Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Grease Monkey

Grease MonkeyGrease Monkey by Tim Eldred

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I was surprised when I received this book and realized it wasn’t published by DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, or any of the other major comic-book companies. This collection was published by Tor Books, well known for representing genre fiction, and it’s nice to see that they’re getting in to the graphic novel game.

And what a choice book to start with! I was pleasantly surprised by Grease Monkey. I didn’t know what to expect, other than a sentient gorilla acting as a chief mechanic on a military space station. Tim Eldred manages to take the concept and raise it above the typical banana jokes (though he’s not afraid to make a few of those). Some of the stories in this collection are slapstick, others are deeper reflections into human nature, and still others are just vignettes about life. All of them come together into a nice overarching story that revisits minor characters and makes them out to be something more important, and the overall theme of the entire collection will stop and make you think.

My first impression of the stories was Alan Moore’s Halo Jones series, crossed with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. While the stories aren’t as gritty or dismal as some of the darker moments from Halo Jones, there was a similarity in the style of the artwork that made me think of this early Alan Moore work. Since the space station is a place where pilots train for real battle in simulated dogfights against a potential threat, the comparisons to Ender’s Game are inevitable. Orson Scott Card’s story came first, but Tim Eldred’s followed just two years later. Given the short time frame between the stories, I think the similarity has more to do with serendipity than anything else.

Simply put, these stories are brilliant. The characters are genuine, and even though they’re living a hundred years in the future, the problems they face are similar to those we encounter now. What’s amazing to me is that the author creates two everymen, and one of them is a talking gorilla. Mac, the gorilla, is one of a race of sentient gorillas, all of whom gained their intelligence through an advanced process of evolution. As a result, some of the best moments in the series is when the author touches on the themes of racism and prejudice, through the humans’ responses to the gorillas.

To make the series even more interesting, the author takes the time to give a summary of the birth and evolution of the series as an afterword, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at each of the stories that make up the collection. It’s sort of like having the bonus materials on a DVD, and I enjoyed the author’s insight into his creative process.

Don’t miss this graphic novel. This is some of the best graphic storytelling I’ve seen since discovering Neil Gaiman and Sandman.

July 10, 2006 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | 1 Comment

Black Order

Black OrderBlack Order by James Rollins

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From the looks of things, James Rollins is becoming a pretty big writer. His name is making it on the book leasing companies’ lists, and in the libraries, his titles are getting some nice, long holds queues. It probably didn’t hurt that his last book, Map of Bones, had a Da Vinci Code appeal, and rode that wave of mania to the bestseller charts.

Still, I like his books. They’re never really all that deep, but they’re entertaining, and have a mystical-adventure feel to them, akin to an Indiana Jones movie, or a Douglas Preston-Lincoln Child novel. I stumbled across him through a paperback discount bin (Subterranean), and wound up reading the book at the beach in a matter of hours. It was a perfect beach book, so the author has been on my radar since then.
Black Order is drifting a bit away from the mystical-adventure types of stories that I like to read, and edging its way toward the Clive Cussler type of story. His last three novels have featured a group called the Sigma Force, a sort of Black Ops group that works to protect the US from forces around the world. They’ve taken center stage now, and it’s OK on one level, but I think that it limits the sort of settings and stories (and characters) that made his stories enjoyable for me.

In Black Order, the Sigma Force crew is tracking down a collection of old science books that came from a single library. There’s something peculiar about the books and the people searching for them, and it ties in with a disease that has infected a group of monks with a form of madness. It’s still a novel of adventure and suspense, but instead of mixing in the mysticism that I like, the author instead chose to use some weird science for the plot device. It was intriguing and interesting, but I felt lost in some places, in part because the science was explained only enough to keep the story moving. I’m used to a more comprehensive approach when explaining science in these kinds of stories (like Crichton’s approach), and I was left wanting more.

The novel is still entertaining, and a good beach book, but I find that the author’s earlier works are constructed better, and have better stories and better characters. Excavation and Subterranean are much more exciting and entertaining, in my opinion.

July 10, 2006 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment