Tag Archive: 8.5

Mar 12

Review: Saga, Volume 2 by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Volume 2

Guys. Guys! I can’t! I just can’t! Okay, let me get myself together and get on with this review. As you may remember from when I reviewed the first Saga, I love this series with all four chambers of my heart. I can’t remember the last time that I have dived into a series and not had to stop myself from doing any eye-rolling or reading through a ho-hum part to get to the next good part.

The whole thing is good parts.

So the story is narrated by Marko and Alana’s child who provides much needed context from much farther in the future. However, I had kinda forgotten about this conceit, so I had a little bit of an issue piecing together who the narrator was at first. But once I got it, it all snapped back into place.

At the end of the first collection, Marko’s parents port in, because all of the moon-horn people can cast a variety of magic. So they came looking for him since he had run away from the army and become a peacenik. Unfortunately, on their way in, they banished the babysitter ghost to a nearby planet, and Marko insists that they go find her. So while he goes to find the babysitter and his mom follows, Alana is left with his dad, and because of the long-running civil war, they have plenty of not pleasant attitude for each other to go around. And at one point, the ship on Alana’s request traps him in some vines so he can’t get out. He can’t just magic himself out because in this universe, you have to give up a secret to cast a spell. And he reveals the secret that no one knows: he is going to die within the month from an incurable disease.

Sexy times? Yes, sexy times.

Surprise. All the surprises.

So they become better friends, and dadturns out to be an armorer, so he spends a chunk of time weaving clothes for everyone that have all sorts of magical enhancements. Back on the planet, turns out, it’s not a planet. It’s an egg, and a massive time sucking beast is being born out of it.

And that’s just one of the stories.

Then there’s The Will, who goes back to Whore Planet to get the Slave Child out of hock. Gwen, Marko’s ex, has decided that she wants to find him and punish him for his half-breed spawn, partly out of duty to the army she’s in, but mostly because she’s been scorned. Seriously, a lot of this is like Dynasty in space, but that’s okay. I love some high emotion borderline camp moments.

There’s also the backstory of how Alana and Marko ended up together, basically falling in love over a romance novel that serves as a metaphor for how everyone should just get along.

Oh, and computer prince is still after them, and at the end of the collection, he has them cornered and he doesn’t even know it yet.

The art. The story. The characters. It’s all frikkin fantastic. The only bad thing is that volume 3 doesn’t come out until the end of this month.

Marko

Absolutely. Absolutely and a half.

JMF Rating: 8.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 30

Review: The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

The Quantum Thief

I really should review books in a more timely fashion. That way, I can be sure to know what I’m actually talking about. But here we go nonetheless.

Okay, so this book follows Jean Le Flambeur, the greatest thief in known space. Well, he was at one time anyways. At the top of the story, he’s in a jail where he has to play prisoner dilemma games for the endless gratification of his captors. But, he is busted out by Mieli and her boss because Mieli’s boss needs Jean to steal something for her. The only problem with that is that Jean has lost his memory, so he is literally not the man he used to be. But they go to Mars in hopes that he will be able to steal back his skills to pay back his debt.

And the story is fascinatingly good. In a universe that would be easy to see as ridiculous or campy, the story rarely veers into those terms. Rajaniemi presents an environment where the worlds outside of earth have been settled, but they have become incredibly fractured. There’s a group that wants to incorporate everybody into their collective subconsciousness. There’s a technology-driven coven that evolved out of 21st century online gaming guilds. And the society of Mars itself is ruled by a complicated set of social standards that allow you to be as private as you want, to the point of people not being able to see you without your permission. All of this, and the floating cities, talking spaceships, mind-stealing aliens, and warped sense of reincarnation and immortality, make this backdrop truly memorable.

I’ve avoided giving all of those things their real names because I listened to the audiobook. And an audiobook does nothing good for your sf spelling. I imagine if reading, there would be sections where the technical jargon becomes a little too thick on the ground as Rajaniemi attempts to verify that the complex things taking place in the story could really happen. And while this might be fascinating to some, I have just enough self-taught physics to follow the general line and not get too worried about details.

