starlady: (bibliophile)
What I'm Reading
Wicked City by Alaya Dawn Johnson - The second Zephyr Hollis book and the last ADJ book I haven't read. She needs to write more! I just started this, so no comments yet other than that I stand by my observation about Zephyr being in denial about who she is.

Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer - I loved the Southern Reach, and this is more obviously weird fantasy than those books, which has its pluses and minuses, but I love it so far, particularly the fact that it focuses on a sibling relationship.

What I've Read
Whoops, I've built up quite a backlog. Here goes!

Charles Soule et al, She-Hulk vol. 2 - Apparently this was always meant to be as short as it was. Siiiiiggh I would read many more volumes of this kind of thing, the "how X thing or Y institution or Z non-superhero person is affected by a world of superheroes" thing is honestly more interesting to me than many superhero stories. A+, will totally seek out more Charles Soule comics in the future. Has anyone read Letter 44?

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Honor - The newest Kaylin book, and with this, I have read all but one of Michelle Sagara West's novels (except the Sundered books, which I honestly found unreadable). I enjoyed it very much, I continue to enjoy Kaylin's growth as a person and the exploits of her motley crew (found family ftw), and I am looking forward to the next book on multiple levels, not the least of which is: Aerians!

Diane Duane, Interim Errantry - This is "the Young Wizards volume 9.5," and since it's been a few years since I read A Wizard of Mars, I'd forgotten a little how much I love Duane's writing and the Young Wizards in general. The bit in the Halloween story where Dairine is a Jedi, for example--perfection. And all the characters I've loved for so long getting to do things that are slightly less "stereotypical plot diagram," particularly in the novella in the collection, Lifeboats, which I adored. (Also, how married are Tom and Carl in Lifeboats? Super married.) In many ways these three stories were like the best kind of fanfic, which expands a slice of the canon beyond what we get to see in the actual published works. I can't wait for Games Wizards Play.

Martha Wells, Razor's Edge - Martha Wells wrote the last novel in the old Star Wars expanded universe, and it's about Princess Leia, set between ANH and ESB. I liked it a lot (particularly semicompetent!Luke, lol), and you know, I love Star Wars. You can put that on my tombstone. I also love Martha Wells' writing, and I'm psyched to read more of her books. (Even her SGA tie-in novels, because in the year of our lord 2K16 I am not going to apologize for enjoying tie-in novels.)

Diana Wynne Jones, Dogsbody - More DWJ! More terrible parents and parental figures! More plucky heroines and brilliant writing! I feel like I understood this book, which is told from the perspective of a star who gets reborn as a dog, which probably means I'm missing things. The ending felt abrupt, but also completely neat and tidy; it was brilliant and painful and great.

Gillen/McKelvie, The Wicked & the Divine vols. 1 & 2 - My dear sibling introduced this to me with "This is what American Gods wanted to be," and I stand by that assessment. The art is beautiful, the story interesting, the concepts compelling, but I have to say the characters mostly left me cold. That said, I'll still keep reading, because I want to find out what happens after the Shocking Twist!™ at the end of the second volume.

Kelly Sue DeConnick et al., Bitch Planet vol. 1 - I feel like most people have probably heard of this comic by now, with its non-compliant women and its smart take on exploitation tropes and intersectionality. I liked it; like The Handmaid's Tale, it seems both a bit too plausible for comfort and also in many ways a story about what's happening now, as well as a near-future fantasy.

Noelle Stevenson et al., Lumberjanes vol. 1 - This was so great! As a Girl Scout, I got an extra kick out of the story of a bunch of young Lumberjanes at summer camp, I loved it, and I need to read more of it. (I also loved the little in-jokes of the palindromes in the cave, ngl, and also the camp chief's name and appearance. AUGH, it's so good!)

Becky Cloonan et all, Gotham Academy vol. 1 - I've liked Becky Cloonan's work for a while, and this was exactly the kind of story I like, as I said above, following as it does a group of misfit students at Gotham City's most prestigious private school and inventing some old history for the city, as well as featuring an independent take on its present. Also, important to note, the Batman in here isn't the full-on manpain Batman, which makes the whole thing more palatable--there's darkness, but there's also light, and most important of all, I love Olive and Maps and would read many more volumes about them.

Gillen/McKelvie, Phonogram vol. 1 - This feels like a dry run for The Wicked & the Divine, and given that it was about an obnoxious dude, I was mostly into it for the liner notes. Who knew so many people had so many feelings about Britpop.

Octavia Butler, Bloodchild (2nd ed.) - This is the late Octavia Butler's only (and entire) short fiction collection. Xenogenesis, fraught parent/child relationships, taboo subjects--Butler was great, and reading the back of the book talk about her in the present tense is still a wrench.

Gail Simone et al., Wonder Woman: The Circle - This volume collects Simone's first issues on Wonder Woman, telling the story of Diana's attempt to save her mother from the DC-equivalent of HYDRA Nazis invading Themiscyra, mostly. It was good! I like Diana and her friends and her sense of honor! I am still going to drink in the Batman vs Superman movie!

What I'll Read Next
Who knows. Hopefully a lot of it.
starlady: Peggy in her hat with her back turned under the SSR logo (agent carter)
What I'm Reading
Well, kind of several different things including She-Hulk vol 2, and also none--I've been trying to get some reading done in Japanese, which takes a while and which means that I haven't been reading English books.

