Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Books that I read in March

8. Jacques, Brian; adapted by Stuart Moore; ill. by Bret Blevins. Redwall: The Graphic Novel (143 p.)

9. Shakespeare, William; adapted by Richard Appignanesi; ill. by Sonia Leong. Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (195 p.)

10. ibid.; adapted by Richard Appignanesi; ill. by Emma Vieceli. Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet (195 p.)

11. Beland, Tom. True Story, Swear to God [2nd series], vol. 1 (170 p.)

12. Crilley, Mark. Akiko: Flights of Fancy, The High-Flying Expanded Edition (257 p.)

13. Edginton, Ian, & Ron Marz, writers; Greg Land & Sergio Cariello, pencillers. Sojourn, vol. 6: The Berzerker's Tale (140 p.)

14. Rosenberg, Joel. The Heir Apparent (319 p.)

15. Heinlein, Robert. Podkayne of Mars (159 p.)

16. ibid. The Puppet Masters (175 p.)

March total: 1753 pages
YTD total: 5402 pages

My comic shop had "misplaced" a bunch of the graphic novels that I'd ordered over the past year, and after finally asking the shop owner to see what happened, most of them suddenly turned up. (They'd apparently apparently been set aside in the general "non-comics" pull box all along, but a reminder sheet for the clerk to pull them out for me somehow never got put in my pull box, so I never learned that they'd arrived.) So I spent some time this month catching up on graphic novels in addition to my prose reading.

Redwall is a pretty decent adaptation. This surprised me a bit, because my primary association with Bret Blevins is with the nadir of the New Mutants comics--those with Gossamyr, the fabulous furry. (If I remember correctly, some of that was due to strongly disliking the direction of Simonson's storylines, some of it was due to a mismatch between the stories' tone and his art style, some of it was due to poorer than usual inking, and some of it was his own fault.) Having read the original novel, this isn't nearly as rich and detailed a story, but if you aren't as familiar with the original, it stands on it own well enough. It sticks exactly to the original storyline, but jettisons many scenes and much of the detail (and thereby much of the tension), and makes the core mysteries a bit easier to guess, in order to fit everything into a single book. Brian Jacques story is excellent, and well worth re-reading. This rendition is merely good, worth reading if you generally prefer graphic novels to prose, but otherwise I'd recommend tracking down the original version.

My main complaint about this book is that the art is in black and white, with "coloring" done via ink wash. To me, this makes it look like the coloring was originally done in watercolor and scanned in greyscale. Full color watercolors (or colored pencils, or anything else along those lines) would have significantly improved it, even given the "missing" details, and even if shifting from black & white to color would up the price point by half again as much.

The two Manga Shakespeare volumes were bought on a lark, as they both use Shakespeare's actual words, and the adaptation is primarily done by abridgement and changing the setting to modern day or slightly in the future. I thought they'd be interesting to compare to other graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare's works if I ever give another talk about selecting graphic novels for libraries.

Romeo and Juliet is set in modern-day Tokyo, with the Montagues and Capulets as rival Yakuza families. Romeo is a "rock idol", Juliet is a "Shibuya girl" (sort of a cross between a mall-rat, a fashion trend-setter, and a fashion disaster), and the prince is the city's chief of detectives (complete with trenchcoat and Starbucks-like coffee). It's very similar in that way to the movie Romeo + Juliet (starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Claire Danes), except set in Japan instead of Miami. They obviously had a lot of fun with it. (When Romeo is exiled to Mantua, he is handed a brochure that says "Visit Kyoto's new development: The Manuta District".) There's some use of chibi style in spots--which generally annoys me even in "normal" manga--but if you're into that sort of thing, it seems to be done well enough.

Hamlet is pushed farther forward into a science fiction setting. Holographic messages are common, characters can plug equipment into jacks in their head, and so forth. Other than those sorts of elements, though, this one might as well be using the original setting; unlike Romeo and Juliet (which I think is the better adaptation by far), the elements related to the updated setting really don't significantly impact the storytelling. It looks more like the sort of science fantasy setting an avant-garde acting troupe might use as a way of being "daring" with Shakespeare without actually changing anything. Also, the artist's pacing isn't always the best; the action jumps about a bit, and much of the action is choppy and hard to follow unless you already know the story well. That said, I've read several versions of Hamlet, and have seen a few different movie versions (yes, including Strange Brew), and this is the first time I could really follow and understand Ophelia's descent into madness. (I don't know how I missed that before, but this time, it was much less sudden and much more clear--and tragic--to me.) For the shippers, there's lots of subtext among the various young & virile male characters. And for those into yaoi, pretty-boy Hamlet is depicted as seducing himself during the "To be or not to be" speech.

