Sunday, August 3, 2014

A pen name, banjo, and lady robot walk into this guy's spaceship

Nobody's fooling anybody here, Vonnegut. You totally wrote this, about a space traveler with an owl (!), a dog, and a female robot who's smarter than he is, who searches for the big meanings in life going from planet to planet, all of which have life forms that have caricatured relationships to sex and modesty and variations on the hedonism/puritanism/equality scale, only to make it to the high philosopher of the people who have been marking the galaxy for eons, escape his cannibalistic urges, and learn that all the cosmos and their joy and suffering are just a random joke. The extended references to other fake science fiction novels give you away, good sir.

This was fun, written with Vonnegut's sense of humor fully in tact, but without his weird cynical optimism about humanity underpinning everything, it fell a little flat.

I read it in two sittings and laughed but saw the end punchline from a couple chapters in, and the sometimes-random quick patches of "oh and this is why this worked" seemed rushed but still clever.

Good but not transcendent, and I turned it back in this morning because it's on someone else's library card and he's already had to renew it once for me.    

Groovy adventures of Diana Prince

Once I got over the outfits, I kept finding more details that firmly entrenched this comics collection in the 1970s. The concept of Diana Prince as Wonder Woman is filtered through these weird undulating layers of faint sexism that may or may not be a trick of the times.

Like, she's given up her powers in some recent past so now she's just an independent chick with her own business...which is a clothing boutique...who can chop your ass six ways to Sunday and not break a sweat doing it...because she studied under a male master...who fights for female freedom and empowerment...against another female who wants her beautiful face to replace her own damaged goods...who teams up with female rival Cat Woman to bring down a vague brothel-sort of organization...where they have to give hypnotizing jewels to her male master for safe keeping because they are just SO DANG SHINY...but it's mostly because he's blind and is the only one who can't actually look at the stupid things.

So, I guess net positive for the ladies who fight? They do save the world. ...and she does fall in love with a dude and that's part of her motivation. And he's a little TOO amazed that she's so good at this. But also supportive!

I have to read Wonder Woman comics as how good they are at feminism first because whether she likes it or not she's the first and most prominent spokessuperlady for it. This collection made a frank study of it, which I appreciated also because it brought some realness into two completely ridiculous, oh-yeah-this-is-a-reason-to-read-superhero-comics stories: they're FUN.

Going back to the library, and yes, fine, I am starting to just dip in whatever looks interesting and am slowly getting better rewarded for it.

Take it to the moon, take it to the stars

Book: The Time It Takes to Fall
Author: Margaret Lazarus Dean
Published: 2007 (Simon & Shuster)
Pages: 305

You guys, this was the best reading surprise I've had in a really long time. Walk with me through some Personal Backstory here. In May 2013 I took a road trip with my then-boyfriend and another friend to see our awesome Virginia People, and on the way back we stopped at this giant sort of gas station/Wal-Mart/Dollar Tree hybrid that wanted to be South of the Boarder only for the saddest excuse of highway capitalism ever. It was late, it was getting dark, we needed to pee, I saw their discounted books section, and I instantly made up a new tradition that would compel me to buy one. About twenty minutes into our stop, the boys find me with those round blank stares that mean HELP I HAVE SEEN THE SHOPPING ABYSS AND IT IS LOOKING BACK so we skeedaddled and boy am I glad we don't have a chain of JR's around here.

So I wasn't expecting this book to blow me away like it did. I put off reading it for, what, like a year and quarter before I was finally distant enough from the trip, the breakup, and my last trip to a mall (which, seriously, I can't even remember) to be as objective as I was going to get.

And it's SO GOOD, you guys. SO GOOD.

It's about a girl growing up in Florida during the early '80s NASA boom because her dad's a technician, and she keeps track of all the launches and wants to be an astronaut but she doesn't tell anybody because it's still geeky, and she's right there to experience the Challenger explosion and its ripple effects on the space program and everybody's jobs, and she sort of whiffs a crush that the son of her dad's boss has on her, and her mom leaves probably to go be with that boss but she's only got circumstantial evidence, and she skips a grade to get into high school early and she just does all this coming-of-age with language that blooms with her realizations and maybe the ending's a little too happy but it's also ambiguous enough to think that it's just a last doomed try at normalcy. I've gone back and forth between reading it and writing this.

I really enjoyed the story, because I wish NASA was an important thing again so hard, and I enjoyed the tone because it was pitch-perfect for a smart young teenager slowly finding out how much of grown ups' lies she's already uncovered and what other sort of surprises they have for her, and I enjoyed how naturally her awkwardness and confidence ebbed and flowed as she got better at some things and exposed new-found clumsiness in others.