What I've Read
Jason Latour et al, Spider-Gwen Nos. 1-5 (2015) - So my friend B told me about this series when she came to visit me this year, it was for sale on Comixology, I bought it, and I loved it. Originally a throwaway concept in a multiverse event, Spider-Gwen (now webspinning again under the name Radioactive Spider-Gwen, post-Secret Wars) follows Gwen Stacey as she deals with the emotional trauma of Peter Parker's death and the problems of being the Spiderwoman in a New York that has no time for heroes…complicated by the fact that her dad is the police detective in charge of her case. I think I said on Twitter that the NYPD doing what the mayor says is the least believable thing about the comic; Gwen is great (though the art is pretty terrible), and I loved her sarcastic responses to the world, her problems with her friends/ex-bandmates in the wake of the changes in her life, and the glimpses we get of a villain-version of Matt Murdoch. Probably one of my favorite comics this year, ngl.

Charles Soule et al., She-Hulk vol. 1 (2014) - Cancelled too soon, this series follows She-Hulk as she struggles to set up an independent law practice and deal with being a superhero on the side. Soule has a legal background himself, and he's a great writer, so it's no surprise that the story and the character and the cases she takes are all top-notch, and that there's some interesting questions about what the law means and what it does floating around in the background. These stellar qualities are almost enough to make up for the fact that the art is frequently godawful; the covers are always the best thing about each issue. Still, I'm looking forward to the second, final volume, which I have waiting on my iPad.

Garth Nix, Newt's Emerald (2015) - Garth Nix does a Regency romance with magic, complete with cross-dressing, pining, and enough social engagements to satisfy even the ghost of Georgette Heyer. I loved it from start to finish and I would read a dozen more books set in this world, the end.

Garth Nix, To Hold the Bridge (2015) - This collects basically all the short stories Nix has written since Across the Wall and Other Stories, with the exception of the Sir Fitz and Master Hereward tales, and it opens with the eponymous Old Kingdom novella. All of the stories are excellent, though the publication of some of them evidently intersected with the period in which I was heavily into anthologies, as about half of them turned out to be ones with which I was already familiar. The one about the surfer boy vampire hunter is still one of my favorites.

Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Welcome to Night Vale (2015) - The Night Vale novel! Listeners, I enjoyed it quite a lot; it has remarkably few of the first novel problems you might expect, and all in all it did a very good job of carving out an experience that was still recognizably Night Vale weird but was also demonstrably different from the podcast in a way that took advantage of the medium. (The final chapter!) Bring on the next one!

James Tiptree Jr., Brightness Falls from the Air (1985) - Quite a good book, and probably as happy an ending as Tiptree could have written. On to the short stories.

What I'll Read Next
I have a pile of books I want to read before the end of the year, and doubtless I won't finish all of them. I would have to read 10 books in the next two weeks to tie my 2011 record of 87 books and 11 to beat it, which may or may not be doable, but on the other hand if I knock out a bunch of my comics backlog is probably possible. Wish me luck!
starlady: Twitter quote: @magneto "come home" (my offer still stands)
What I'm Reading
G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen - I'm falling behind on my Sirens reading challenge, but luckily this book is completely engrossing and even though I only started it this morning, I'm nearly finished. It's full of really smart observations as well as really interesting fantastical elements, and some really sharp things about politics. More when I'm finally finished, but this one is pretty great.

Urasawa Naoki, Billy Bat vol 1 - This is Urasawa's current series, and I'm kind of annoyed at how much it plays to my interests to be honest. I also really question why Urasawa has drawn all of the Japanese or Japanese-American characters with the exception of the current protagonist to look distinctly monkey-ish (it's even more noticeable given that the story opens in 1947). This may be a sophisticated point about representation or it may just be an oogie running bit. Anyway, it's Urasawa; of course it's good, though I'm not quite willing to commit to hauling home the other 15 volumes (it's still running).

What I've Just Read
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day - Quakers in space! Except, well, this novel is actively trying to break the bounds of science fiction as a genre, and…I like science fiction as a genre. Well worth reading, but Joan Slonczewski is still first in my heart in terms of Quaker SF novels. (I've now read two of the four.) Partly that's because this is a very interior book, and Gloss gets at the Quakerism (and everything else) very indirectly, unlike Slonczewski, who puts her Quaker in conflict with or in contrast to other groups or even species.

Yoshinaga Fumi, Ôoku vol 11 & 12 - Immunology, gender, and power. I hope everyone's ready for what's looking to be a really grim ending. I'd estimate we have two and at most three volumes left. It's also interesting to me that Yoshinaga made the most incompetent shogun a hero for the sake of the narrative.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 12 & 13 - Only Arakawa Hiromu could blow through an entire year of school in one volume (12) and make it feel totally fine in terms of pacing and character development. She also has a real sense of how to turn the tables on readers' expectations based on genre cliches: the team's performance at the national equestrian championships in 13 is a case in point. Sadly this series seems to be taking a bit of a backseat to Arslan Senki, but I still love it, and I'll be really interested to see where Hachiken and company wind up by the time they graduate. One thing I appreciate now that I didn't before I saw Bakemono no ko is how subversive it is--Hachiken chooses not to go to college even though he could, his brother fucking dropped out of Todai to be an independent Skype college exam tutor, Komaba drops out of high school to work odd jobs in Tokyo so he can buy a farm, Mikage only decides to go to college after she decides to not inherit her family's farm: and all of this is totally okay. That's very (and characteristically) independent-minded of Arakawa.

