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Review: Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition

Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition by Stephen R. Bown My rating: 4 of...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition

Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition by Stephen R. Bown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


For some reason, I like reading books about white men going into cold places and dying. Except Norwegians, for some reason my brain believes Norwegians should always make it out alive. I’m not sure why, but it does. I blame National Geographic Museum in Washington DC for all this because I saw an exhibit there about Scott and Amundsen.

This book is about a Russian trek, led by a Dane Vitus Bering (yes, that Bering). Truthfully, when we read about those treks, at least in the Eastern part of American, we tend to focus solely on the British during crazy things. It was refreshing, therefore to read about Russians doing crazy things. It should be noted that I am not an expert on this topic.

Brown does a very good in keeping the reader engaged. First, he sets up the scene, allowing the read to understand the circumstances that the large group of men were dealing with. Unlike the British, the Kamchatka Expedition had to deal with official who had little desire to help the leaders, making food and supplies difficult. The failure of the expedition, it seems, was also that due to politics.

Brown doesn’t hesitate to illustrate the flaws of some of the members of the expedition, but he also shows the good points. In particular, is Stellar who is at once infuriating, yet he is vital to the survival of those who make it.

Perhaps that is the greatest strength of this history – unlike many such book it doesn’t play favorites but presents humanity struggling in a dangerous situation of its own making.


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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: The Infernal Library: On Dictators, Their Books, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, Their Books, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy The Infernal Library: On Dictators, Their Books, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

I have to admit, I almost didn’t request this title from Netgalley. It wasn’t that the topic, a study of works by dictators, didn’t sound interesting. It did, but there also seemed a possibility for dryness, and I really wasn’t in the mood. But I requested it anyway.

I am very happy I did. Mr. Kalder, I am sorry for thinking it would be dry.

Honesty, you know you are in good hands when the book starts, “This is a book about dictator literature – that is to say, it is a book about the canon of works written or attributed to dictators. As such, it is a book about some of the worst books ever written, and so was excruciatingly painful to research.”

Kalder took one for the team, and quite frankly, we should repay him by reading this book.

The book isn’t so much literary criticism; though Kalder does not shy away from calling a bad book a bad book. For instance, on The Green Book, “it is not merely boring, or banal, or repetitive, or nonsensical, although it is certainly all those things. It is quite simply, stupid . . . “.

And he is fair, for Kalder notes of Mussolini’s bodice ripper (which isn’t really one apparently) that it is readable.

His survey of literature starts with the Russian revolution and includes present day dictators. Kalder is also as funny as, well, Monty Python.

What Kalder does is look at not only what the writings reveal about the dictators, but also why people didn’t take the books seriously as warnings of things to come. He points out that some people should have known better. He also connects it to the thinking and control process, showing how the works did reflect the personality of each man (and they are all men). He also addresses the weird beliefs that make their way into the books – Hussain had strange ideas about bears.

The book is an entertaining journey into some really strange minds that produced some really bad literature. Luckily for the reader, Kalder read it for us.


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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Middlemarch/Personal Canon

Middlemarch Middlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eliot is one of those writers who I always forget how good she is. It’s not that I ever forget she is good, it is just that forget the high standard she has for most her work. The exception in this forgetting is Adam Bede, and this is no doubt because it was the first Eliot I read (thanks to Alistair Cooke).

I first read Middlemarch in either college or grad school. I recently re-read because of a line in the New York Times Book Review.

To call Middlemarch feminist would be wrong, though in many ways she is a proto-feminist. At the heart of the novel is the character of Dorothea and the idea of marriage. If Doretha was Catholic, she quite easily could have become a nun. But she isn’t, so the avenues opened to her are a bit slim. She wants to do good works, and to improve people’s lives. At beginning of the novel is she able to do this with a help of a suitor, a suitor she doesn’t know is a suitor, and later in the novel, she has the possibility to do it another way. This of course soon changes.

The theme of the novel, in part, seems to be the idea of marriage, for marriage does concern much of the part. At first, it is merely Doreatha’s marriage to Casaubon, who is older and who she hopes will teach almost like a father. Then it is the marriage between Lydgate, a doctor who wants to do good, and Rosamond, whose brother Fred forms part of a third marriage with Mary Garth.

The question of marriage is more a question what a good marriage is. Doreatha’s first marriage, really isn’t a good one. But it is not entirely her husband’s fault and in fact, very few of her friends (in fact only her sister and James Chettam) try to talk her out of it or express doubts about the marriage.

In many ways, the true right people in the novel are Mary Garth and Celia Brooke, Doretha’s younger sister. Mary is the dependable and intelligent daughter of the Gareths. She is prudent. The most imprudent thing she does is love Fred, who at the start of the book has a good heart but is a bit too much flash and imprudence. Celica is Doreatha’s younger sister, less religious, more sensual, but also more observant. She watches before she speaks. She may not be as good or holy as Doretha but she is not a bad woman. Mary too watches. This makes those two women better able to handle the society that constrains them.

Doretha is not able to handle society in the same way. Her marriage options are frowned upon whether she marries for the right or wrong reason. And unlike Lydgate, who marries an illusion, a pretty thing that he does not see as human or understand fully as human. He does not watch enough. Neither does Doretha at first.

Eliot’s suggestion that she is trying to write or example a modern life of St. Theresa is interesting because Dortha, like Lydgate, doesn’t quite come what she could have been.

Of course, that is, in part, the purpose of Eliot’s book, showing us the bonds – both prison like and fond – that society puts on us.


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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air

Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air by Harold Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Anthony and Cleopatra is my favorite Shakespeare play. It didn’t really attain this title until I was in graduate school. There is something not only wonderful about the character of Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play but also because it is a love story with a political theme. Everyone remembers Cleopatra but very few remember that political component.

Like all of us, Harold Bloom has fallen for Cleopatra. Hard. After reading his slim volume on Hamlet, I thought Bloom wanted to have an affair Gertrude, but now I think there is something of a threesome going on between Bloom, Gertrude, and Cleopatra. One can’t really fault him for that.
Bloom is at his best and most piercing when he links Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to the idea of ebb and flow of the Nile river. This is a brilliant observation. It actually does much to explain aspects of Cleopatra’s character and then also ties both Cleopatra and ebb/flow into Anthony’s character. It is quite interesting.

There are also problems with it. In many ways, it is difficult for a female reader to forget that early on in his book, Bloom writes that Cleopatra “cunning beyond male thought”. Now I am looking at an early electronic galley, so hopefully that word male will be removed. As it stands, it is jarring. It almost forces the female to reader out of the book. A strange feeling considering the subject is a woman.