So I'm glad this is a good book because I bought it on a good trip with good people and as a like symbol it works well for how we've all managed to stay good friends through my own personal Depressing Truck Stop of Life.

Um. Yeah. Just go read this. It is staying all over my bookshelf, and my library has a copy of it, so there is at least one place you can get this instead of the only other place on the side of the Interstate beside Denny's.

Books on a plane

Book: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2013 (HarperCollins)
Pages: 178

I turned off my "let's not buy stuff and make ourselves poor" switch when I went to visit my friend for the most American 4th of July ever in Austin, and boy was it ever worth it.

I started at the Columbia airport newstand when it had this book and Night Film (saving that for the very end of my "you're home now and not allowed to spend money until your gas tank coughs and your fridge is dying of starvation" mode) and the Thomas Wolfe in my carry-on was getting ponderous. (More on that soonish!)

And of course it was worth it. So worth it. Neil Gaiman has such a deft touch of the magical that if I don't watch out he will convert me to high fantasy without me even noticing. But the thing I like most about him is that he could totally do that but he doesn't want to, he just wants to show the alternate versions of reality where magic just makes real life more interesting, easier, and way more difficult all at the same time.

We meet this guy going back to his home farmtown for a funeral, and he's drawn to the next door lady neighbors who have a pond in back that their girl used to call an ocean. Flashback - done well as a fall into one long whole story - into when the boy was seven and the girl was eleven and one time he accompanied her on what turned out to be a supernatural errand to banish this oogy force from the land because it wanted to give people what they want but in terrible ways, and then there were also Things flying around taking bites out of the world to leave spots of nothing gaping voids.

On this errand, the boy lets go of the girl's hand, and that lets the oogy force get into him and then manifest as a housekeeper who steals the hearts of his family and breaks it apart and makes his dad almost kill him before the boy can team up with the ladies and banish it forever. The ocean's this spot of healing that they dunk him in, and the girl hurls herself in front of the boy to save him and then she's dipped into the ocean and goes into a deep coma. Nobody knows when she'll wake up, and of course it shakes him for life but as soon as his family moves away his memory gets dim and stores it in this lidded unconsciousness of childhood until he's reminded about it all at once when he comes home again.

It's a slender book packing a lot of big questions about memory, childhood, getting what you want, friendship, magic, and how it all knits together slantwise at a certain impressionable time of your life. I loved it, and I'm a book closer to a section my shelves being The Neil Gaiman One-Man Show Spectacular.

Other book finds: FINALLY replaced Consider the Lobster and FINALLY bought Infinite Jest. You people WILL know why I like David Foster Wallace so much even if you take nothing else away from this blog.

Chasing love, authors, and cross-species war across the galaxy

Books: Saga 2 and 3
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Published: 2013 and 2014 (Image)

Did I mention my friend took me to her local comic shop and that I spent like 20 of the most boring minutes of her life lecturing and agonizing over the manga section? She is such a good hostess.

Anyway, I got distracted by these trade being out and immediately changed course and then read both of them in giant gulps during our lazytimes.

The first trade ended on Marco's parents popping up for a surprise visit; the second takes off with the parenting theme and puts his wife from the warring fraction and their hybrid kid into full domestic freakout with them as they fly around in their tree spaceship and people try to find and kill them.

I like them as parents, okay? I know they're from warring races, but he's so adorably optimistic and she's so worried she swears all the time, and it seems like exactly the real sort of match that would make parents who complement each other realize the enormity of their situation and cling to each other for support even as they're getting on each other's nerves.

And then we get into the story of how they met, and it was over a BOOK and he was her prisoner of WAR and they fell in love over an author's thesis that they could, hidden in what I'm going to be honest and say sounds like the dullest example of future sci fi lit fic ever but what touches them is the sheer banality of this different-species romance - wait, we could be totally normal together? -  and that's what convinces them it'll work between them.

So in the present they go to find the author and hide away from the people who are trying to take their baby. These include an assassin who's getting getting too old for this, you know, who picks up a little slave girl from the sex planet of the last trade set and Marco's ex-girlfriend. Also the TV headed race of nobles who are
fighting as proxies and the spider-lady assassin who should've been dead from last time.

This set ended on less of a cliffhanger than the first one, so I'm less antsy to get to the rest. Those are still coming out in single issues, so the however long it'll take to get to trades will be worth the wait.

Sprinkles of time and moratality

...and then I went past the Sandman shelf and made myself buy only two because they were new and like $14.99 each.

