2013


The Golem and the Jinni: A magical mural of the immigrant experience

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

A Genie. A golem. Nineteenth-century New York City. Boy, did I want to love this book. Drawn by its come-hither characters, its promise of poetry, and by its dark side in the form of a truly nasty character, I really, really wanted to love it. And truth is, I liked The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. But in the well-trod words of middle school, I didn’t “like like” it. Oh, it was fun, it made me smile sometimes and think sometimes and feel a bit sad at other times. I enjoyed hanging out with it for the length of its near-500 pages. But, despite that fire-genie at its heart, there just wasn’t that spark. I just wanted to be friends.

We meet our two fantastical characters early on via two different storylines. The Golem, Chava, travels to 1899 New York on a steamer and finds herself ashore in... Read More

B.P.R.D.: Vampire: The story from B.P.R.D.: 1947 and 1948 is continued

B.P.R.D.: Vampire by Mike Mignola (writer), Joshua Dysart (writer), Gabriel Ba (artist), Fabio Moon (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer)

It’s essential to read B.P.R.D: 1947 and 1948 before reading Vampire, which continues the story of Anders, an early B.P.R.D. agent who, after being taken hostage by two vampire sisters, has had a supernatural cure: The spirits of the two vampires have been locked away inside him, and they are trying to get out. Anders asks the professor for the opportunity to leave the B.P.R.D. before he gets even worse. And, primarily, Anders wants to seek out and destroy vampires as his way to seek revenge.

On his journey, Anders traces family bloodlines and history and rumors that will lead him to the gathering of witches and vampires to worship Hecate. When he is assisted by a local young woman who is seem... Read More

B.P.R.D.: 1948: A great follow-up to 1947

B.P.R.D.: 1948 by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Max Fiumara (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer)

This is another early B.P.R.D. story, this one taking place in 1948. The B.P.R.D. headquarters have been moved from New Mexico to New England. The professor is still magically visited in his office by Varvara, the little Russian girl who oversees the supernatural branch of the Russian government. She is always written well by Mignola, who is accompanied by Arcudi on writing duties this time. And I particularly like it when she tells the professor that he is a “strange little moth. . . . You can’t find enough flames to burn your wings on, so you light your own.” This line captures well the uncanny insight of the young girl who is wise beyond her apparent years.

The professor and the B.P.R.D. are called to a science facility in Utah when scientists start getting killed by a giant bird-like cr... Read More

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus: A young Hellboy

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola (writer), Duncan Fegredo (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)

At under sixty pages, Hellboy: The Midnight Circus is a very short graphic novel, but it is worth seeking out. We get a rare story of Hellboy in his childhood years. At the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in 1948, a young Hellboy sneaks out of his room and overhears his father-figure being warned by another against the dangers Hellboy will bring them all. Upset by the news that others see him as a dangerous threat, he runs away from the B.P.R.D. facility. And of course, as the title suggests, Hellboy will discover the Midnight Circus. But first, as a nice touch of realistic teenager angst, Mignola shows Hellboy smoking what might be his first cigarette, which he stole earlier from one of the B.P.R.D. agents.

Hellboy sees a clown nail to a pole a poster for A. T. Roth... Read More

The Violent Century: A thoughtful exploration of heroes and history

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Thanks to his two most recent novels, Central Station and Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and so when I was given the opportunity to read a re-release of his earlier book, The Violent Century (2013), I leapt right on it. Clearly, the last two books were not evidence of some sudden leap upward in achievement, as The Violent Century stands side by side in craft, structure, and thoughtfulness.

The novel posits an alternate history where in the early 1930s, a “probability wave” (promulgated accidentally by a German scientist) courses th... Read More

NOS4A2: Skip the show and read the book

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by her ... Read More

Over the Wall: A top-notch book for young readers

Over the Wall by Peter Wartman

Warned off by a demon not to enter the empty city, the girl from the country village persists in her desire to pass through the invisible barrier around the city that keeps the demons in. This young girl is the main character of Peter Wartman’s Over the Wall, a charming coming-of-age fantasy graphic novel for young readers. It is a quick read and is light on text to make room for the wonderful art that uses only purple in addition to the black and white drawings, a good choice in that it makes Over the Wall a visually unique graphic novel. Though it’s short, it’s a great read and one I recommend highly for young readers, though I certainly enjoyed reading it as an adult.

The story starts off with our young protagonist gathering together a few items in a backpack: It is nighttime, and we can see her parents asleep in bed in this one-room home... Read More

7 Against Chaos: Science Fiction art not to be missed

7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison

7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison tells the tale of the robed man who gathers six others to join him in his attempt to save the Earth. The robed man, Roark, has been guided by near-sentient computers created by other near-sentient computers: They tell him that in order to save the earth in the twenty-second century, he will need the complete team of seven gathered together. Once the team is complete, they go back in time in order to confront their nemesis, Erissa, a lizard-man who wants to change the earth so that it is dominated by reptiles rather than mammals.

