Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

Arrival (Stories of Your Life and Others)My husband and I went to see Arrival a few months back, and it was so much more awesome than we had anticipated it would be that we started telling all our friends to go see it so we could talk about how awesome it is. Have you seen it? GO SEE IT.

So when, shortly thereafter, it was my turn to pick a book for my online book club, a little lightbulb went off over my head and I picked the short story collection that contains the story that inspired Arrival, “Story of Your Life”. Now I could have some guaranteed people to talk about the story with!

What I didn’t expect was how fascinating the whole collection would be, and how full of science! So much science. And math. And more science. And a little bit of philosophy. And then more science.

So let’s take these stories one at a time. Warning: Ridiculously long post ahead! It’s so long, in fact that I’m going to put my usual end-of-post recommendation up here: READ THIS BOOK. Do it.

Now, the stories!

“Tower of Babylon”
I wasn’t super sure about this story, or the whole book, when I started it. People climbing a tower to get to heaven? Pretty sure I’ve heard that one before. (Note this sentence, as it is a refrain throughout the collection.) But the description of the tower, the journey upward, the idea of people living miles up in the air their entire lives and never knowing the ground… wow. And then when our party reaches the top, and we find out just what is waiting for them at the edge of heaven… totally not what I was expecting. I was way more excited for the rest of the collection after finishing this first story.

“Understand”
Remember that sentence I told you to note? Yep, here it is again. As I started this story, of a man who takes some pills as part of a medical experiment and becomes very very smart very very quickly, I was like, all right, Flowers for Algernon. Let me go get some tissues for the inevitable… wait. Where is this going? Is this a thriller now? How the hell smart can one dude get? IS THERE ANOTHER DUDE OMG. Again, not what I was expecting, and again, super interesting.

“Division By Zero”
This story was a bit harder to read, as it is a little more experimental and abstract in its narrative, but the core concept is still brain-breaking. In this one, a mathematician discovers the terrifying fact that mathematics might not actually work, while meanwhile her husband discovers the terrifying fact that their marriage might not actually work. Sad on multiple levels, this one, if you like yourself some math.

“Story of Your Life”
The big story! The reason for reading this book! And it is just as good as the movie, if you’re of a scientific bent. The movie is definitely more exciting and fast-paced and has higher stakes, but the story, as quiet as it is, explores the same themes of SPOILER FOR THE MOVIE OH NO. I found the story more interesting in that what the movie turns into a twist is made obvious from the beginning of the story, which, when you read the story and see some fancy diagrams, is a weirdly totally meta way of doing the movie, brain explosion! Aah! I don’t want to spoil the story or the movie for you, whichever you happen to consume first, but know that I’m here for you to discuss all the feels you might have about either.

“Seventy-Two Letters”
This was a friend’s favorite story of the collection, due to its lesser focus on math and physics and greater emphasis on the philosophical. Here we have a world where people build golems to take on menial tasks, and a bright young man with aspirations for the lower classes seeks to find just the right word to make golems that will automate enough slightly-less-menial tasks to improve the lives of everyone. Of course, some see his ideas as Taking Our Jobs (TM) and others see them as a way to improve the lives of only the rich, and our fellow gets caught up in politics instead of science, which is never fun.

“The Evolution of Human Science”
A story so short that my book club mates forgot its existence! This three-page story is very short but it still posits a fascinating future world where humans don’t really do science anymore, which, sad face. And, read in the context of this collection, it harkens back, intentionally or not, to “Understand”, which fills in some blanks quite nicely.

“Hell is the Absence of God”
I think this was my favorite story of the collection — it might be tied with “Story of Your Life” but it’s hard to say, since I sort of already knew the latter story. But as a brand-new story, this one was sooooo good. In the world of this story, everyone knows that God is real because His angels show up every once in a while to… I don’t know what their actual purpose is, but the result is that they wreak havoc and kill some people and the remaining living can see whether those souls go up to Heaven or down to Hell. It is also known that Hell is simply, as the title says, the absence of God, as sometimes portals open up and people can see into Hell and it’s just basically like living on Earth except you’re dead. This story covers the lives of a few different people, but the main character is a fellow who loses his wife to Heaven during one of these visitations and is faced with a serious quandary. He wants to be with his wife, but he’s not devout, and only the devout go to heaven. He has the rest of his life to become devout, but are you really devout if you only become so to fulfill a selfish need? Bonus: Try reading this story while also watching The Good Place. You’re welcome.