Bunn/Walta/Fernandez, Magneto: Infamous and Reversals - My one friend W handed me these two volumes of comics as I was basically walking out the door in Seattle on the grounds that I'm way more into the X-Men than he is, which is true, but in no way means I'm familiar with most of the comics except in broad outlines. Luckily this series, which picks up after Charles Xavier's latest death with Mags relatively depowered but still just as quick to perform vigilante justice (also bald, which I can't help but read as influenced by Charles), is actually pretty good at filling readers in on relevant events without info-dumping. The coloring is really striking, and though I thought the pacing was off at a few points in the second volume, overall the comic is asking some tough questions of just about everyone, including Mags himself, and not letting anyone off the hook. I'm interested to keep reading.

Fraction & Ward, ODY-C vol 1 - Yup, between the art and the diction, this comic is fucking trippy, and I'll be really interested to see how closely Fraction sticks to the actual events of the actual Odyssey: there are plenty of hints, even in this first volume, that things could go off the rails of the familiar narrative in really interesting directions; in some ways, they already have. The "not all men" joke was also pretty flipping fantastic. All in all, it's pretty great.

Tenea Johnson, Smoketown - I don't know if there's a name for the sub-genre that includes this book and Dia Reeves' books, but I put them together in my mind as "speculative fiction set in some version of the South, with POC characters," and like Reeves' books, Johnson doesn't pull her punches. The similarities end there, in some ways: whereas Portero is much more comparable to Night Vale, Johnson's post-climate change apocalypse city is decidedly futuristic but also just weird: the government controls a lot of things and birds are outlawed. Finding out what made the city the way it is, and working to change it, winds up being the crux of the novel, but the book goes at that widdershins, and while I really, really liked the book, I thought there were some plot developments that needed a bit more explanation, and some of the characters were much more vivid than others (but oh, when they're vivid, they're painfully alive). So, while I wanted a bit more of some parts of the book, what was there was wildly inventive and really engrossing, and I recommend it.
starlady: Ramona Flowers wearing her delivery goggles (ramona flowers is awesome)
What I've Read
Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vols. 10 & 11 (2014) - These two volumes cover the end of Hachiken & company's first year at Ezono, which is the equivalent of their sophomore year of high school in the States. They were both really good, of course, and Hachiken's Russian sister-in-law is amazing. More please!

Yoshinaga Fumi, Ôoku vol. 10 (2013) - I said on Twitter that this manga has gone from being a manga about gender and power to being about power and immunology, which is true, but things seem like they're going to go back to gender and power in 11 and then bring the immunology back in 12. Volumes of this manga tend to end really up or really down, and this one's a downer, as the death of Tokugawa Ieharu brings about the downfall of Tanuma Okitsugu and her faction with the ôoku, to say nothing of their efforts to make immunization from the red-face pox a reality. But their enemies have proven in the course of this volume that they'll stop at nothing to secure the shogunate, and it's probably germane to remember that historians who care about this sort of thing (hint: not most people currently practicing on the American side) generally agree that Tanuma was the shogunate's last real chance to reform to meet the demands of the C19. 

Jem and the Holograms #1 & 2 (2015) - I never saw the cartoon when I was a kid, and i was probably missing out, but the comic is great so far. I love the art and the coloring, and the story, which follows Jem and the Holograms as they get their start in 2015, is witty too.

What I'm Reading
ODY-C vol. 1 - This comic is fucking trippy, and I like it a lot so far. It retells the Odyssey, in space, with a total genderswap, and the combination of the psychidelic art with the pseudo-epic speech style of the narration is whacked out. But like I said, I like it a lot so far. Fraction is pretty darn awesome.

What I'll Read Next
I got the Charles Soule run of She-Hulk in single issues when they were on sale on Comixology, and I inherited two volumes of Magneto, and of course, tons of manga.
starlady: (shiny)
Yes, it's the anniversary of another trip that I have made around the sun. Here's to more of the same, but better, next year. :D

What I've Read
Ms. Marvel Vol 1, G. Willow Wilson et al - I finally got Comixology and I am hopeful that it will result in increases of the numbers of comics I actually am able to read. I loved this, but you're not surprised. What I will say is that I spotted that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure joke, and I laughed, and what really warmed my heart above and beyond the story itself was how goddamn Jersey it all is, the actual Jersey that doesn't often make it into media. ♥

The Tropic of Serpents and Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan - These books are so great. They operate in a familiar mode (lady Victorian naturalist/adventurer) but do everything completely opposite, except what they don't, and I really enjoy Brennan's ability to pack a lot of complex undercurrents into rather pulp-y yarns, and the way that Isabella is so willing to attempt to conform to the norms of the cultures among which she sojourns, because dragons.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge - Hardinge's newest, and with this I'm now back to having read all but one of her books. I liked it a lot! [personal profile] skygiants said a thing that I agree with a lot, which is that Hardinge's protagonists are perpetually encountering women who they think are standing in their way but instead are much more complex, and that goes double for Faith. The book actually makes a great pair with the Brennan novels since they are both about the same thing (women and natural science) but are totally different. Anyway, it was great, though still not my favorite Hardinge; that will always be Fly By Night, with an honorable mention for Gullstruck Island, which I still think is her most ambitious. But this one was great too. I would read oodles of fic about the badass lesbian couple on the island, IJS.