The first half of the book is a series of last-minute life-saving maneuvers by Roark. Each character is saved from near doom, for a variety of reasons. For example, Tantalus, the insect-man, was about to be killed by an angry crowd upset that they lost money betting that Tantalus would lose his battle in a large a... Read More

Kabu Kabu: Are you ready for a change of scenery?

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Speculative fiction reader, are you in a rut? When you think about the genre, do you mostly see brawny white guys with swords and old white wizards with beards? Or maybe a thief with a hood? Or a group of misfits who must team-up to save the world from an evil overlord or a tyrannical government? Is there a castle or a spaceship in every story? And lots of people riding horses?

Speculative fiction reader, isn’t it getting a bit stale? Are you ready for a change of scenery?

If so (and even if not) I urge you to pick up Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu (2013), a collection of 21 short stories that will expand your horizons and restore your faith in the future of your favorite genre.

Kabu Kabu begins with a short introduction by Whoopi Go... Read More

Sister Mine: A refreshingly unique stand-alone fantasy

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine (2013) is a refreshingly unique stand-alone fantasy novel featuring characters, settings, and situations that you’ve never seen before. Makeda and her twin sister Abby were conjoined at birth. Now that they are separated, they each suffer some sort of loss. Abby’s loss is obvious — her body isn’t formed quite right and she has some physical deficits. Makeda’s loss is less obvious — she does not have the mojo that her sister got from their unusual parents... or so she thinks.

Desperate to get out from under the wing of her protective twin sister, Makeda is moving into her own apartment. She wants to live her own life in a world where she doesn’t feel like she’s malformed. But in her new apartment complex, she meets an attractive young man wh... Read More

Mars, Inc.: The business of space

Mars, Inc. by Ben Bova

Mars, Inc. (2013), by Ben Bova, is an interesting exploration of how to get to Mars, not by way of NASA or the government, but by privatizing the space industry and using big business, investors, and the like to get there. While you might expect some trips into space in this book, most of the novel takes place on solid ground, watching Art Thrasher gather his investors, headhunt for scientists, and test out his program.

That’s both the strength and the weakness of the novel. When most people pick up a science fiction book, they want something to do with space, or futuristic technology, or something. There’s very little of that in Mars, Inc. Instead, the world is very much like our own. In fact, it is so similar to ours that these happenings could be taking place today, right now. Mars, Inc. is more about s... Read More

Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson's unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty's father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast's identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell was cast? What the Beast had a companion, an old... Read More

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young: Selected graduation speeches

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young by Kurt Vonnegut

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young collects nine graduation speeches delivered by Kurt Vonnegut. Published in 2013, this posthumous collection is introduced by the writer Dan Wakefield. The earliest speech was delivered in 1978, while the latest was given in 2004.

These speeches are almost exactly what Vonnegut’s fans would expect of him — so much so that I wish I’d attempted to write a speech from the point of view of Kurt Vonnegut before beginning this book. The speeches feature his darkly humorous assessment of the human condition, as well as his deeply felt esteem for mercy, compassion, and contributing in spite of it all to make the world a slightly better place. He is also happy to poke fun at himself, though I enjoyed t... Read More

Tinder: A twisted, terrifying fairy tale

Tinder by Sally Gardner

Death first comes to Otto Hundebiss on the battlefield. Surrounded by Otto's friends and comrades, he offers to take Otto with him as well. Otto declines, and Death and his ghostly army vanish. So begins Sally Gardner's twisted take on the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the tinderbox. And it doesn't get any more light-hearted after that...

Otto staggers through the woods in which the battle took place, a bullet in his side and a sword wound in his shoulder, and eventually passes out. When he comes round, he isn't sure whether or not he's dreaming: all around him hang boots and shoes. A beast is stoking a fire next to him, and Otto realises it is not a beast at all, but a horned animal mask on the head of a man. Otto asks about the shoes, and the half-man (as Otto calls him) explains they are the shoes of the dead.

Between the haze of battle, meeting Death, and now observing ... Read More

Shazam! by Geoff Johns

Shazam! by Geoff Johns (writer) and Gary Frank (artist)

Shazam! was told in short installments in the back pages of The Justice League, in issues 7-11, 0, 14-16, and 18-21. As his story progressed, he was eventually added to the primary Justice League story. In other words, by issue #21, Billy Batson, as Shazam, was a member of the Justice League and the short installments were no longer needed. However, DC has collected all these installments into this single trade collection, a wonderful stand-alone volume. Shazam! by Geoff Johns is THE Shazam book I’ve always wanted to read: It gives a great introduction to the character, providing a solid origin s... Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: An evocative return to childhood

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.

Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the Hempstock family farmhouse, certain that he used to play with the family’s young daughter Lettie. At the back... Read More

Some Remarks: The glory of infodumps separated from narrative

Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

Some Remarks compiles eighteen short texts by Neal Stephenson. Aside from a couple short stories, this is a book of essays, interviews, and speeches. These short texts should please most Stephenson fans because they combine humor, insight, and exposition — in other words, these are infodumps gloriously freed from narrative.

