Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park, #1)Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Published: 1990
Length: 400 pages

Jurassic Park stands as one of my all-time favourite movies. I saw it in the theatre three times, and again last year when it was released in 3D, and I’ve seen it countless times on video since. I just love it. It’s just as good today as it was back then, and the special effects really stand up, unlike any of the horrible sequels.

I was mainly reading fantasy as a teenager, so I never picked up the novel, despite the endless recommendations to do so. In the last decade, with unfortunate snobbery on my part, I wrote Crichton off as the science-fiction Dan Brown of the 90s. I actually read his autobiography a few years back and really enjoyed it, but I never paid his fiction much mind. That was definitely an error on my part, because this was a joy to read.

He struck a great mix of science and adventure. although the science should be taken with a grain of salt and the adventure without too much consideration for reality. The first quarter of the book might be a bit slow, if the reader didn’t know what was coming, but it lays the groundwork well. He focuses more on introducing the science than he does the characters during this, and I wonder how strong they’d be in my mind if I didn’t have the movie to draw from. It’s hard to say. The public relations office for the Park, Ed Regis, was really the only main character who was completely absent from the film, and he felt fairly fleshed out. He didn’t go through any great arcs of character development, but I felt like I had a pretty decent understanding of him.

Since most people know the film, I thought I’d just list some key character differences (for really no good reason):

Ed Regis’ character was merged into the lawyer, Donald Gennaro, for the film. Gennaro was actually fairly courageous in most of the novel. A lot of his film cowardice was taken from Ed Regis. He’s even against the park being opened, and sides entirely with Malcolm.

– The kids were shuffled a bit for the movie. Tim still knows everything about dinosaurs, but he’s also the computer whiz in this. Lex is only eight and as such is utterly useless. As a bonus she’s also quite annoying. I get why she’s there, which is essentially to add the tension of unpredictability, but ugh. She fills her role almost too well. I was starting to root for the dinosaurs in parts.

Ian Malcolm is similar to his movie portrayal, but is used almost exclusively to spout exposition as arrogantly as possible. Every time I got to a scene with him, it was a bit of a bummer, as I knew the pace was about to come to a crawl. I enjoyed what he was saying at times, it was interesting, I just wish Crichton found a more elegant way to deliver it.

Ellie Sattler is maybe the closest the movie got to sticking to the novel. She’s just as smart and strong-willed, but in the novel she’s in her early twenties, which is interesting I thought. If the movie was made today, I wonder if they’d still make the character older.

John Hammond is almost frightfully mad with his vision for the park. The film paints him in a much more sympathetic light. In the novel, he just doesn’t see reality, even when everything’s falling down around him.

– The warden, Robert Muldoon, is a bit more interesting in the novel. He’s a thinly veiled Hemingway – a man in his 50s with a sweet grey mustache, brought on staff after living life as a hunter in Africa and working in Hammond’s wildlife park in Kenya. He turns out to be a drunk, and is ultimately a bit useless, but he’s still fun to have in there.

– The lead biologist Henry Wu actually has a part in the novel, with backstory and everything. Hopefully the actor who played him in the film hadn’t read the novel first, because getting that script would have been a bummer. It does completely make sense to remove him mostly from the movie, though, for time constraints.

Dennis Nedry and John Arnold were quite similar in both versions. Arnold never tells everyone to hold on to their butts, though, and Nedry’s motive is explained a bit better.

Alan Grant is still pretty awesome, but a series of scenes involving him had me scratching my head. After the jeep attack with the Tyrannosaurus, which was very similar to the movie version, he gathers the kids and makes his way through the park, stopping to sleep in a maintenance shed for the night. They wake up quite early and walk out into a field, where almost immediately they get caught up in a Hadrosaur stampede brought on by the attacking Tyrannosaurus. They climb a tree to avoid being trampled and Grant falls asleep while they’re up there. When he awakes, they climb down, find a raft and a river and set out. The Tyrannosaurus finds them again and swims after them like a freakin’ giant crocodile before getting distracted and leaving them unharmed. Grant then falls asleep again. On a river, with kids on the raft, and who knows what trying to eat them from all sides.

I thought I had trouble functioning without coffee. Does he have adrenaline-induced narcolepsy? What’s going on here?

I really enjoyed both the novel and the film and the differences between the two, but the ending of the novel is just idiotic. Essentially everyone who’s alive and still safe decides to crawl into a velociraptor nest to count the eggs. Gennaro, who is still alive in the novel, is frightened to enter and as such is painted as a coward. He’s even forced to enter by Muldoon, whose main conversation topic throughout the novel is how deadly velociraptor are. It’s like his main deal. They needed to count the hatched eggs to compare with the computer’s tally of how many of the animals currently existed on the island (which we already learned was flawed). The whole scene is there to give an exciting ending, but it feels so tacked on and goes against everything we learned about the characters.

