Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Girl Genius

Genius

Girl Genius Online by Phil and Kaja Foglio

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Well, this is a first, reviewing an online version of a graphic novel. I’ve been reading this series as a webcomic for a few years now, but this last week, the “101” class (the series for those who were just discovering the series) wrapped up and merged into the advanced class (for those who already knew what was going on in the comics), and I caught up on the rest of the backstory. I just have to say … whoo!

It’s been a while since I’ve been this impressed with a sequential art story, which is even more unusual for me to state, considering that I’ve been reading it for years. But having the luxury of reading many of these strips, back-to-back, all in the correct order without the cliffhangers from one post to the next, reminds me why these sorts of stories are meant to be read in clumps, and not from day to day. Megatokyo is another webcomic that’s better read as a graphic novel, which reminds me that I’ve been unimpressed with that story as of late, possibly for this very reason.

For those who don’t know about Phil Foglio and Girl Genius, I’ll summarize: Agatha Clay is a student at Heterodyne University, which specializes in teaching Sparks (those who show an aptitude in making mechanical devices), but who seems to be a bit of a klutz. One day, the city is invaded, and she escapes “into the wild,” where a lot of very strange things begin to happen to her. It’s a steampunk story, set hundreds of years ago, though with an incredibly advanced technology, and anyone not familiar with the Foglios’ style is in for a treat. They’ve been working on comics for a long time, and this is probably their best effort. The storytelling is among the best I’ve read, and they have a knack for appropriate timing and pacing. And the sense of humor gives this series, which can be dark at times, the appropriate humanity it needs.

Do yourself a favor and check out the series at GirlGeniusOnline. Now that the two “classes” have merged, it’s the best time to catch up on Agatha Clay and her adventures. If you like the kind of storytelling that JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett have perfected, you owe it to yourself to read this series, too. Just be prepared to spend some time reading through the archive.

July 26, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

World War Z

WWZWorld War Z by Max Brooks

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I remember reading a review of this book, learning that it was written by the son of Mel Brooks, and thought that this would be an amusing look at a tired horror cliche.  I figured there would be some satire, some witty dialog, and a few oddball characters amid an otherwise serious story, and that it would be something original, refreshing, and new.

Well … sort of.

World War Z is original, refreshing, and new, but there’s not much of anything funny in this book.  It’s brilliantly conceived, and brilliantly executed, but there’s nothing here that will make you laugh.  In fact, it was so far afield of what I expected from the son of Mel that I started to doubt that there was any relation between the two entertainers.  But, sure enough, there was.

The odd thing about this book is that it’s practically plot-less.  The book is considered an oral history of the Zombie War, and this history is told through interviews with some of the more notable survivors of the war.  Brooks teases us with little snippets of information through references to other events in the war, but never fully explains it.  You never doubt what he means with the reference, though; he suggests enough through the narrative to give a full understanding of the significance of the reference.  It’s such a subtle technique that I’m surprised that I don’t see this sort of thing used more in fiction.  It’s a gentle way of suggesting drastic events to the reader without having to bash him over the head with the meaning.

To me, this is a unique book.   Though I doubt this sort of epistolary format is anything new, it’s the first time I’ve read a book structured in this way, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The structure and format of the novel leaves it a tad dry, since it’s written as if to be a non-fictional account of a tragic event, but the dryness isn’t a bad thing here.  If nothing else, it gives the book a touch of authenticity.

A friend of mine told me that one of the things he enjoyed about the book was the realistic depiction of how a world would react to an epidemic.  I have to agree.  In fact, there were some portions of the story, in line with this theme, that would never have occurred to me without him bringing it in to the story.  He addresses cultural responses to the issue, the psychological response, the tactical response to the threat, and the natural progression of the war in tandem with all these responses.  It’s about as realistic a depiction of a war against the zombies that anyone will probably encounter, and I stagger to think of all the research that this book required.

World War Z is an outstanding book, well-written and well-developed.   I’m pleased to say that this book is one of those rare occasions when all the hype is justified.

