Chronicle Vol. 2 starts with the origins of life on Draenor and continues through the Second War and the Alliance Expedition. Like anything to do with Draenor, the most interesting parts are about the arakkoa and the least interesting are the orcs, so of course the book is mostly about the orcs. The orcs are divided into dozens of clans with names like the Rotten Teeth and the Mad Dogs. They revere nature and violence, although not in that order. They are forced to invade Azeroth after utterly ruining their native world.
This last detail reflects a disturbing pattern in World of Warcraft. In chapter after chapter, every noble and beautiful thing eventually gets corrupted, everything gets ruined. We see this with individuals, races, factions, nations, even entire planets. It makes me wonder what the game designers ultimate endgame plan for WOW is. Is it just a series of small victories against a backdrop of inevitable failure?
I do not need a fantasy game to remind me that we live in a world where the forces of greed, ignorance, and cruelty are growing stronger every day. It is easy to be cynical and say the entropic plot of WOW is realistic. I choose to believe that society as a whole is capable of progressing as long as compassion and knowledge are valued above immediate self interest. It is a hard sell, but worth it in the long term.
Downbelow Station brings the politics of European colonialism into an interplanetary setting. The Earth Company (a private colonial firm similar to the East India Company) dominates the inhabitants of humanity’s space colonies as Earth remains the only source of food and supplies. But then Pell’s World, the first new Earth-like planet, is discovered and suddenly the colonies no longer need Earth, but earth still needs the colonies. The colonies declare themselves an independent Union and the Company begins to mass its space fleet to capture Pell’s World and re-establish dominance.
As part of the larger context of colonial issues, Cherryh also brings the plight of indigenous natives into the story. Pell’s World was presumed to be uninhabited when the colonists began to exploit it, but the political situation becomes even more problematic when it is discovered that a simple culture exists among the primate like inhabitants known as the Hisa.
The narrative of Downbelow Station is focused on the inhabitants of the space station that orbits Pell’s World, which they refer to as Downbelow. Stationmaster Angelo Konstatin is forced to deal with one crisis after another, including crowds of refugees, merchant shippers forming their own alliance, and belligerent Company officers. The other main character is Captain Signy Mallory, the commander of the Company ship Norway. Mallory is as arrogant as any of the captains, but Company tactics force her to reconsider her loyalties.
Downbelow Station is the definitive space station novel. It is a classic space opera and a past winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. It is the first book in a series called the Company Wars. Fans of military Science Fiction authors like David Weber and Elizabeth Moon as well as fans of more sociological Science Fiction like that of Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula Le Guin should enjoy this book.
It is often pointed out that when US Presidents leave office they look like they have aged far more than the 4 or 8 years that have passed. When Jon Stewart left the Daily Show he looked like he had aged at least 30 years instead of 16. This book suggest to me that what really aged Stewart was having to go on camera after every new national tragedy and try to say something encouraging and uplifting. As much as I would like to watch Stewart's take on the Trump administration, this man has earned his retirement.
The book is done in the same style as Shales and Miller's 'Live From New York' about Saturday Night Live, consisting almost entirely of interview snippets with past cast and crew of the show. Unlike SNL, the Daily Show does not have a long gossipy history of drugs and backstage fighting. There are a few stories in the book from disgruntled ex-staff, but most everyone who ever worked at the Daily Show appears to have loved it, and even the disgruntled admit Stewart deserves credit for what he accomplished.
The most interesting parts of the book are about the process. Not just how the individual episodes were made, but how Stewart took a show with a frat boy comedy mentality and turned it into the most influential piece of political satire in the history of television. He essentially created a new TV format that is being perpetuated by half a dozen other shows.
The larger mystery of the Lumberjanes begins to unfold as a blizzard strikes in the middle of summer and a monster hunter appears with ties to the camp's past. Also, one of the girls has a passive aggressive snit when a boy tries to participate in the adventure.
Lost Dogs is a brutal minimalist story about a simple man who loses everything to violence. The art is done in a very rough brush stroke style; white, black, and red the only colors. The main character looks like a cross between Popeye and Bluto. It is a bit reminiscent of the first Sin City collection, but with far cruder art.
Two of the campers go on a "picnic" with implied lesbian overtones but end up falling through a hole in an outhouse into a lost world of dinosaurs and have an adventure with an old lady werebear. Meanwhile the other girls try and fail to earn badges for mundane activities like cake decorating and scrapbooking.
"Army of Demons"
"Army of Demons, who?"
"Army of Demons who want to enslave humanity."
The discovery of a time travel key allows the creators to reveal the ominous source of the keys' power, and show the adventures of the previous generation of key keepers and how their reckless use of the keys lead to all the current problems.
The creators introduce new keys at a breakneck pace, and continue to ratchet up the tension as Zack becomes increasingly desperate to find the Omega Key. One issue is done partially in a style derived from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes series.