“Liking What You See: A Documentary”
This is another story with an offbeat narrative, this time in the form of the narrative of a documentary film. Said film follows the story of a college campus that wants to make required the process of calliagnosia, a sort of induced beauty-blindness in the brain. People with “calli” see faces just fine but couldn’t tell you if they’re beautiful or ugly or anywhere in between. The documentary crew talks primarily to a woman who has had calli all her life and who is against its requirement so much that she has it turned off and starts to experience the world in an interesting new way. Between this woman and the other characters, the story explores the implications of beauty and a lack of beauty and how people are perceived, and also the concept of what happens when we let people define other people’s behavior, even when it seems to be in everyone’s best interest. The story was written a little earlier than the trigger warning zeitgeist, but it could easily have been written during it. This piece is interesting in itself, but what I find most intriguing is that Chiang turned down a Hugo nomination for it, saying that it hadn’t turned out the way he wanted it to. I want to know how it might have turned out had he had more time!

Weekend Shorts: Picture Books

It’s been a little while since my last Weekend Shorts post, which is weird because I have a lot of things to tell you about briefly! Let’s start the catchup process with the shortest of shorts — picture books!

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, by Julia Sarcone-Roach
The Bear Ate Your SandwichBack in October my library participated in the Read for the Record event, in which libraries around the world read the same book on the same day and count up all the people who read or listened to it. Pretty cool, right? I ended up being the person to do my branch’s mini-storytime, which was nerve-wracking, but it turned out all right!

The book itself is super cute, with gorgeous artwork that shows us the story of a bear who leaves the wilderness, finds itself in a nearby city, happens upon your lunch, eats your sandwich, and then hitches a ride back to the forest before you even notice your sandwich is missing! Then, in a stunning plot twist (spoilers!), it turns out this story is being told to you by your little dog, who looks suspiciously like it might have just eaten a delicious sandwich. Dun dun! The little kids I read this to thought it was hilarious, so that works for me.

Edward Gets Messy, by Rita Meade and Olga Stern
Edward Gets MessyThis one I didn’t read to anyone but myself, in the workroom, while I was checking in the day’s new books. I don’t generally read the new picture books, but this one was written by a Book Riot contributor so I’d been hearing about it via my BR podcasts, including one that had an interview with her about the process of writing it.

Because of the podcast, I was looking at the book a little differently than I might a random picture book, trying to figure out which parts were original and which edited, looking at the pictures and thinking about how the author and the illustrator never spoke and wondering what that illustrating process was like.

But! The book was suitably adorable to keep me from thinking too hard about that stuff. This one is about Edward, a little pig who does not like getting messy. He avoids anything that might even remotely cause a speck on his cleanliness, and so of course he misses out on all the things. But then he accidentally gets a little messy and realizes that sometimes messy is a good thing!

My first thought after reading this was, I bet there’s a kid out there making a giant mess in their house because of this book. “Edward says it’s okay to get messy!” Probably you should only read this to your weirdly spotless toddler?

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, by Matthew Inman
The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long DistancesThis one might be for adults, but it’s definitely a picture book! I picked this book up ages ago, back when I was still a running person (stupid injuries), largely because it’s by Matthew Inman.  If you’ve ever read his comics at The Oatmeal, you’ll know both the art and humor styles.

You find out pretty quickly that the main titular reason is that Inman doesn’t want to be a fat kid anymore, which seems a little self defeating, but then again, I’ve read The Oatmeal.  But then he goes on to say that you can’t become a runner for vanity reasons, because you’ll get giant legs, so.  Hmmm.

Inman talks about a lot of the fun and horror of running, from the obsession to keep doing it, the mental clarity you get while running, how to run your first marathon, what to eat as a runner, and how to get into the sport the “right” way.  It’s a little all over the place, but it’s got enough truth nuggets to be appreciated by any runner type you might know.

Weekend Shorts: Welcome to Persepolis

I’ve got two rather different offerings for you today. One is a graphic (as in pictures) memoir of Iran after the Islamic Revolution, the other is the first volume of scripts for the Lovecraftian podcast Welcome to Night Vale. You know, I said rather different, but there are probably more similarities between these two things than anyone wants to admit…

Anyway, let’s see what these are about!

The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
The Complete PersepolisThis was yet another of those book club picks that make me read a book I should have read a long time ago. I hadn’t read it because a long time ago, I was totally not into comics things (I know, right?) and had no interest in some picture book even if it was important or whatever. Oh, me. And unfortunately, oh, several of my book clubbers, as the low attendance at this meeting will attest.

But those who did come loved it, and I liked it quite a lot as well. It is a little difficult to get into, even aside from the pictures aspect, as the book is written as a series of vignettes of Satrapi’s life in Iran and Europe that don’t always flow smoothly one to the next. The breaks can be a little jarring and at least once I found myself wondering if I had managed to skip a bunch of pages because I had clearly missed something.

But the vignettes themselves are super interesting. Satrapi starts at the end of the Islamic Revolution, which overthrew one terrible government for a differently terrible government, as seems to happen in these sorts of revolutions. She talks about the abrupt change from co-ed secular schooling to sex-segregated Islamic schools, the new requirement to wear the hijab and other clothing restrictions, her own anti-authoritarian streak that got her in all sorts of trouble, her family’s involvement in the revolution and post-revolution politics, the bombings from Iraq, her time in an Austrian high school, her return to Iran, her marriage, and more. But the clear through-line is Satrapi’s difficulty in reconciling all of these parts of her life which have defined her in so many different ways that it’s hard to say who the “real” Marjane Satrapi might be.

Satrapi’s art style is kind of rudimentary, with imperfect lines and a pure black and white palette, but somehow she manages to capture the individuality of each of her characters and even of herself growing up and changing from a girl to a young woman to an adult. I was really impressed with this book all around and would definitely recommend it to you and your book club.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Mostly Void, Partially StarsYou guys already know my obsession with Welcome to Night Vale, but now you know that the obsession extends to reading written versions of episodes I have already listened to, which sounds weird even to me and I’m the one doing it!

And yes, it did take me rather longer to get through the book than I thought it would, partially because Night Vale is kind of a small doses thing and partly because, I mean, I already know what’s going to happen, here. BUT, it was absolutely worth it to pick up on little references and continuity things I missed the first time and for the short intros to each episode written by various Night Vale-adjacent people. I love a behind-the-scenes anything and this one is excellent.

If you’ve never listened to Welcome to Night Vale but want to, definitely listen first. If you’ve been interested in Night Vale but are not into the podcast thing, this is what you’ve been waiting for! If you love Night Vale, I’m sure the Sheriff’s Secret Police have already delivered you a copy.

Dept. H #1, by Matt Kindt
Dept. H #1Sneak attack bonus! I left this comic off my post-hurricane comics roundup a few weeks back, for reasons I cannot currently remember, so you get to hear about it now!

I pre-ordered this comic when I heard it existed because a) Matt Kindt, and b) the cover tagline that says “murder six miles deep.” Murder! In an underwater headquarters! Take my money!

This is just the first issue, so it has to cover some boring backstory bits, but it gets quickly enough into the going underwater business and the big murdery reveal. I’m super into the protagonist, who is a space person (not, like, an alien — I just don’t know what she does for the space program!) sent underwater to solve this murder for mostly bureaucratic reasons but also personal ones, and, as I knew I would be when I ordered it, I am loving the artwork, which is very similar to MIND MGMT and has a colored-pencil-and-watercolors quality to it that I like a lot. This series somehow didn’t make it to my comics pull list proper, but I’ll definitely be picking up the trade when it comes out in a couple months.

