Saga, Volume 2

Saga, Volume 2Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by: Fiona Staples
Published: 2013
Publisher: Image Comics
Collects: issues #7-12

There’s always a bit of a worry when picking up the second volume of a comic, particularly when the first was such a nice surprise. Crushing disappointment is always a potential, but I’m happy to report that this was as good, possibly even better, than the first.

Alana and Marko are still running from…everyone, really, but the story is also interlaced with flashbacks showing how the two met. This is more about fleshing out the story and building on relationships rather than shocking us with more insane aspects of the universe. There is some of that, giant testicles come to mind, but it’s good to see the balance there. A monstrous ballsack is fun and everything, but you need the story to support it, otherwise everything starts to…maybe I’ll leave it at that.

Anyhoo, more characters are introduced in these issues, which can sometimes feel like a chore when you’re really interested in the current characters, but they’re so well realized that they fit in perfectly and really add to the story.

And while it is more character focused, there’s still some incredibly inventive ideas presented here. It really feels like they’re using the medium to tell a story that couldn’t be told as well elsewhere, which is always exciting. Fiona Staples’ art fits the writing perfectly. She can draw some mean balls.

I’m really eager to start the next volume now.

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The Time Machine

The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Published: 1895

I finally got around to reading some H.G. Wells, and I was not at all disappointed. The Time Machine is so imaginative that it’s difficult to wrap my head around it being written nearly 120 years ago. I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but I thought the plot would seem primitive in comparison to all of the great stories this has inspired throughout the years, but somehow it manages to have more substance than a lot of the derivative works of the last century.

This overview will contain spoilers, so skip to the last paragraph if that’s an issue.

The story is told by the time traveller himself, and we listen from the point of view of a guest at his weekly dinner party. At one of these dinners, the traveller explains his theory to traverse time as one would traverse the three physical dimensions, and he demonstrates this with a scale model of a device he’s developing. The device disappears before the guest’s eyes, and that night they leave the party skeptical yet intrigued.

He was in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty, and smeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as it seemed to me greyer—either with dust and dirt or because its colour had actually faded. His face was ghastly pale; his chin had a brown cut on it—a cut half healed; his expression was haggard and drawn, as by intense suffering. For a moment he hesitated in the doorway, as if he had been dazzled by the light. Then he came into the room. He walked with just such a limp as I have seen in footsore tramps. We stared at him in silence, expecting him to speak.

A week later, they arrive for dinner to find the traveller is late. He eventually emerges from his workshop dirty and stunned, in what I imagine is the original scene of this particular trope. After cleaning himself up, he tells his story to the group. He had managed to travel forward in time about 800,000 years. There he found civilization in ruins, with humankind having split into two separate species – the cheerful, soft, and cowardly Eloi and the underground-dwelling, carnivorous Morlocks.

The traveller theorizes that the Morlocks and Eloi are the two species that evolved from separate ends of the class system. The Morlocks having descended from the working class and the Eloi from the middle class. The trend towards darkened underground factories and mines is what led the Morlocks to reside in the darkness. In fact, they still maintain the old machinery out of tradition. The Eloi grew weak and stupid, but also happy, on the surface of the world, now essentially acting as cattle for the Morlocks.

We should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help us grow. With out them we grow weak like the Eloi in comfort and security. We need to constantly be challenging ourselves in order to strengthen our character and increase our intelligence.

He discovered all of this while trying to retrieve his machine, which disappeared mysteriously the first night after his arrival. Before returning to his original time, he decided to travel further into the future. He watched the world around him grow more harsh and barren as he pushed further and further in a great scene at the end of the novel.

I really enjoyed this, and I’m excited to read more from him. I was a little worried when I had to look up multiple words on the first page, but he seemed to chill out after that. It’s not a difficult read, and it has that classic adventure storytelling that I just love. There’s a lot of great older science fiction and Wells is a shining example of it.

It feels a little ridiculous to even type that last sentence. He’s been incredibly popular for over a century and there’s obviously a reason for that. It’s not like I’m exposing the cutting edge of fiction here. Hey, have you guys heard of this Shakespeare? He’s pretty good. I think you’d like him.

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The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Published: 2007

This is an odd little novel. Queen Elizabeth II stumbles upon a mobile library that has been put in place for the workers in the castle and becomes obsessed with reading. She has never read for pleasure in her life, but to avoid offense she decides to leave with a book. She quickly realizes what she’s been missing and sets out to make up for lost time by reading as much as she possibly can.

Books are not about passing time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.

Being a reigning monarch doesn’t usually leave much room for hobbies, and she likes to appear absolutely neutral in conversation and public image, holding no preferences or strong personal opinions. Unfortunately, reading doesn’t lend itself well to that mindset. A reader may prefer an author or genre over another, and the act of reading exposes you to ideas and opinions that force you to consider your own.