But where this story truly shines is in the character relationships (isn’t that true for every great story?). Jean is deeply flawed: charming, but a bad guy. But with a sense of honor. But with a sense of self-preservation and isolation. But who acknowledges his debts. But who also wants to escape his captors and his past. So while he isn’t an unreliable narrator in the Something More Than Night sense, he is a bit too charming for his own good. Despite this, and despite the strange circumstances that he comes to know his new team, they start to form a cohesive unit that gives a lot of lip service to disliking each other while actively looking out for each other. You know, the way that family does.

Oh, and this space opera has murders and fights and zombies and robot battles and sexy times and a thrilling climax. But guys, character relationships too.

I’m already listening to the sequel.

JMF Rating: 8.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 22

Review: Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Volume One

On Saturday, we took Micah to the vet. She’d been real low key all week, not eating a whole lot, and when she couldn’t really use her back right leg, it was vet time. And if you have never had to take your dog to the vet on a Saturday morning, let me tell you that it’s an experience. All the dogs. All the dogs who have not been socialized. And then there’s Micah, the wenchiest of all the dogs, who just wants to be friends or hide, depending on the moment. And there is a long wait.

So luckily I grabbed the first volume of Saga. It was so good I almost finished it in the waiting room.

Saga quite literally feels like its going to be a saga: deep, involved, and dealing with emotions and reality on an epic scale. It starts with the birth of Marko (the horned guy) and Alana’s (the winged girl) child. However, since they’re on the run, and from opposite sides of a long running civil war, this is bad news for them. They immediately get busted in on, and they spend the rest of the volume trying to escape the planet they’re stranded on. Along the way, they run into ghosts, a spider lady bounty hunter, a forest made of rockets, and all the battles. So, you know, the best way to spend the first few days of your newborn’s life.

Then there’s the story of a bounty hunter called The Will who gets hired to track them down. But he’s a bad guy with a soul, so when he thinks at first that he won’t be able to nab them (because his ex, the spider bounty hunter, is on the job), he goes to Whore Island (Whore Planet, really…), and ends up killing a bunch of people to rescue a massively under-aged prostitute. Oh, and he has a scary-looking cat that can detect when people are lying. So, in his desperation to make some money and flee the Whore Planet, he is back on the case, seeking the fugitives.

And lastly, there’s the Computer-Headed Prince who has to get to the fugitives first so that he can restore his honor and make it home in time for the birth of his child. So, there’s a lot going on.

First things first: this is a beautifully drawn graphic novel. I rarely comment on the art of these stories because I know that I couldn’t do even a fraction of how well they do. But in this case, Staples really outdid herself. The pages are lush and saturated, giving the story that truly epic feel that the stories embody.

And the concept is very magic verses technology, main city verses the rebels, et cetera et cetera ad nauseum, but just because it’s a standard doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily mean that it’s unoriginal. The series feels like a story that is just ramping up. This first volume just put the pieces on the board and let you know a little about what each character is about. But this story is going to take a long time and have a lot of twists and turns.

I can’t fucking wait.

JMF  Rating: 8.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Oct 08

Review: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

tharp-creative-habit

When I finished War of Art, this started another creative self-help book binge. I haven’t reread Bird by Bird (yet), but LibraryThing thought I would like this.

A few things first about Twyla Tharp:

-I have a deep and abiding respect for Twyla Tharp and have had it for years.

-I love her style of dance. As a terrible dancer, I have a deep and abiding respect for those who can.

-She’s name checked in one of my favorite movies:

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And how did I not know that she had a book? Three books?! This clearly is something that must be changed. And so it has.

One more thing before I get to the actual content of the book. Can I just say how much a well-designed book pleases me? And books on creativity are almost well-designed. They have good typefaces. Excellent white space. Judicious use of size and color and images. The book itself is gorgeous and helpful just as an item, nevermind the actual content inside. </gushing>

Tharp offers a lot of advice to creatives of all types in this book. It’s not just meant for artists or dancers–she’s pretty clear that her advice has applications to any source of passion. It’s laid out so that every chapter introduces an idea, Tharp expounds on it using a lot of examples from her own life and work, and then there are exercises and activities at the end of each chapter. And some of the exercises didn’t speak to me, and some of the advice is stuff that everybody says (go to work even when you don’t want to, don’t get bogged down in a rut, don’t get too committed to the first thing that comes out of your mind).

But there’s one section that really spoke to me. I mean, the whole book really spoke to me, but the section on rituals brought something fresh that wasn’t a needed reminder. Tharp has a routine where she gets up every morning, puts on gym clothes, and gets in a cab to go to the gym. And you might think that the gym is the ritual; it’s how she jumpstarts her day. But that’s actually not it–it’s the cab ride. By denoting a small thing that happens every morning, it signals to her body that it’s time to get up and get to work. Since the mind and body are so connected, I feel like this could bring a lot of positivity into my own life. I’ve been trying to start a routine where I get up at 7 as soon as my alarm goes off, I get a Diet Coke, and get in the shower. This proceeds into my grooming routine and life.

Now, Dale can tell you that this has not been abjectly (or even sort of) successful. But pieces of it are coming together. I now feel like I need to get a move on when my alarm goes off. And even if I burn some of the time before 9 AM reading the news or whatever, I’ve done it on my own time instead of letting encroach on work. And for that small advantage this book was truly worth it.

JMF Rating: 8.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Apr 15

Book Review: Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.

I just finished Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.  This is the first time I’ve had the energy to tear through an entire book in a 24 hour period in quite a while, and I’m glad I didn’t waste on anything less good than Alif.  I know that it was on the New York Times list of the top books from 2012, but I can’t believe I waited.  It was fantastic.  And, doing some research on her just now, I realized that she’s the writer behind the graphic novel series Air (which if you haven’t read, you deserve to treat yourself to that odd little tale).  Anywho, back to this review.

Wilson’s story follows “Alif,” a computer hacker in an unnamed Muslim country, who has to flee his shuddered world of computers and online shennanigans to run from the state police who have discovered where his base of operations is located.  He inadvertently takes his next door neighbor Dina on the run with him and a copy of the Alf Yeom, the 1,001 Days, a collection of stories containing the wisdom of the djinn that has the capability of revolutionizing the world.  Or perhaps just revolutionizing belief.  Or perhaps nothing at all.  It’s all a matter of perception and belief.  This story follows Alif on the run from the state police as he finds out that not believing in something isn’t a great reason for it not to exist at all.

Wilson does a fantastic job keeping the narrative moving throughout this book, and you find yourself being sucked further and further on when you really just meant to read one more page before going to check on dinner in the oven.  Even for someone like me who only has a passing understanding of many Muslim terms and Arabic expressions, the story is so engaging that you don’t mind that you might be missing a few pertinent details here and there.  Also, it was great atmospheric writing about a Muslim world in turmoil, like if Willa Cather tried to write a novel about the French Revolution.  I mean, seriously.

The novel attacks the idea of belief from several perspectives, and this may be one of the book’s strongest points. The next door neighbor Dina believes in the literal meaning of the Qur’an, and is thus able to perceive some of the spirit world that inhabits the same place she lives whereas Alif is blind to things he can’t see.  This is put into contrast to computer code and invisible friendships of hacker communities that form Alif’s primary bonds before the story starts.  He believes in the intangible of the electronic world, but he can’t process the intangible truths that may be lurking in faith systems.  This is just one tenet, and I don’t want to ruin the story arc for you by getting into some of the later stuff, but you owe it to yourself to read this.

This is Wilson’s first novel, and I hope she keeps it up because while this was a slight left turn from my usual fare, it was well worth the detour.

JMF Rating: 8.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF