Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird TrickSex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by: Chip Zdarsky
Published: 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 128 pages
Collects: issues #1-5

Suzie is a normal girl, a young librarian trying to save her library from going under, but when she has an orgasm time literally stops. She has, quite rightfully, been trying to learn more about this since it began happening, and one night she comes across a man with the same power. What would someone do with a power like this? Rob a bank, of course!

It seems silly to compare this with Saga, but my brain arbitrarily combines vaguely similar things when they rise to popularity at the same time. Green Day and The Offspring will be forever linked in my mind, and I fear these two comics will be as well. They’re both stories of an adult nature with fantasy elements, but for me the first Saga was an instant love from the first panel to the last. This wasn’t quite as strong for me.

I really enjoyed Suzie’s backstory. The way they had her as an adult in each panel to narrate the childhood flashbacks was great, and some of those scenes were absolutely hilarious. It taught me what The Dutch Microwave and Brimping are, and for that I shall be forever grateful. My interest dipped a little once Suzie met Jon, her accomplice/boyfriend, and I couldn’t tell you why. It just all started to feel a bit tedious.

However, my interest picked up again just at the end of the book when we’re given a peek at some new characters and essentially a whole new sex superhero world. I was really left with the feeling that the story had just begun, and I’m eager to see what happens next now.

Oddly, it was an extra feature included at the end of the book titled Steaming Radio that had me laughing the most. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky wrote a skit about calling in to a sex line and it is fantastic. They’re clearing both hilarious, so I look forward to seeing more of that come out in the comic.

I’ll definitely be picking up the second volume, just to see how the story progresses. I still don’t know if I’m on board for the whole run of this, but I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

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A Brief History of the Celts

A Brief History of the CeltsA Brief History of the Celts by Peter Berresford Ellis
Published: 2013
Length: 255 pages

I started reading this months ago and it just dragged on and on. I was close to abandoning it quite a few times, but I’d always encounter something interesting just before dropping it. That’s the problem. The book is full of interesting events and facts, but it doesn’t go into enough detail and is just so dry.

I thought, as a Brief History, this would essentially be a high level overview of the timeline of the Celts with a few key periods looked at in-depth, but instead it felt like a full history of the Celts shoehorned into a book the size of a brief history. It was as if he still wanted to mention every major figure in the history but didn’t have enough room to explain anything about them, so it became a meaningless list of references. This book contained sentences in which I didn’t recognize a single noun.

The history itself is really interesting, and I found the chapters that touched on the stories, even superficially, fascinating. The common view of ancient Celts are as uncultured, drunken barbarian hordes scouring the countryside, raping and killing, but that idea originated through the historical writings of the Roman expansions, and it seems to be a case of history being written by the victors. The Celts were forbidden to write their history down until they began practicing Christianity, so a lot of their stories are forgotten or altered.

Maybe this is commonly known and shows my lack of knowledge in history, and why I really should be reading more along these lines, but I had no idea the ancient Celts occupied Rome for seven months. A tribe of Celts known as the Senones settled in peace outside of Clusium, an Etruscan city under Roman rule, as there were no other areas to settle north of the Alps. They asked the city elders to grant them permission to the lands, but the Etruscans felt threatened and called on ambassadors from Rome. Two arrogant brothers were sent to negotiate with the tribe, but instead of acting as liaisons and enabling communication, they led the Etruscans in war against the Senones. One of the brothers killed a chieftain tribe personally. They were meant to act neutrally, and failing to do so was apparently against international law (and just generally uncool).

The Senones were rightfully pissed off by this and sent a delegation to Rome to demand apology and compensation. The Romans didn’t budge, as the ambassador brothers held too much power in their senate, so this single tribe, led by their Chieftain Brennus, ignored the warring Etruscans and marched on to Rome. In the 130 kilometer walk, it’s noted that no Etruscans were harmed and nothing was taken from their fields. As they passed near cities, the tribe shouted out that they had declared war on Rome and that the people in the countryside were still regarded as friends.

They defeated the Roman army, which included their best generals and legions, 18 kilometers north of the city in what is known now as the Battle of the Allia, and walked into Rome the following morning. They held the city for seven months and decided, of their own will, to leave once a ransom of gold was paid and, a detail I love, an apology was extracted. They had no intention of taking the city permanently or forming an empire, it was all just punishment for a breach of trust and law.

While they were weighing the gold, there were complaints that the tribe’s weights were fixed, which prompted Brennus to toss his sword on top of the scale and exclaim “Vae victis,” Latin for “woe to the vanquished,” and the Romans were forced to bring extra gold to counter-balance the additional weight of the sword. I mean, come on, that is badass.

The Celts could certainly be fearsome and savage, but in many ways they were also fairly sophisticated for their time. Their scholars were treated with great reverence, they developed early roads and medicine, and the women had rights that weren’t common in other cultures. They had access to education, were able to participate in battle, could own land, and could even initiate divorce. The Battle of the Allia and the fact that the Celts were quite strong in battle probably led to the perpetuation of the rumours that they were war-hungry, childish animals.

I really wish Ellis had picked a few key moments in history, like the war above (to which only two pages were dedicated), and focused on those. I’ve learned that dry facts and dates just don’t do it for me. I need a narrative if I’m going to remember a historical event, and I should probably seek out books that tell the stories rather than just the facts. I’m glad I read this, even if it often did turn into a chore at times. It’s a good jumping off point, if nothing else.

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The Captain and the Enemy

The Captain and the EnemyThe Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
Published: 1988
Pages: 224

This is the last novel Graham Greene wrote before his death in 1991. I’ve only read one of his others before, the audiobook of The End of the Affair narrated by Colin Firth, which was fantastic, and this is an incredibly different book.

The End of the Affair felt real. Flawed characters, and a plot that’s surprising but, on reflection, makes sense. This novel was absurd in comparison, and I spent the first half in a state of confusion. The novel opens with a young boy, Victor, at school being picked up by a man he’s never before met, the title’s Captain, after ‘being won’ in a game of backgammon. After the grim plot of the Affair, I was very worried for this kid’s well-being. In the first few pages, Greene manages to raise half a dozen questions that he spends the rest of the novel answering.

The first part of this story is written from the view of the child a decade later in his life. With the help of old journals he used to keep, he recounts his time with the Captain and his companion Liza, whose house Victor grew up in after being taken from school that day. It was a very strange and confused life as he adjusted to living with a shut-in whom he never really seemed to bond with at all. The Captain would drop in every now and then after mysterious periods away. Liza and Victor never knew his real name or occupation, but he would send them money to live on. In the second half of the book, Victor continues writing in his journal as he travels to Panama to visit the Captain and learn who he really is.

They are always saying God loves us. If that’s love I’d rather have a bit of kindness.

All of the characters in this are unlikable, their personalities are stilted, and their actions are at times incomprehensible, but the whole thing has a slight whimsy that makes it work. The way the characters interact often feels a bit like a Wes Anderson movie – emotionally monotone in a way that allows us to believe the ridiculous world in which they exist. Some of the characters in this seem desperate for affection and can’t bring themselves to acknowledge those feelings and some seem genuinely indifferent. It’s makes it a bit difficult to relate to any of them, but I was driven on out of curiosity. Those unanswered questions that were nagging from the opening of the novel managed to keep my interest right to the end.

I was thinking of this as a classic when I picked it up, and I was surprised to see the publication date as 1988. I think of Graham Greene as a writer from the 40s or 50s, but it looks like he has published works spanning from the late 20s to the early 90s, which is amazing. I guess the idea of what constitutes a classic changes from person to person. If a writer has work that is considered ‘classic’, is everything he or she wrote then considered a classic? I often think so, but then cases like this do confuse things somewhat. I’ll leave it off my Classics Club list for now, I think, even if it does have a Penguin Classics edition, but I might revisit.

I did really enjoy this. The plot is interesting, if a little unsatisfying, but his writing is fantastic. He handles Victor looking back through his journals very well. I think this is considered one of his lesser novels, which makes me excited to read on through his bibliography.

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The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2)The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
Published: 2006
Length: 347 pages

I loved Old Man’s War, and for some reason I waited a year and a half to read the sequel, which I actually loved even more. In a way it was good to wait. The main character and cast are largely ignored in this next book, and it’s even written in a different narrative perspective, third person rather than first person. That would have made for a jarring transition if I had read them back to back, I think.

The first book starts with John Perry leaving earth as a seventy-five-year-old man and joining the Colonial Defense Forces. Humans are at war with multiple alien races, pretty much every alien race it turns out, and they fight this war by transferring the minds of the elderly to genetically engineered bodies. In this sequel, Jared Dirac is born into the Special Forces, nicknamed the Ghost Brigades. This secretive group has an interesting twist in that they don’t use the minds of the elderly but instead use the minds of the dead. They awake as adults in their bodies with no knowledge on their old life. We get to see the training process from a completely different perspective this way.

I love origin stories, and I’ve gotten two in this series so far!

Jared Dirac, being born directly into the Ghost Brigades, doesn’t have a past life. He isn’t coming into the war with seventy-five years of experience behind him. The first ten years of his life, at least, will be as a soldier. This is ideal for special forces units because they’re tasked with the most unsavoury of missions, something Scalzi really does not hold back on in this, and having a life of experience and emotions would likely cause problems in that. Once awake in his engineered body, his BrainPal kicks in, a neural implant that allows the owner to send and receive data. If he needs to know something, it will download and unpack the related facts into his brain. It also allows him to integrate with the minds of his entire unit. This enables him to adapt and grow much quicker than a regular solider.

John Scalzi does such a great job with showing how Jared is slowly learning and understanding everything around him. The mix of a solder’s professionalism and a child’s wonder was perfect. Jared ‘s also a special case, as the consciousness they used to create him is from a living traitor rather than a dead human from Earth, so he’s also gradually struggling with the mix of his own personality and what he’s learning about his origins. This could have easily gone wrong with bad pacing, but Scalzi nailed it.

This is an action-packed adventure, but it also tackles a lot of really interesting issues, the most prominent of which being the question of what it means to be a human. I loved this and really look forward to reading the third novel. John Scalzi has definitely become one of my favourite writers lately.

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March in Review

Books Acquired:
Sex Criminals: Volume 1 by Matt Fraction
The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham
The Outward Urge by John Wyndham
Consider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham
A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett

Books Read:
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
Sex Criminals: Volume 1 by Matt Fraction
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld #32) by Terry Pratchett
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I found a bunch of John Wyndham novels at a used bookstore, what was I supposed to do? I want to eventually read everything of his, and I convinced myself that these were probably out of print, so I grabbed everything I didn’t have. And to be fair, The Outward Urge doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon, so maybe I made the right choice?

It’s all good, though, because we finally bought new bookshelves. My books have been a mess for months now, stacked vertically and double-layered. It made me sad inside everytime I walked by them. Now, I have everything in order, nothing is stacked, and I still have room for more.

This means I don’t have to worry about buying more books for a while. Mwahaha! Just in time for my favourite book sale next month.

Movies watched:
District 9 (2009) – I feel like I heard this wasn’t good when it first came out, but I loved it. Science fiction as it should be.

The Boondock Saints (1999) – I also really enjoyed this. I felt like watching something with Billy Connolly in it. It’s stylish, in an incredibly 90s way, and violent.

TV watched:
The Mind of a Chef: Season 2 (2013) – This is such a great series. The first two seasons are on Netflix. Season 2 follows Sean Brock for the first half, and he is really great, and the second half follows April Bloomfield, but she wasn’t as interesting. It felt like she might have a lot to offer, but the episodes didn’t seem to showcase that.

Departures: Season 1 (2008) – Newly added to Netflix. I caught a few episodes of this when it originally aired and loved it, so I was really excited to see it on there. It’s a fantastic Canadian travel series. We’re nearly finished the second season as well.

Games played:
Insurgency (2014) (PC) – Still playing this, and probably will be for a while. Just a fun shooter for PC.

Pillars of Eternity (2015) (PC) – I kickstarted this three years ago and it finally came out, and it is great so far. A throwback to the Baldur’s Gate days. I’m not far into it yet, but if you enjoy isometric RPGs, you can go wrong picking this up. Great writing and fun action.

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Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon on Sir Terry Pratchett

This is a great interview from Neil Gaiman on his friendship with Terry Pratchett and how they collaborated for Good Omens, filmed the day after Pratchett’s death. He shares some great stories and does a short reading.

One of my favourite bits happens around the twenty minute mark when Gaiman mentions Pratchett’s goal to make people understand that funny and serious are not opposites, that the opposite of funny is simply not funny. I think that’s something that really struck me when I was reading his books early on. It’s a common misconception that a story loses any insight into the human condition as soon as comedy or fantasy or science fiction are introduced, which shows not just a failure of imagination but a laziness as well. Anyone who has ever taken the time to read Pratchett (or many other authors who work in those genres) will understand that was precisely the focus of all his novels.

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Legion: Skin Deep

Skin Deep (Legion, #2)Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
Published: 2014
Narrated by: Oliver Wyman
Length: 04:23

This is the second novella in Sanderson’s Legion series. I managed to grab both as they were temporarily available as free downloads through Audible when first released, but they’re worth spending a credit or two on as well, if you’re fine with the short length. He has a third planned, but no release date announced yet.

I love the premise of these stories. Stephen Leeds is a problem solver for hire. If you have a problem, he has the knowledge and the skills needed for a solution, as long as you’re fine with him conversing with people you can’t see. He does this because he has an entire team of hallucinations in his head, all with distinct personalities. Many people know this and consider him to be mentally unstable, but these are actually caused by his mind trying to deal with his genius.

Each hallucination, he calls them aspects, embodies a set of skills or area of knowledge. When he needs to learn a new language or skillset, he can skim through a few books and a new aspect will soon join the team. It’s a neat idea, one that could be awful in the wrong hands, but Sanderson executes it perfectly. He takes the idea in directions that are really surprising, and the hints at what will happen in the third story really have me interested.

These are the only Sanderson stories I’ve read, so I popped over to his Wikipedia entry to see what I should read next, which really didn’t help. He published his first novel in 2005 and since then has written, as far as I can tell, twenty-four books. That’s more than two books a year, and while a few are short novellas like this, some are massive. He wrote the three final Wheel of Time novels, for God’s sake.

There’s something wrong with this man.

I’ve seen a lot of mentions of both Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive, so I guess one of those are probably a good next step, although I’m also leaning towards his Reckoners series. They’re young adult books, but the premise sounds really interesting. And the books are shorter too, which I know is an awful way to choose what to read, but I really have to brace myself for a thousand page brick these days. If anyone has a recommendation of where to start, I’d be interested to hear it!

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The Choice Word

I’ve just started A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of Terry Pratchett non-fiction that spans his entire career. I plan to take my time and just read an article here and there over the next few months, but there was a short article near the beginning of the book that I loved and thought I’d share. It’s one he wrote for a survey that was done in the UK to find the nation’s favourite word by The Word, London’s Festival of Literature.

I like the fortuitous onomatopoeia of words for soundless things. Gleam, glint, glitter, glisten…they all sound exactly as the light would sound if it made a noise. Glint is sharp and quick, it glints, and if an oily surface made a noise it would go glisten. And bliss sounds like a soft meringue melting on a warm plate.

But I’ll plump for:


…from the Latin susurrus, whisper or rustling, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a hushed noise. But it hints of plots and secrets and people turning to one another in surprise. It’s the noise, in fact, made just after the sword is withdrawn from the stone and just before the cheering starts.

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Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Format: Original Graphic Novel
Originally Published: 2013
Publisher: First Second
Length: 176 pages

I love food. I love eating. I love cooking, when I get off my ass and actually do it. I love browsing markets and discovering new and interesting ingredients. I love travel writing and documentaries but can’t stand it when the local food isn’t featured. I love cooking programs that aren’t just gimmicky game shows. I don’t understand complaints about George R.R. Martin describing meals in too much detail. I don’t understand complaints about people using Twitter or Facebook to post photos of their lunches. More lunches and less babies, I say.

If this sounds anything like you, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll really enjoy this book. Lucy Knisley details her life growing up with a caterer mother and food obsessed father in a collection of small vignettes – moving to the country with her mom and being attacked by geese (and daydreaming of revenge via dinner), finding comfort through cookie baking, travelling to Rome with her dad as a bratty pre-teen and sneaking off to McDonald’s, and trying to re-create the prefect croissant from Venice. As someone who remembers a lot through food, I can appreciate the structure of the book, even if it does come across as a bit directionless.

The art in this is very colourful and fun, and she included some illustrated recipes, which are a blast to read. I wish there were more of those recipes, actually. I cooked up some mushrooms as per her instructions, and they turned out really well, so I’ll eventually try a couple of the others. The chocolate cookies, perhaps.

I read this one night when I couldn’t sleep and found myself dying of hunger at 2:00am, which put me in a rather confusing situation. I could eat something, which would likely wake me up more and make what sleep I did get very restless, or starve and be kept up by hunger pangs. In the end I think I decided to sneak a couple angry bites of bread. I’d recommend maybe reading this on a lazy afternoon instead.

Lucy Knisley has an infectious enthusiasm for food, without inhibitions or snobbish undertones, which makes this a really enjoyable read. I’ll eventually be picking up some of her other comics.

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I Ain’t Miserable

This is a bit from A Confederacy of Dunces that made me chuckle. It’s a good example of the novel’s typical dialogue and humour.

“I refuse to ‘look up.’ Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.”

“I ain’t miserable.”

“You are.”

“No, I ain’t.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Ignatius, I ain’t miserable. If I was, I’d tell you.”

“If I had demolished private property while intoxicated and had thereby thrown my child to the wolves, I would be beating my breast and wailing. I would kneel in penance until my knees bled. By the way, what penance has the priest given you for your sin?”

“Three Hail Mary’s and a Our Father.”

“Is that all?” Ignatius screamed. “Did you tell him what you did, that you halted a critical work of great brilliance?”

“I went to confession, Ignatius. I told Father everything. He says, ‘It don’t sound like your fault, honey. It sounds to me like you just took a little skid on a wet street.’ So I told him about you. I says ‘My boy says I’m the one stopping him from writing in his copybooks. He’s been writing on this story for almost five years.’ And Father says, ‘Yeah? Well, don’t sound too important to me. You tell him to get out the house and go to work.'”

“No wonder I cannot support the Church,” Ignatius bellowed. “You should have been lashed right there in the confessional.”

— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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