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer - The final volume in the Southern Reach trilogy; I devoured it in less than a day and I loved it. I think I'm nearly alone in liking how Control is a sarcastic failboat, qualities which are not on display in this final book, but I did want to say that I appreciated VanderMeer's not having every character in the story be a straight white guy, because that could easily have happened, but instead the cast of the final book is a brown career spy, a black lesbian government agent, a part-Asian scientist, a gay white man, and a white woman psychologist. I think the Southern Reach trilogy is great; it's an attempt to deal with climate change and the horrors it's unleashed and revealed, it's a way of grappling with the latest realizations in ecology and biology, namely that humans aren't special; it's some of the most interesting and critically engaged SF I've read in a long time.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace - I blew through this book quite rapidly too, it's post apocalyptic YA scifi with a female protagonist, the eponymous Archivist Wasp, who makes a deal to journey to the underworld in the company of a ghost who's looking for his fallen comrade. It turns out the ghost and his comrade were genetically engineered super-soldiers before the world ended, and that everything Wasp thought she knew is wrong, and you're only as trapped in the past as you let yourself be. In a weird way, this reminded me powerfully of Sabriel crossed with…a really high-tech SF book about genetically engineered super-soldiers, who have got such style, I cannot even tell you. Anyway it was great and I have no idea where a sequel would go but I am so there.

Silver Spoon vol 9 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still great.

What I'm Reading
Silver Spoon vol 10 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still great.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone - I don't think I'm quite as into this book as some other people have been, but I'm enjoying it a lot all the same. I really like Gladstone's determined mixing of magic and modernity, as well as how inventive he is.

What I'll Read Next
Probably some of Tanith Lee's Secret Books of Paradys, and also Michelle West's Oracle!!!
starlady: Aang with fire (aang can be asian & still save the world)
Yang, Gene Luen. Art by Gurihiru. Avatar: The Promise, Parts Two and Three. New York: Dark Horse Comics, 2012.

I really liked the first of Gene Yang's Avatar comics, and I really thought that these last two volumes, and in particular the third one, brought the trilogy home in a deft and wonderful way. Between the art and the writing, it feels like an extended episode of the show, and I really don't think we can ask for more than that. I also thought that the ending of this trilogy (spoilers: Iroh invents bubble tea) pointed the way toward Korra in an interesting way, where you can see the seeds for what has grown up in Republic City, but not the exact way things will go. And Zukoooooo. And Aaaaaang. Their FACES and their aaaaaaangst, OMG. The final interaction between Aang and Roku was heartbreaking, but obviously necessary.

I said after the first volume that Yang's handling of issues of colonialism and imperialism was interesting, and I think that he continued to do a pretty good job throughout. Obviously in a comic aimed at the middle grade age bracket he has to take a pretty light touch to the matter, which he does, and in particular this best-of-all-possible worlds spin on the end of empire presumes perfect economic equality between all parties involved, which doesn't match the way things turned out in our world, for certain. But all those caveats aside, I still agree with Yang's points and the way he makes them, and I love that he made them in the first place. My one real complaint is that I wish the comics were longer--Aang's dealing with the appropriation of his cultural heritage by his fangirls is brought up and put to bed entirely in the third volume, and again, I really liked what Yang said and the way he handled the issue, but it could have been even better done if it could have been done at greater length. As an expansion of the cartoon and a thoughtful engagement with some of the issues it raised, however, this series really couldn't be better.

But! There is another trilogy! With Zuko and Azula and their mother! I AM EXCITE.
starlady: Aang with fire (aang can be asian & still save the world)
Yang, Gene Luen (art by Gurihiru). Avatar: The Promise Part One. New York: Dark Horse, 2012.

In honor of World Book Day yesterday, I sat down and read a book. This one, in fact! It was so great to just read a book. I should do that more often.

Ahem.

I had the very great pleasure of hearing Gene Yang give a book talk when this, the first of the ATLA sequel comics, was published in February. The story takes place a year after the end of the cartoon, when Fire Lord Zuko revokes his promise to Earth King Kuei and Avatar Aang to support the "Harmony Restoration Movement," which is seeking to repatriate the citizens of the Fire Nation's colonies in the Earth Kingdom to their (ancestral) home. Zuko changes his mind after the daughter of the mayor of the city of Yu Dao, the oldest and richest of the colonies, tries to assassinate him, setting up a conflict with just about everyone, including Aang, who'd promised Zuko that he'd kill him if he ever decided that Zuko was turning into his father, Ozai.

Oh, Zuko.

For a kids' comic book, this is some surprisingly heavy stuff to deal with, and I think Yang, who's clearly done his research, is handling the complexities of these issues well so far. Hybridity and rootedness and foreignness and authenticity are all complicated things, and in the eye of the beholder as often as not. I also thought Yang did a bang-up job of getting the characters' voices right - it sounded just like an episode of the show in my head, and that's high praise. I laughed out loud at multiple points. Indeed, my one complaint is that the book is too short, and the second volume isn't coming until May.