The unease at how close we all are to the twightlight of the soul, etc., and how we willingly jump into that every night was priceless, though, of course. I ain't breaking new ground when I say this is an excellent series with a consistent dark tone that makes what could so easily turn into a teenage goth's view of the supernatural into something infinitely more nuanced, with immortals who are benevolent but within their own bounds, human in their restlessness and questions, and weary at having to try to answer what they haven't figured out themselves.

Death once again makes but a brief cameo but is still my favorite so far, especially in this context of trying to no-nonsense her brother the Sandman out of his funk.

I liked that these two volumes had more self-continuity than 3; there were still stand-alone stories but they all contributed to the central theme and Sandman's wanderings. Another favorite, which you might recognize as part of the theme Sandman Needs Other People Even If It's Just Once a Millineum Or So To Keep Him From Plunging Into the Sad Bastard Uncanny Valley, is when he grants a guy life until the guy says he wants no more and the two meet up in the same place (more or less) every hundred years. No matter what he's gone through, the guy never wants to give up his life, and this baffles the Sandman.

But there are some creepy people in this place, and the Sandman rushes in to save a young woman and her travel companion when they accidentally happen upon an entire hotel convention of serial killers, so you know dude's got a heart.

These are both of course totally going on my bookshelf, and what I might do in a few months is see where I can find the rest of the set used but still good but still cheap. all know where I'll probably end up, and it doesn't make me happy except when it works, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Before the Masks: Part 1

Book: Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre
Authors/Illustrators: Darwyn Cooke/Amanda Conner
Published: 2013 (DC)

Oh man do I love this faux art deco retro style of pictures. They are so rich of color and round of line, perfect for implying movement and the human form and, like, slipping into shadows and hiding from pools of streetlights and stuff. It was great looking at this thing.

 I wasn't quite as fond of the story until it stopped skimming the roster and settled into its own focused narrative of the Silhouette and the first Nite Owl's quest to continue his friend's justice against a mysterious evil lurking on little children. Hooded Justice was creepy as **** and may or may not have been tied into Silhouette's past at the concentration camps she and her sister escaped in WWII and that was a great hint that MAY OR MAY NOT have anything to do with who they eventually collar for this, I won't tell.

 That specific storyline, not necessarily the main one about Nite Owl trying to get his Minutemen memoir published without any personal compromise, was perfect for the noir-ish lines and beats of this. The Minutemen's history was kind of exactly like I would've thought, if I had given any thought to it, which I didn't because I always figured that wasn't the interesting bit, and turns out I was right. At least according to this, anyway. I'm counting this as cannon, since Watchmen managed to stay self-contained and therefore avoid that argument for so long until the movie (say what you will about the rest of it but that was one of my all-time favorite opening sequences), and even now it's just that, the original graphic novel, and these origin story ones. 

 Silk Spectre
Lori and I have a weird relationship because I feel like I most relate to her while also being fed up to past my eyeballs (but no further) with her mommy issues. And this volume just made it worse, only with a decent story,, someone tell me what I think!
Nah, just kidding. (See? She would totally joke like that.) Despite wanting its origin to be much more of a side note in a much bigger picture of reasons and consequences, I could see where Lori was coming from and how it propelled her into her stint with the Watchmen. Yeah, having a mom famous for being the easiest superhero to get to know, like, ever, would be embarassing and confusing enough to want to run away from but difficult enough to elude entirely, especially when it fights against her own natural talents and instincts. And sure, it's totally understandable that a big part of her would want to give in to that instinct to use it for good, to reshape her mom's legacy into something noble and purely heroic so she can be proud of where she comes from without feeling crippling shame at the same time.
And when Lori runs away, it's with a cute guy and a vanful of hippies who cheerfully practice the commune life before it got overrun with irony and cynicism that froze the moment in grotesque cliches of itself. TL;DR: I LIKED THE COLORS WHEN SHE DROPPED ACID.
Anyway, what turns out to dissolve that happy little nest is her real dad, and for those of you who haven't read Watchmen yet (WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE GO TO THE LIBRARY AND RECTIFY THIS) I won't say who that is but in this story it isn't important except that he knows how to creep through the shadows and intimidate the hell out of whoever is threatening her, which usually tends to cause her more distress than safety.
And it ties in neatly to her formal introduction to crime fighting, with the last two pages showing her walking into her first Watchmen meeting. But dudes, the last line is her thought bubble looking at Dr. Manhattan thinking about how she can get him into bed. "I bet my mom would HATE that..."
Also, there is a full-color panel of full-frontal male nudity in the middle of this thing, which - somehow male nudity is always surprising. I've seen more of Walter White's and Roger Sterling's bare asses than I can count comfortably but it strikes me anew every time.
Back to the library for this one.