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.

Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

Broken MonstersThe other day we got this huge pile of YA and children’s fantasy books in at my library, and I told my coworker that I expected her to take home at least half of them, because that kind of book is totally her thing. Then I said, hey, speaking of things that are totally your thing, I am reading this amazing book right now that you would absolutely hate! That book? Broken Monsters.

If you’ve ever read Lauren Beukes before, you will understand. She does not do cute, fun, adorable stories with magic and/or dragons; her books are far more bleak and gory and weird, and this one is no exception.

We start right off in this novel with the gory; there’s a detective and a dead body, or more accurately half of a dead human body attached to half of a dead deer body. That’s… great… so as a palate cleanser we meet another one of our protagonists, a thirty-something dude in the midst of finding himself and his muse and whatever. He is soon to become the bane of our detective’s existence when he decides to become the “journalist” who reveals everything about this dead kid case.

Then we meet a guy who’s made a career out of looting abandoned houses, of which there are many in Detroit, and after that the detective’s daughter, who gets caught up in an extremely effed-up internet “prank” that leads me to preemptively take the internet away from my hypothetical children until they’re 30. Then we finally meet the guy who turns out to be the killer, whose chapters are all supremely creepy but fascinating in their own special way.

All of the protagonists’ stories connect to each other in some way, which is my favorite thing, with people and places intersecting in foreboding ways until the end where Beukes just throws everyone into an abandoned plant and lets the batshit crazy flow, kind of literally. That’s the weird part, where this strange magical-realism conceit that’s been brewing throughout the novel becomes way less realistic and way more scary as what.

Adding to the creepy factor is the fact that the book is set in Detroit and focuses a lot on the idea of abandoned buildings and neighborhoods and the strange fascination that people have with the city and its deterioration or rebuilding, depending on the person. It’s hard to tell if Detroit is creepy on its own or if it’s creepy because people really really want it to be. I like it.

I was completely entranced by this book, alternately worried about certain characters and whether they would be okay after doing not-terribly-smart things (spoiler: not everyone is okay) and really curious to see how all of this insanity could possibly come together at the end. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending, which is just too weird for the tone of the rest of the book, but it was definitely exciting. I continue to fangirl for Lauren Beukes, and am glad there’s still some backlist of hers I haven’t gotten to yet so that I can go find it and devour it when I am in a mood for a book that is nothing like any other book.

Recommendation: For lovers of the strange and anyone with an affinity for Detroit.

Rating: 9/10

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

Zoo CitySo a while back I read Beukes’s The Shining Girls and thought it was brain-exploding but also pretty darn good, and then the Internet was like, yeah, well, we liked Beukes before she was cool when she wrote a little thing called Zoo City. And I was like, yeah, well, Internet Hipsters, I owned Zoo City via a Humble Bundle before I knew that I was going to know that Beukes was cool, and then my brain exploded again.

I actually started reading this back in October, but fate and forgetfulness meant that I didn’t finish it until, uh, February (who’s behind on her book posts?). Luckily, the book is just bonkers enough that I didn’t have to start over.

But it is bonkers. See, it takes place in this alternate present where criminals somehow (insert hand waving here) end up with Animals who hang out with them for the rest of ever, like Mice and Mongeese and in our hero Zinzi’s case, a Sloth. Said criminals also get a magic power, which can be almost anything; Zinzi’s power is to be able to find lost things.

Aside from the cool things (well, not sure about the Animal thing), Zinzi’s life is… not great. She lives in a Johannesburg slum called Zoo City where, as you may guess, lots of other people with Animals are stuck living, having been rejected from better places. She is also in debt to her drug dealer and repays him by writing scam emails à la those nice Nigerian princes and sometimes pretending to be the people she writes about in those emails when the potential benefactors come to call.

Is this bonkers enough yet? Because it keeps going — Zinzi gets involved in a lost item case that nearly gets her arrested, and then she gets recruited to find a missing pop star and then there’s this whole thing with Animals and an Undertow and… there is a lot going on here.

But in a good way! It helps that Zinzi is a really interesting character, super flawed but generally trying to be a good person in a bad situation, and the other people she meets are equally difficult to peg as good or bad, which is part of what keeps the mystery going. And the world that Beukes created is amazing — she includes between story chapters little snippets of books and news stories and the like that talk about when Animals started showing up and what the prevailing theories are and how people are using them for fame and this sort of second storyline does come into play at the end so don’t skip these seeming extras. The ending is, as I am coming to see is “as usual” for Beukes, crazypants enough to make perfect sense, once you’ve overthought it enough.

So if, like me, you’ve had this book sitting on your ereader since that long-ago Humble Bundle, or if it crosses your path at the library or bookstore, you should definitely give it a shot.

Recommendation: For fans of alternate realities and hand-wavey magic and books that force you to think real hard about things.

Rating: 8/10

The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

Shining GirlsThis is a novel that I had seen all over my internets, and everyone had been really really excited about it. So when I had the opportunity to be first on the holds list for it at my library, you know I took it. And when I needed a break from the YA, time-travelling serial killers sounded like the perfect fit.

Yes, you read that right. There are two main characters whose points of view (all third-person, if you care about things like that) the story is told from, and one of them happens to be a time-travelling serial killer. It’s weirder than that, though, as said killer travels through time via a strange house that spits him out where he needs to be, and when he gets to the house the first time his list of targets and trophy stash are already in place. Because time travel.

The other main character is one of the killer’s targets, whom he has failed to kill. She’s got crazy issues, of course, and she takes on an internship at a Chicago newspaper (in 1993, so it’s not that weird!) partly to have access to the information she needs to be able to solve her own murder (her words) and possibly the murders of other young women in similar circumstances.

The narration jumps back and forth in time, as you might expect, and so we figure out what’s going on in fits and starts and with some really really interesting scenes just left in the middle of the book to frustrate you (okay, me) until they are eventually resolved. I, as you may expect, LOVE this fact.

I also really liked how the characters were written, fleshed out enough to get them through each little chapter but mysterious enough to leave me wondering about them even at the end. And I definitely cared about all of the characters, especially the victims but even a little bit the killer, who I hoped would maybe get over his batshit craziness because he seemed like… not a decent guy, maybe, but a guy who could be decent if given a house that told him to do good things, you know?

The only part of the story that I didn’t absolutely love was the end, which veered wildly off the course I had set for it and defied my expectations in good and not-good ways. There’s one piece of resolution that both makes perfect sense and no sense, and while I’m pretty sure it falls in the “good ways” camp, it’s going to take me a while to really wrap my head around it.

This is definitely one of those books where I need someone to go and read it right now and then come back and talk to me about how crazy it all is, so if you could get on that, that would be great!

Recommendation: For lovers of multi-narrator stories and stories that break your brain a little bit and people not too squicked out by violence and gore, because oh, yeah, there’s rather a bit of that.

Rating: 9/10

an RIP read