Mortal Engines

Steampunk interests me.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’ve enjoyed several steampunk films I’ve seen.  Mortal Engines was the first steampunk novel I’ve read. When I first picked it up I had no idea that it was a steampunk motif.  Halfway through it suddenly dawned on me that this is what a lot of people talk about when they say a steampunk novel.  Mortal

Mortal Engines is set in the post-apocalyptic future where cities are movable and travel around devouring one another in order to gain citizens and the parts of the cities they “eat”. They call it city Darwinism. Their only competition is the Anti-traction league who stay put and live lives like we currently do. The problem is that they are in danger from cities like London who have developed weapons that can obliterate any competition.

I liked the Steampunk aspects. The airships (dirigibles) and the iron bodied cities and the goggles and hoods many people wear. The idea of cities moving around devouring each other for resources is quite clever. The short-comings in the book revolve around the characters.

Tom is the first protagonist we meet and he’s ok. He’s just very immature emotionally and doesn’t seem to act the way a teenage boy would for his age. The same goes for Katherine. She’s a strong character except for her childish emotional maturity. The only one who seems to be emotionally matched to her age is Hester.

This is an entertaining read, the the problems with the characters aren’t too distracting just more of a nuisance. The actions of Tom, Kate, and Hester are all admirable although sometimes waaaay too dramatic. It’s a fun read and if I was a teenager I’d probably really like this book.

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Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

With the new Wonder Woman movie coming out soon, I wanted to brush up on my knowledge of Diana. I happened upon this graphic novel in my library and thought I would pick it up. I’ll be honest, besides the 1970’s show, which I think is the only time Wonder Woman has had her own screen time, I didn’t know anything about her.Wonder Woman

The graphic novel roots Diana’s story in ancient Greece and the war between Herakles and the Amazon’s queen. They end up moving to this awesome island and, no spoilers, Diana comes to be. She’s a demigod and no one seems to check her ego and curb some of her uber-competitiveness. Time passes and in one moment of tenacity, Diana makes a bad choice and has to pay the consequences by being exiled from the Amazons and doing good in the world.

I find this story intriguing because, one, I didn’t know any of this, and two, I didn’t realize that the early Diana was a jerk. Ok, maybe not quite a jerk, but she’s arrogant and it comes across as selfish and callous. I’m curious to see what Diana is like in the film and whether they are going to tell this story as well. There’s a lot of room left at the end of this book to explain some of the tools Wonder Woman has at the ready. This edition didn’t go into any detail about the tiara, the lasso of truth and the golden girdle. I’m hoping they will in the next volume.

Spoiler: I’ve just seen the movie and I’m happy to report that some of this origin story makes it into the film!  I’m grateful to have read this first because it gave me some context to what was happening.  In my opinion Gal Gadot’s Diana is waaaaaay better than the one in this graphic novel.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015

I’ve been working reading more contemporary Sci Fi/Fantasy and “The Best American” series is a great resource. The 2015 edition was the first year they’ve compiled an anthology for these genres and it was good premiere. At the outset, they explain the complexities of having an anthology that encompasses both Science Fiction and Fantasy; each one has elements of the other. The editors provide a cursory explanation of each genre, however, without being too technical. It was entertaining to try and guess into which some of the pieces would’ve been categorized.Scifi 2015

Throughout the collection there were several standouts which reminded me how powerful the Sci Fi/Fantasy genres are and why I enjoy them so much. Seanan McGuire’s “Each to Each” was an interesting look at the compromise members of the military go in becoming part of the larger group, Navy in this case, and the cost of losing their own individuality. Let’s just say there’s mermaids involved. But crazy awesome mermaids at that. Theodora Goss’s “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology” looks at what happens when we culturally appropriate and romanticize ancient cultures resulting in a pretty powerful clapback. Neil Gaiman’s “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” takes into the world that is part of his “Neverwhere” universe. The characters are whimsical without being campy and makes the reader want to spend more time seeing the character and world develop. Sam J. Miller’s “We Are The Cloud” looks at a future where internet companies pay people to use unused brain power to create “clouds” i.e. internet hubs in people in major urban centers. We see the effects this has on a society that has lost what it means to love in the face of moving from one hustle to the next. Daniel H. Wilson’s ” The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” was a heartrending look at a single father who faces losing his daughter and the world, in a brush with a Black Hole. Jess Row’s “The Empties” was very similar to the world of “Station Eleven” and reminds us what happens when the power grid fails and we are left to our own devices (pun intended).