The nice thing about the novel was that characters like Robert Muldoon and Dr. Henry Wu, who had to be made minor supporting characters in the film, had much more interesting roles. There was also an overarching threat of the animals leaving the island that made everything even more tense in the book. Apart from his tendency to close scenes with someone falling asleep, and his use of exclamation points and ‘then suddenly’, I wasn’t bothered by Crichton’s writing. It’s not amazing, but it’s serviceable. I somehow expected worse the way some people went on about him. He can really write an action scene, at the very least.

I’ll read more of his books, I think. I have Timeline sitting on my shelf, so I’ll probably start with that, but I’ll be sure to also pick up The Lost World.

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Saga, Volume 3

Saga, Volume 3Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by: Fiona Staples
Published: 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 144 pages
Collects: issues #13-18

This series has been consistently fantastic since the first issue. That makes for excellent reading but also boring blogging, so I’ll keep this fairly brief. It’s just great, plain and simple, so I’m afraid this will mainly be gushing.

saga15_p1

In this trade, Vaughan went back and explained what was happening behind the scenes during the end of the last story arc – the same scene but expanded and following other characters. Similar in concept to the time overlap that George R.R. Martin used in book four and five of A Song of Ice and Fire, except it didn’t suck. Vaughan is great at controlling the pace of the plot. He’ll jump around time, giving a taste here and a longer scene there, without it feeling gimmicky or tiresome, which I think is harder to manage than it seems. He also introduces new characters quite well. He doesn’t let them get in the way too long before we’ve had time to start caring about them, which is again all about pacing.

I’m all caught up on the series now, so I get to start the waiting game. It looks like the next issue will be out in December, so I won’t have to wait too long at least. If you like adventure and raunchy humour, and are at all interested in comics, this is worth checking out. It’s Joss Whedon mixed with Terry Gilliam, with a bit of Seth Rogen thrown in.

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August in Review

Books Acquired:
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4 by John Layman

Books Read:
Slam by Nick Hornby
Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

My two purchases this month were comics despite having told myself I wasn’t going to buy any more until I finished the ones I already own, as I really have to start conserving shelf space. I had to order the new Bryan Lee O’Malley book, however, almost purely out of curiosity to see what he’d come up with now that the Scott Pilgrim madness has died down. The other is Chew, which I just love. The last Omnivore edition came out almost a year and a half ago, so I’m giving myself a free pass for that one.

Movies watched:
Guardians of the Galaxy – I loved everything about this – the story was fun, the humour really worked, the music was a blast, and the casting was perfect. Great summer action movie.

Good Morning Vietnam – Robin Williams’ death actually hit me a little harder than I would have expected, for someone I never met, but he was such a part of my childhood and his life ended in such a sad way. Also it happened on my birthday, which was already going poorly, so it was an overall bummer of a day. As a tribute, I re-watched one of his classics that I hadn’t seen in years. Really like this one.

TV watched:
Wallander, Season 3 – I love this series, as I’ve mentioned in the last couple of monthly reviews. The last two seasons haven’t really stood up to the first, but they’re still great. I’ve read that they’re apparently filming the fourth season, to be released in 2015, so I will be eagerly awaiting that. They’re based on a series of novels, so maybe I should pick those up.

Games played:
The Walking Dead, Season 2 / The Wolf Among Us (PC) – I finished both of these this month and loved them. If you haven’t played any of the new Telltale games, you really should. They’re interactive stories, and the gameplay is essentially just making story choices. There’s no winning or losing, you just see how the story plays out with the choices you make. If you’re the sort of person who will read a book blog, you’re likely the sort of person who would love these games. Start with The Walking Dead series, which are fantastic. The Wolf Among Us is really good as well. The art direction was the highlight for me, while the story was interesting but not quite as gripping.

The Blackwell Legacy / Blackwell Unbound / Blackwell Convergence / Blackwell Deception (PC) – This is a series of adventure games in which you play as mediums acting as detectives, helping spirits stuck in this world cross over. They’re really well written, the puzzles are interesting but not impossible (as with some point and click adventure games), and each game changes just enough to keep the gameplay feeling fresh. They’re all just a few hours long each, but I got the pack of them on Steam for under five dollars during a sale, and the length is perfect for telling a story without any unnecessary filler. There’s a fifth in the series that I’ll be picking up soon.

