Weekend Shorts: ODY-C and The Bunker

Before we dive in to this week’s comics, I want to remind everyone that tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day! I have like a million things I am doing this weekend but one of the most important to me (like, seriously, I took off work for this) is stopping into my local comic shop and grabbing my allotted free comics as well as whatever they have that I want to pay for. If you have a comic shop within driving distance of you (which you can check at that link above), you have no excuse not to stop in and grab 100 percent absolutely free comics!

Okay, back to the writeups!

ODY-C, #1, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
ODY-C #1I bought this issue the day it came out, knowing nothing about it other than that Matt Fraction wrote it and that Matt Fraction is awesome. I then read it shortly thereafter, and only realized that I hadn’t talked about it here as I was packing it up to donate to my library.

Why did I forget to talk about it for five months? Well, I had really bought it for my husband, and almost entirely because the first couple of “pages” are this huge, 8-page fold-out with a giant illustration on one side and a four-page timeline and four-page map on the other. Timelines? Maps? They are squarely in Scott’s wheelhouse. But still I wanted to read it first, to save Scott the trouble of reading it if it was bad and because MATT FRACTION come on.

So I did. And it was… weird. See, ODY-C is a complete rewrite of Greek mythology, specifically The Odyssey (see what they did there?), wherein all the characters are either ladies or an intersex… sex… created for the purposes of procreation. That timeline thing explains it all, I think, if it doesn’t break your brain, which it totally did mine.

As a person with limited knowledge of Greek mythology, I found myself knowing just enough to know that things were oddly different, not enough to know why, and too much to be able to just read the book as a new story and let it do its own thing. I also really couldn’t get past the voice of the story, in which people say things like, “There should come thunderous punishment from we Olympians for their insolence and hubris.” No. My brain is broken already, I cannot read formal language.

But it’s a super pretty book, with wild technicolor illustrations and amazing, intricate detail. If you’re the kind of person who wants to read space-based, gender-swapped version of The Odyssey, I can’t imagine you’ll do anything but love this.

The Bunker, Vol. 1, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari
The Bunker, Vol. 1This, on the other hand, this book was solidly in my wheelhouse. Five college kids go off into the woods to bury a time capsule, because nerds, but when they find the perfect spot it turns out it’s already taken, by a giant bunker. Even weirder, this bunker has their names on it. Even even weirder, this bunker contains letters to themselves, from their future selves. AWESOME.

It seems that most of the letter writers are doing this as a way to stop the terrible horrible things that are going to happen from happening, but the letter we read first wants none of that. This letter wants its reader to make sure everything happens just as it’s supposed to, which may be a little hard with all of his friends working against him.

As we go through the story we get bits and pieces of the letters, with flashes forward to the horrors of the future world and some flashes back that show how all these guys became friends in the first place and how that’s all about to fall apart. The bunker also has a surprise guest who is going to make things very intriguing in the future.

I love the art in this book as well, which is this interesting sketchy pencilly style that fits with the book’s themes of despair and also the malleability of this timeline. I am super excited to see where this comic goes!

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City of Bohane, by Kevin Barry

City of BohaneFile this one under: Books I would never have gotten past page five of except that they were being read for book club.

Also file under: Books I don’t really understand why anyone would bother to read past page five of.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. It’s just that on the Style-Plot-Character triangle, I tend to be swayed toward plot and character, and this book is like 99 percent style. Check this opening paragraph:

“Whatever’s wrong with us is coming in off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river. This is the Bohane river we’re talking about. A blackwater surge, malevolent, it roars in off the Big Nothin’ wastes and the city was spawned by it and was named for it: city of Bohane.”

That’s not just some fancy opening. That’s the style of every paragraph of this book. Usually I’m reading on my lunch break and trying to figure out how to squeeze in two extra minutes to get to the end of a chapter when I’m reading, but with this one I found myself stopping early and giving my brain a rest with games on my phone. The book is flowery and dense and all about that dark, gritty atmosphere, and it just wasn’t for me.

Usually I try to lead with what the book is about, but I really just don’t know in this case. There’s this dude, like, and he’s the head of the mob equivalent (the Fancy) in Bohane, and he’s got this wife, and there’s this other dude who used to date said wife and also I guess run the town and now he’s back in town after 25 years and everyone’s freaking out? But as I said, there’s not much plot to the book and what it’s really about is getting into various characters’ heads and getting a sense of this city of Bohane and, I don’t know, stuff.