It’s true to note that Shakespeare’s audience would have been male, so Bloom is undoubtedly correct on a basic level. Yet, the narrow focuses weaken his point, especially the level point in connecting Cleopatra to the water.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: The Tiger’s Daughter SPOILERS!!!!

The Tiger’s Daughter The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from Tor as part of a Librarything giveaway/first read program. Also, spoilers.

I wanted to love this book. When I first started reading the novel, it was exactly what I needed. A novel where the chosen one or ones is/are female, I so need that, especially with all the movies and shows about men doing great things. The book drew me in right away, and the first night I did not want to put it down. The second day, I still enjoyed it, but I was a little confused by a few things – one of which was the setting and character names. The setting seemed to be a fantastical China. There was a wall that the mother of one of the characters destroyed. There seems to be one society that is de facto Chinese, and another that is de facto Mongol. There are steppes on the map for crying out aloud. The strange thing was that some of the names seemed to be Japanese. But I am not an expert on Japanese or Chinese culture. To be honest, the only reason I noticed that Japanese influence was because I had read Johnson, Dalkey, and the Tale of Heike. I do know, however, that any combination of Chinese and Japanese cultures (or any Asian culture with another for that matter) is problematic for several reasons, including what happened during WW II.

Then I read Laurelinvanyr’s review where she goes into detail about the problems with the names used in the novel as well as other cultural issues. I strongly suggest any potential reader of the book reads that review. It’s true that a counter to many of the points that Laurelinvanyr makes would be the simple “it is a fantasy setting that has been inspired by various cultures” excuse that is used for more than fantasy novels. It is also true that this is not the only book that has inaccuracies. Hell, you even get them in a book that is set in say America but written by a Brit. At the very least, there is not enough world building to account for the combination. Laurelinvanyr’s more knowledgeable review goes into far more detail about this problem (and there are other reviews that mention the same issues but in less detail. There is hardly only one review that raises the questions of bad research, cultural approbation and fetishism). Additionally, it is possible/very likely that the use of language and cultural comments by some characters was there to show racism between the Empire and Qorin. The problem is that racism is never really direct dealt with, at least on the part of the Qorin and not really very well in the Empire.

In addition to the question about the world building, there are other problems with the book, that are glaring from a structural and storytelling point of view only.

It is impossible to discuss these without spoilers, so this is your last spoiler warning.

The first problem is the conceit – the idea that whole book is one very long letter that one heroine writes to the other. This works in the beginning but makes no sense later on because why would you write such a detailed letter to someone who was there and experiencing most of what are you writing about with you? You wouldn’t. Not in such a detailed way. (There also is a section where it seems to take a character two years to make a bow, seriously). If this was an actual exchange of letters this would be different, but it isn’t.

The second problem is that because you know the letter is being written after the events described, you know the two central characters are going to be okay. This lack of tension might be replaced with the tension regarding whether they are going to get their happy ever after. Normally, it would be, but the question of whether love can overcome the forced separation is dealt with so quickly that there isn’t any. Not really.

To be honest, the second half of the book feels like little more than a set-up for the second volume. Part of the draw of the first part of the book is the idea that both heroines are somehow divine. This is important for two reasons. The first is that it explains the powers that each girl has (though one power is more developed). The second is it explains why despite the young age of both heroines (both are under eighteen for the whole book), they act so much older, for there is a long tradition in epics, regardless of culture, for such divine or semi-divine heroes to be older than their years. This semi-divine status seems forgotten when one of the characters becomes vampire like (something that most say they are frightened of but no one acts like it). It is to seek a cure for this problem that one woman journeys to what seems to be an Underworld. Sounds interesting, no? Happens entirely off page and is most likely a hook for the second novel in the series. But why would you read that when you know she succeeds? It was a total cheat of an ending.

And finally, there were two smaller things that disquieted me. The first is the relationship between an older woman and a young woman. It is unclear whether they are another lesbian couple, it is strongly suggested that they are. I don’t care that they are couple because of their gender. I have a problem with an adult, in this an aunt, sleeping with niece. I just do. Not only does violate the incest taboo that many culture, fantasy and otherwise, have, but quite frankly, there is something off putting by someone who is family member who helped raise you, taking you as a lover. I hate this when it is a man and woman relationship, and I still hate it when it is a woman/woman one. Sorry. Additionally, there is an incident of spousal abuse. One character is possessed/dealing with vampire traits when she attacks her girlfriend. That’s fine. It’s an interesting idea as is the struggle to contain the vampire cravings. Handled well it would have been a good thing to explore. But nope, everyone, even the woman who was almost killed, seems to get over it in a few pages.

Promising start. Disappointing ending.




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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy

A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy by Mary W. Craig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Perhaps the first thing one learns about Mara Hari is that she was dancer and a slut. Then, perhaps one learns she was a slut because she danced naked and slept with a great many men. Then one hears that she was spy and was shot for it. But the important thing that one is told is that she was very, very sexy. In fact, she seems to be the spy that gets remembered not so much because of the doubt of her guilt, but because she was a sexpot.

She also wasn’t a very good spy. She got caught after all

Mary W. Craig’s new book tries to present a more nuanced picture of Mata Hari, or at least as much as one can giving the problem of sources.

Margrethe Zell was born in the Netherlands, where she lived until her marriage took her to the Dutch East Indies. Her early life, Craig points out, was nice until her father suffered a major loss in business. What then followed as an unclear life plan and, what today, we would consider at the very least statutory rape – an affair with an instructor. Craig’s details about Hari’s early life - her struggles after the family bankruptcy and her time spent with relatives are related in a matter of a fact way. There is pity in Craig’s writing, but Craig isn’t turning the biography into a more sinned against than sinning story. Hari isn’t portrayed as a victim, but as a woman who took control of her life.

Or if she is, she is doing it by taking a brutally honest about Mata Hari.

Nowhere is this more obviously in the discussion of Zell’s marriage with MacLeod. It is a marriage that produced two children, possibly infected Zell with an STD, and was abusive. While not excusing MacLeod’s behavior, Craig also places the man in context, in particular with his treatment of Hari after separation and divorce, noting that MacLeod’s actions had more to do with protecting his daughter than anything else.

Hari was no saint, and in addition to her sexual activities (less shocking today than when Hari lived), Craig does closely examine and places Hari’s dancing in the times. The discussion of whether Hari was lying or promoting a fantasy with her “Eastern” dancing. How much of her dancing was imply an illusion that everyone brought into, like the body stocking she wore? Craig can’t give a definite answer but she does truly address the issue, even reading books about Hari that were published during the height of her popularity.

Craig, in part, is hampered by the self-serving purpose of some her sources (and she is clear about this) as well as a lack of sources. Yet, despite these drawbacks, Craig does paint an interesting, more revealing portrait of a woman who is usually known simply for sex.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Wolves in the Dark

Wolves in the Dark Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ebook not Audio.

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Varg Veum is a literary character that I first meet though television. MHZ had the Varg Veum movies on, and I watched them. So, I started reading the series in a haphazard fashion, or in other words, totally out of order.

This installment finds Veum coming out of a drinking addiction fueled by depression after a death. In part, some of his sobering comes from meeting a woman (who has a daughter) and part of it comes from being accused of child pedophilia.

The novel opens with the arrival of the police to arrest Veum and search his apartment, and the book stays to the break neck speed. In a cell, Veum is forced to remember as much as his drunk years as he can because someone, he doesn’t know who, is setting him up.

Not many people believe him. Strangely enough his new girlfriend is one of those who does.

I guess he is lucky that way, for those that have known him the longest, by and large, view him as guilty.

On one hand, the story is a non-stop thriller. It starts with a bust and keeps going. The pace never seems to slow, not surprising when Veum isn’t given the time to catch his breath. The characters are well written, possibly not the girlfriend who seems a bit too trusting, yet she is not stupid. Even though at times it seems like too much coincidental. The ending too, is on level, a typical white male ending. It is difficult to image an immigrant or even a woman, even in Norway, having the same reaction as Varg Veum to the final outcome.

In part, that might be part of the problem with this book – Veum never seems quite aware of the societal pressures, norms, what have you, that contribute or allow the trafficking and abuse of children (and women) to occur. On one hand, there are times when a reader wants to smack Veum for his cluelessness on the matter. Doesn’t he realize, the reader might wonder under her breath, in particular when he is confronting woman. Then one wonders if this genius on the part of Staalesen. What better way to show a problem? There is no preaching, no holier than though. And this provokes more thought.

This book will most likely get less attention then Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A shame considering that it is better written and far more powerful for its subtlety.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have

Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have by Susan Ottaway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Earlier this month, Kate Elliot re-tweeted a thread about little known heroes, women heroes to be exact. And this is true. In America, the story goes women in the Second World War built the planes and nursed. We are usually not taught about the women who dropped into Occupied France, and if it is mentioned, they are British.

And we usually don’t tell. Recently, a student read a selection of Julia Child. He didn’t hate it, but found it a bit boring. It was about food after all, but tell that same student about Child’s wartime work, and he gets more interested.

Violette Szabo wasn’t an American, and she did have a movie made about her. Yet, today, she is not well known by history books. At least the ones used in schools. After the death of her husband, Szabo joined SOE and went into Occupied France twice. Her actions during both missions were heroic.

Susan Ottaway’s biography of Szabo is in many ways, a counter point to Crave Her Name with Pride. Ottaway was able to interview not only Szabo’s brothers but also her daughter Tania. What is presented here is a pretty good and seemingly fair biography. While detailing the heroics of Szabo, Ottaway weighs the validity of stories, looking at not only the narrator but also the possibility of such action.

At times, it does feel that Szabo is just out of reach, but considering the scant sources, this is hardly surprising. What is interesting is looking at what Szabo and her daughter think about Szabo’s work and the “morality” of a mother doing such duty. Ottaway also details life after the war and how the family was treated by the makers of the film.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Amulet 1-6

I picked up the first six volumes in this series for free.  Apparently, it was when volume seven was about to be released and Scholastic offer the first six via Kindle for free.

                The series chronicles the adventures of Emily, her brother Navin, and their mother as they try to adjust to an unexcepted trip to a magical land.  Emily is a Stonekeeper, an Amulet wearer (hence the title of the series).  She received this amulet from her grandfather upon her arrival.

                In short, this is a series where the chosen one is a girl.

                And that is cool because that doesn’t happen too much.  Don’t worry though, unlike some series where the sidekick gets sidelined, Navin too is allowed to come into his own, and his skill set is different than his sister’s.

                Kibuishi makes it quite clear that the siblings love each, though they do tease each.  The back story for the family is pretty much comic standard, one that we have seen pretty of times.  The artwork is cool, and the comic touches on themes such as redemption and protection.  At first it seems that the bad guys are going to be the elves, but the true evil becomes more complicated than that.  Kibuishi also illustrates where hate and fear can lead people.  It’s a tale with morals that doesn’t hit the reader over the head with them.

                Additionally, there is a creature that resembles Cherbourg (you know that mountain demon from Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain).

                I did have some problems with the story.  The first is one that I think only adult readers will have.  Both Emily and Navin at times seem both too adult and too childish.  It doesn’t quite work and at times, it throws you out of the story.  This occurs when Navin says to two children that they are too young to be helpful.  But I am pretty sure this is just an adult perspective.  The other issues are despite Emily being the chosen one, for much of the series the other major players are all male.  This changes in books 5 and 6 where we finally get more female characters who are active and not simply damsels in distress (like Emily’s mother).  This could have occurred before – Emily is being accompanied by men, trained by men (or male animals) so it is a little disappointing.  But if 6 is any indication this is going to change in the rest of the series.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review: Star Wars: Lando

Star Wars: Lando Star Wars: Lando by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Star Wars, I do, even though in the films the world building lacks the depth of Star Trek. My favorite character was always Leia, but Lando was a close second. I always wanted them to get together. I mean, do you think Lando would turn out like Han did?  Lando ran a city, and he seemed to be doing a pretty good job until Han showed up.

Anyway, this is Lando's adventures after losing the Falcon and before he gets Cloud City. In fact, it seems to be the push for Lando to get Cloud City and to take care of the people there (like Leia, he lost his home. They would have had beautiful babies).

It's a fun read, if not particularly deep in some areas. Nice use of women. I also quite frankly like the reversal of the black man who scarfices himself so the white hero can learn something trophe. That was cool.

Fun fact of the day: Billy Dee Williams was good friends with James Baldwin.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The two-star rating is somewhat misleading and perhaps unfair. The basic premise of the book is good and interesting. The basic premise is simple – Katherine’s job is that her consciousness inhabits constructs of animals. She does this for study. So, for instance, she wants to study foxes, she inhabits the body of a fox. Her real body is during this time connected to a basically life support. Over the course of the novel, secrets about the company she works for are revealed and you get the general idea.

Geen excels at imaging a person’s reaction to have as many limbs as, say, a squid. When she writes as Katherine adjusting to a different form, the book is really good. The problem is that when Katherine, Kit, leaves those animals you don’t give damn about her because she isn’t a fully realized character.

