Monthly Archives: May 2014

#CBR6 Review #19: A Drifting Life

A Drifting LifeTarget: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life.  Translated by Taro Nettleton.  English design and lettering by Adrian Tomine.

Profile: Autobiography, Manga, Graphic Novel

After Action Report:

A Drifting Life is a wonderfully thick tome of a graphic novel.  Equal parts autobiography, national history and understated drama; the book chronicles the story of one of the founding fathers of Japanese Manga.  The style pioneered by Yoshihiro Tatsumi was one of the first attempts to turn cartoons into a medium for serious works.  Appropriately, his story is a serious one, touching on the themes of artistic integrity and the struggles of living in postwar Japan.  It is an exquisite novel, and only feels unfocused because that’s how life sometimes is.

While A Drifting Life is an autobiography, Tatsumi authored the book as if it were about someone else.  His fictional stand in, Hiroshi Katsumi, is the central protagonist, and a brief editor’s note remarks that a number of other names have been changed.  The book picks up at the end of World War II with the surrender of Emperor Hirohito.  Hiroshi is ten and has already developed a love of Manga and drawing.  Along with his brother, Oki, Hiroshi starts on the path of a Manga-ka, submitting amateur comic strips to various publishing houses.  To his surprise, he is published.

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#CBR6 Review #18: Ship Breaker

Ship BreakerTarget: Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker #1)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

After Action Report:

There is a gritty reality to Paolo Bacigalupi’s work.  A grim straightforwardness that crushes the optimism older SF styles.  On its own, this same honesty produces brilliantly brutal speculative fiction, like Windup Girl.  But there is a necessary optimism to Young Adult literature that is at odds with Bacigalupi’s tone.  Ship Breaker lives in artificial space between two styles, carving out its own literary niche, but at the same time feeling discordant and incomplete.  And yet, it is a technically excellent novel that I really did enjoy.

Like many of Bacigalupi’s stories, Ship Breaker deals with a post-industrial crisis world.  Climate changes has melted the ice caps and destroyed much of costal civilization.  Technology and wealth have concentrated even further and the average person lives at the whim of a few mega-corporations that dominate the world.  Nailer and his crew are child laborers who scrape a living from salvaging the wrecks of cargo ships from the old era.  When the ship of a wealthy heiress crashes into their lives, Nailer jumps at the opportunity to escape his dead-end situation, only to get caught up in an international power struggle.

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#CBR6 Review #17: Antiagon Fire

Antiagon FireTarget: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #7)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction, Military

After Action Report:

Two things struck me as I was preparing for this review:  First, I somehow managed to skip Imager’s Battalion during my utter failure of a Cannonball Read 5.  I read the book, but I never got a review up.  Second, I think I ran out of useful things to say about the series back at book five.  The things that I liked are still good, and the elements that are weaker don’t seem to be improving.  If anything, the series’ increasing focus on military action reduces the immediacy of Quaeryt’s story and undermines the relationship readers have been building over the course of the last three books.  While the increased presence of Quaeryt’s wife, Vaelora, is a welcome and well executed addition, more and more Quaeryt feels like a background character in his own story.

To fill in some blanks, Imager’s Battalion took Quaeryt from the world of politics into the military, placing him in command of the first squad of Imagers ever used in true military service.  Charged with the invasion of the hostile nation of Bovaria, Quaeryt and the army he accompanies face down an escalating series of challenges while balancing the need to subjugate with the desire to be fair to the citizens they encounter.  Antiagon Fire follows much in the same vein, as a newly promoted Quaeryt is sent as an envoy to the people of Khel in an attempt to prevent further war.  Along the way, he is attacked by forces from the 3rd remaining nation, Antiago, prompting another conflict.

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#CBR6 Review #16: The Waking Engine

The Waking EngineTarget: David Edison’s The Waking Engine

Profile: Weird Fantasy

After Action Report:

There is point during the creative process when too many ideas can be as bad as too few.  I’m personally a very poor judge of where that limit is, but The Waking Engine is firmly on the wrong side of it.  Some of the book’s core concepts are interesting and fresh, but they are buried under layers of borrowed imagery, and symbolism stolen from across the width and breadth of fantasy and science fiction.  The only thing I took away was a deeper appreciation for the authors who make genre mashups look easy.

