Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Being

“For good or for evil … I do what I am meant for.  It doesn’t matter what we choose.  It simply matters what we are.”

–Mael Mag Och
(David Wellington, Monster Island)

May 30, 2007 Posted by | Quotes | Leave a comment

Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape

JackJack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape by Bill Willingham

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Fables has the distinction of taking on the mantle that Neil Gaiman discarded after ending Sandman.  It’s an odd blending of modern storytelling and old fairy tales, with a clever interpretation of the characters from the latter.  I’ve enjoyed the series so far, and I look forward to seeing the directions it will take.

The (Nearly) Great Escape is the first volume in a spin-off series surrounding the charismatic Jack, who has been exiled from Fableland for revealing too much about the Fables.  As a part of the Fables series, Jack was a pain in the ass, but a lovable one, if only because of his charm.  As the center of his own series, though, his arrogance shines through, and he becomes more insufferable because of it.  It’s hard to relate to someone so hung up on himself that he resorts to bragging about his exploits in the voice-over narration of the overall story.

This is just the first collection of the series, and I will likely continue reading it as the collections become available, but I wasn’t impressed with this side-jaunt.  Willingham seems to have collected a group of misfits together (including one who was assumed dead from the main series) in an effort to cash in on the popularity of Fables1001 Arabian Nights (and Days) was a clever prequel to the overall series, so I hesitate to call it a cash-cow, but Jack of Fables doesn’t quite stand well enough on its own.  It meanders too much, and would fit perfectly into the overall Fables series, so why make it a separate series at all?

The series maintains some of the enigma of the original series, with the readers trying to guess who some of the mystery characters are, and the plot works well enough, but it seems thin, and unimportant.  I couldn’t seem to care about what was happening in the story, partly because the protagonist was a  selfish ass.  I was more interested in the secondary characters and what happened to them than I was in Jack.  Maybe that was the point, though.

To be fair, a lot of what’s happening in this collection is the exposition.  We’re meeting new characters, learning how they fit in with the general continuity of the parent series, and learning a bit about how this new world works.  The series format, being what it is, requires a story amid all this exposition, and if it feels rushed and thin, then it’s only because of the direction the story is forced to take. Like the original series, Jack of Fables has potential, and I’m willing to stick around to see how it goes.  I don’t think it’s as gripping or as groundbreaking as Fables was, but I’ll give it a try.

If you like Fables, I don’t think I can talk you out of giving this series a try, and to be honest, I don’t want to.  I guess I’m jaded from seeing too many spin-offs and sequels that would have been better off being undeveloped, but the story is decent enough, and it’s a fun diversion, despite its few faults.  Just don’t expect it to be the “next best thing.”

May 30, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Facts

“A million people can call the mountains a fiction, yet it need not trouble you as you stand atop them.”

–Randall Munroe, xkcd

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Quotes | Leave a comment

Stuck Rubber Baby

BabyStuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

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Years ago, I read a comic book that had a profound effect on me.  It was about childhood, and growing up questioning everything around you.  That comic book was Brooklyn Dreams, by J.M. DeMatteis, and it was published by Paradox Press.  I was so impressed with the story that I’ve since made an effort to pay attention to the publisher, so when I saw that Stuck Rubber Baby was published by Paradox Press, I sat up and paid attention.

Stuck Rubber Baby is set in the South during the 1960s, and is about a gay man trying to come to terms with himself while simultaneously being caught up in the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement.  His participation in the movement is precipitated by his attraction to a women who attends a local college, but through his participation, he begins to confront his own racism, while confronting his own issues about his sexuality.  It’s a complicated story, but it’s powerful, and resonates long after you finish reading the story.

Cruse spent four years writing this story, and when you look at the artwork, you can see why.  The illustrations are dense, and are highly detailed.  Most of the work is shaded with crosshatching and dotting, and it boggles my mind to think how long it would have taken the artist to complete a single panel.  Combine this with a detailed and complex story of self-examination and self-acceptance, and four years doesn’t seem like quite a long time at all.

This is a story about superheroes and villains, like most graphic novels tend to be, but what makes Stuck Rubber Baby stand out is that the superheroes are people that you see on the street every day.  The main character acts selfishly and thoughtlessly, but he still struggles to do the right thing by overcoming his own inadequacies.  He draws strength from those people around him, and while his original intentions were far less admirable than the final outcome, he learns from his mistakes and grows from them.  You just might leave the book thinking, “If only we could all do the same….”

I think this is the aspect of the book that makes it so inspiring.  Because it’s populated with real characters with real imperfections, who still manage to overcome their shortcomings, we’re reminded that we all have that ability to do better, to attain that same level of “superhero” in our daily lives.  That it draws most of its power off of the Civil Rights Movement only strengthens the book’s resonance.

If you like comics, and you like a good story, find Stuck Rubber Baby.

May 16, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Upright Man

UprightThe Upright Man by Michael Marshall

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This book, the sequel to The Straw Men, picks up with the lives of Ward Hopkins, John Zandt, and Nina Baynum after having uncovered a shadowy organization that followed a malicious agenda to purify the human race. Life hasn’t been good for the three of them, and it doesn’t get any better as they try to track down Ward’s long lost twin brother. If you’ve read The Straw Men, then you know why they’re trying to find Paul; if you haven’t read that book, then I’m not going to spoil it for you now.

Michael Marshall isn’t known for his upbeat, feel-good stories of life, and that hasn’t changed since his last book.  His nihilistic, hopeless outlook exists still in The Upright Man, and I struggle to come to terms with it, as I do with all his books.  His books tend to put me in a funk, but I find myself coming back to them, because he’s such a good writer.  Sure, he may stumble sometimes (I thought he had jumped the shark with one subplot in this book), but the promise of his brilliance, through “The Book of Irrational Numbers,” will bring me back to his work.

The author also has a great sense of human behavior, which he demonstrates with lengthy narrative asides where he expounds on what he thinks about people.  They grow a little tiresome (they occur frequently), but he manages to fit these asides into the overall story.  Plus, the way he presents them, it’s sometimes hard to disagree with him.

My biggest complaint with this book, though, is that it’s the second in a trilogy, but it doesn’t really follow much of what was put forth in The Straw Men.  It’s still compelling, and it’s still a successful book on its own, but it didn’t seem to follow up with the overall conspiracy theme that was the heart of the first book.  There are moments in the book where the author touches on these issues, but the primary story exists a little outside of the larger story that I expected this book to follow.  As it is, I feel like I’m going to have to wait for the third book to pick up that story, and it’s a little aggravating.

To be fair, though, there are aspects of the story that will be confusing to someone who hasn’t read the previous novel, but they’re few and far between.  I wish he had spent more time with that story.

Still, that complaint only exists within the context of the series; as a stand-alone novel, it’s fine, and is probably a higher class of thriller than you would usually find on a best-seller list.   If you like that sort of book, and you don’t mind a little dark introspection in your fiction, it’s worth your time to track down The Straw Men and start there. Marshall is a talented author, and shouldn’t be missed.

May 16, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Reasonableness

“There are times when reasonableness is the worst cut of all because if everyone’s being adult and yet the world is still broken, where do you go from there?”

–Michael Marshall, The Upright Man

May 1, 2007 Posted by | Quotes | Leave a comment