I will say, passe the protestors' signs demanding Harmony now! in characters that are written left to right and have an exclamation point at the end, that to me the hybridity of A:TLA itself - that is an Asian-American, rather than an Asian or an American, show - is itself an example of what the comics are getting into here. Yu Dao was inspired by Qingdao, the German treaty port in northeast China, and Zuko is right when he points to Yu Dao's hybridity as the source of its wealth and advancement, just as Katara is right when she points out that that wealth and advancement aren't parceled out equally within the city. But it's Yu Dao and the cities like it that become the great cities of Korra's time (the Sino-Japanese for "republic", 共和国, literally means something like "together harmony realm"), and that is just one of the painful truths of the world we live in. You wouldn't have the one without the other, injustice and all.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006.

I went to the Diversity in YA kick-off event in San Francisco two weekends ago, and Gene Yang's signature on my copy of this book says, "Keep reading comics!" No fear of the opposite happening, Gene.

This book won both the Printz and the Eisner and was the first graphic novel nominated for the National Book Award, which considering that it came out in 2006 says several things at once right there. At the DiYA event Yang mentioned that he basically had no input on the book being submitted for consideration for the Printz, which is also interesting; I wouldn't tag this book YA, though I wouldn't say it's not YA, either. Like the best comics and graphic novels, its appeal defies age.

The story itself is three separate, and then not-so-separate, stories: the first follows the Monkey King, and his rather drastic efforts at self-reinvention after a snub at a party, culminating in his joining the Journey to the West. The second follows young Jin Wang, a student at Oliphant High who has one best friend, Weh-chen, and who wishes he could be someone else. The third seems the most unrelated: it follows Danny, a white high school student whose perfect life is destroyed every year by the arrival of his cousin Chin-kee for his annual visit from China. Only in the final chapter is it revealed that they're all connected, in a brilliant and really unnerving way.

As you might expect from the title, but less so from my summary above, the story is about race and identity and immigration and assimilation and dominant versus minority culture and navigating that matrix. Yang's art is really funny, and so is his text; it took me this entry by [personal profile] esmenet to really register the multilingualness (hybridity? polyvocality?) of the text, but now that I think about it, yeah: it's one of many brilliant touches on Yang's part. There are levels and levels to this book, and I probably should reread it now that I know the ending, which is first devastating (and also a bit like a knife to the kidneys in that it's so smoothly done) and then hopeful.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
Tan, Shaun. Lost & Found. New York: Scholastic, 2011.

This was probably not the book to pick up to read when I was exhausted; any infelicities in the following are, even more than usual, entirely my fault, and as always, I welcome corrections and comments.

The Rabbits (1998). Words by John Marsden, art by Shaun Tan.

Shaun Tan's art is far, far more intelligent and perceptive than Marsden's text.

This is an sf-nal metaphorical story about the colonization of Australia. From the beginning, Tan's art does a wonderful job of, not just evoking, but depicting the differences between the native and indigenous perspectives on land, space, its usage: is the first panel (new to this edition) the ocean the rabbits are sailing across, or the land to which they are impending by night? A timeless scape of a wetland becomes, in the next page, a tiny watering hole against a vast desert landscape. In the next page, the water birds that stalked the wetlands are dots against the vastness of the blue sky, itself bifurcated by the crimson rocks.

When the rabbits come, they begin imposing their mathematics and their divisions and their science on the landscape almost immediately. Very quickly, it becomes hard to find the native creatures at all, in their own land. The native creatures fight back; the rabbits win. The rabbits steal the children. Might makes right, a building in the rabbits' new inhuman city proclaims. Tan brilliantly and deftly depicts the strategies of Empire, its information retrieval and its abstractions, the workings of the archive state, the all-seeing eye and the omnidirectionality of control. Who will save us from the rabbits? the final page asks, a rabbit and a native creature sitting across from each other at a dead watering hole under an ashen sky. The land is devastated. The stars have no answer.

Cut for long discussion of racism, colonialism, attendant fail )I do know, however, that what shape "reconciliation" and "the future" may take cannot be determined one-sidedly, not and have any validity.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
Tan, Shaun. Lost & Found. New York: Scholastic, 2011.

This was probably not the book to pick up to read when I was exhausted; any infelicities in the following are, even more than usual, entirely my fault, and as always, I welcome corrections.

The Red Tree (2001).

Lost & Found is a collection of three of Tan's early works; The Red Tree is the only one that I already owned. This time, having been primed by [personal profile] coffeeandink's review of it, I was able to find the red leaf in each of the paintings. Actually, in that respect, reading this while I was exhausted was good, because one of the things I still find most frustrating about reading graphic novels, manga, comics, picture books, is how I have been unconsciously trained to prioritize the text over the images, and how even when I'm trying to make a point to pay attention to the art, it's hard. Being very tired, and knowing that the girl-protagonist, in her depression, can't see the leaf that's always there with her, a spot of color in a grindingly drab landscape, helped me to be able to take the time to look for that leaf, and to appreciate finding it.

I am fortunate, as an individual, never to have suffered from clinical depression; others in my family, friends and people I love, have and do, as has Shaun Tan, from his afterword. But as someone who has occasionally felt, on the worst days of her life, that a black cloud had descended over me and that nothing (except maybe time, and I doubted even that) would alleviate it, the painting where the horrible fish flies over the girl, following her around, really struck me: yup, that's what it felt like. The painting in which she is onstage, unable to read the signs in Finnish, and she doesn't know what she is supposed to do, also struck me powerfully.