And that’s fine, as it goes. I’ve certainly read and at least appreciated books that are mostly style (see: Flavia and also Jasper Fforde’s entire oeuvre). But what was really weird about this book was that when I got to book club, there were discussion questions that put a heck of a lot more thought into the book than I did. Questions looking at motivations and reasons for settings and actions that I probably couldn’t answer even if I read the book again looking for those answers. So I don’t know what is going on here.

Barry mentions in his afterword (see that link above) that one of his influences for this novel is Cormac McCarthy, which makes a lot of sense as I literally did not get past page five of The Road even though that one was a book club book as well. But I know a lot of people who loved that book, so obviously I am the problem here and you should not discount this book just because I didn’t like it. Unless you dislike similar things. Then you should probably listen to me.

Recommendation: For people who LOVE style and grit. (Not me.)

Rating: 5/10

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr, by David M. Henley

The Hunt for Pierre JnrI picked up this book for two reasons. The first was the abbreviation “Jnr” in the title, which was strange enough (oh, those Aussies) to make me stop and read the blurb. The second was the blurb, which began, “He can make you forget. He can control you. And he is only eight years old.” Soooooooooooooooold. (Someone’s been watching too much World Cup lately…)

At the beginning, the book lived up to all of my expectations, which were basically, this is going to be awesome. It starts with a big-headed child controlling people to do everything he wants and then discarding them when he’s done, and expands to include another telepath turning himself in to the government to help them find this child that the government doesn’t really believe exists in the first place, and then starts to describe this future world where there are telepaths who are greatly feared and therefore subjugated and where people are even more connected to the internet (here called the Weave) and each other than we currently are.

But where I thought the book would be about, you know, the hunt for Pierre Jnr, it’s far more about this future world and the consequences of connectivity and and the perils of prejudice and whether anyone’s mind is really his own.

And that’s pretty awesome, don’t get me wrong. Henley puts a lot of thought into our future government, where leaders are chosen by the Will of the people, who are polled constantly about their thoughts and their preferences and the people they like are put into power immediately. He also posits machines that allow people to communicate like telepaths between themselves and the Weave, and people who are bred to use these machines from birth. I am fascinated by this world.

But, two problems. The one with me is that I found myself thinking often, “This sounds reaaaaally familiar.” It turns out that this book is kind of a mashup of several books I’ve read recently, some of which I haven’t even gotten around to talking about here, and so I kept getting distracted thinking about the other books while I was meant to be thinking about this book and I got quite confused at times. I won’t spoil every crossover detail, but if you’ve read The Circle, Lock In, The Word Exchange, or Brilliance recently, you might find yourself in the same situation.

The one with the book is that it turns out that this is the first book in a trilogy, and as such Henley answers almost none of the questions that he brings up within the story — Is Pierre Jnr real? Whose minds is he controlling? What is his end game? What is the government’s end game? — and I finished the book completely frustrated and almost unwilling to seek out the next book whenever that comes out. Ugggh.

But even just a few days later, I find myself really wanting to know what happens next, so I suppose Henley wins this round. There had better be some answers in the next book, though, or I will take my complaints to the Internet!

Recommendation: For dark speculative fiction fans and those under the control of Pierre Jnr.

Rating: 8/10

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship BreakerI really enjoy reading on my lunch break, but it turns out that I’m really bad at actually remembering to bring a book back to work once I’ve taken it home, I guess because I associate taking books to a library with returning them. Luckily I do work in a library, and so I can always grab a new book to read when I need one! I picked up this book that way, after looking for books I recalled wanting to read and finding this one waiting for me on the shelf.

I had this book on my mental list of books to read because lots of internet people were raving over it and, according to the medals on the cover, it won the Printz Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. I like award-winning things! Generally.

Unfortunately, this book and I were not meant to be the BFFs I’d hoped we’d be, which is maybe because it followed the surprisingly brilliant Code Name Verity but more likely because I just could not deal with the writing.

The story itself is pretty interesting — the characters live in a future world where our climate change has lead to a completely drowned New Orleans and New Orleans II along with much of the Gulf Coast. Because they live in a water world, fancy and amazing new boats have been invented and so there are groups of ship breakers who scavenge the old, decrepit boats that have been left behind. Our protagonist, a young kid called Nailer, is one of these ship breakers, living a life of poverty and hard work and hoping for the day when he might strike it rich like few others have done before.