Weekend Shorts: Post-Hurricane Comics

Hey, look, a theme! And this is really a double theme, as my pile of comics reflects the fact that we’re in RIP season with mystery and spookiness abound! I enjoyed these comics outside in the lovely post-hurricane weather that approximates fall in Florida, and I’m hoping that weather sticks around but not the hurricane stuff. I don’t think my heart can take another one this year!

Goldie Vance, #1-4, by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Goldie Vance #1I put this series in my pull list basically as soon as I heard about it, back when it was just a four-issue thing. I actually have #5 in my house, as this series, like all the other miniseries I’ve subscribed to, is now ongoing, but I figured let’s take this one arc at a time.

It’s not quite what I was expecting; it’s advertised as along the lines of Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars and other Girl Detectives, and it… is, but it isn’t. It lacks the depth of mystery found in those stories, proooobably because it’s a comic and it’s intended for tweens and how much space do you have in those 20-something pages, anyway, and I found myself rather baffled and a bit disappointed in the ending.

But, on the other hand, you have delightfully fun characters. There’s Goldie, who wants nothing more than to solve ALL THE MYSTERIES; her friend Cheryl, who wants to be an astronaut; Walter the beleaguered actual detective who wants nothing more than to be left alone and maybe meet a hot chick; and Goldie’s dad and mom, hotel manager and mermaid-costumed entertainer, respectively. Did I mention this book is set in 1962, in Florida? And that most of the main cast is not white, and that so far that’s not a plot point? And that Goldie Vance is apparently a race-car driver with a crush on the hot record store chick? The mystery might be the weirdest, but I’ll stick with this cast for a little while longer and see what they’re up to.

Beyond Belief, #2-3, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Beyond Belief #3I thought these would be perfect RIP reads, until I got to the end of #3, realized there was a #4 to be had, scoured my shelf to find it, couldn’t find it, and then took to the internet to discover it CANCELLED. Who cancels what I presume was already the final issue??? Gah, comics publishers are the worst.

Right, so, anyway. Frank. Sadie. Reluctant monster hunters. In issue 2 they take on the incredibly creepy imaginary friend of the moderately creepy imaginary friend of a little girl who used to have under-the-bed monsters which Sadie is very sad not to get to meet. After besting this beast, Sadie’s friend Donna from issue 1 is kidnapped, leading to…

Issue 3! In which Frank and Sadie take on a literal tree with a literal cult following that seems to be doing evil but might actually be doing good but it is VERY HARD TO SAY BECAUSE THERE IS A CLIFFHANGER ENDING THAT I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FINISH THANKS IMAGE. I might be be overly upset about this, but, I mean, seriously. I really enjoyed these two issues, which have a perfect blend of weird creepy story and Frank and Sadie banter and truly amazing artwork that captures the over-the-top quality of this series.

What’s that? If I put my mad librarian skillz to use I can actually find issue 4 available for purchase online? Excuse me a second…

[$3 and several minutes later…]

Beyond Belief, #4, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Aha! So. Yeah. The literal tree was being sort of a good guy, as he was trapping a big evil. Meanwhile, two detectives get in on this case and one of them becomes a ghost and the other one becomes Donna’s husband (I mean, later, not in this issue, there’s no time!), and all the good things I said about the previous issues still hold.

I do hope, whatever caused this shenanigan aside, that there can be more Thrilling Adventure Hour comics (Sparks Nevada too!) in the future, because they are sooooo good. I mean, I’m still getting sporadic radio shows in my feed long after the podcast “ended”, so anything can happen!

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.

Weekend Shorts: The Inevitable Hoopla Binge

When I first started with hoopla, I thought I could be responsible. I could check out a trade here and a couple issues there, and I’d be fine. FINE. I could stop at any time.

But no, no I couldn’t. With one of my libraries offering me an absurd number of checkouts every month, I should have known it would only be a matter of time before I read 25 single issues over the course of three days. I’m fine.

Of course, this makes for terrible blogging as I can’t possibly remember all those stories enough to write about them, but here’s my best college try:

Giant Days, #5-12, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days #12It’s just, it’s so good, guys. It’s also appropriate that this series would lead to my downfall, as my beloved characters are also having some seriously bad times in this set of issues. My BFF Susan is off having an unexpected relationship that starts off okay but runs into some serious turbulence when Susan stops putting enough effort into it. Esther continues her term as Drama Queen with both an end-of-term panic over not studying for exams and an ill-advised relationship with a TA. Ed finally finds a girl who likes him back but that relationship fizzles before it even begins. Daisy stays relatively drama-free but does become temporarily obsessed with Friday Night Lights. The stories continue to be adorable and hilarious. I am mad at myself for reading all of these and not saving any for later.

Welcome Back, #1-5, by Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Welcome Back #1I actually own the first two or three of these in print, but am lazy and had hoopla handy so I read everything available there in one go. I’m kind of mad at myself for reading all of these, but for a different reason.

See, I own the issues because this was supposed to be a quick four-issue series, and I’m a weird backward person who buys those in issues but ongoing series in trades. But if you are proficient in numbers, you’ll see that I read five issues because someone decided to make this an ongoing series.

I can see why — the series has an interesting premise in that there are people in the world (lots of people? Just a relative few? It’s not super clear) who are involved in some crazypants eons-long war for the purpose of which one hunts the other down, kills them, and then kills themself so that the two can reincarnate together and do it all again. Why this seemed like a great idea to whoever set it up, I do not know, but it leads to some very exciting intrigue and subterfuge so I am willing to suspend some disbelief for a while.

But what I can’t let go of is the fact that there is a pretty obvious ending that’s being built up to in issue four, but at the last minute the story swerves to accommodate the new ongoing nature of the series and ruins it. I don’t know if it would have been a great ending (I’ve been burned by miniseries before), but I can tell that it didn’t get a chance to be. Issue five was okay, but I’m not sure I’m excited enough about it to keep going.

Lumberjanes, #14-24, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Carolyn Nowak, and Carey Pietsch (and other people too)
Lumberjanes #14Holy Mae Jemison. This is what happens when you have a nice relaxing day off of work and you get all your productive stuff done early. You get to read ALL THE LUMBERJANES. What happened here, let’s see…

Well, badges, obviously, but also a crazy snowstorm that leads to some interesting and terrible camp backstory, mermaids with friendship problems, and some serious shape-shifter adventures. Throughout, our favorite Lumberjanes work through the lovely insanity of friendship to the max, including reining in loose cannon friends and dealing with new friends who seem like they’re taking over and wondering whether friendship is more important than personal development. These are some deep thoughts to be reading about at the same time as mermaids, I’ll tell you.

Reading all these issues at once was a little crazy in another way, as there was some serious turnover going on at Lumberjanes headquarters, with the departure of Noelle Stevenson as writer and the introduction of other writers and artists. I have to say, if I can’t have Brooke Allen I hope I can keep having Carey Pietsch going forward; I think the two of them have the best interpretations of the characters. Writing-wise the series seems pretty much the same, probably because it’s hard to go wrong throwing teenagers into crazy supernatural circumstances.

Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf Special #1, by Faith Erin Hicks and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf #1Bonus Lumberjanes fun! Comixology says this is a one-shot special, so I’m not sure what’s up with the #1, but whatever, it’s cute. This issue is a weird sort of The Last Unicorn-esque story about a magic ghost pony and a strange camper who has designs on the pony and on the Lumberjanes while she’s at it. It’s completely outside the realm of regular Lumberjanes, so you don’t really need to read it, but if you love this series I know you’ll read it anyway.

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.

Weekend Shorts: What the Hoopla?

My library has had a service called hoopla for a while now, with movies and music and stuff, but I wasn’t actually interested in it until I found out that I could get COMICS. But then I found out that I could only get comics if my library bought them, so I begged and pleaded our stuff-buying people until one day, POOF! COMICS.

The first thing I did, of course, was read five issues of Lumberjanes. And then like two days later I picked up my trade volume of those same issues at the comic shop, because my timing is impeccable. But whatever, I’ve got lots more issues to read with no trade version in sight, and also there are a bunch of other comics to read and love.

I thought it would be kind of terrible, reading on my phone, but my screen is just large enough that I can read the words without too much trouble, and of course it’s easy enough to see the big pictures. Small pictures and weird layouts require some zooming, but that’s easily enough overcome that I’m not running out to buy a tablet today. If you have a smaller phone, like an older iPhone, you might want to read on something else.

Also a downside is that my library has a monthly limit on checkouts, because unlike most borrowing services these titles are always available and thus pay-by-download for the library. For Lumberjanes this is especially terrible because each issue counts as one download, but if you’re catching up on some older series it’s not so bad because the trades also count as one download. And if you’re in my old stomping grounds of Cleveland, note that the Cuyahoga County hoopla site gives you WAY more downloads than the CLEVNET site. You’re welcome!

On to the comics!

Lumberjanes, Issues 9-13, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak
Lumberjanes, Vol. 3The first four of these issues make up Volume 3 of the series, which starts with a standalone Spooky Horror Story issue which serves to show off some cool artists and their takes on the Lumberjanes and also to provide stories with varying levels of Spooky Horror. It’s super duper fun.

Speaking of artists, the main story arc picks up with a new artist, which is always a little jarring but seriously one of the characters looks so different that I legit had no idea who she was until I got to issue 13 from the original artist, and then I was like, oh, durrrrr. Everyone else is recognizable, though, and in fact I like this art style quite a bit, so I guess I’m just gonna have to get used to it.

Anyway, this arc is suuuuuper cute because Mal and Molly go on a daaaaaaate and it is totes adorbs until the Lumberjane thirst for adventure kicks in and then it’s totes dangerous but also way more exciting, so. There are dinosaurs and the bear lady and plans and awesomeness!

Meanwhile, the other Lumberjanes have no idea this is all going on and are in fact foregoing adventure ’til their friends get back. The irony! Of course, even their attempts to earn the most boringest badges are not without their own sense of adventure….

Not part of Volume 3, because now I’m reading ahead (she says about an issue that’s almost a year old), is issue 13, in which we flash back to the first day of camp and get the fun family backstories of our favorite campers (and raccoon!) and get a little more foreboding from the camp itself. What is up with this camp, seriously?

I can’t not love Lumberjanes. It is wonderful and adorable and fun and exciting and I am SO HAPPY that I can read all the issues on hoopla without waiting a billion years for the trades to come out.

I was going to talk about some more hoopla titles, but I think I’ve written more than enough today so you’ll have to wait until next time! If you’ve found any great titles on hoopla, tell me all about them!

Weekend Shorts: All the Single Issues

Well, okay, obviously not all of them, because I have just too many for the fact that I “only buy in trades.” Except for cool mini-series, and intriguing #1s, and shiny things… whatever. If you’re a single issue reader, here are some you should check out!

Back to the Future, Issues 1 and 2, by Bob Gale and various artists
Back to the Future 1Cool mini-series, check. I want to say issue 1 came out in time for Back to the Future day back in October, and as soon as I heard about it I was like, yes, please, stick that on my pull list. It looks like there will be five total of these, and I’m guessing I’ll be left wanting more!

Back to the Future 2The best part about this series is that the issues contain two standalone stories (just like the best Saturday morning cartoon shows), so if you just find one lying around you won’t have missed anything. In issue 1 we have “The Doc Who Never Was”, which details the time the US government came to recruit Doc Brown and his prototype time machine (no Delorean yet!) and “Science Project”, a cute little thing in which Marty’s got a science project due and Doc Brown offers up all the doodads in his shop. Issue 2 brings “When Marty Met Emmet”, which, well, I think you know what that’s about, and “Looking for a Few Good Scientists”, in which Doc Brown as college professor tries to get in on the Manhattan Project.

Also cool is that each issue is illustrated by a different artist. Seeing so many different takes on Doc and Marty is super neat and it gives the stories a completely different feel even though they share the same author. If you’re a fan of Back to the Future, this is definitely a series to look for.

Paper Girls, Issue 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls 1I didn’t really know much about this book going in besides “Brian K. Vaughan” and “paper delivery girls”, but if you know me you know that’s enough to shell out three bucks for. If nothing else, the packaging is great — high-quality paper for the bright yellow cover, fantastic art and colors on the inside, yes please!

