Monday, January 18, 2016

T!m G!nger (Graphic Novel)

Why does Tim live alone in a trailer in the desert? Why does he have to wear an eye patch? What is his tragic backstory? What does his future hold? In the graphic novel T!m G!nger, Julian Hanshaw masterfully interweaves words and graphics to tell the heartfelt story of Tim Ginger. Hanshaw explores such grown-up themes as being childless by choice, dealing with the loss of a soul-mate, revealing a well-kept secret, and being true to oneself while still being open to love.

Those of us who read comics decades ago have grown up and so has the graphic novel, at least some of them have. Here, a graphic novel by Richard McGuire, was my favorite book that I read in 2015. T!m G!nger continues my excitement for the medium. I appreciated the good storytelling. I also experienced feelings that I am not sure that I would have had by just reading words. While I will always love more or less traditional novels, graphic novels have made my world a bit bigger.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Familiar 2: Into the Forest (Multi-genre Novel)

Evocative. The second volume of The Familiar, Into the Forest, by Mark Z. Danielewski is a novel that is able to evoke strong emotion in the reader. While the novel could be called “experimental,” I am more comfortable calling it “multi-layered." Typography and some other visual effects are used to add depth to the story. Two subplots quickly come to mind. One is Xanther trying to cope with the threat of bullies at school. Another involves her mother, Astair, trying to recover after a failed dissertation. In both cases, I had almost a visceral sense of what these characters were experiencing.

Into the Forest is a direct sequel to One Rainy*. I could argue that Into the Forest is just another chapter in what may be, according to an NPR interview, a 27 volume novel. (Okay, this seems a bit insane.) Like One Rainy Day, Into the Forest has multiple story threads, which interweave. In this second installment, we learn a bit more about how some of the storylines are related to one another. There is some violence. There is some graphic sex. But, for me the main plotline(s) was a beautiful story about family members trying to cope with their lives. Xanther is an awkward, sickly girl who takes comfort in a “kitten” that she mysteriously found. Anwar, her dedicated stepfather, tries to protect her while dealing with a professional and financial crisis. Astair tries to not only raise three children, but also to salvage a rejected dissertation. Then there is the “kitten,” which is not only not the dog that Astair had planned to buy, but is also not a kitten.

Because so much of the plot remains a mystery, the genre of the ever-growing The Familiar also remains a mystery. It seems to be part science fiction, part horror, perhaps even part cyber or urban fantasy, I am still a big fan of The Familiar. When I read about the projected length, I have some concerns. Will I be able to recall the “story up to this point,” when each new novel/volume comes out? By volume ten, will I be in a place in my life that I even care? Still, I’m looking forward to Volume 3, which is scheduled for a summer release.

*Note: while I am publishing my reactions to One Rainy Day and Into the Forest a few days apart, I actually read One Rainy Day in June and wrote a first draft of my reaction a few days later. I went through a five month periods of not feeling comfortable blogging about books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May (Experimental Fiction)

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski contains good story telling. While it is easy to get caught up in labels like “experimental fiction,” the bottom line for me is whether the writing was good and I was emotionally moved by the story. Yes. The non-traditional techniques –like using different font types, manipulating the space on the page, and using unfamiliar language—add dimensions to the multiple storylines of the novel.

The novel takes place on one rainy day. The storylines take place in multiple locations –a number in Los Angeles. Some of the stories are dark. Others touching. The major storyline is about a twelve year old girl, a sweet misfit, and her loving step-dad. For me, each storyline contained some level of mystery, confusion, and/or uncertainty.

Because this is the first novel in a longer series, the book only hints at how the storylines might relate with one another. I was left with more questions than answers. I want more. Now. Certainly the reader that starts in on reading book 1 before the other books in the series are published will have a different experience than readers who can read synopses of later books. Is this fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror? How do the storylines fit together?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Clockwork Lives (Steampunk Novel)

I love a good “Hero’s Journey” story. Clockwork Lives, by Kevin J. Anderson & Neil Peart, caught my eye from the moment I came through the doors of my local library and approached the New Book bookcases. I noticed the deep red cover, which was embossed with a clockwork design and alchemical symbols, on the New Book bookcases. “Oh, what are you about, my darling.” I didn’t bother to check to see whether the novel was part of a series. Nope. And I’m glad that I didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, and now I can go back to the library and find the novel which inspired them and introduced the clockwork world.

The premise behind the journey is simple. Marinda has spent much of her life taking care of her sickly father. He loves stories and inventions, but she is a very pragmatic woman. “…she was content with her quiet, perfect life, setting her ambitions low enough so that she met every single one of them.” After he dies, she goes to the solicitor, assuming that she is going to inherit the home in which she and her father have lived. And she does, sort of. She must first complete a task. In the will her father writes:“At first you will hate me for this. Then you will love me for it.” The solicitor hands Marinda a blank, alchemical book and a golden needle. By pricking a person’s finger and putting a drop of their blood on a page of the book, the person’s true story appears. Before she can again live in her home and inherit her father’s other wealth, Marinda must first fill the book with stories. To start off the book, her father has included a tiny vial of his own blood. Marinda is given five days before the house is to be boarded up for safekeeping. She is also give a small stipend to live on until she completes her task. How hard can filling the book be? “The sooner she filled this book with its life stories, the sooner she could be back to her normal schedule.” She thinks that she might even be able to fill the book with stories before the five days are up. But Marinda soon discovers: “Some lives can be summed up in a sentence or two. Other lives are epics.” So, she is compelled to go off on a journey to find stories, and, of course, in the process she is changed. The book is a mixture of other people’s stories and Marinda’s own adventures.