July 25, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | 1 Comment

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

HallowsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

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So, did anyone else not know that Joanne Rowling has no middle name?  That she adopted her grandmother’s first name as her middle name to create a gender-neutral name, so that Harry Potter would appeal more to boys, and that word-of-mouth recommendations among young male readers helped capitulate Harry Potter to the ruler of the world tops of the bestseller charts?  I didn’t know anything about that until today.

See, I’m no Potter Fanboy.  I enjoy the series, and was on the leading edge of people discovering the books when they hit the US, but I didn’t get so caught up in it that I was delving into all the little details behind the stories.  Because, when you finish the books and look back on them, there are portions of the stories that simply don’t make sense.  Character motivations come into question, as well as the convenience of nearly all the major events in the stories.  But, see, you tend not to notice these things when you’re reading the book, because Rowling is such a great storyteller.  You’re simply caught up in the stories, and nothing else tends to matter.

I finished this book late last night, after imposing a TV/news/Internet blackout at my house.  Too many people were talking about the story, flat-out spoiling it for many people (one local bone-headed newscaster started his piece by saying, “I’m going to read the last chapter of the final volume of the Harry Potter saga…”), and since I work in a library, where people are wanting to read and talk about the story, I figured it was time to get cracking on the book.  So, I raced through this final chapter, as if wolfing down a seven-course gourmet meal in ten minutes.

I’m not going to talk about the book, though, because if you’re a fan, you’re going to read it anyway, and there’s no sense in me spoiling it for you.  And if you’re not a fan, then nothing I can say here will change your mind.  But this book is on par with the rest of the series, which to me is a good thing.

And that’s really all you need to know.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

My Dead Girlfriend

GirlfriendMy Dead Girlfriend by Eric Wight

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I’m not sure what the distinction of “manga” is, anymore.  Tokyopop and other publishers of manga are publishing more and more stories by American authors, drawn by American artists, so the line between a standard graphic novel and manga is becoming blurred for me.  It doesn’t really make much sense, but then again, I’m not a follower of manga, so maybe I’m missing some subtle distinction.

The sad thing is, what drew me to My Dead Girlfriend was Joss Whedon’s little cover blurb in the upper right corner (you can even see it in the picture there).  I’m not all that impressed with what I’ve read of Joss Whedon so far, but I should clarify that I’ve never seen “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Firefly.”  My only exposure to him is through one or two graphic novels, neither of which sang to me like I was expecting.  “Don’t believe the hype,” I guess, as Chuck D once told me.

Following Whedon’s recommendation, I think it was Wight’s art style that next captured my attention.  It reminds me somewhat of “The Fairly Oddparents,” a favorite Nicktoon of mine.  After those two things, though, it was the premise that won me over.  The main character lives in a world of monsters and ghosts (his own parents were electrocuted while riding the Tunnel of Love at a fair, and seem nonplussed about it), but he is the lone “normal” person in the town.  Which makes him weird.  Get it?

The story, though, is pretty banal.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again, though now she’s dead, and a ghost.  And that, really, sums up the entire graphic novel.  Seriously.  Nothing is really resolved; the entire thing seems like exposition.  And it’s set in junior high school, of all things, so once again, the biggest issues at hand are dating, peer pressure, tests, etc.  I wonder if I’m getting too old for this sort of thing….

So, Eric Wight.  My Dead Girlfriend.  American author-artist.  Manga.

I don’t get it.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Fables: Wolves

WolvesFables: Wolves by Bill Willingham

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It’s hard to think of something new to say each time I comment on the latest Fables collection. By now, I’ve either convinced you to read them, or not. So, I’ll make this short.

In this collection, Bigby comes back into the story, with the help of Mowgli, and he gets involved in a clandestine operation involving the Adversary. It doesn’t resolve too too much, but it does set up the plot for future stories, which is very cool. Issue #50 is a part of this collection, too, and the setup ensures that they’re going to at least try to make the series last another 50 issues. Plus, the whole story was well-constructed, and didn’t beat me about the head with its point.