But it’s Brian K. Vaughan, so the story’s high-quality, too. We meet our paper girls the morning after Hallowe’en as they navigate the very very dark streets of “Stony Stream”, Ohio (I get that reference!) and fend off jerky teenagers and equally jerky cops. I would have been perfectly happy if that were the whole story, honestly, but it gets even better with the addition of ALIENS. I am very intrigued and will definitely be picking up the trade to read the rest.

Rocket Girl, Issue 6, by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder
Rocket Girl 6And… shinies. I bought a couple of issues of this when it first came out, before I gave up and went to trades, but the first trade volume is one of my favorite things. I hadn’t seen any issues of this in ages, so when I spotted #6 hanging out on the shelves of my comic shop I bought it immediately to make sure they’d make more for a volume 2. Fingers crossed!

This issue doesn’t have terribly much to do with what I think is the cool part of the story, with the time travel and the Quintum Mechanics intrigue and the weird world of the future that is our past that is… oh, time travel. Mostly this issue is about Rocket Girl’s personal issues, including apparently some mommy issues that I am very intrigued to see play out.

That’s all for this round of comics… what great things are you reading this week?

Weekend Shorts: Awesome Ladies in Comics

Yep, it’s time to talk about ladies again! These ladies, the fictional ones and the real ones who invented them, are all super awesometastic, but these books are very very different. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them both to you at the same time, but hey, I liked them a lot, so you might, too!

Let’s start with the happy book:

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: “Friendship to the Max”, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
Lumberjanes, Vol. 2On the one hand, I am really glad that my many years of Girl Scout camp never involved mystical, fantastical, and/or evil creatures. On the other hand, how do I become a Lumberjane because they’re so cooooooool.

In this volume, we get to meet a few more of the Lumberjane campers as they make friendship bracelets and play a very serious game of capture the flag. Some dinosaurs and a nosy bear show up at camp, but they are easily dispatched, though certain secrets form a rift between our favorite cabin-mates. Luckily, they reunite just in time to work together against some meddling Greek gods by solving puzzles and making serious sacrifices. Also, Jen is the best.

Now the less-happy book:

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: “Extraordinary Machine”, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
Bitch Planet, Vol. 1I read the first issue of this series a while back and liked it quite a bit. It’s got amazing art, a fascinating premise, and some serious deep-thinking plot lines.

After that first issue, which sets up the idea of Bitch Planet, a space jail for “non-compliant” ladies, we get into a story line involving some kind of dangerous sportsball game that our prisoner friends are being pressured into playing. It’s a terrible idea, really, but on the jailers’ side it’s easy money and on the prisoners’ side there’s a chance of doing some damage to the system that is holding them. As the team trains up we learn more about the ladies in the jail (including a great issue all about Penny Rolle, the largest and awesomest of the prisoners), about the jailers, and about the business interests that affect both of these groups. It’s a pretty bleak world all around, and it’s interesting to see how various people work to make the best of it. I’m totally in for wherever this series goes next.

And, after that downer, a bonus happy:

Agent Carter #1, by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis
Agent Carter #1I picked this up on a whim at my local comic shop as part of a huge series of one-shot #1s Marvel did for its 50th anniversary. I was like, “Are there any good ones?” and the comic guy was like, “There’s an Agent Carter…” and I was like, “YES. SOLD. PUT IT IN MY HANDS.” And then I read it while walking home.

This is a cute little comic, if fairly predictable. In it, not-yet-agent Peggy Carter is hanging around SHIELD, firing guns and shooting the breeze (and some birds) with Dum Dum Dugan, who tells her that they’re trying out a new SHIELD operative and could Carter offer some assistance? Carter is less than thrilled that the newbie in question is Lady Sif, of Asgard fame, but she gamely hangs out with her anyway and partakes in some delightfully literal banter until all hell breaks loose.

Super fun all around, but really what this comic did best was make me miss the Agent Carter television show. How long ’til that comes back?