The Black Canary

Time travel intrigues me. It’s one of those devices that can either be done well or doesn’t work at all. In this book, it doesn’t work. There’s no explanation for why there’s a time waro that exists in the basement of James’s house nor how he’s supposed to know that once he crosses into the past that he’ll return to the same moment in the future.  It also leads me to question how random animals like cats, rats, etc. don’t wander into the time warp either.Canary

James is spending the summer in London with his workaholic parents when he discovers a time warp to Tudor London. He tries several times to go through the warp for increasingly longer periods of time. He discovers that the longer he spends in the past, the more time has changed when he returns to the present. He soon realizes that there are two of him that are existing the “present” and he doesn’t know how to fix the anomaly. Finally, after several weeks in the past, he’s able to rectify the duplication.

While it was intriguing to wonder how someone from today’s world could handle surviving in the Tudor-era, there wasn’t a point to the time travel. By the end of the book I couldn’t tell what the point of the novel was. There wasn’t a critique on how we live our current lives nor how people lived in the past. James doesn’t work things out with his parents. Instead, we are left with a final scene in which James is mourning the London of the past and his friends he made there.

It’s a quick read, but not one I’d recommend to anyone.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet 2

This was a much better read for me than Book 1. While I still feel that I’m missing some of the context that happened before Book 1, Book 2 continues from where Book 1 left off, returning to familiar characters and conflicts.  Book 2 continues to show us the ongoing conflict between the Wakandans and their Black Panther and the rival guerilla leader who is trying to get Wakandans to return to their past roots.  Ironically, reading this post-election, it feels like this rival leader could really have the slogan, “Make Wakanda Great Again.”

I appreciated the development of the conflict that Black Panther 2Wakanda is facing. The nation is having to redefine itself. While the struggles that Wakanda faces are unique, there is a universal element, especially in 2017, that feels like many nations are having to redefine themselves too.  I for one and concerned with the way many, i.e. White Americans, are wanting to make things “great” again.  But a nation can never go back.  And going back for one group to find priviledge, usually means that another group finds itself subjugated.

The solution the Wakandans, and I believe many other nations should do as well, is turning to their past to find out how to confront these turn of events. If something worked in the past, how can we take the underlying principle and apply it to our modern times? The problem is that the old ways can’t answer for a changing world including technology. The same goes fro T’Challa. He’s wrestling with maintaining the dynasty while trying to find ways to confront a new world. The solution that T’Challa and the Wakandans are finding is that they have to return to their principles and find creative ways to apply them in the changing world.

The Devourers

“The Devourers” is going to be one of those books that I think people are either are going to really like or really not like. It’s a modern day story about Alok who lives in Kolkata and meets a stranger. We learn from this stranger that he’s half shape-shifter (what we might call a werewolf). Alok and the stranger develop a sort of friendship and the stranger asks Alok to type out the stories found on two scrolls the stranger has been carrying. We jump back in time to two different story lines. One is from a Nordic shape-shifter, Fenrir and the other is Cyrah, aDevourers woman we meet in Northern India but who hails from further west. As Alok types out these stories, we begin to see the connection to the stranger.

There’s many different ways of reading this book, so it’s hard to put into words what it’s about. On one hand it’s looking at the nature of humanity through non-human eyes. It’s exploring what love means to different people and how we expect and do express love. There’s also a questioning of who are identities are and whether they are fixed or fluid.

This would be a good text to add in a study of mythology/folktales as it gives the “werewolf” a sort of origin story and history much like “Dracula” did for Vampires. I would say there’s a lot more depth in “The Devourers” than “Dracula” but the former does a better job than say “Trueblood” or “Twilight” has done to update the Vampire mythology.

Folktales & Funnies

Fairy tales have intrigued me due to the fact that they’re aimed at children yet carry very adult themes. If you’ve read Grimm’s you know that they almost always end in the maiming or death of someone.  I find the fairy tale/folk tale genre is a short lefolksson that older generations pass on to the younger one.  It’s dramatic enough to capture the young imagination, the lesson is clear enough, and there’s just enough fear to keep the young ones on the right path.  Since I started reading them as an adult and looking at their structure and artistry, I’ve noticed that we don’t still use this style of imparting wisdom to young ones.  You might say Disney, but isn’t Disney just repackaging previous folktales?  I might argue that Pixar would be a good example of how our folktales have become kids’ films.

You can’t argue with the lessons of folktales, but we could debate their method. The “Little Lit: Folktales & Funny” collection of tales is a graphic novelized versions of classic fairy tales, but with alternate endings or comedic changes to their plot. I didn’t feel like the overall message was different, but I thought that the comedy didn’t make the tale have such a gothic flavor to it. As an adult, the comedy even seemed aimed more for me than the kids. “Little Lit” is an anthology of authors including Art Spiegelman. Each of their unique storytelling and drawings kept the tales fresh and unique. It’s a quick enjoyable read.

The Battle for Skandia

In book four of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.  Will and Evalyn have escaped thanks to Erak’s help, but have gone from the frying pan into the fire.  The Tamujai are moving into the area.  This is Jon Flanagan’s interpretation of the Huns.  I don’t know that the Huns every tried to invade a Scandinavian country, but it’s an interesting story Mr. Flanagan tells with the Tamujai  trying to invade Skandia to take over their ships. At the same time, I wonder if this move signals a leave from the fantasy world to historical fiction.

I had a love hate relationship with this book. While I was enjoying the world of Skandia, it became clear that the world of “Ranger’s Apprentice” is a Europe-esque world.skandia Celtica, Gallica, Teutland, and Skandia are reiterations of Wales, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, respectively. While this doesn’t bother me in theory, in practice it means that this world isn’t so different from our own and the element of “fantasy” seems to loose its power. If I’m going to read historical fiction, I want to read historical fiction, not just a fantastical version of it.  I’m just curious enough to see where Mr. Flanagan is going with book five.

The fact that some of these countries and people are based on actual peoples and cultures, it became uncomfortable. It seems to play into some stereotypes which flatten the characters and plays off our own conceptions of the cultures and societies associated with these “fantasy” countries in the series. The end of the book recovered some of the esthetic that first drew me to the book, but a lot of the characters are starting to feel flat to me. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mr. Flanagan can reinvigorate them.

The Icebound Land

The third installment of Jon Flanagan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice series, The Icebound Land continues the story of Evelyn and Will’s journey to Skandia. Along the way, they are forced to hunker down on an island outpost with their Skandian captors.  While they are treated fairly well, they know that they face life as a slave unless someone comes to rescue them.  Of course, this being a coming-of-age story, there is someone who is coming to rescue them.  Halt and Horace are fighting their way through Gallica.  Apparently this country is overrun with war lords and this becomes their obstacle to reaching Skandia sooner.

This is definitely a middle book. It starts exactly where the last one left off and there’s absolutely no resolution to anything. It reminds me a lot of Saga of Fire and Ice.  The story feels like it’s splintering into several different related, but separate plot points.  iceboundI’m starting to think the author writes the books in pairs, keeping the overall storyline in mind for the series. The story is engrossing, but there’s definitely a sense that there’s no rush to develop anything or bring anything to a close. That was a let down. I don’t like feeling like what I’m reading doesn’t have a purpose towards drawing the characters into fetcher conflict, development, or the conclusion of the story. The one bright side of this book was the fact that Evelyn takes charge while Will is in his drug stupor. She shows that women are courageous, resourceful, brave, and ingenious without acting like men. She keeps her own identity without sacrificing who she is for any of the male characters. It’s a good lesson for the obvious young male audience for this series.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

gorlanI haven’t been so engrossed in a book since I devoured the Hunger Games trilogy in a matter of days. However, Ranger’s Apprentice became the second book to have captured my attention so much I literally wanted to just rush home from work and read.  The plot of the book seemed to tick off the boxes of things I look for in a book and it never lost its way.The underdog finds a purpose, a thrilling chase takes on life-or-death stakes, and ultimately we learn that heroes are usually the people we least suspect and they typically don’t plan to be a hero.  I typically don’t like to read books that are type-written for specific genders.  However, I will say that sometimes a book does it so subtly that it’s hard for me not to be taken in by it.  This book is definitely a “guy” book in the sense that it understands what young adult guys are looking for in a book and crafts a story that addresses their needs.

I will admit, even as much as I liked it, this book was oddly absent of women. Yes, there’s a few female characters in the beginning and they return at the end. It reminded me a lot of the Lord of the Rings and the absence of female characters. Part of wonders if it’s because the book is set in the Medieval and due to historical constraints there weren’t a lot of women who were becoming Rangers. On the other hand, I’m thinking that since this book is fantasy, why can’t there be more women? At the same time, I will at least acknowledge that there weren’t the stock female archetypes we often see in fantasy and I was grateful for that. I’m curious to see how the series continues and if the lack of female characters will be addressed.  I’m also curious to know what you all think.  Is it “ok” for a book to have an absence of either gender?