The Waking Engine is the story of Cooper, a young man who is flung across a multiverse and wakes up in home of true death, the City Unspoken.  Like a twisted version of Hindu reincarnation, people who die in this setting wake up moments later as themselves on a different world.  Eventually, this process leads everyone to the City, where their weary souls might finally find eternal rest.  Only, no one’s dying.  The City Unspoken is failing and Cooper may have to be the one to put everything right again.

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#CBR6 Review #14-15 – Saga Vol. 2-3

Saga 2Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples.  Collecting issues 7-18

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

It’s been too long, but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Saga Volume 2 and, as a limited time bonus offer, you get Volume 3 thrown in for free.  Back when I first picked up this epic comic series, I noted that the one flaw holding it back was the lack of focus and development.  To quote myself, “While many of the details needed for true long-term success are still missing, Saga tantalizes with an incredible spread of fantastic ideas and well-drawn characters.”  Vaughan has done a lot to build a cohesive story from the flighty bits of Volume 1.  The pacing and, more importantly, unfocused nature of the comic are still getting in the way of strong narrative flow, but Saga somehow transcends these limitations and is building a beautifully cohesive world out of the narrative equivalent of confetti.

After the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 6, Volume 2 disjoints briefly from the narrative of Marko and Alana to take time for some flashbacks.  We look at Marko’s youth, Alana’s time as a solider and their joint experiences as prisoner and guard that preceded the events of Volume 1.  We also meet a whole gaggle of characters from Marko’s past and pick up some of the threads from The Will’s side story.

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#CBR6 Review #13 – The Incrementalists

The IncrementalistsTarget: Steven Brust and Skyler White’s The Incrementalists

Profile: Speculative Fiction

After Action Report:

As a concept, The Incrementalists is a pretty impressive pitch.  A secret society of quasi-immortal do-gooders dedicated to the slow improvement of mankind suddenly threatened by one of their own sounds like a great, high concept blockbuster.  But The Incrementalists can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be more like ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ and flounders unpleasantly somewhere between the two.  There are a lot of good ideas here, but the novel feels undirected at best and a confused mess at worst.

The book opens after the death of Celeste, a senior member of the Incrementalists.  Phil, her lover and fellow senior Incrementalist, is tasked with finding her replacement and initiating her.  This process involves transferring the memories of Celeste, and all of the other people who Celeste has been, into a new person.  This new person is Renee, called Ren.  But something goes wrong in the process and now ‘Celeste’ is missing and Ren is losing her mind.  It falls to Phil and Ren to get to the root of the problem before it unravels the Incrementalists for good.

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#CBR6 Review #12 – Un Lun Dun

Un Lun DunTarget: China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun

Profile: Young Adult, Fantasy, Weird Fantasy

After Action Report:

‘China Miéville’ and ‘children’s book’ are not, at first glance, two things that would appear to mesh.  Miéville, who I have described in previous reviews as being macabre, dense and sometimes overwhelmingly complicated (in an enjoyable way), is hardly the first person I’d pick to write a book for older kids and young adults.  Nevertheless, Un Lun Dun is a triumphant piece of fiction.  It taps into the fundamental truths of adventure stories, uses them where appropriate and turns them on their head when necessary.  Miéville’s singular ability to deconstruct genre and trope help create an earnest adventure for those of us who were never singled out for greatness.

Un Lun Dun follows two London girls, Zanna and Deeba who stumble onto a pathway into UnLondon, an abcity behind and beyond London proper.  Suddenly dropped into a world of magic, animate garbage, carnivorous giraffes and a never ending parade of strange sights, the girls are desperate to find their way back home.  But Zanna is the subject of an ancient prophesy.  Called ‘The Shwazzy,’ she is destined to save UnLondon from the malicious cloud of toxins known as the Smog.

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