Anomaly Warzone Earth (PC) – I spent a week in my hometown for a visit at the beginning of the month and decided to try this game out. I picked it up a few years ago during another Steam sale (I have a problem with those), and didn’t pay it much mind after that. It’s a twist on the tower defense genre, where the player controls the attackers instead of the defenders. It’s not really my type of game, but I had a lot of fun with it. The graphics are beautiful too, especially for a small game released a few years ago.

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Slam

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
Published: 2007
Length: 309 pages

I’ve really grown to love Nick Hornby books over the past few years, but this wasn’t one of his best. I believe this was his first attempt at a young adult novel, and while I enjoyed it overall, it felt a little trite. It still has some of Hornby’s hilarious dialogue, and there were a couple of moments that made me laugh out loud, but those moments were spread apart quite a bit.

The story is centred around a couple of teenagers who accidentally become pregnant and choose to keep the child. Sam Jones, the male teen and viewpoint character of the story, struggles as he sees his potential life and dreams of going to college vanish before him. His mother had him at 16, and he grew up knowing how hard that was, so this was the last thing he wanted. Hornby did a good job of creating a realistic scenario in which a kid like this, who already had the perils of teenage pregnancy on his mind, could end up having this happen.

There are some elements of the story that just didn’t ring true for me. As an example, Sam idolizes Tony Hawk and continually asks a poster of him, hanging on his bedroom wall, for advice. The responses come in the form of quotes from Hawk’s autobiography, which the main character has read a hundred times. It’s a gimmick that’s slightly interesting the first time it happens but gets old pretty quick. There are also a few chapters of time travel that feel out of place. Sam flashes into the future to see how his life with child will be. Unfortunately, nothing in those scenes cause him to alter his behaviour or attitude at all. They may as well never happen. You could remove those chapters completely and the story would still play out exactly the same.

The poster, the bizarre and unneeded addition of time travel, the underdeveloped side characters, and the fact that this felt like an extended pamphlet on teen pregnancy made this one of Hornby’s weaker novels. It’s worth reading if you’re already a big fan of his, because you will find some of what you love in here, but if you’re just getting into his writing I’d stick to some of his more celebrated books for now.

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The Magicians

The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Published: 2009
Length: 402 pages

Hopefully this is not becoming a theme, but this is another book that I really wanted to love and just couldn’t. People seem to be describing this as ‘Harry Potter for adults’, and I don’t know if I agree. I suppose I took that to imply more depth than Harry Potter, but it seems it’s just labelled as such because there’s some swearing and sex.

This is a tricky book to boil down to a basic synopsis, because for the first half of the book there’s very little conflict, and then the second half of the book could essentially be a different story. The main character, Quentin Coldwater, is admitted to a secret magic college after graduating high school, and then it’s Harry Potter without Voldemort for 200 pages. It then abruptly becomes Narnia without Aslan.

Vague, I know, but it’ll have to do.

I absolutely love coming of age fantasy stories in which a youth has to master a skill, whether that be magic, swordsmanship, basic survival or anything else, and I found that portion of the novel to be somewhat unsatisfying. There just wasn’t any of the wonder that you’d associate with being in a magic college. In Harry Potter, the characters were excited to be there and in awe of what they were seeing. In this he was trying too hard to show how a magic college could be as mundane as regular college, so much so that my own university days felt more wondrous than most of this did. What made it more frustrating was the lack of conflict while he was in school. The first half of the book can essentially be described as: he’s doing quite well in school, but he has to study hard.

Almost every character in this, Quentin especially, becomes completely insufferable by the end of the novel. The whole group of them are pretentious, selfish idiots who have no idea how good they have it, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if that’s what the author was aiming for or not. I try not to judge books by how much I like the main characters, because you can tell a fascinating story with an unlikable protagonist, but in a coming of age story such as this you naturally try to identify.

I obviously can’t say what Grossman’s intentions were, but it felt like he wanted to take Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia and show how they would play out in a gritty, less fantastical, world, one with real problems like infidelity and depression and desk jobs. Too much of a focus on that comparison caused the novel to become disjointed and suffer as a whole. As a quick example, there’s a Quidditch equivalent sport at the college, but it’s so underdeveloped that there was really no point in including it. You get no real sense of the sport and it does nothing to further the plot or develop the characters. It’s there because he wants it to be like Harry Potter.