I suspect that as a visual depiction of clinical depression goes, YMMV. [personal profile] rushthatspeaks has yet a different viewpoint. This is Tan's depiction of his experience, and as someone who has only even approached that on, as I said, the worst days of her life, I can't really say how it seems to someone who has struggled with it day in and day out, or still does. I love Tan's art; it's gorgeous and clever and affecting, and that hasn't changed. In the end, the girl comes home to a tree that was never and always there before; but what about tomorrow?

The Lost Thing (2000).

I think I may have flipped through this in a bookstore at one point, because it seemed familiar, but taking the time to actually read it, both the text that makes up the background to the text and the images, and the images themselves, changed my opinion of it for the better. I think I'm now in the minority in thinking that this is a very good, subtly creepy, powerful book in its own right.

It's about, as those who have seen the movie will know, a young man (teenager?) who finds, on the mechanized beach of his mechanized city, a lost thing. In a fit of responsibility, he takes it home and feeds it, but he knows he can't keep it. Instead, he tries to take it to a lost & found, where a janitor tell him, if he cares about the lost thing, not to leave it there, and gives him a strange card: a wavy arrow. When the boy and the thing find the place it indicates, you have to turn the book a full 90º, holding it vertically, to see the place where the lost thing finds other lost things, enough to feel at home, or to be able to make a home. The young man leaves the lost thing with its fellows and goes about his business; these days he doesn't see many such lost things anymore, he says, maybe because there aren't many around anymore. Or maybe because he's just stopped noticing them; too busy doing other things, maybe. Like looking at his collection of bottle-tops.

This is, he tells the reader completely unaffectedly, the only story he remembers anymore--and that, for my money, is far creepier than any Elder God or whatever. Much like "The Amnesia Machine" in Tales from Outer Suburbia, the book is a pointed critique of global capital and the lies it wants to tell us, wants us to believe: today is the tomorrow you expected yesterday. Everything is as it should be. There's no need to notice those things that have a weird, lost, sad, look. They don't exist at all. What things? Everything is as it should be. Today is the tomorrow you expected yesterday.
starlady: animated uhura: set phasers to fabulous (set phasers to fabulously awesome)
Ensign Sue Must Die! Story by Clare Moseley, art by Kevin Bolk.

[personal profile] djkittycat pointed out the existence of this comic in the dealers' room at Otakon 2010 to me, and I will be forever grateful.

So, yes. This short but hilarious and pointed comic, still being serialized on the author's website, tells the story of one Ensign Mary Amethyst Star Enoby Aiko Archer Picard Janeway Sue and how she comes to join the crew of the Enterprise in the AOS timeline. You definitely won't get the humor unless you've been around fandom long enough to spot a Sue character a mile off, but if you are conversant with fandom and its clichés about self-insert characters, you will probably laugh your head off.

In the wake of the Mary Sue debate earlier this year, the comic seems even more pointed than otherwise, and in some ways seeing Ensign Sue in full color really reinforces some of the most cogent objections to Mary Sue, namely that she's a white girl's/woman's power fantasy. Less objectionably, she's also just ridiculous, and invidious too. Unquestionably, there need to be more awesome female characters of all possible races, backgrounds, orientations, bodies, in media. Mary Sue, however, is not always the best way to go about filling in that lack.
starlady: Ramona Flowers wearing her delivery goggles (ramona flowers is awesome)
Scott Pilgrim versus the World. Dir. Edgar Wright, 2010.

The essential plot of this movie is the same as the comic books. They don't shake out quite the same--by the halfway point, there is a lot of divergence going on in the minor details, partly because of time constraints--but yeah, Scott Pilgrim still has to fight Ramona Flowers' seven evil exes for the chance to be her boyfriend.

It's a given that any movie adaptation will never be as awesome as the source, and for major 4th wall points at one point the movie has Comeau saying that the movie could never be as awesome as the comic books, but as an adaptation it's pretty damn good. It's also the most sheer fun I've had at the movies in a while.

The movie's never going to be as good as the comic books. )

P.S. Via [personal profile] umadoshi, have this interview with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ellen Wong about their thoughts on their characters and on the movie's original ending.
starlady: (Rick Roll'd!)
O'Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim. 6 vols. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2004-10.

Scott Pilgrim is a twenty-something slacker living in Toronto with his circle of friends, who are all generally trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives post-college post-adolescence. Scott, who recently lost his job at an awesome Nuevo Mexican eatery, finds himself dating a high school student, one Knives Chau, after he picks up her books on the bus. Things seem perfect, in a precarious way, until he starts dreaming of the mysterious, probably American Ramona Flowers, a girl his own age who may be out of his league. But they start dating, and then things get interesting: in order to officially be Ramona's boyfriend, he has to defeat her seven evil exes. And they're not the only things that stand in the way of Scott getting it together…

Like just about everyone else, I loved these comics; they're pretty damn awesome, particularly if you're a member of its 20-something geek target market and grew up playing video games, watching anime and re-enacting Star Wars in the backyard. I think I actually liked volumes 5 and 6 best, though I think the earlier volumes are the funniest; after the slackerdom and the easy victories, I thought 5 and 6 were an awesome, hilarious take on grappling with becoming--gasp!--an adult in some sense of the word.