I felt very contented when I finished reading Clockwork Lives. I once heard a Jungian say that we are biologically encoded for the archetypal hero’s journey. I loved Anderson and Peart’s world building. Even though many of the stories were a bit on the tragic side, they were all enjoyable. Part of me hopes that Marinda will collect even more stories for me to read. As for me, I am going to read Clockwork Angels, so that I can enjoy the clockwork world more.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Canterbury Sisters (Novel)

The Canterbury Tales. Mothers and Daughters. Death. Forgiveness. Healing. Stories. A Pilgrimage. Friendships. Death. Relationships. Lovers. What Women Want.
Okay, I thought. Here’s what I don’t have. I don’t have a mother, or a lover, or a phone, or any fucking clue of why I’m here, where I’m going next, or what any of this means.
Kim Wright, The Canterbury Sisters

When Che receives her mother’s ashes, there is a note attached, a last request: take the ashes to Canterbury, “It is never too late for healing.” Che would have ignored the note, except that her boyfriend had also sent a note. He was breaking up with her and would call her to work out the details. So, to fulfill her mother’s last wishes and to avoid the inevitable conversation with her now ex-boyfriend, Che books a flight to London. When her private tour guide becomes ill, Che finds herself on a pilgrimage (run by Broads Abroad) going from London to Canterbury with eight other women. In the tradition of The Canterbury Tales, each woman is to tell a “love story,” whether true or fictional. Through the pilgrimage and the stories, Che finds the healing that her mother wanted for her.

The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright gave me the same pleasure that I associate with the sight of a well-planned, well-maintained garden. There was the pleasure of the description of the walk to Canterbury, based upon Wright’s own experiences. There was the pleasure of the skillful writing.The description of Che’s mother’s ashes in the zip lock bag and then in the fish and chips bag is wonderful, both amusing and touching. The women’s stories and the narration of their experiences on the trip gave me insight into the lives of women and their complexities. Che is a bit snooty and at the same time vulnerable, making her an appealing character. My only major criticism is that part of the ending seemed contrived.

I rarely read non-genre –science fiction, mystery, fantasy– fiction. I’m not sure it is in my true nature. But, this novel does make me want to read more novels by Kim Wright.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Terms of Enlistment (Science Fiction)

What would you do if you were desperate? You live in a welfare tenement surrounded by hopelessness, crime, and extreme poverty. You are given synthetic food that never quite tastes like food. Your only real chance out is to enlist in the military. You need to stay in and stay alive for five years to see any real reward and then it is a minor one. But you get to eat real food and get a chance to experience life beyond the Public Residence Clusters (PRC). Could you be focused enough, disciplined enough, and lucky enough to at least have a chance at a decent life? Through the character of Andrew Grayson, who lives in the not so distant future, Marko Kloos explores that question in the novel Terms of Enlistment.

Terms of Enlistment begins with Andrew’s farewells in the PRC and his basic training. While Andrew dreams of escaping his life and going into space, his “permanent” assignment is a disappointing one, the Territorial Army, think the National Guards. There he makes good friends but must help control the very violence in the PRC’s that he tried to escape. Despite his bravery and exceptional military savvy. Andrew makes a major mistake, one that costs dozens of civilians their lives. Through his well-earned earned political connections, Andrew manages an unheard of reassignment, one to the Navy, which now allows him to go into outer space. But, his first real mission is far more unusual than anyone ever expected; they learn that humans are not alone in the universe.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I am not a lover of military fiction, even if it is science fiction. The fact that I even ended up reading Terms of Enlistment is the result of a series of flukes. So here we are. I won’t praise or criticize the novel. What I can tell you is that my reaction to the PRC’s and the military fighting in them surprised me. First I thought that Kloos was cynical when it came to human nature. And then the Boston riots happened in the world outside the book. While Kloos interpretation of unrest wasn’t a literal one, it did capture some of the flavor of it. The book made me think in ways I would not have otherwise, which I always consider a good thing.

Well, since I talked my local Library system into purchasing the first two books in Kloos’s series, I’m committed to reading the follow-up to Terms of Enlistment, Lines of Departure. At least it has space aliens in it. We will see.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trader (Urban Fantasy)

Imagine that you are Max Trader, a world renowned luthier, a maker of string instruments. A "Trader" is something that musicians dream of owning. Then, imagine one day waking up in the body of a stranger, someone loathed. Soon you are homeless. You are friendless and without the trade that you have loved and thrived in all your life. Now what do you do? This is the premise behind Trader, another book in Charles de Lint’s Newford series.

In Trader we also meet Nia, the teenager daughter of a single mother. Max Trader has become her confidant. She is the first person to realize that there is someone else in Max’s body. Then, she sees her mother kissing a woman. Has the world turned into a dangerous place filled with body snatchers? The only thing she can think of doing is to run away from home.

Trader is a novel with a lot of heart. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Max and Nia and many of the others characters in the story. Trader is also thoughtful and thought provoking. Is Max totally a victim or does he bear some responsibility for what happened to him? How does a physical body affect the consciousness that inhabits it? And, as Nia asks: “What were you supposed to do when your world came to an end, when there was nothing you could count on anymore? What was the point of even trying to go on?”

The novel isn’t perfect. I found one of the minor subplots flat and cliché. Also, if the novel had been written post-economic crash, I would have been frustrated with the ending, wanting the same overall feeling but a little different outcome. While the story is for the most part timeless and relevant, in a small way we have emotionally changed since 1997.

I found Trader comforting, like having a nice conversation with a friend. The story is enjoyable and interesting. I like the world de Lint creates in the Newford series. He doesn’t come back to the same protagonists, though Jilly does play an important part in the plotline of Trader. In that it differs from my other favorite series. I remember first discovering the Bryant and May series and not wanting to stop reading the books until I ran out of them. So far, I feel the same way about the Newford series.