Not only does the Queen’s change in attitude worry her staff, but it also distracts her from her duties. She was once full of patience and attention, but now she has a book stuffed in her purse and she really needs to get back to it.

You don’t put your life into your books, you find it there.

This is a quick and funny read that celebrates, and pokes fun at, the joy of reading. It’s an examination of why reading is special, and while it’s obviously preaching to the converted, there’s nothing wrong with a little affirmation in one’s life.

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June in Review

Books Acquired:
Slam by Nick Hornby
Songbook by Nick Hornby
Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
The Unwritten, Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words by Mike Carey, Peter Gross

Books Read:
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

It’s been another slow reading month. I got a little distracted by video games, to be honest. Steam had one of their big sales, and while I didn’t really buy much, the talk around it put me in the gaming mood I suppose. I also wasn’t really feeling my current audio book, and since I’m unable to do the smart thing and stop a book I’m not enjoying without finishing it, I usually just let that block all reading (or in this case listening) until I power through. Let’s just pretend the two books I read this month weren’t novellas. They were huge, you guys. And one was, like, super old.

In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to go over some other media I’ve enjoyed this month.

Movies watched:
Edge of Tomorrow – This was a fun science fiction Groundhog Day. It’s exactly what a big budget Hollywood action film should be. Funny, interesting, and it had explosions and exoskeletons. And I didn’t even find Tom Cruise annoying.

Veronica Mars – This was basically just a long episode of the show, which is a good thing. The entire cast, even minor characters, returned for this, and they managed to not make it feel like an awkward queue of cameos. Definitely watch this if you enjoyed the television series.

TV watched:
Wallander, Season 1 – Each episode, and there’s only three in a season, is an hour and a half long, so it gives them time to let the story and characters slowly develop. It’s a crime series, very Rebus-esque I think, set and filmed in Sweden (although everyone has English accents). Kenneth Branagh is fantastic in it, the plots are interesting, and the cinematography is beautiful. It can be fairly slowly paced at times, but I find myself enjoying the calm moments as much as the tense.

captain-america-1991-03-g-1

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1 – I’d heard a lot of bad things about this, but by the end of the series we were really enjoying it. The first quarter of the episodes felt very ‘meh’ and monster-of-the-week, but by the second half my girlfriend and I were watching multiple a night. I think Joss Whedon series are often like this, and they’re always worth the effort. It’s also really interesting how they tied it in with the latest Captain America movie. That’s quite the accomplishment for Marvel, to be able to create this interacting universe that spans both film and television. No one could have thought that would happen when the first Captain America movie was released in 1990. I mean, he had rubber ears on his hood. Look how far we’ve come.

Games played:
Infamous Second Son (PS4) – Yes, I bought a PlayStation 4. No, there’s not enough games out yet to justify this. This is really the only AAA game that’s been released for the system so far, but it’s pretty great. The story was interesting, the voice acting was well done, and it didn’t feel full of filler. I don’t have a lot of patience for long games these days, and this didn’t feel stretched out for the sake of it. I even finished all the optional side quests, I was enjoying it so much.

Transistor (PC) – One of my favourite games a few years back was Bastion, and this is that studio’s second game. The art direction and music in these games are spectacular (both soundtracks are worth buying actually), and combat in this was a blast. Here’s the trailer:

 
Mount & Blade: Warband (PC) – A friend of mine, my girlfriend, and I all picked up a copy of this in the Steam sale. It was cheap and looked like it might be fun, and we’ve had a great time with it. There’s apparently quite an extensive single player campaign, but we bought it for the multiplayer. It’s a medieval action game in which you run about and bash people on or about the head with swords and sticks. Or you can shoot them with arrows. The controls are a bit bizarre and the player actions are slow, but once you get the timing down it’s a really fun combat system. We basically just die a lot at the hands of people named ‘Big_Dick’ or ‘AnalInvador’, but it’s a hilarious time. The Napoleonic Wars DLC allows you to play as a bagpiper, which is just fantastic.

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Saga, Volume 1

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated By: Fiona Staples
Published: 2012
Publisher: Image Comics
Collects: issues #1 – #6

This is a space fantasy, I guess, which is actually a fairly unique genre for me. I’m not sure I’ve read much that involves space travel, magic, aliens, and swordplay. I guess it’s a little Star Wars in that regard, but more on the fantasy side. It’s also a little Romeo and Juliet, having two star-crossed lovers from opposing races in a long-running war. She was a jail warden and he was a prisoner, but now they have a newborn together and are trying to avoid the armies of both sides, bounty hunters, and a sexually frustrated cyborg with a monitor for a head.

I love the imagination that went into this. This is the first I’ve seen of Fiona Staples’ art, and it really brings this bizarre world together. The story is interesting, and while there are a couple cliche moments (a sex planet?), I always wanted to know what was going to happen and often found myself surprised. I also cared about these characters from the first page, which is a feat in itself. Most of all, though, I love the dialogue. It’s hilarious but still feels completely natural.

Here are the first two pages. Click to make big:

saga_01   saga_02

I wasn’t planning to start a new comic series until I caught up on the few I have in progress, but I saw this first trade on sale at the local comic store and had to give it a shot. I feel like I’ve been hearing about this for ages now, and the excitement never seemed to die down. That amount of hype at first can be misleading, but it’s been consistent since the first issue was released, so that’s usually a good sign. The cashier mentioned it’s his favourite comic out right now as well.

I’m pleased to say, the first volume lived up to the hype for me. I loved this. I immediately ordered the next two trades when I’d finished. Only the three are out now, so once I’m finished those it’ll be a waiting game. Brian K. Vaughan is best know for Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. I liked the first volume of Y, really disliked the second, and never made it any further. This makes me want to revisit that series as well and give it another shot.

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The Serpent of Venice: A Novel

The Serpent of Venice: A NovelThe Serpent of Venice: A Novel by Christopher Moore
Published: 2014

This is the sequel to Moore’s 2009 novel Fool, but only loosely so. The jester Pocket, with his monkey Jeff and his virile giant of an apprentice Drool, land in Venice on a mission for his queen. He is to try and stop the merchants of the city from orchestrating a new crusade in an attempt to profit from it. The mission goes wrong almost immediately, and it then turns into a tale of revenge and intrigue.

Fool was a comedic retelling of King Lear, and this novel takes on The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado in much the same way. He even throws in a wanton sea creature to help it all blend. I haven’t read any of the three source works yet, but that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. I know nothing of The Cask of Amontillado, and only have a basic knowledge of the plays, and I never felt like I was in the dark.

For his last few novels, Christopher Moore has been doing an awful lot of research. He spends a few pages at the end of this book discussing how he pulled different elements from each of the source works and what he had to modify to align the two plays, which was actually really interesting, and for Sacre Blue he released a chapter guide on the art and artists he was referencing. It must be tempting, after having done so much research, to cram the novel full of exposition and non-essential references just because you can, but he does an great job of keeping the novel focused on the story and the humour without feeling the need to show off.

The writing style is vaguely Shakespearean, done with an American’s over-the-top idea of a modern English accent (think Dick Van Dyke), and I think that’s what he was trying for. I found it irritating at first, the same as I did in Fool, but eventually found the humour in it. The plot was also all over the place, which was likely a result of having three source stories from which to draw, but all of his books have a little of that. You have to be able to endure juvenile humour (which I love) and meandering plots (which I don’t particularly love) to enjoy his novels.

This isn’t one of his best, but it was still very good. If you’ve been thinking of getting into his novels, I’d start with Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. It’s a stand-alone story and a fantastic read.

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The Classics Club – Year Two

The anniversary of my signing on to The Classics Club flew past without my noticing a couple months back. I am now twenty-three books into my fifty book goal and there’s three years left, so that should be no problem at all.

The list so far:

I’m so glad I came across the club when I did. It was just the kick in the ass I needed to get into reading the classics again, and I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed most of them once I started. It’s turned out to not be much of a challenge at all. It’s like challenging yourself to eat at a great restaurant each month.

The Classics Club has had a monthly meme this entire time, and I’ve been completely ignoring them. It’s a monthly classics-related question. This month they asked:

Think of an example of a classic you’ve read that presents issues like racism/sexism as acceptable within society. Do you think the reception of this classic work would be the same if it were newly published today? What can we get out of this work despite its weaknesses? Or, why would you say this work is still respected/treasured/remembered in 2014?

The first title that jumped to mind was The Taming of the Shrew, a comedy in which a woman is treated like an animal, psychologically abused, and left a hollow shell of who she once was. It’s hilarious!

I outline the plot fairly thoroughly in that post, for those who may be unfamiliar with the play.

This likely gets a pass just because it’s Shakespeare and four hundred years old. Times were very different back then. The way Katherine is treated would obviously not fly by today’s standards, and when you read it on paper it’s almost easy to see it more as a horror than a comedy. Some if it really is hilarious, and the language is beautiful, so it was with some conflicted feelings that I found I was really enjoying it. I think the surprise of what I was reading added to the excitement.

I’d like to see this one performed. I think I read it as Katherine playing it straight, which is almost painful, but I could see if coming off much differently if the actors involved decided to play it sarcastic. It would still be sexist, but much easier to sit through.

It can sound like an excuse when someone says that racist or sexist story elements are products of the time in which they were written, but it is true. I think it’s best to take it as an important reminder of how things were and a happy reminder of how far we’ve come.

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May in Review

Books Acquired:

  • The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • A Cook’s Tour – In Search of the Perfect Meal by Anthony Bourdain
  • Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
  • Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
  • Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin
  • Rebus’s Scotland by Ian Rankin
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
  • The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
  • Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France by Peter Mayle
  • The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
  • Timeline by Michael Crichton
  • Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • My Name is Legion by Roger Zelazny
  • Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
  • Changeling by Roger Zelazny
  • Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
  • Protector by Larry Niven
  • Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin

Books Read:

  • The Serpent of Venice: A Novel by Christopher Moore
  • Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Yes I acquired twenty-nine books this month and only actually read two, one of which was a comic. Yes, I have a problem.

Firstly, there was a charity sale. One that raised money for children. Poor, needy children.

The last nine books I brought back from my dad’s collection. My mum’s selling the house soon, and his books are packed up to go, so I thought I’d bring home a few that looked interesting. My dad was a huge fan of science fiction, and I’ve unfortunately just recently started to read the genre. I do wish I had made the effort to get into it earlier, to share some of that with him, but better late than never I suppose. I also grabbed The Silmarillion purely because Tolkien holds some sentimental value between us and I couldn’t bring myself to give it away. I really have no intention of reading it, though. I haven’t met a single person with positive things to say on its behalf.

This was another month of slow reading, but it did give me a chance to finally catch up on the posts here, so that’s something. Most of my reading lately has been happening before I go to bed, but it’s limiting if you find yourself exhausted each night. I sat myself down yesterday and forced myself to read for an hour or two on the couch, which felt fantastic. My goal for this month is to try and make that time for reading each day.

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Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1)

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1)Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
Published: 1987

Ian Rankin is one of those authors that I’ve always known about but never had any desire to read. It’s too overwhelming to start on something that’s already nineteen novels in, and it’s hard not to see the writing as a case of quantity over quality when confronted with a back catalogue of that size. I should know, being a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (forty books in and still going strong), that this line of thinking is complete nonsense, but that’s what comes to mind. I don’t think it helps that these books fall into the crime genre, which can also sometimes impart similar feelings.

I came across a used copy of this, in never-been-read condition, at last year’s book sale. I love detective fiction, which is related to this but slightly different, and the novels are set in Scotland. My parents emigrated from Scotland a few years before I was born. I have citizenship and the country is a part of my history, but having been raised in Canada, it’s also foreign and a real fascination of mine.

This is set in Edinburgh, with a quick excursion to Fife, and follows Detective John Rebus as he helps investigate a missing children case. He isn’t leading the search, but is merely a part of the team. During the investigation, he begins receiving strange letters and tied knots in his office, and he eventually learns he’s more central to the case than he could have ever guessed.

In the video I recently posted of Arthur Conan Doyle, he mentions that part of what led him to create Sherlock Holmes was that he wanted to read about an investigator that actually pieced together the answer with the clues presented rather than stumbling upon it, which is interesting because this is a prime example of the stumbling approach. The reveal near the end of the book is quite hacky.

Spoilers
The killer is a man from Rebus’ traumatic past that he’s blocked out, and the memory is revealed through hypnosis. Rebus’ brother is a performing hypnotist, and when they’re struggling to piece it all together at the end, he steps in. The only saving grace here is that his brother’s occupation is actually introduced quite early on, and in a way that does feel natural, so it wasn’t quite as jarring as it could have been. But still.
/Spoilers

Despite this, I did enjoy the book. I like the setting, the atmosphere, and the character of John Rebus. The middle-aged, divorced, and jaded detective who works too much and drinks too much is hardly a unique character, but it’s one that if done right can be quite interesting. I also like how Ian Rankin decided to age him in real-time. Each novel takes place in the year it was published, and Rebus properly ages as the time passes, which is a much more interesting way of writing a series than keeping it static. Aging the character forces its own kind of development as well, so it’ll be interesting to see how that progresses.

With some tighter plotting I could see myself really enjoying these, so I picked up the second in the series. I’m definitely not committing myself to the next eighteen books, but I’ll see how this next one goes.

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Arthur Conan Doyle Interview

Arthur Conan Doyle was a very interesting man. He’s best known for writing what may be the most logic-driven character to ever exist, Sherlock Holmes, in stories which time after time proved the seemingly mystical to have rational causes. While doing so, he also spent most of his life investigating and publicly supporting spiritualism, often famously promoting acts that were later debunked.

This is an interview that was posted on Reddit earlier in the week in which he explains how he decided to approach writing the Sherlock Holmes stories. He’s clearly fed up with the character and is much more interested in his spiritual investigations. I don’t know if there are many other videos of him out there, so it’s a neat find, even if he is a bit harsh on Watson. You get to see his dog and hear his old-timey Edinburgh accent!

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