At first glance, this feels like the perfect novel for me, which is probably why I found its shortcomings so disappointing. I like the idea, and even though I’m ragging on it quite a bit here, I didn’t hate it, but I haven’t decided whether I’ll carry on with the rest of the trilogy yet. Life’s too short for books you don’t love, but maybe I’ll browse some reviews. It’s possible that my grievances may get address in the next novel.

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Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland #1)Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Published: 1865
Narrated By: Jim Dale
Audio Length: 02:57

I picked this up partly because I wanted something quick and light after The Windup Girl and partly because I was reading The Magicians and had C. S. Lewis on the mind. And until this very day, thirty-two years into my life, I thought it was C.S. Lewis who wrote this book. Wrong Lewis, it turns out. And wrong century. Audiobook fatigue and a case of mistaken identity may not be the best reasons to pick up a book, but I guess that doesn’t really matter in the end.

I also picked this up because Jim Dale was reading it, and he did an absolutely fantastic job. I think a large part of my enjoyment was due to his narration. He made the world come alive, effortlessly voicing every character perfectly, and even while driving through traffic I felt like a bewildered kid sitting in bed listening to this nonsensical story being told.

I feel like you have to try not to worry too much about understanding everything to really enjoy this, because that could get frustrating. Read it like a child might and just let it wash over you and enjoy the imaginative scenes and colourful characters. It’s essentially completely insane imagery, which we seem to love putting in children’s entertainment, mixed with constant little reminders to do well in school. And many threats of violence. The writing can be quite funny at times, too.

For a minute or two she stood looking at the house, and wondering what to do next, when suddenly a footman in livery came running out of the wood–(she considered him to be a footman because he was in livery: otherwise, judging by his face only, she would have called him a fish)–and rapped loudly at the door with his knuckles.

This is just the first half of the story. Unfortunately, Jim Dale doesn’t narrate Through the Looking-Glass, and the other productions have fairly mixed reviews and seem to be missing some of the original poetry, so I might wait and pick up a physical copy.

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The Wasp Factory

The Wasp FactoryThe Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Published: 1984
Narrated By: Peter Kenny
Audio Length: 06:11

I’ve been making a point to read more Scottish authors in the last couple of years but hadn’t yet gotten to Iain Banks. He’s been on my mind since he sadly passed away last year from cancer. I knew him as a science fiction author, but it turns out he has many mainstream fiction books as well. He publishes his mainstream fiction as Iain Banks and his science fiction as Iain M. Banks, so it makes his bibliography easy to navigate.

This is his fist novel, a novel as Iain Banks, and it was a fantastic debut. The story’s narrator, Frank, is a 16-year-old boy growing up on a small island with his father. It’s an island connected to the nearby town by bridge, but it gives Frank an isolated area to call his own. His day is made up of small shamanic rituals and island patrols with homemade weapons. The novel begins with Frank and his father learning that Frank’s brother has escaped from a psychiatric hospital, and we essentially spend the rest of the novel learning how messed up this family is.

A death is always exciting, always makes you realise how alive you are, how vulnerable but so-far-lucky; but the death of somebody close gives you a good excuse to go a bit crazy for a while and do things that would otherwise be inexcusable. What delight to behave really badly and still get loads of sympathy!

I was worried at first that this would mainly be about the shock factor, as a few reviews I had seen mentioned, and that just isn’t something that typically keeps me reading, but this was a lot more than that. I was entertained from the very beginning. What I hadn’t realized was how hilarious this novel would be. Frank is so polite and matter-of-fact that the gruesome acts he describes just cracked me up. That audiobook narrator reminded me of a chipper Alan Cumming, and he fit this absolutely perfectly.

There is some controversial content in this, animal abuse and the detailed murder of children for example, but it somehow never feels too dark. At least, to me it didn’t. Iain Banks makes you care about these terrible people, doing these terrible things, and that’s quite the feat.

Sometimes I wish I had a cat. All I’ve ever had was a head, and that the seagulls took.

I’m very excited to read more from him. And even though he unfortunately passed away relatively young, he was a prolific writer with dozens of published novels, so I’ll still be busy for a while.

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The Windup Girl

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published: 2009
Narrated by: Jonathan Davis
Audio length: 19:34

I feel like I should have enjoyed this more than I did. Normally I would say to take my opinions to heart, because I have fantastic taste, but this time it feels like my lukewarm feelings about this may be my own fault.

Firstly, I love the setting and the atmosphere. It takes place in a dystopian Thailand, in a future where fuel sources have run out and food has become scarce. Calorie companies control the production of genetically modified food, crops that have been designed to not produce seeds, and this has caused plague and crop failures to wipe out large parts of the population. The Environment Ministry controls food distribution, and the conflict comes from their struggle to keep that control.