It took me at least a volume to realize that the comics are actually a video game, and I think it would be really interesting to try to read them as a text-based RPG, in which the reader is the player and Scott is the player character. Aside from video games, I was also reminded a bit of the webcomic Megatokyo, not because of any "anime" elements but because both MT and SP take a fairly relaxed view on what constitutes reality. Subspace highways, Sony ninja death squads: it's all good.

Scott and Ramona are cool, but I found myself liking a lot of the supporting characters best, particularly Scott's gay roommate Wallace Wells and his ex Knives Chau, who grows up fast, as well as Kim Pine, the drummer in Scott's band and his high school girlfriend. (Also, Scott/Ramona/Kim OT3, y/y? That scene in volume 5 at the end, OMG.) I also liked Gideon and Envy Adams as antagonists, particularly Gideon with his triforce T-shirts and his Utena-inspired nightclub and evil plots. So, yeah. If you haven't read it, and you like comics or video games or Toronto or being in your 20s, you totally should read it, you will not be sorry.
starlady: (dodge this)
Like a lot of awesome things, I heard about this TV series (12 episodes long) via [personal profile] coffeeandink's recommendation.

I don't even have a television tag, that is how little I actually watch television. This entry will be tagged comics, which, given that it was based on a comic book series (that was itself based on an unfilmed TV pilot) written by creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach, seems fitting.

Temporary worker and unreasonably attractive art school graduate Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) lives in a shared illegal sublet with her best friend, fellow conceptual artist Lacey Thornfield III (Brit Morgan). After Wendy loses her latest temp job due to surviving an attack by an alien tentacled monster, she is recruited by the Jolly Fats Weehawkin Temporary Agency, the cover organization for The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) and his android assistant Ida, who fight evil so you don't have to. Wendy, not without justifiable concern, takes a job as The Middle-sidekick, aka The Middlegirl, aka The Middleman-in-training. Eventually she gets kung fu training, a SMRT car, and a hot boyfriend out of the deal, to say nothing of more ripped-from-the-comic-books adventures than you can shake a Comics Code Authority sticker at.

What a great show, seriously. It is laugh-outloud hilarious, and has multiple PoC cast members as well as a PoC lead (Matt Keeslar gets first billing, but it's clearly Morales' show). It's also ridiculously immersed in pop culture references, and very close to breaking the fourth wall in its cheeky awareness of its own comic-book-yness; in some ways it explodes comic books by taking them absolutely seriously. Wendy and the Middleman make an awesome team, and their friends are just awesome (though Brit Morgan looks disconcertingly like Kirsten Dunst and the guy who plays Pip looks scarily like RPatz). The series also knows how to make emotional development out of a running joke, which is pretty great. I can't decide which episodes were my favorite; probably the one that was an explicit hat-tip both to Titanic and to that X-Files episode in which Mulder got stuck on a luxury liner in a time warp in the Bermuda Triangle. Or maybe the series finale, which is an explicit shout-out to the TOS episode "Mirror, Mirror" as well as an ironic take on that genre of movies that includes Children of Men (which, if you watch the table read of the episode in the DVD bonus material, was explicitly cited in the script, natch).

I haven't yet heard//seen the table read of the unfilmed 13th episode at Comic-Con; though I will shortly. I do want to track down the graphic novel of that at some point. Really, the show is perfect as it is; and in some ways it was too good to last (and certainly not on ABC Family).

P.S. Terrifying factoid: Varsity Fan Club are, or were, an actual boy band.
starlady: (agent of chaos)
The Best American Comics 2006. Ed. Harvey Pekar. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Somehow I got this gorgeous book for only $3. In the spirit of sharing, I gave it to my friend K, because she will get better use of it. But I read it cover-to-cover before I gave it to her, and it's pretty awesome.

Words and pictures in sequence )
starlady: ((say it isn't so))
The August theme over in [community profile] readingthepast is Roman Britain, for which I read four historical novels (well, okay, Asterix in Britain is a comic book, but close enough)--completely serendipitously, in reverse historical order. I'm going to talk about them in non-widdershins chronology, though.


Asterix in Britain )


The Crow Goddess )


Dark North )


The Silver Branch )


I am one of those people who is quite capable of feeling regret for not having experienced various historical formations at their height, and all these books definitely pushed my "O to see Rome in its prime" buttons, despite the fact that it's still true, even now, as Emperor Hadrian says in The Crow Goddess, that everyone comes to Rome eventually, and that a good portion of Roman Rome still remains in the Eternal City. Obviously the Romans weren't any sort of angels on earth, but it's indisputable, to my mind, that the Empire in general and the Pax Romana in particular brought a greater prosperity and physical well-being to more people on earth than had been seen in history up to that point, and in some ways even since. (NB: I'm not sure on the stats w/r/t Qin China, but that was only for, what, 20 years in the 220s BCE?) And, you know, I do wonder in some ways whether we'd be better off even today if the Empire hadn't fallen (especially w/r/t the aforementioned differences between ancient and modern politico-cultural subjectivity). It's hard to see that we'd be worse, though I could do without the gladiatorial games and various other festivals of human cruelty that the Romans were down with. Plus, you know, slavery, though Bradshaw in particular is good at illustrating the ways in which ancient slavery was very, very different from slavery as we think of it in America (the Peculiar Institution was very peculiar historically, suffice it to say).