Overall, I liked these both--moreso Romeo & Juliet than Hamlet, even though I like the play of Hamlet better than the play of R&J--and would recommend them to anyone who enjoys OEL manga, but I don't plan on getting any of the others in the series. (I believe The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream are next on the schedule.) Shakespeare is better seen performed than read, but these are probably the next-best thing.

True Story, Swear to God is excellent as always. Tom Beland's tales about his relationship with his girlfriend Lily Garcia are always touching and completely believable. I wish Image Comics hadn't confusingly called this "volume 1", though , since it's actually the fourth collection! (AiT/PlanetLar published vols. 1-2 and the "100 stories" collection of comic strips; this volume picks up where the original volume 2 left off.) As with the previous volumes, I also wish the language were a bit more sanitized--it's not bad at all, but there are enough four-letter words (and Puerto Rican versions thereof) that prevent me from recommending this as an all-ages book to anyone who is or has ever experienced the magic--and the highs and lows--of truly being in love.

The original Flights of Fancy was 140 pages, reprinting backup stories from the Akiko comic book. This "High-flying expanded edition" reprints all of that and adds 110 more pages. Since I already paid for the original volume a few years ago, I really wish Mark Crilley had only included the new material and called it "Flights of Fancy, vol. 2"

In any case, it's more short stories, one-page gags, experimentation with the boundaries of the comic book format, and so forth. Most eminently readable, some excellent, and some uneven or boring, but with a collection like this, when you hit one of the few in the latter category, the good news that in just a few pages, one of the really good ones will start up. One of my favorites was the first of the "new" stories: "Akiko on the planet Earth", about the adventures of the robot duplicate of Akiko in school, dealing with a bully, while Akiko herself was off gallivanting across space during the "Akiko on the planet Smoo" story.

Oh, and for the record, I'm not a fan of "teenage Akiko" and "grandma Akiko"; I prefer her as a timeless character who doesn't age (much).

Sojourn was one of two series published by CrossGen that I really got into-- only via the trade paperback collections and and not until after the company started showing signs of bankruptcy. (The other series being Meridian, by Barbara Kesel.) It's a standard quest fantasy (the macguffin that will defeat the big bad guy has been broken into five pieces and scattered across the world and it's up to the heroes to reassemble it), with very pretty art by Greg Land that was apparently occasionally freehand-copied from photos in magazines. This volume collects the last issues of the comic book that came out just before the company folded and its intellectual property got bought up by a division of Disney.

It's a decent story with a moral about the evils of turning sentient beings into living weapons that starts out as a bughunt of sorts that tuns into a battle royale against a nigh-unkillable foe. Unfortunately, it ends on a cliffhanger and the chance of new stories being published is near zero. The only reason even this (and the previous volume) got published is that Checker Books acquired the rights to publish collections of any uncollected issues

Probably because there weren't quite enough pages for a collection with the main story, the book also includes a "special issue" prequel from much earlier in the series' run that sets up the backstory.

Fun stuff, but its a shame that the series likely will never be completed.

(More of a shame is that the vastly superior Meridian is still out of print--and that series was one of the reasons Hyperion/Disney bought CrossGen's intellectual property.)

The Heir Apparent is book four of Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series. Set a decade after the previous volume, it builds up to the last stand between Our Heroes and the evil slavers, and the death of another main character. The character focus in this one is largely split between the main "main" character, Karl Cullinane, his son, Jason, and the search party that gets sent out when Jason runs away. There are several times where you wish you could yell at the characters, "You idiots, just do [this] and you can end the book 'happily ever after' right now!" But of course, they don't do that.

There's quite a bit of nation-building and politicking in this as "Emperor Karl" tries to drag his empire (newly-gained at the end of the previous book) out of the Dark Ages into a combination of the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, as well as keep the two previously warring halves away from each other's throats.

If you've read the previous three volumes, I'd recommend this one, too. While it'd be possible to pick it up cold and figure out what's going on enough to follow the action, knowing the full backstory makes that much easier. (And since the next volume picks up exactly where this one leaves off, you really need to read this one before picking up that one.)

I've read a few of Heinlein's novels over the years, but never any of the ones that are almost always mentioned first among his books. Podkayne of Mars is one I've heard mentioned a few times before as being one of the better of his "juvenile" books, and one I recently had a chance to pick up along with three other Heinlein novels.

The main character is supposedly about 24 years old, but she comes off more as being in her mid-teens. She's claims to be prodigiously smart, but we never really see any evidence of it--just evidence that her smarter brother really is prodigiously (and precociously) brilliant.

The cover copy of the Avon paperback edition I have describes Podkayne as "The fantabulous secret weapon in the cold war between the worlds" and "An interplanetary bombshell who rocked the constellations when she invaded the Venus Hilton and attacked the mighty mechanical men with a strange, overpowering blast of highly explosive Sex Appeal."

