Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Native Tongue

Native TongueNative Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dystopia where women are legally inferior to men & the formally educated are useful scapegoats that advance Earth’s territory as interpretors & bargainers. Native Tongue follows the various women of “The Lines” as they attempt to navigate a society that devalues them but still relies heavily on their fertility & their usefulness as housekeepers.

Originally published in the 80s, this book is definitely a sci-fi classic worth revisiting. Not only is the world-building captivating, many of the class & gender fears Haden Elgin outlines are still worryingly real. While the story is not as severe as something like The Handmaid’s Tale, there are plenty of unexpected dark & sad moments. For example, something as innocuous as a crush becomes a lesson in verbal humiliation & degradation. Definitely worth picking up if you come across it.

P.S.: This is totally associative, but the last scene of the book reminds me of the chorus to Matthew Good’s “Fated.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Fatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases Me

Fatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases MeFatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Recommended to me by the awesome staff at Velocity Comics. Fatale mixes together tentacle monsters & gun-toting flatfoots in an adventure that flips back & forth through contemporary America. Picture a yellow-eyed creepy-crawly hoisting a tommy gun & if that doesn’t interest you, then skip the rest of the review.

The story follows a dark-haired dame who’s nothing but trouble as she seduces man after man to protect her & keep her from the crazy Cthulu-worshipping cultists that made her what she is. Fatale, so far, is a total pulp mash-up & as a result, the characters rarely become more than what they are meant to be. But that’s ok, I get the sense that this is really more about what cool things come out when mixing these two genres, not necessarily any deep characterization or story-telling. It’s ambitious, dramatic, & full of geeky genre fun.

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Books, Thoughts

FCBD 2017 Recap

Photo May 06, 1 43 43 PM

Hobbes has been stealing my comics again because its that’s time of year–Free Comic Book Day.  (I know, I know, it was actually on the 6th, I’ve been busy.)  & because Hobbes has to learn that he can’t hog the comics for himself, I thought I’d share my finds.  NPR has their own complete list here if you’re curious.

Free Comics:

  • The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius: I was really really looking forward to this small introduction to the larger project that Jodorowsky & Moebius started as a result of their failed Dune script.  First Impressions: sprawling & clearly influential in many different regards.  Something like The Fifth Element loses its luster when you see the panels of Incal, like it’s a retelling of a story that someone better had told.  (Also, this thin little comic smells like book glue & nice paper.  Bibliophile joy!)
  • World’s Greatest Cartoonists collected by Fantagraphics: A collection of short comics created by artists published by Fantagraphics.  I’ll admit I picked this up because I thought Liz Suburbia was going to be in it.  First Impressions: kinds weird & cool & opaque, like looking through a sketchbook shared by an artists’ co-op.  Also, apparently this is the issue where the meme frog Pepe dies, which I didn’t really register because I am unhip & unaware in the Internetwebz.
  • Hostage/Poppies of Iraq collected by Drawn & Quarterly: another one I picked up because I’ve read other artists that D&Q have published.  First Impressions: both stories are teasers for atmospheric, nonfiction graphic novels looking at people in conflict zones. An evocative reminder that nonfiction comics can be great too.
  • Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez: So these next three comics I picked up as my junky reads to go with my serious cred reads.  First Impressions: Boobs, steampunk guns & sass–that is all you need know.  I was surprised to see that apparently this comic has been around longer than something, like, Monstress.  Despite their similarities, I like Monstress better though.
  • Betty & Veronica by Adam Hughes: Confession time–I do not get Archie Comics.  My brain cannot track the appeal.  But since they are super-popular now, with the teen show & everything, I thought I’d try this intro to see if I’d like it.  First Impressions:  Nope, still not getting it.  …….the art’s nice though……
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken by David & Scott Tipton: You guys, you GUYS!  Buff Star Trek!  With everyone looking like they are posing for a ludicrous 1950s pulp novel.  How could I not pick this up?!  First Impressions: Gloriously brainless.  I didn’t even bother reading any of the text, just looking at the melodramatic action in the panels was enough.  Like watching a soap opera on mute–so good!