Q: All these books take it for granted that Latin was the imperial lingua franca. I've heard multiple times that it was actually Koine Greek. Was it both, as in Latin in the West and Greek in the East? Or was it actually just Greek?

starlady: (justice)
Since I spend a good deal of my time griping about the invisibility of women in comics, it's high time that I put my money where my mouth is and become familiar with the work of female comic artists. I randomly grabbed Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return off the shelves in the library the other day--apparently Persepolis itself was at the same library, but I was too impatient to find it; it's coming to me by request.

What does that have to do with the price of peas in Persepolis? )
starlady: (jack)
The King of Pop is dead...death to pop.

I had a short, somewhat pretentious post on how amazingly awesome Shaun Tan's graphic-picture-novella The Arrival is (It is made of awesome!), but email posting ate it. But go read it anyway! Tan occupies the borderland between graphic novels and picture books with extraordinary ability and humanity--his book tells the story of a single family immigrating from an Old World to a New, and the stories of some of the other people (escaped slaves, survivors of war and genocide) they meet along the way. Tan deals with all these heavy, universal concepts very gently, so that children of most ages and adults can both read and get a very thought-provoking experience. Plus, Tan's art is just awesome, and very funny--in some ways, The Arrival is the child of Maus and the works of William Joyce. In any case, it manages to communicate vividly the defamiliarizing experience of the everyday, whether for the expatriate, the immigrant, or the artist.

I also read P.C. Hodgell's God Stalk, currently available from Baen Books as the first half of The Godstalker Chronicles, on [personal profile] coffeeandink's recommendation. C&I characterizes the book as a "fantasy of manners," which I definitely agree with, but to me, considering that the book was published in 1982, it is far more New Weird Lite, or perhaps Pre-New Weird; the first chapter in particular would fit very well in the "Influences" section of The New Weird anthology, as the main character, Jame, pursued by Haunts, enters the city of Tai-tastogon during the Feast of the Dead Gods, and proceeds to encounter some things that go bump! splash! slither! and lurk! in the very dark night. Her further luck at negotiating the internal politics of the city from various angles and in various guises varies. I liked Jame, and I thought the book was interesting, but she never really grabbed me as a protagonist, and having peeked at the ending of Dark of the Moon I feel no need to actually read the second book (though I wouldn't mind finding out what happens in the next book, Seeker's Bane). YMMV, but definitely worth checking out if you like the New Weird, Lovecraftian fantasy, or fantasies of manners played out in settings very far removed from our own.

starlady: (justice)
One future planned Mechademia theme is actually "criminalities." I expect we'll get a lot of articles about shôjo (because girlhood in a male-oriented society is a crime), but maybe we'll get some essays tackling the recent trial of Christopher Handley, manga collector, in Iowa. To recap: in 2006, U.S. Customs opened one of Handley's packages from Japan and found a lolicon volume (I'm personally still not sure which one) depicting, well, explicit lolicon, which is child sexual abuse from a certain perspective. The D.A. went after Handley, and he pled guilty in a plea bargain about two weeks ago.

I should make it clear that there is absolutely no allowance to be made for people who actually sexually abuse children, but there's a very wide gap between Handley and actual sex criminals. Handley pleading guilty sets a very dangerous precedent that could very well be used to further roll back First Amendment protections in this country--while we pride ourselves in principle on our First Amendment rights, we are actually less free in our speech than many other countries, and this case is one more example of that. Personally I find the equation of possession of lolicon manga with "obscenity" or with an actual crime of some kind to be very, very suspect and equally perilous. The concept of obscenity itself seems to me to be a convenient euphemism for "speech those in power don't like." And if anyone is going to have free speech in actuality, everyone needs to have free speech in reality, and that goes double for unpopular speech.

I actually know one of the people who was retained by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund as a manga expert on Handley's behalf; Wired quotes her very briefly in its short piece on the case. If nothing else, this case should make it clear that the context of manga in America is vastly different from its native context in Japan: in the specific case of lolicon, for instance, Japan very much embraces a strict divide between the consumption of images depicting illegal acts and the commission of illegal acts themselves that America has never really embraced. Anecdotally, people will insist that the Japanese approach allows people to fulfill their fantasies without actually crossing the line into actual violence, and from what I know crime statistics certainly present a compelling argument for this idea (although I also know that crime in Japan is woefully under-reported, under-investigated, and under-prosecuted from an American perspective). But America (and this may have something to do with Christian approaches to sin) is quite different, and though manga may travel across borders, societal attitudes are much less fungible.

Apparently the D.A. is planning to throw the book at Handley; he faces up to 15 years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines, three years' probation, and will spend the rest of his life on a sex offender registry, all without ever having actually committed a crime other than buying a dirty comic book. Handley clearly ought to petition the judge to assign him different counsel, since even from the other side of the country I can tell that his lawyers are unsophisticated idiot hacks: this case is being used to make the D.A.'s name, and now that he has a guilty plea, he has no incentive to go easy on Handley. I also very much want to know just what it was that made Customs decide to open Handley's mail.

In conclusion, I urge people to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in any way they can. Since this was such an easy win for the D.A., I very much doubt that this will be the last such case.

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