Which is exactly what she isn't. (I know authors have no control over cover copy, but this cover copy only bears a slight passing resemblance to reality, and that's not normal in my experience.)

The book starts off very slow, told via Podkayne's journal as she talks about her life in the Mars settlement, the arrival of her "triplet" younger siblings, and chance to take a space trip to Venus and Earth with her uncle. (The uncle turns out to be of Maori heritage, and thus he and Podkayne aren't as lily-white as I'm used to reading about in early 1960s science fiction.) For the first quarter of the book, Podkayne is a naive (though generally clear-thinking and kind-natured) "little" girl who's too young to travel alone, and knows very little about life outside of her family's residence on Mars. For the next half of the book, she's travelling on a space liner while dealing with anti-Mars prejudice from old, rich biddies and trying to learn all she can about astrogation so she can get a head start on fulfilling her dream of becoming pilot of a space ship. For the last quarter of the book, she's on Venus being wooed by the son of the richest man on the planet--the only real instance of "sex appeal", and it's not made completely clear whether he's actually just playing an angle and thus *she's* the one falling for *his* sex appeal--and trying (and generally failing) to figure out the twists and turns of the triplanetary political intrigue her uncle and brother are caught up in, and eventually runs to their rescue (when they told her not to) only to become caught in the same trap. I suppose the intrigue subplot could be considered a "cold war", but we don't see enough of it to know; the uncle intentionally keeps Podkayne completely in the dark until the very end, where he gives her a tiny little snippet of explanation and that's it.

One of my chief complaints with the Heinlein books I've read is that they typically have an interesting premise that makes me think about the potential issues, a build-up that holds my interest and explores those issues, and characters who draw me in; but then just as the climax is imminent, the story veers off into a sudden and almost completely unsatisfying ending. Podkayne of Mars lacks the interesting initial premise (from my perspective anyway--as I am not and never have been a teenage girl), but the adventures on board the space liner were interesting and dropped some hints that there was more going on, which drew me in and kept my interest. Shortly after she arrives on Venus, the you get a bit of whiplash as the plot suddenly kicks into hyperdrive as everything starts to fall to pieces and the hints that Podkayne may have noticed but couldn't or didn't follow up on suddenly become absolutely vital to the storyline--as do many factors that she was intentionally kept completely in the dark on--and she has no time or opportunity to learn what she needs to learn in the time remaining and so bumbles along until she ends up captured and it is her brother who ends up saving the day. Except she apparently manages to--in one page--possibly do more for improving relations between humans and the native Venusians than anyone else has.

Overall, I liked this one, but it felt like it was missing around 50 pages of exposition and intrigue that would build the protagonist up into a force to be reckoned with. Instead, she seems to change very little over the course of the story (or if she does, I missed it); which is a shame, as she seemed to show a lot of promise as a protagonist. And once again, I didn't like the way the climax and denoument were handled. It felt more like a portmanteau of two books featuring the same characters, each book fighting for prominence and the first given a lot more screentime than the second.

The Puppet Masters was the second of the four Heinlein books I recently picked up. My only prior exposure to it was the advertising for the 1990s movie version, which I'm told bears only superficial resemblance to the novel.

In a nutshell, this is basically a rewrite & update of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, except that where War of the Worlds features overwhelming annihilation & a major deus ex machina ending out of left field, The Puppet Masters features pitched battles with the alien invaders, infiltration & espionage, both sites learning from their contact with the enemy and their tactical mistakes, and humanity figuring out its own path to salvation (via a minor deus ex machina that is at least slightly foreshadowed before it is revealed). It's also very similar in many ways to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except The Puppet Masters came first by three or four years.

There's much that is dated (in that 1950's "We'll all be driving flying cars and eating meals in pills in the future, but everything else will be just like it is now" fashion--and the book starts on July 12, 2007), but aside from that and the basic given of "symbiotic/parasitic aliens", the book spends much of its time in military/cold war espionage thriller mode, which Heinlein generally writes quite well. Also well done is the attention to detail in exploring ramifications of both scientific (and fictional) elements and how characters would most likely adapt (or not) to them, without going so far over the top that the book becomes a dry, scholarly treatise on a pet topic, with a light dusting of plot. (Which is something many other writers in both the "hard science fiction" and "military thriller fiction" genres are overly wont to do.)

Overall, I enjoyed this one quite a bit--even if the eventual key to one side's success wasn't quite as foreshadowed as it needed to be--and actually felt alternately gut-punched and greatly relieved by one of the plot twists and re-twists at the end.

And this time, I didn't feel let down by the way the climax and denoument were handled!

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: books

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