It is telling that the real horror of vol. 3 is not the battle between the kids and the army of animated shadows, it is their mother's increasing alcoholism and loss of self control. There is a lot more potential horror in psychological deterioration and domestic violence than in regular old monsters.
Head Games combines body horror and fear of brainwashing into a very effective horror concept that is particularly well suited to the graphic medium. Bode Locke finds a key that opens up the top of people's heads. Once a head is open, not only can you see a sort of Hieronymus Bosch hellscape of their thoughts, dreams, memories and fears, you can also reach in and change things. Over the course of the story, the changes made using the Head Key go from amusing to alarming to horrifying.
Joe Hill crafts a fascinating story in this series and Gabriel Rodriguez's artwork manages to be cute and grotesque all in the same image.
Kaptara is a broad satire in the Flash Gordon, human stranded on an alien world tries to become a hero, vein. Kaptara focuses it satire on old cartoons, with He-Man as its primary target. There are some funny bits, but the campiness of He-Man has been parodied many times, so nothing wildly original here. The main character is a decidedly unheroic gay scientist who drifts dangerously close to stereotype. Worth a quick read for the funny parts.
Princeless is a feminist fairy tale for younger readers. It takes the traditional princess in a tower trope and inverts it by having the princess save herself. A positive message, but not a lot of story.
Wonder Woman must be one of the most difficult writing jobs in comics. Every writer who takes on the job feels obligated to start by retelling her origin story and introducing some twist of their own. In retelling WW's origin, Grant Morrison tries to recapture the very weird tone of early WW comics, and by weird I don't mean amusing weird, I mean disturbing weird.
The creator of WW was by all accounts really into bondage. His Amazons talk a lot about submission and enjoy getting tied up. That is why WW's primary weapon was a lasso and her original weakness was that she would loose her powers if a man chained her wrists. It can be read metaphorically, but it really comes across as fetishistic.
Even though Morrison's update tries to ironically wink at the reader and suggest we are all in on the joke, the attempt is misguided. Wonder Woman is an idea that has evolved far beyond its origins. Wonder Woman has become an iconic symbol of female empowerment that inspires woman and girls all over the world. Revisiting her embarrassing origin is a bad idea.
I love John Allison's Bad Machinery web cartoon series. The series follows the adventures of six mystery solving children in The English town of Tackleford. Allison's expressive cartoons are always charming and his clever wordplay is quite funny.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the collection.
"In Russia, I make fortune mining lithium. Initially with bare hands. Then a teaspoon. Other miners laugh! They could not break my spirit. When I feel sad, eat some lithium, feel better."
"Chuckin' old ladies off roofs is never the answer! Can you even imagine a question that would be the answer to?"
"It is a loyal friend what is willing to live in a weird fake universe for you"
A collection of essays by the 20th century historian Richard Hofstadter, this volume contains some valuable insights into the politics of the United States in the 21st century. The title essay looks at how a paranoid theme has run through the history of American politics, with demagogues campaigning on the idea that foreigners are seeking to infiltrate the US and undermine American society. Looking back from 1963 in 50 year intervals, Hofstadter shows how Monarchists, Freemasons, Catholics, and Communists have each in turn been the bogey man of the American Right. 50 years later it is easy to see that pattern repeating itself with the current anti-Muslim paranoia in the US.
The next three essays deal with the rise of the American Right under Eugene McCarthy and Barry Goldwater. Hofstadter refers to this movement as "Pseudo-Conservatism" to distinguish it from classical Conservative philosophy which seeks to conserve through moderation and by maintaining the status quo. Hofstadter borrows the term from Theodore Adorno's book "The Authoritarian Personality", in which the pseudo-conservative is defined as "a man who in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition."
The author sees pseudo-conservatives as driven by a conspiratorial worldview and a fear of loss of cultural supremacy. He sees it as a form of status politics in which "the pseudo-conservative always imagines himself to be dominated and imposed upon because he feels that he himself is not dominant." This goes a long way to explaining why some of the wealthiest and most privileged citizens insist that they are the victims of prejudice and have to take America back; back from a semblance of equality one must assume.
Hofstadter was a better analyst than a prophet. He believed the pseudo-conservative movement had reached its peak with the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. I would have loved to have read Hofstadter analysis of the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and especially Donald Trump.
The remainder of the book is taken up with interesting but unrelated historical essays. The author examines the irony of the populist anti-Imperialist desire that lead America to war with Spain to free Cuba from colonial rule, which turned overnight to pro-Imperialist populism after America won control of The Philippines in the war. He looks at the decline of the Anti-Trust movement in the early 20th century as Americans lost their fear of big business and their reverence for small business. Lastly he looks at the Free Silver movement of the late 19th century, focusing on a popular pro-silver track titled "Coin's Financial School" which promised to end America's economic depression with the unlimited coinage of silver. I had never read anything about the complexity of a bimetallism, in which an economy is pegged to the relative values of gold and silver, and found it extremely interesting.