And because one should always be a good customer & buy something to show your local comic shop that you really do appreciate them, I bought 2 volumes of Saga by Brain K Vaughn & the first collection of something called Revival.  The flavor text on the back called it a country noir but with zombies & since I couldn’t picture The Walking Dead added to something like Winter’s Bone, I asked the guy behind the counter.  He said the horror is more existential-like, more like everyone’s whose come back is sad & not murder-y, so I thought I could give it a try.  I’ll let you know what I think.

Happy Belated Free Comic Book Day, everyone!

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Winter Tide

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aphra Marsh is one of the three types of humans; she is a daughter of the water & an Aeonist who believes in the cosmology of the Old Ones. Her people have fared badly in the United States, having had their communities raided & families sent to concentration camps. Now, as WWII ends & the Cold War begins, Aphra is recruited by the US Government to investigate any possibility that the Russians may have learned forbidden Aeonist magic–a weapon even more frightening than the nuclear arsenal both nations have at hand. For Aphra, this means returning to her destroyed hometown & recovering what she can of her past life.

I picked this book up on a whim from my library, mainly because I recognized John Jude Palencar’s cover art. When I also saw that Tide included deep references to Lovecraft, I started reading him at the same time so I wouldn’t be lost. However, I soon found myself much more interested in Aphra’s story. If interested readers have played any of the Fallen London games, they’ll find Emrys’s rearranged America familiar–even enjoyable with examples like a Harvard-like school that is the best place to learn Enochian & other esoteric pursuits. Tide is also driven more by its events & locales than by its characters. On the plus side, this approach keeps readers’ interest engaged. On the negative side, there are numerous characters to keep track of & frequently do not become more than a list of traits (gay, Jewish, patriotic or Black, multi-lingual, cynical).

But, the thing that Emrys does well is emphasize the community-building & empathetic insights that her characters have with one another. The ultimate subversion to Lovecraft here is that this book about social misfits learning to trust & help one another, not retreat, secretly think themselves vastly superior, or wander so far up their own assholes that you wonder why you, the reader, are even paying attention. (& you are probably starting to guess why I put the original Lovecraft on the back burner.) Tide is a good, engaging start to a larger series & I’m hoping the narrative kinks will be worked out as Emrys continues to explore her take on the Lovecraftian world.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Electric Forest

Electric ForestElectric Forest by Tanith Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a near-perfect society, the ugly Magdala bides her time on the edges, waiting for the small luxuries she allows herself & to eventually die unnoticed. That is until the charismatic Claudio enters her life & presents her with more than she could have ever dreamed: beauty &, with it, power. Little does she know the price that she must pay for this fantasy.

If I could, I would give this as a fuck-you-very-much present to the character Roman DeBeers. Because the story certainly comes across as if Tanith Lee wrote it on a fit of pique, where every justification she gave for the story & its structure is driven by “because I say so.” Why is this story about a futuristic society presented as a book? Because it’s a part of an academic presentation & because I say so. Why is the subject avatars & displaced consciousness? Because the idea of changing personas can be used in unhealthy ways & because I say so. Why should readers who like “hard sci-fi” be interested in what is ultimately a story about relationships & self-perception? Because we should not “ignore the nakedness of humanity before the huge-wheeled vehicle of progress”, oh, and BECAUSE I SAY SO.

While the story itself is captivating (it is really more of a traditional noir story reskinned with tech), I found myself drawn to Forest’s meta-ness & how the main character flits in & out of awareness of the greater forces around her. I found myself not moved by Magdala’s struggle to define & redefine herself through her trials but by the pure idealism presented in the epilogue. It is a truly authentic statement about why the arts, literature, & chosen illusion remain important in a society that is constantly looking forward & outstripping its reach with cold purpose. But I’ve also read other stories by Lee & I know that her idealism is never starry-eyed & is always waiting to be grounded by reality. I loved it & will probably reread it soon to pick apart its structure with my new insights.

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