So when a fancy-pants new boat wrecks itself, Nailer and his friend Pima go out to see if they can’t scavenge themselves into a rich new life. But of course there is a flaw in their plan — a rich girl still alive on the boat who convinces Nailer to help her get back to her family.

But the writing of it… there are a lot of action-adventure-type scenes that happen, and while I wouldn’t have wanted The Knife of Never Letting Go-level over-description of every single scene, I also did not want Twilight-level skipping of every dramatic event, which is what I got. Things happen either incredibly quickly or entirely off-screen, and there’s so much jumping around from one setting to the next that I often found myself having to re-read to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

I did like the characters a lot, though — Nailer might be an idiot (he’s a kid, it comes with the territory), but he’s pretty smart and thoughtful and I did very much want to know what was going to happen to him and if he was going to be okay. His friends and enemies were of course less fleshed out, but I liked that they all had their own distinct personalities even if some of them were pretty static.

When I talked about this book to my co-worker, I said that it’s probably a book I would have loved the heck out of at twelve or thirteen, and that as always I have to remember how much I loved A Wrinkle in Time and how terribly that plot holds itself together. I wish I knew how all those internet and awards people were reading this novel so that I could go back and do the same!

Recommendation: For kiddos and adults looking for a fast and easy read.

Rating: 6/10

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneAfter finishing up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened on our insanely long road trip, we clearly needed something a bit longer itself to fill the rest of our driving time. I had actually had this book loaded into my iTunes for about a year, having planned to listen to it on some other road trip that I guess never happened, but when Carl claimed in early December to be the last person to have read it, I was like, shoot, I’d better get on that.

And… it was pretty good? Scott and I decided early on in the audio, read surprisingly delightfully by Wil Wheaton (I will definitely listen to books read by him again!), that neither of us would have gotten past the first few pages of this on our own. Listening to it together, on the other hand, made for some delightful snarking at Cline’s love of lists and also some bonus understanding when only one of us was laughing at some pop culture reference.

Those references are probably why I wasn’t over the moon about the book, actually. Scott and I were both born in the mid-80s, right around the time period that this book is kind of frozen in (let me get to that in a second). So although I had at least some knowledge of most of the pop culture of the decade, and lots of knowledge of others (WarGames, I love you!), I didn’t have the deeper understanding of someone who is actually old enough to remember the mid-80s.

As to the story proper… okay. It takes place in a future world where Second Life never existed because it was invented as something called OASIS first. OASIS is way better, with fancy virtual reality technology that lets you actually move yourself around the virtual world with, like, your feet and stuff, and also OASIS has incredible market share to the point where its world and currency are thriving while the “real” world falls apart and has things like neighborhoods made entirely of vertical stacks of mobile homes. Classy, that.

Our protagonist, Wade in real life and Parzival in the OASIS, is part of a giant and complicated 1980s-themed scavenger hunt, basically, started by the guy who created the OASIS on the occasion of his death and the prize of which is like a billionty-twelve dollars and ownership of the guy’s company. Wade, who lives in one of those aforementioned stacks, is very interested in the money and is also super interested in the guy and the company and is therefore the first person to find the very first part of the scavenger hunt.

The story basically goes along from there as your classic quest story, with adventures and setbacks and evil enemies and all that, and that part is really fantastic. Especially toward the end of the book, once all the background has been exposited and all that’s left is to finish the scavenger hunt, the story is really engaging and I was like, OMG what is going to happen next? But it’s the whole first half or so of the novel, and some bits and pieces afterward, where Cline is setting up the universe and letting all of us non-80s folk know about the pop culture we’re about to find ourselves immersed in and also where he just apparently could not figure out how to show rather than tell, that the story feels kind of loooooong and booooring. And, really, I like a good list or run-on sentence as much as the next person, but it turns out that if you read them aloud in your narrator voice they are… not nearly as fun as you might hope. Blast.

So for as much as I enjoyed listening to Wil Wheaton read me this story, I might actually recommend eyes-reading this one so that when Cline gets bogged down in 80s minutiae you can just skip right ahead to the next exciting bit, or doing like I did and listening with a friend so that you can talk over the narration about what the heck is even going on in this crazy universe.

But do read it, because the parts that are good are pretty fantastic.

Recommendation: Best read by actual or self-taught nerd children of the 80s, also people who like quests and/or Wil Wheaton.

Rating: 8/10