I feel like the series is gathering its legs up underneath itself, preparing to make a big leap forward. This was a gentler sort of collection for Fables, with less direct confrontations involved, but it ends with a clear sense of foreboding. The winds are changing, and I’m eager to see where they take me.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Judas Strain

JudasThe Judas Strain by James Rollins

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Last week, I was discussing with a friend of mine our mutual affinity for a killer premise.  During the discussion, James Rollins came up, and lo and behold, the day after we had the discussion, I found The Judas Strain, the latest from Rollins, waiting for me on my desk.  Serendipity?  I suppose.  But, knowing the basic premise of most Rollins novels, it’s probably something far more mystical and sinister.

In his latest, Rollins returns to Sigma Force, which is starting to become more and more like a team straight out of a Clive Cussler novel.  This time, they’re investigating an outbreak of a poisonous cyanobacteria in the Indian Ocean on a cruise ship, which of course brings the Guild, the Sigma Force’s arch-enemy (think S.P.E.C.T.R.E.), back into the picture.  And, if you know anything about Rollins’ basic style, you’ll know that this isn’t just some sea-faring adventure; the story combines archeology and mysticism into the mix, making it something akin to an Indiana Jones story.

Of course, the problem with this type of story is that it’s full of plotholes and moments where you’ll say to yourself, “There’s no way these people would really make these sorts of decisions!”  Luckily, they’re not so bad that they’re detract too much from the story.  Because, really, this book is all about the adventure, so it’s easy to overlook some structural problems along the way.

My own biggest issue with the book was that it borrowed a bit too much from The Da Vinci Code.  The quest took the characters across different ancient cities, looking for the clues that would take them to the next ancient city, and there were even little tokens with clues embedded into them to keep them moving.   Other than that, though, the story kept moving, and kept me engrossed.

So, the book was released in early July, just in time for most people who are heading to the beach.  I doubt that’s any coincidence, either, since it’s a perfect beach read.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the release date is part of some grand ploy of the Guild’s to make vacationers less productive while on vacation….

July 14, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Emily Edison

EdisonEmily Edison by David Hopkins and Brock Rizy

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Anyone who likes cartoons will probably pick up this book, just to browse the artwork. In fact, anyone who watched Ren and Stimpy, or anything that John Kricfalusi created, will recognize the style. The foreword to the book even talks about how cartoons influenced the book, and how anyone who grew up on the Looney Tunes cartoons will find a kindred spirit with this book. I love cartoons, and I enjoyed Ren and Stimpy, but for whatever reason, this graphic novel fell flat with me.

The story is about a young girl, Emily Edison, whose father is an inventor who created a temporal rift with a quantum vacuum cleaner, and whose mother is a princess in the dimension that Emily’s father discovered. Her parents divorced, and she spends time between the two dimensions, but her grandfather in the other dimension wants for Emily to stay in the other dimension. His plan is to destroy Earth, so that Emily has no choice in where she chooses to live.  It’s a little weird, but the story doesn’t presume to be anything more than an adventure romp, so it works.

The thing is, I had the same problem with this graphic novel as I did with Rocketo; I couldn’t follow the action.  This is partly because there was so much going on in the panels, and the art was impressionistic enough that it was hard for me to figure out the details of what was happening.  Ultimately, I was just moving through the panels, instead of really understanding them, just to figure out who won, who was hurt, etc.

Interestingly enough, I find that a lot of the more modern action movies give me the same trouble.  It’s as if the directors try to pack so much action into every scene that the viewer can’t distinguish between everything that’s happening.  At least, I can’t.  And I found the same thing happening with this graphic novel.  Maybe it’s a generational thing, since this book is marketed toward the younger crowd.

And, to be frank, I think that’s another reason the story failed with me.  There just wasn’t enough to keep me interested.  I expect that if I were 15 or 16, then the perils of step-siblings, crushes, school, and exams would be more compelling to me; as it is, it’s just a reflection that I’ve lost touch a bit with what passes for entertainment now.

I suppose this is a fine enough graphic novel for its age group, but I wouldn’t recommend it to teens, what with Sandman, Bone, and Fables out there.  I guess if they were finished with all the great graphic novels, they might find something interesting in this story, but I’d hate it if someone just getting into the genre would start with this one.  It just might turn them off from the form entirely.

July 14, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews, YA Fiction | Leave a comment