Now this could be in part because Geen wants to dwell on the question of real life versus the life of unreal – i.e. inhabiting a body that is really a construct as opposed to your own body. While sometimes the book does this, it really isn’t done well and Kit really does seem to lack any ability for interception. This might be because this science fiction book is really a young adult book. There are good ideas here but nothing really gets examined and it almost feels like there is another story here. The bits about Katherine’s past are interesting, a tad, but they come so late that you just don’t care. The romance just feels there.

Yet, I must admit my problem started much earlier and it isn’t just to this book. It was just a bit really. Kit is describing the machines that keep her body alive while she is animal surfing, and notes that there is a cup for when women get their period. She then tells the reader that she hasn’t had a period for years.

She’s 19.

Now, later in the book it is revealed that the process of animal surfing does harm the teens (who are best at it), but it is never clear if Kit’s lack of a period is because of this or some other issue. In fact, it is implied that it isn’t a result of animal surfing. She never seems curious about it. This is strange considering she apparently wrote some really good biology papers so it seems she has some scientific knowledge. Wouldn’t she wonder? I mean maybe she has an IUD, but then why mention the period at all. But Kat is already extra special because no one has animal surfed as long as she has. She’s the bestest. The lack of bleeding seems connected to this.

And she had her period at one point because she hasn’t had one in a while, in years, which implies she had one. Wouldn’t she wonder?

Now, look, I don’t except the female characters to tell readers every time they have to pull out a pad or what’s it. I just presume that’s happening, so when a character tells me information about a period, I pay attention.

And this isn’t the only book where I have seen this.

In much genre fiction, regardless of target age range, there is a tendency for a female character to be the sole female character who can do anything right. She is the unique female character. Written badly, she is simply a man with boobs who looks down on every other female character. If you have read the Anita Blake books that’s an example. At times, the character doesn’t have to be written badly for this to make an appearance. Kitty the werewolf in some of the books in the series is the unique and extra special woman. I’ve noticed that sometimes the extra special woman will not have a period.

Why?

Why is this even thought about? Here, it might be an excuse for why Kit can keep working, yet conversations with others in the book indicate that it isn’t simply a biological but also mental reason why people stop animal surfing.

The only answer I am left with is the lack of the period makes the female character more acceptable. To whom? I’m not sure. Perhaps it is wish fulfillment too. But I don’t think so. There is something strange and discomfiting about this. Perhaps it is because there are still societies were women are exiled because they are considered unclear during that time of the month. Perhaps it is because something natural is being seen as icky – strange in a book where biological animal function is discussed. But I think it comes down to specialness and pureness. A girl isn’t a girl unless she is unbloodied. Now, you can have the girl without the nasty woman bits.

And that frightens me to be honest. It seems to be saying, you can’t be a woman. Not really because it is unclear. Not nice. Just icky. Perhaps I’m just an old grouch. Perhaps I’ve had it with things after hearing about an all-female Lord of the Flies movie, created by two men.

But this rejection just seems so wrong. Look, I’m not saying she has do a Greer and taste her menstrual blood, hell, I don’t even think the period should really rate a mention unless it has a truly important role – pregnancy, starvation. What upsets me is the fact that women writers feel it necessary to point out that the female heroines are even more special because they don’t have a period.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

IDW Star Trek (2009) Comic Books

Recently, I read my way through the Collected On-going Star Trek, its follow up series, and two special limited runs.  I think it was a reaction to the Orange One’s comments about Charlottesville.



                The comics take place in the Kelvin Timeline.  For those of you who are slightly clueless, this is the timeline of the three most recent Star Trek movies (the ones with Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Yelchin).  What I loosely call Star Trek Moviedom vs Star Trek Tvdom.  Yes, I know there were Star Trek movies with the originals, but they were television series first.  I actually like the Kelvin timeline for a few reasons, besides the fact that Pine, Urban, Cho, and Saldana star in it.  (And Quinto, but I hadn’t really seen anything he had been in before this.  I didn’t like Heroes).  The fact that the supporting characters are given expanded roles makes me so happy for in the original series my two favorite characters were Uhura and Sulu (did anyone else ship them?).  I’m perfectly fine with and actually like the Spock/Uhura relationship.  While I understand the whole idea and belief system behind the gay couple of Spock/Kirk or Spock/McCoy or McCoy/Kirk aka the gay threesome and reading stories where it occurs does not bug me, lately I’ve wondered if the homosexual takes on it isn’t simply an outgrowth of the idea that men cannot have close relationships with other men (who are not related by blood) unless there is a homosexual undercurrent.  This reasoning seems to be a bit sexist too me.  Sulu being married to a man and having a daughter didn’t annoy me, though I think I understand why Takei was a bit put off by it.  By having Sulu gay in an alternate universe, it appears to be one is gay because of nurture as opposed to nature, which would dismiss the genetic truth.  Also, why not simply create a fresh homosexual character?  But okay.  The only thing about the new version of Trek I didn’t enjoy was in the first two movies where we had women stripping down to bra and panties because J J wanted to see Uhura and Carol naked.
Source Pinterst
  Funny how that stopped when Pegg and Lin took over.  Additionally, I wasn’t too thrilled about the problems of the Spock/Uhura relationship in the second and third movies.   Why both plot arcs make sense considering what happened to Vulcan, the third movie felt it happening somewhat late, and quite frankly, please don’t make that the only reason why she is there.  To be fair, Pegg and Lin didn’t do this as much, and the inverse of McCoy/Spock discussing Spock’s relationship (twice) instead of Uhura doing with her girlfriends was nice.

                But I do like the Kelvin timeline.

                Star Trek Vols 1-13 is the first series, starting roughly around the time of the first movie and leading up to the third.  The first volume occurs right after the first movie.  Countdown to Darkness take place before the second, Manifest Destiny after the second, and Boldly Go occurs after the third.

                Mike Thompson is a good Star Trek writer, and there is much to love about his exploration of both the series and characters.  In Vols 1-13, there are some drawbacks.  At times, as in most comics, the artwork can be a bit uneven.  At some points, one has the feeling that the story arcs would have been better if given one or two additional issues, and sometimes the alternate takes on the original series plots doesn’t match the original in terms of storytelling.

