Is it possible to admire a book and be disgusted by it at the same time? The stores in this collection by 19th century French author Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly feature wicked amoral women who drive men to adultery, crime, and despair. The stories are all narrated by men, usually relating their story of sin and regret to a younger man. It would be easy to dismiss Barbey d'Aurevilly as a misogynist, but he describes his "she-devils" in such enraptured detail that it is hard to believe he does not secretly admire them. In most cases the women are so wicked that they come across as caricatures, but the stories are so well told that you can almost forgive the misogyny. Reading these stories you genuinely feel transported to a 19th century French salon where an elderly gentleman sips his wine and tells you the story of the unforgettable beauty who lead him astray.
A group of scientists and military types race to uncover the pieces of a giant alien robot buried on Earth thousands of years in the past. The novel is reminiscent of The Martian in the sense that it is almost entirely dialogue driven, and the plot is propelled by various successes and setbacks in the project. The story is told in the form of short interviews between the main characters and a mysterious shadowy figure who is the mastermind behind the project.
If you enjoyed The Martian you will likely enjoy this as well. It is science fiction as thriller, not exactly literary.
Years ago, back when Neil Gaiman was still writing Sandman, I can recall reading a magazine interview in which he was asked if there was in any superhero character at DC or Marvel he would like to write. He replied that he felt he had a great Thor story to tell but that Marvel would never give him the creative freedom he would need to tell it. When I saw that Gaiman had written a book called Norse Mythology with a big hammer on the cover, my first thought was that he had finally written his Thor story.
Instead what we have is a straight ahead retelling of some of the key Norse myths. Sort of an Edith Hamilton's Mythology for the Norse gods. This is clearly a topic that Gaiman is passionate about, and his description of Ragnarok is the highlight of the book, but these are stories that have been told many times. In his introduction, Gaiman laments all the lost Norse tales that did not survive into modern times. I wish Gaiman had taken it upon himself to reinvent those lost stories rather than retell the known ones. All the stories were made up by somebody at sometime, why not tell new stories of Odin and Loki and the others?
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.