things get interesting very quickly when some ghost ninjas show up to kidnap Kate, and then some mobster lions get in on that action, and they all seem to want to lead Kate to siblings she didn’t even know she had. There is lots of running and jumping and climbing trees and whatnot, and narrow escapes, and non-escapes that later become escapes, and it’s basically nonstop crazypants.

Which is awesome, and I loved reading this volume, but it’s also tiring. There are like a million things that happen here, but I can’t remember any of them with clarity because they are all rolled up into a ball of crazy in my brain. I am super intrigued by the “girl is thrown headfirst into a pool of family secrets” plotline, but I am moderately annoyed by the “how many crazy anthropomorphic animals and robots and ghosts and shit can we draw into this panel?” business that surrounds it. I’m hoping that’s all just sort of exposition and that the second volume will get to the good stuff, but I’m already resigning myself to the fact that it won’t.

Black Science, Vol. 1: “How to Fall Forever”, by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera
Black Science, Vol. 1I had almost the exact opposite experience with this book. I had heard great things about it and actually bought it from my local comic shop and dove in ready for some crazy time-and-space-travelling goodness.

The conceit here is kind of like that show Sliders that I watched a lot of as a kid — a group of scientists have a machine that takes them to parallel/alternate universes and it’s super awesome until it breaks and starts sending them to random universes for random amounts of time. Some of the random universes are very dangerous and some are relatively safe, but none are terribly helpful for fixing the machine and bringing everyone back to their original universe.

That kind of plot is basically catnip to me, but unfortunately this volume starts off not doing a lot with it. I mean, yeah, they’re jumping around universes and stuff, but there’s far more focus on the fact that the protagonist dude has been cheating on his wife with a coworker (with whom he and his kids are trapped in these other universes, DRAMA) in the first few issues and I was like, come on, get to the pseudoscience!

I also felt a little let down by the art, which is very pretty on the page level, but a) has a lot of two-page spreads that are hard to see in the trade paperback binding and that led to me being very baffled until I figured it out on each spread, and b) is kind of FBP-esque with the people drawing and it can be hard to tell all those big noses apart.

However, the art was still pretty and the last couple of issues make up for the early lack of action plot with some veeery interesting pseudosciencey turns of events and a pretty decent cliffhanger that left me wishing I had the second volume at the ready. I will definitely be back for more.

End-of-the-Year Comics Roundup: Superpower Edition

I just can’t even with this December, guys. I have started three novels and finished only one, and it’s not that I don’t want to finish the other two, it’s just that that feels like it requires, like, effort. And I just don’t wanna.

Thank goodness for my backlog of comics and the fact that I am apparently all for reading words that are accompanied by pretty pictures. I’ve read lots of comics this month and they’ve all been pretty awesome.

Today, let’s talk about the ones that will scratch your superhero itch.

S.H.I.E.L.D., Vol. 1: “Perfect Bullets”, by Mark Waid and various artists
S.H.I.E.L.D., Vol. 1When I read Ms. Marvel, Volume 3, there was a super awesome bonus issue from a crossover with S.H.I.E.L.D., and I was like, yeah, I’m probably going to go read that now.

So I did! And I liked it a lot! This is a series made for the single issue, as the story in each issue is almost entirely separate from the stories in the other issues, with a different fight and a different main character each time. There’s a Coulson backstory issue, the wonderful Ms. Marvel issue, an issue with Spiderman (who I always forget is an Avenger), a kind of terrible and manipulative Sue Storm issue, and a two-parter with the whole Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team, which is weird but I like having the whole gang together so that’s fine.

It’s a little weird reading this and watching the TV show, as I can’t quite place the comic in the timeline of the show and it quite possibly doesn’t have a place in it. Things are just off enough to be confusing, but also enough that I’m curious anew about how things might go. Win! This isn’t going on my “A plus plus will read while walking home” list, but I will probably be picking up the next trade volume when it comes out in a couple months.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: “Last Days”, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4Speaking of Ms. Marvel… things are not going well for her in this volume. Her former crush object is a real a-hole, for one, and as she won’t stop telling people, but then also there’s this, like, giant planet coming in for a landing on top of Manhattan. I’m sure that has something to do with important Marvel Universe things, but I can’t be arsed to look it up. The upshot is, Kamala finds herself running all over Jersey City trying to protect her family and community from the bad things that are going to happen and the bad things that ARE happening thanks to a certain former crush object. This is exhausting me just to think about it. I will never be a superhero.

Awesome things in this volume include a visit from Carol Danvers, which would be whatever except that Kamala’s insane squeeing is absolutely adorable (it’s the meeting with Wolverine times a thousand), an unexpected “be true to yourself” speech, and some serious truth bombs about love and responsibility. There’s also another crossover event included here, two issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but I’m just not that into Spidey so I don’t think this one’s going to get me to buy more comics.

We Can Never Go Home, by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood
My copy of the trade paperback says “Volume One” on it, but I’m pretty sure this is a one-off miniseries. I’m not sure what they would do if they made more of these. But I’d probably be interested in finding out.

This is not a superhero story, but it does have a girl with a superpower in it: the power of glowy eyes and super-strength with the Hulk-like limitation of having to be anxious for it to show up. Our girl, Madison, is a football-player-dating popular-kid at her high school until one day, she’s not, having shown her superpower to her jerk boyfriend when he deserved it. However, she also showed her superpower to a loner classmate at the same time, and this completely changes Madison’s life, and not really for the better.

It’s a short series, so I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say the writer did some super interesting things with the “girl discovers her place in the world with the help of a cute boy” story as well as with the concepts of heroes and villains and self-determination and all that good stuff. Some of it is a little anvil-y because, well, five issues of a comic does not give you much time or space to work with, but some of the characterizations are surprisingly subtle. I’m not sure I loved this as a complete work, but there are definitely parts of it that are really awesome.

That’s all I’ve got for now — what other awesome superhero/superpower stories should I pick up next?