Hesitant readers would do well to test this book by reading its opening essay, “Arsebestos.” Stephenson points out that although sitting all day is unhealthy, much of corporate America requires its office drones to sit in cubicles. People would be better off doing their work while ambling along on a treadmill, as Stephenson does, but managers are too cowardly to risk changing the status quo. After all, what if walking leads to knee problems? The essay, as it... Read More

The Humans: How alien the human race can seem

The Humans by Matt Haig

Andrew Martin is a distinguished mathematics professor at Cambridge University who has just discovered the solution to the Riemann hypothesis, thereby solving the secret of prime numbers and unlocking the secrets of the universe. That is, at least, until he is assassinated by an alien race and his body is taken over by a Vonnedorian agent intent on wiping out all traces of his mathematical discovery so that the puny human race will never hold the secret of the primes.

So begins The Humans, Matt Haig’s wry and satirical examination of the human race. Andrew Martin (more specifically, the alien who now inhabits his body) has woken up on planet earth. He is naked and he is in the middle of a motorway somewhere on the outskirts of Cambridge. When drivers in passing cars hurl abuse and spit on him, Andrew assumes this is the traditional form of human greeting and proc... Read More

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick: 21 stories spanning 3 decades

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick

I’ve been reading a lot of Philip K. Dick the last two years: 10 novels, 7 audiobooks, and now three short story collections. The more I read, the more I’m drawn to his hard-luck life story and strange religious experiences in the 1970s. In particular, his VALIS trilogy was probably the strangest SF exploration of suffering and salvation I’ve ever read. The only books left to read are two biographies and his 944-page Exegesis of personal writings.

I wanted a collection that would capture the whole range of his ideas without spanning multiple volumes and thousands of pages. There are many options, and I settled on Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 21 stories selected by Jo... Read More

The Shining Girls: Scary in all the right ways

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

A serial killer is at a serious advantage when they can jump through time at will, as Harper Curtis of Lauren Beukes The Shining Girls can. This does not bode well for Kirby Mazrachi, intended victim of said serial killer who should’ve died after Harper sliced open her stomach and slit her throat. But Kirby miraculously survived the attack and is determined to find the man that derailed her life.

The problems with trying to find a time-travelling serial killer, however, are obvious. Harper Curtis jumps between 1929 and 1993, killing his ‘shining girls.’ Quite why they shine is never explicitly explained, but they all have the potential to change the world in some way. Harper is able to time travel through the House (note the capital H), an entity which is, again, left somew... Read More

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Imagine your favorite pulp art from the covers and illustrations of adventure and fantasy stories. Now imagine this same style updated so that the artwork is consistent with a hint of contemporary polish plus wonderful, eye-grabbing color. Finally, imagine a comic book that tells an entire story with this artwork so that instead of the illustrations accompanying the text, the text accompanies the art. At that point, you will have imagined the first volume of Frank Barbiere’s Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray, which is illustrated by Chris Mooneyham, with colors provided by S. M. Vidaurri and Lauren Affe.
... Read More

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read is a text-book example of the old don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover warning. And in this case, I’d say it also serves as an additional warning not to judge a book by its title. I’m not sure how well this book sold in 2013, but however it did, I’m sure it missed its target audience because of the title and cover. I hope First Second, one of my favorite publishers, will re-release this book with a new title and new cover. It deserves republication and another chance as a newly marketed book.

I really like The Cute Girl Network, and I was surpri... Read More

Fortunately, the Milk: A wacky children’s story read by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

I never pass up a children’s story written and read by Neil Gaiman. The stories he writes for kids are among his best work and they’re even better when he reads them himself. The audiobook version of Fortunately, the Milk (HarperAudio) would make a great gift for parents who travel with children. Fortunately, the Milk will keep the entire family happily entertained for 1 hour.

In this very amusing story, a boy and his little sister are stuck at home with Dad while Mum is out of town at a conference. Mum left instructions for Dad and reminded him that he needed to pick up a carton of milk before breakfast in the morning. Well, he forgot, and the kids are upset about not having milk for their cereal. So Dad puts down his paper and heads off to the corner market for milk. I... Read More

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

Gilbert Hernandez is one of my favorite writers and artists, and I particularly like the way he depicts children in his comics. So I was eager to read Marble Season, a semi-autobiographical work about a boy named Huey growing up in California in the 1960s. Throughout the book, Huey simply acts like a kid, hanging out with his brothers and the other boys and girls in the neighborhood (the kids talk about the parents but they are always off-panel). That's as much of a plot as there is, and yet, this book is pure gold because, simply put, Gilbert Hernandez is a genius.

As I mentioned in my review of Read More

Endless Sky: The Story of a Swiss in America by David Boller

Endless Sky: The Story of a Swiss in America by David Boller

In the past few years, I’ve gained an appreciation for comic book memoirs, and Endless Sky by David Boller is another enjoyable work in this category. It doesn’t have the brilliant poetry of Fun Home or the powerful genius of Brooklyn Dreams, but it’s still worth seeking out, particularly if you are interested either in the story of a comic book writer trying to make it in the industry or in the culture-shock a man from Switzerl... Read More