                However, these flaws are outweighed by the good.  One of Johnson’s strengths is his use of minor/background characters from the film.  We see Darwin (the black women at the helm at some points), we get Keenser’s story, we get a story from Cupcake (you know the red shirt with the beard) about redshirts.
Source Piniterst

 There is a recurring head of security who is a kick ass woman, perhaps a nod to the tragic mistake of TNG killing of Yar.  The background characters are far more racially mixed than those of the series or even the movies. It’s pretty.  There also isn’t much underwear showing or Kirk having sex with aliens.  Women characters are active and not damsels in distress.  Damsels in distress save themselves in this series. (Uhura saves Spock twice!).

                For me, the test of any Star Trek story is the amount of time that the supporting crew is given, largely because they were my favorite characters.  Johnson does give Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov more time in the spotlight (Chekhov gets the least).  We are even given their “origins” or their Academy stories – and McCoy’s as well.  At first glance, it looks like Uhura’s story is simply going to be that of her relationship to Spock, but Johnson uses this to go into Uhura’s past, and even refers to this past Boldly Go #9.  It’s cool.  Both Chekhov’s and Sulu are given pasts that show them at the Academy – Chekhov in the desire to fit in, and Sulu as a principled and ambitious character he is.  They also get larger roles in general story lines, with both Sulu and Uhura getting the command chair, and in Sulu’s case leading an away mission.  Sulu’s husband and daughter are also referred to in the Boldly Go series more than once. 


                What I really love is how wonderful Uhura is shown here.  While in some of the stories, she plays a supporting role for Spock, in more she comes into her own.  Johnson also shows repeatedly why linguistics and language are important.  The one flaw is that she is still the only primary female character.  It’s true that in a few issues Carol Marcus appears, but she and Uhura have no interaction, and after a few issues, Marcus disappears.  Galia, Uhura’s roommate from the first movie, pops up again, and the panels that show the friendship she has with Uhura are immensely well done.  Additionally, there is a reference to slut shaming/victim blaming that Galia handles extremely well.  Galia, and her brother Kai, who was working on the Enterprise, get their own storyline.  I wish that they had kept Galia because too often it feels that Uhura is the only woman in a man’s world.


                And this idea does seem to find its way into the Manifest Destiny miniseries where the crew does battle with Klingons – including one of the greatest speeches about Klingons I have ever read.
                Thompson’s favorite playground seems to be alternate realities.  There is a Mirror, Mirror arc that shows the reader the Mirror verse of Kelvin, but also a couple alternate timelines – one where Old Spock arrives in an almost Mirror, Mirror world, one with a sex shift crew (i.e. Captain Jane Kirk), and finally, one involving Q.  The Q storyline is actually damn good, and while Picard makes an appearance, a cameo of sorts, the major guests stars are the characters from the best Trek to ever appear on the tube – DS9.  Honestly, the volume of this arc – the Q Gambit – is a stand out.  It’s worth reading if nothing else.  There is also a special story to celebrate the anniversary.  This story features all the doctors from TV Star Treks in one story.  There is even the best doc ever – Dr. Pulaski.



                The last collection 13 contains an Old Spock story as well as cross over with the original Trek.  In the crossover Thompson plays with not only the different situations that the characters are in, but also why they look different.  It was a nice nod to the differences, not only in a fitter McCoy say, but also differences in design.
   
             Boldly Go is the follow up to the On-Going.  I found it to be a bit weaker, though this seems to be a result of the temporary diversion of the Enterprise crew while they await the completion of the new Enterprise.  Kirk’s temporary command includes a first officer who is a woman, a strong and capable woman whose decision eventually leads to Sulu taking over the first officer slot.  The characters are good, and Jaylah returns with a bunch of cadets, including a few women who talk to each other.  The stand out issues for me are 9 and 10.  9 features Spock and Uhura on New Vulcan.  It looks at their relationship but the primary story is a mystery only Uhura can solve because of her humanity and her language skills.  Issue 10 concerns Scotty, the cadets, Keenser, and Kevin.  It is really funny.




                What the writers, artists, and the rest of the crew have managed to do is to capture the power of Star Trek that Gene Rodenberry had – the togetherness, the crew coming together, the better world idea that feels so reassuring after recent events.  Rodenberry’s vision of what we could be was so powerful that it stands the test of time.

Review: The Iliad of Homer

The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer by Homer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think it is a safe bet to say the only book I have read more than this is The Lord of the Rings. I have read this story in some form or another for a long time. First a child’s version, then Rowes’s prose translation and so on. I wanted to re-read the poem while I listen to the Great Courses lectures on it.

The Iliad is a poem about warrior but it is also a poem about love. Not Helen and Paris, for as the poem tells you, Helen seems to have regretted her choice of men, for she has fallen out of love/lust with Paris. So, the Hollywood version of two young lovers being pursued by a vengeful husband is a bit wrong. Paris, after all, was not a good guest.

No, it’s more about love for one’s country and people/friends/family. Though, not daughters, quite frankly there only seems to be one good father to a daughter in the whole of the poem. That’s why people always seem to root for the Trojans, because we are shown them as family oriented. Even Priam, who one could argue, is behaving rather stupidly by keeping Helen, loves his sons and, one presumes, his daughters.

It’s tougher with the Greeks because they are the invaders. They are attacking to get a woman back, but they are attacking a people who really didn’t do anything. The Trojans do seem to be aware of the silliness of the whole exercise, but they still do it.

Helen who should be a lover, isn’t. She is embarrassed by Paris, upset by him, and one wonders if she is a victim of both time and the gods. She doesn’t seem to be happy. Perhaps rape in both meanings of the word is an accurate description.

Yet, even as the Trojans symbolize or stand for family, in particular Hector, there is a family sense in the Greeks as well. In part this comes from Hera, whose accusations against Artemis who fights in the support of the Trojans. Hera is furious at Artemis and it seems to have more to do than simply Artemis being a product of Zeus’ unfaithfulness. Hera, the goddess of marriage is angry about the mothers who die in childbirth. She is with the Greeks in story because of the apple, but also because she is about preserving marriage.

Some critics argue that it is also about the humanity versus inhumanity as represented by Hector and Achilles, or about the old giving way to the young (the Greeks in particular). But it is about humanity and pathos, even in the smallest characters.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Blacksad Series



This isn't Disney.

For which we should all be very thankful.

First, let me say that the artwork is stunning, in particular how certain real figures were shown as characters in this book.  The series is about a panther who exists in a world similar to our own, but instead of humans, animals.

In the first collection, the thing, the real thing, is the plot. Blacksad is a private detective whose first tale involves solving the murder of his former girlfriend. The best part, however, is the second story in this book, with the last running a close second.  The second story is a look at race as told by the animal figures that inhabit the world. Quite frankly, any novel, graphic or otherwise, that can reference "Strange Fruit" and get it correct deserves an award.