One of the many viewpoint characters in this novel is Emiko, the windup girl from the title. She is a genetically modified person, a New Person, who is a slave in a sex club. She moves in a stuttered fashion, like a windup doll, which makes it difficult for her to hide what she is, and in Thailand New People are treated with mistrust and disgust. She leads an absolutely miserable life, but learns of a possible way out, and spends the novel trying to break her programmed instinct to serve and find a way to make her freedom happen.

There is a lot to like about this. The writing is beautiful at times, and the narrator, Jonathan Davis, is one of my favourites and does a great job with this, but something just didn’t come together for me. It just didn’t catch my interest, and it wasn’t until the last third of the book that I really began to care. I think it was partly due to the characters being too disconnected from each other for too long, which made it hard to know why I should care about them all. I just didn’t have any drive to see the outcome.

Also, as much as I loved the idea of the setting, I found the pace at which I learned about it was too slow. Part of my confusion over the characters’ connection to one another can be attributed to how long it took me to understand the world they were in. I really appreciate the lack of info-dumping, but I always felt like I should know more than I did. Which is entirely possible. It felt like I missed some important descriptions in the introduction of the novel.

As I said above, Jonathon Davis did an amazing job on the narration, and my only complaint on the audiobook specifically is that it started with an introduction by Paolo Bacigalupi. He discusses how he came to write the novel and the themes he was tackling, but it felt like the sort of thing that should have come after the novel. I like to go in to the story fairly fresh, without being told the aims of the author. Although, looking back, maybe I should have paid more attention to that.

Even though I wasn’t in love, I’d still recommend this to anyone interested in the setting.

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July in Review

Books Acquired:
Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Alice in Wonderland (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #1) by Lewis Carroll

Books Read:
Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Alice in Wonderland (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #1) by Lewis Carroll
The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) by Lev Grossman

I managed to only buy one physical book this month (the other three are audiobooks), and that was a cookbook. I’m not sure how to deal with cookbooks in my obsessive online tracking. I add them to Goodreads, but when can you really say you’ve ‘read’ a cookbook? I’ll typically read through the introduction and skim all of the recipes when I first buy one, but I’m not sure at which point to give it a star rating. After cooking three recipes? Five? Half the book? I don’t think I’ve ever cooked more than five or six recipes from one cookbook. I do enjoy the pretty photos, though.

This is just one of the many stressful issues I deal with in my life. It’s a rough existence.

Our new condo allows dogs, so we dog-sat for some friends this month. I really enjoyed taking her out for her daily walk and play around the park. It made for some excellent audiobook time. We’re considering getting our own dog at some point, but at this stage we’re happy to do some trial runs with other people’s pets. I’m still not sure I want to commit to morning walks.

Movies watched:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – It was a slow movie month for us, this being the only movie we watched, but it was fairly good. It’s a bit silly and predictable, and at some parts quite unbelievable, but the acting was strong and it was beautifully shot on location. There are also a lot of references to Indiana Jones, which I can always appreciate, even if they’re distracting and completely out of place.

TV watched:
Wallander, Season 2 – I’ve decided to only mention series in which I completed a season, which doesn’t leave much this month, but we did continue on with Wallander. The second season wasn’t as good as the first, but I still really enjoyed it. It started off weak, but it bounced back. It’s worth it just for Kenneth Branagh’s acting and the cinematography.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle – This is a little mini-series I stumbled across on Netflix. It’s three hour-long documentaries on the history of comic books, through interviews with the creators. If you have any interest in comics and the history behind them, it’s a great watch. It’s hosted by Liev Schreiber, seemingly against his will. He’s very wooden, but he only takes up a couple of minutes at the beginning of each episode.

Games played:
The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings (PC) – I actually just finished this tonight, but I’ll count it for July. This was an excellent Action RPG, but it did have some odd faults. There are some really poor design choices, and it’s still riddled with bugs three years after release. Some of the voice acting and dialogue is also questionable, the worst sadly being the main character. He sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman, only less enthusiastic. The game mechanics and story compelled me on despite the flaws, though, so that’s a good sign. I’ll be looking forward to the third in the series, which is due to be released next February.

TowerFall Ascension (PS4) – My girlfriend and I played quite a bit of this. There’s a co-operative mode for 2 players, which has been a blast. It can get pretty frustrating if you get too hung up on winning, though, because you tend to die a lot. Especially when your girlfriend shoots you in the face. There’s a multiplayer versus mode which is also really fun. We’re looking forward to trying that out with four players.

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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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