In the best tradition of animal stories, this graphic novel makes you think about the human condition.
The second volume of the series, Silent Hell,  takes place in the South, and despite the use of animals, actually does chronicle a story inspired by true events.  The question here is about music, truth, and testing.  Blacksad is accompanied by his reporter sidekick, and the second volume links nothing into the third volume of the series.
                The third volume is the only volume that does not deal directly with race, at least not in the same way as the first two volumes of the series. There are subtle hints in Blacksad’s sister and his nephews, but that is about it.  The third volume does refer to the lives of the Beat poets so it does have that tie in, but the overarching social look is missing a bit.

                I do wish that Idris Elba would play Blacksad, simply because it is a role that seem so suited for him.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Curse Words Vol. 1

Curse Words Vol. 1 Curse Words Vol. 1 by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when an evil wizard (not Wizzard) named Wizord (no first name) lands in NYC to meet up with his rat familiar(?) Margaret?

Turn Margaret into a koala (#teammargaret) or if the situation calls for it, something else (#notmymargaret).

And become one of the good guys. Sort of.

Wizord ends up in NYC to do a dark deed for his boss, but he discovers there such a thing as freedom and he likes it. So, he decides to become a good guy. In other words, he is trying to change from the evil bastard he was. Lucky for him, he has Margaret, who may be something more than a familiar (#teammargaret) but who is definitely smarter than he is.

Wizord is also hot. It is important to note this. He is hot.

He also grants wishes, like the Genie in Aladdin he does have the three no go areas. He also finds loopholes.

He’s just not sure how good guys deal with certain problems, such as what to do with witnesses.

But he muddles though.

In many ways, this book reminds me a little of I Hate Fairyland, comedy, but there is also an underlying seriousness to it. How does one define magic, how does magic work, what makes us who we are.

The artwork is excellent. Margaret might be a cute koala bear (#teammargaret), but she is a real koala bear, not a stuffed animal. And the cost and ramifications of the magic spells upon surrounding people are brought home. Cost is dealt with. It’s quite a nice comic. In many ways, it takes the best of Dresden and plays with it in a totally different way.


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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Tamra Jewel Keepness.

Name doesn’t ring a bell to many people here in the United States. In 2004, the five-year member of Whitebear First Nation went missing from her family home in Reinga. She has never been found. I only know about because I was in Montreal shortly after she was reported missing, when the story was showed on Canadian news. I remember thinking at the time that it such coverage seemed to be different than that of the US, were the only people who seem to go missing are attractive white women or old forgetful people, at least according to the national news.

I found myself thinking of Keepness while reading this book, in part because the book showed me how wrong I was.

Prior to reading this book I knew about the reputation of Residential Schools, of the taking of Native/First Nation children by whites in order to “civilize” or “assimilate” them in both the US and Canada, and I have read reports and watched documentaries about the large number of First Nation women missing and killed in Canada, including along Highway 16. Yet, there was a sense that Canada at least owned up to the injustice in a way that the United States has not done.

Nope. Wrong about that.

Talaga’s book looks at the deaths of seven indigenous students from a school in Thunder Bay. The students lied in Thunder Bay, but they came from small Northern communities that lacked adequate schooling. The only way for the students to get a good education, the First Nation schools in their communities either being non-existent or severally underfunded. It is also a condemnation of a society and a government that does little to nothing to correct the issues that are a result of colonialism and racism. Of school that is underfunded but tries, and a town that does little to deal with hate crimes.

Talaga tells the story from the indigenous point of view. This means that the focus is on racism and government responsibility as well as, at times, culture shock of moving to a city from a town of 300 people or less. So, this isn’t drink done them wrong, at least no more than drink does any teen wrong. Additionally, while details are given about the lives of the people whom Talaga is writing about, she doesn’t Romanize them. It is reporting, all the more damning because of it. In part, this is all due to Talaga herself who is honest enough to admit that when the germ of the story started, she was reporting on something completely different.

It’s important to remember that the focus is on seven young lives that were lost, all in a similar way. It chronicles not only the crime but also the reaction of society and the struggle to get justice. It also is a look at the families. What would you do if there was no school for your child at home, and the closest school was 100s of miles away? You also have more than one child.

The book is both eye-opening and anger inducing.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were

Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were by Philip Lymbery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

July 2017 My Book Box Non-fiction selection

I am at once very conflicted and very disappointed in this book. It is not a bad book. In fact, Lymbery's view on farming are ones that I agree with and of those farms I try to support. In fact, I stopped buy Purdue chicken several years ago after watching a Fronline program about chicken farms and pollution.

So I agree with his thesis.

At times, I found this book interesting. The chapters on palm oil and corn in particular stood out. It's just that sometimes Lymbery goes way off topic. For instance, he desribes the aviary that his mother and he use to keep while making sure the reader is aware that Lymbery no longer is comfortable with birds in cage. This story is interesting, and I wouldn't mind reading about it a different type of book. But why is it in this one? Seriously.

Additionally, when a reader does want more information about something, and that might be consdiered slightly off topic, Lymbery does not provide it. For instance, when he is dealing with elephants enroaching on villages. He mentions that elephant training (breaking) is horribly and wonders if the park rangers do this on the elephants they use. He never finds out, and considering the use of elephants in this case to allow humans and animals to co-exist, shouldn't he have asked? Also when talking about fishing, shouldn't you, well, talk to fishermen as well as scientists? There is a selection about bison, and he provides two quotes - a quote from each side of a debate. But each quote is only one sentence. If he had gotten rid of some the digressions, he could have added more in that section.

To be fair, there was one part of this book that really cheesed me off and undoubtedly strongly effects how I feel about this book. In part it is my American bias pride or what have you. Here it is. On a trip to Nebraska, Lymbery stops at a gas station to get water and an ice lolly (his words, btw). He wants to make sure he has picked up plain water - not sparkling or cabornated. He, being British, asks the owner if the water has gas in it. The owner is very confused. Now, I know that water with gas means carbonated water. But that is NOT how we refer to it in the US. And quite frankly, not many people in the US would known what that means. You have a greater chance of meeting someone who doesn't know that. It's a regional language thing. But the why Lymbery describes it comes across as "this stupid American hick". And you know what, no. That is not the case.

Still, parts of the book were interesting.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: I got this for free via an Amazon Marvel Comics' Offer. I "purchased" a FCBD comic about Rocket for nothing, and then recieved an email coupon saying I could get a free comic collection. I chose this one because I was lucky enough to see Coates speak shortly after it was announced he was writing this.

Years ago, I was a huge Marvel fan, until they screwed one too many of thier female characters over, so I stopped reading. I kept up a bit because you know how it is. You get attached to characters and want to know. I was never a Black Panther fan. Sorry, just wasn't, mostly because I didn't read the Avengers. Storm and Firestar are my two favorite Marvel characters. When Storm and Panther married I was like cool even though I shipped Storm/Forge, but why did Marvel retconned it the way Marvel did? Why couldn't the story of Storm saving Panther be kept? Why did it have to be reversed? But I understand the importance of the, this, power couple, but this begs the question why break them up?  Yes, I know I went with I don't mind, but route.  In this case it is true.

So that's my mind set when I picked this up. As someone who has not read Marvel in recent years, I was slightly confused on the outset, though the summery at the start helped with this. And honestly, if Marvel had been producing this when I stopped reading, I would not have stopped reading.

First, the art. Comic books are known for women with skinny waists, big boobs, and really strange outfits. Well, the strange outfits are here and some navels get flashed, but the women are actually drawn as women with real waists and bust sizes. So wow. Awesome. Women in power too.

Second, the plot. Coates' storyline seems to be on the nature of rule, which is a rather interesting take. Coates explored not only the idea and cost of ruling, but what happens when that pact is broken. It is a really adult look at power and government that mirrors some the politcal situations in some African countries. Really well done writing.

One the representaton issue, this book is great. Two of the leading female characters are in a romantic realtionship where they truly care for each other. They are not demonized. Additionally, there are hints of a relationship between two older adults. There is only one white person who has a small role, and therefore balances the predominately white casts of the other comics. Honestly, there was a time when the Avengers seemed to be nothing but blonde men. Representation does matter, everyone should realize this.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reading List for Anti-Confederates

Considering HBO’s recent and ill-conceived move in terms of future television, I thought I would present a brief list of books to read that will either educate you about slavery that are not objectification.  Please keep in mind that I am undoubtedly missing or forgetting some books simply because my area of interest is not Civil war.  I am trying to highlight books that are slightly less popular than Roots, the works of Frederick Douglas, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

1.       The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper.    This book is not about American slavery but about slavery in Montreal.  Angelique was a slave woman who was accused and found guilty of setting a fire that destroyed part of the city.  The book details slavery in Canada and illustrates something that people in the United States really don’t know about.  Cooper spent at least 15 years researching this book, and she expands the topic slightly to deal with slaves in the colony in general. 

2.       Kindred by Octavia Butler.  So, you can’t read Sci-fi and not include Butler’s book on a list like this.  Butler’s heroine finds herself in a time jump, where she is forced backwards to exist at the same time of her ancestors, including both slaves and the “owner” who raped them.  It is a stunning and wonderful novel.

3.     
Segu by Maryse Conde.  This novel concerns a family in Africa at a time when both slavery and Islam take hold.  Members of the family responded to the conflicts differently.  While most of the book takes place in Africa, there is a sequence set in the New World that deals with slavery and one members of the family’s reaction to it.  Conde’s writing is impassioned and her characters live.  There is also a sequel, Children of Segu.  Her book I, Tituba is about the slave in the Salem witch trials and is highly recommend as well.

4.       The Benjamin January novels by Barbara Hambly.  Hambly’s series is about Ben January a listened doctor who returns to New Orleans from Paris after the death of his wife.   Ben is a black man, his mother and father were slaves, and he cannot practice medicine in New Orleans, which is part of the recent purchase.  The series concerns January solving various crimes while dealing with tensions between Americans and member of New Orleans, as well as the racism that he is subjected to every day.  His mother (a freed slave) and his sisters (both free, one a mistress) also play central roles.  The book takes a harsh look at slavery as well as what free blacks dealt with; Hambly even uses real life cases in the books.  Much of the series’ strength comes from the development of Ben who eventually remarries and resists the slave owning structure.

5.       The Land Shall be Deluged in Blood by Patrick Breen.  Breen’s book is a history of the Nat Turner Rebellion.  He presents as much biographical detail about those involved in the Uprising as he can, examines why there wasn’t more support, and compares it with the events of Haiti.

6.       The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whithead.  In a slim volume that imagines the Underground Railroad as a truly a railroad, Whithead uses real life examples of reactions and escapes from slavery to chronicle one woman’s fight for freedom.  The book is quick read and worthy of all the praise it gets.  Every section has a real-life story that it is based on.

7.       Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner.  Foner’s book is about the Northern areas on the Underground Railroad.  He looks at the various groups in places lIke Philadelphia who tried to help slaves to freedom.  He also highlights the various laws that made such actions illegal as well as how slave catchers took everyone who was black regardless. 

8.       Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz.  This book is less about the Civil War or civility, but about how certain people cannot get over the Confederacy losing.  In other words, Horowitz’s book showcases why a show such as Confederate is wrong.  Scary reading.


9.       And finally – slave narratives.  Today, with the advent of ereaders and Project Guttenberg, it is quite easy to read slave narratives in addition to 12 Years A Slave or Narrative of a Life by Frederick Douglass.  This is not only due to the copyright free nature of the works (copyright expired to be more exact) but also Federal Programs that sent people out to record the narratives.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Escape in a Chest, William Brown’s narrative (as well as his fiction story about Jefferson’s daughter), Noah Davis’ narrative.  You can also read the works of Ida B. Wells, who wrote about lynching as well as various anti-slavery tracts.  All for free.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Comic Round Up #2

Source comiXology
In my last comic round up, I started with a series of comics based on a video game, so I figure I will do the same here.  The four issue World of Warcraft Legion series is apparently a set up for the video game (or part of the video game).  The series isn’t as good as Overwatch, in part because it relies a bit more on reader familiarity, but it isn’t bad.  Part of the series focuses on the relationship between fathers and daughters, in one case, a father upset that his daughter isn’t a son.  Each issue is more of a character study with some action.  The first and last issues being the best.

                To be fair to World of Warcraft, the female characters are actually drawn in ways that make sense and not as objectified as many other comic books would have done them.  Take for instance, Tellos, which has had all good markings of a good fantasy story – exciting chases, a tiger man, magic, a female pirate with intelligence – until you realize that said female pirate with the triple DDD bust size constantly spans her own waist with one of her hands.  Every Time She Puts Said Hand On Her Hip.
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                I’m done.

Where are her eyes?  Source comiXology
                There are exceptions to this trend.  Marvel’s Ms. Marvel being an example.  She is nicely geeky, she tries to be a good daughter, she is nice and insecure.  She’s a Muslim.  In other words, she is everything Donald Trump would hate.  The fact that she is a normal teen and minority is a huge step forward.  She isn’t perfect.  It’s good that Marvel is finally doing something like this.  I wish they would go back and rescue some of their less known woman heroes as well.  I really want Firestar done well. 
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                Ms. Marvel, however, does give me hope.  Not only in terms of the future of comics, but also that hype can be correct.

                And she is drawn realistically, and the issue passes the Bechdel test.





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                Tiny Titans doesn’t, at least not entirely.  There is jokes about who has a crush on Robin, and while this might be a reference to Nightwing’s butt, it is rather annoying.   Still, the comic is a little cute, though the DC Super Hero Girls was better.

        
Source comiXology
        Tales of Honor (#1 and FCBD issue) is a series based on the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber.  #1 is basically a start of Honor’s story, starting around book 6 or 7.  The FCBD issue is a standalone story.  Both have the info dumps that do tend to populate Weber’s books.  Interesting, Nimitz, Honor’s treecat is drawn differently in each, at one point so large that he would not be a shoulder perching cat, which is what he is supposed to be.  Issue #1 sexualizes Honor a bit, though not as much as some comics would have.  I have to give the edge to FCBD issue, though, the story was complete and straight forward.  It showed Honor at her best.  However, if you like Honor, you might want to check out this series.


              

 Murena is a graphic novel series that in some ways is the sequel to Claudius the God.  The story focuses on Nero and the bastard son of Claudius, Murena, who are friend despite being, whether they know it or no, on opposite sides.  The art work is fine, the history good, and the storytelling well done.  If you want a I Claudius again, this is the one for you.  What is interesting is the use of Nero, in particular making him an almost sympathetic character.  The first volume seems to be an indication that part of what the series is going to look is the corruptive nature of power. 

Source comiXology

  
Fantasia via Youtube
              A few years ago, I was in DC and saw the Diaghilev and Ballet Russe exhibit at the National Gallery.  It included footage from a performance of Rite of Spring.  Now, I am of the generation who knows that music thanks to Disney’s Fantasia, which means I hear it and think dinosaurs. 

                There were no dinosaurs.
From the Rite of Spring Ballet, pinterst

                Thankfully, there is Age of Reptiles, which is about dinosaurs.  In fact, it is nothing but dinosaurs.  There is no dialogue, just dinosaurs being dinosaurs.  It is absolutely cool and enthralling.  Be warned, there is blood so if you are a parent, you might want to check it out before kiddo reads it.

                Closing note- American McGee’s Grimm #1 is a hilarious take down of the super hero comic book.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Heathen Vol. 1

Heathen Vol. 1 Heathen Vol. 1 by Natasha Alterici
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

There are two mythological cycles that I have a fondness for – the Story of Troy and the Volsung saga. In fact, I prefer Norse myths to Greek. I’m not entirely sure why, but I always have.

Heathen is a comic book that draws upon ancient Norse stories but adds more.

The story is about Aydis, a young woman who is a warrior, despite her wearing bikini type clothing in the north. Unfortunately, Aydis has been labeled unnatural by her village because she likes other women. She does not want to get married, at least not to a man.

The story of how her life is saved is actually one of the most touching stories of acceptance, I’ve seen lately.

Because she has lost almost everything (she still has her horse Saga), Aydis decides to go on quest. She is going to brave the fire and rescue Brynhild, but this quest becomes more difficult as the focus on her quest changes – she is going to challenge the status quo in a more direct way.

To be honest, the artwork in this volume isn’t to my taste. This is just a preference issue, not an artistic judgement. Certain aspects of it are appealing – such as the horses and the wolves. The women just look a little strange. It’s like Aeon Flux – storytelling is great, but the art work is my type of thing. Yet, I couldn't put this down because the storytelling and characters are so great.

There is some humor here – particular when it comes to animals – and if you are familiar with Norse myths and legends (not the Marvel version, BTW), you will get some of the character names. The book also draws more closely on the mythology than the Marvel comic, and there is even historical reference to the coming of Christianity.

What is more important, and just lovely, is the book does examine the question of love and truth though the characters, including the goddess Freya who meets Aydis.

It really is a wonderful human story.

Look, I loved it so much, I went to see when new issues would be coming out.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Review Beasts of Burden series

In the film 101 Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita howl for help once their puppies have been stolen.  It is an interesting concept, this use of howling and work because any dog owner can believe it.  Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson start their excellent series about a group of dogs the same way.  The dogs of Burden, however, do so to call on the help of a wise dog.

                Wise Dog = Merlin or Gandalf, he is an English Sheep Dog after all.

                In Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (the first four issues as well as a short story) chronicle the beginning adventures of Ace, Jack, Whitey, Rex, Pugsley, and their cat friend Orphan.   The story starts as the friends with the help of the Wise Dog, investigate why Jack’s dog house is haunted. 

                Apparently, Burden is the Sunnydale of the dog world because there is quite a bunch of weird things going on. 
                 Over the course of the first volume, the group of friends becomes wise dogs in training, guardians of the area, tasked to protect it.  Like most fiction involving super hero teens, owners (the de facto parents) are largely absent and a dog owner sometimes wonders what is going on with these people.  Yet, despite that wobble (and necessary plot hole.  To be fair, owners do make some appearances), the series is pretty darn good.

                In part, this is due to the dogs and cats remaining dogs and cats.  It is also because of the strength of the storytelling.  Animal Rites is in many ways, an origin sequence.  But the stories are heartfelt, and while not having the lecture footnotes of Atwood’s Angel Catbird series, the stories do comment on how we treat animals and each other in the world. 

                At first, the group is seeming to be entirely male, but female characters in the form of a dog and a cat are added.  In many ways, too, the dogs act like their respective breeds (though my Dobie was braver than Rex).  This isn’t a story for children, there is death of some pets (but not of the major characters), and the dogs sometimes are a bit, well, fierce.  It would be fair to say that the series is in part horror story from a dog point of view.  It actually remembers me a bit of Wayne Smith’s Thor.

                The issue Neighborhood Watch contains stories that are referred to in the later part of animal rites.  Included are a story about a chicken stealing goblin and a flock of strange sheep.  Honesty, the sheep story is one of the spookiest I’ve read in a long time.


                Hunters and Gatherers and Issue #0 seem to occur after Animal Rites.  Issue) details the story of one the cat characters in greater detail.  It is also a story about family.  IN the closing panels, you can easily see why the series has won awards.  Hunters is an adventure tale that does seem to change Watership Down in part.  The crossover with Hellboy is also very good, making Pugsley more than simply a downer.  It was both funny and touching.