Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist proved to be a truly frustrating novel for me. I kept reading in the hope that it would improve, but somehow the text always disappointed just when it seemed to be on the cusp of improving. When a story hinges on the reveal of a zombified romantic poet and you see the twist coming, there's a problem.

The story also flounders a bit by trying to be a few too many things at once. The prose is equal parts Arthur Conan Doyle and Susanna Clarke. The introduction is straight out of a Series of Unfortunate Events, so you start right off thinking the book seems slightly unoriginal.

Still, there are quite a few redeeming qualities to the book. Barnes spends a lot of the novel trying to show off how clever he is, but does genuinely succeed on occasion. The atmosphere is excellent, with a just slightly tweaked version of London serving as the real star of the story. Barnes shows a lot of promise for a novice writer, but this is clearly the work of a Freshman.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spook Country

Thanks to a lot of travel recently I've finally had a chance to get through another audio book. This time around it was Spook Country, William Gibson's follow-up to the brilliant Pattern Recognition. Sadly it doesn't quite live up to the promise of its predecessor.

In the novel, Gibson brings back Blue Ant, a black ops ad-agency that seeks out new trends in tech-savvy subcultures. This time around the focus is on an art movement combining GPS and CGI technologies with Heads up displays. And just like in the prior novel, Blue Ant operates through an unusual proxy, in this case a former rocker turned music journalist.

Gibson is an incredibly talented writer with a real talent for writing stories that take place on the razor edge of the future, and this book is no exception. However it does feel that he's treading much of the same ground that Pattern Recognition already did, but to a lesser effect.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Castle Waiting

Linda Medley's Castle Waiting is just a wonderful comic, and I'm not just saying that because it features a bearded nun who hides a copy of Jurgen in her bible (if you aren't familiar with Jurgen then go out and read it right now). Medley has taken a fairly basic concept (what happens to Sleeping Beauty's kingdom after she runs off with Prince Charming) and has made it something utterly unique and wonderful.

Ultimately, the book comes down to a series of character studies, but thrives on the strength of those characters. The bearded nun is not an isolated standout, but part of an astoundingly diverse cast.

The only flaw to be detected in the book can be attributed to its troubled publishing history. Castle Waiting began as a self-published book, then changed to Jeff Smith's Cartoon Books imprint, and then came to a premature conclusion so it could go on hiatus back in 2001 due to low sales.

Fortunately, Fantagraphics has come to the rescue and we can look forward to the story continuing at last.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Queen of Candesce

It's really nice to have a series worth getting excited about again. Karl Schroeder's Virga series has actually managed to make me interested in an ongoing S.F. epic. I think the last time that happened was David Brin's first Uplift War trilogy, so it's been awhile.

The second book in the series, Queen of Candesce, is quite an interesting departure from the first book. Schroeder only retains a single character from the first novel, Venera Fanning, and picks up her story immediately after the events of the prior novel where she was left stranded in the air between planets in the artificial galaxy of Virga.

She eventually lands on the world of spire, a decaying cylinder encompassing a horde of feuding micro nations. This setting allows Schroeder to shift the action from the first books waring fleets to some far more intimate court politics, while still leaving plenty of room to find interesting uses for gravity. This is an excellent book that proudly continues the promise of the first novel in the series.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Essential Moon Knight Vol.2

Moon Knight was never one of Marvel's better characters, despite having one of the better costumes. In fact the character has probably mostly endured based upon the quality of the artists that have worked on him (David Finch, Kevin Nowlan, and for most of this book Bill Sienkiewicz). The character himself is just odd. He's a Batman knock off, who began life as a villain for Werewolf By Night, whose defining characteristic is that he has 4 aliases and occasionally has bouts of multiple personality syndrome because of that. Oh and I almost forgot to mention that he's a Jew who worships the Egyptian God of the moon, who resurrected him on a few occasions.

This particular volume finishes the Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz run, which was probably the character's high point. These stories introduced Morpheus and Stained Glass Scarlet, who were both surprisingly interesting antagonists, but they also spent far too much time on Nimrod Strange and his Slayers "did we mention they're a coalition of extreme leftist and rightist terrorists dedicated to the overthrow of all governments" Elite.

But the real star of this book is Bill Sienkiewicz, a phenomenal artist who is very rarely given material to work with that suits his surreal style. Next to his Daredevil/Elektra collaborations with Frank Miller, this is probably his best work for Marvel. This is also one of the times when I'm thankful for Marvel's black and white editions, as Sienkiewicz's pencils have often been obscured by the colorists who worked with him.

All in all a surprisingly decent collection.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Queen and Country

Queen and Country is probably the best comic that I had not been actively collecting. Now Oni Press has begun putting out a "definitive edition" of Greg Rucka's masterpiece, so I couldn't resist any longer. The story is roughly what'd you'd get if Aaron Sorkin worked on an espionage show for the BBC. The story is split between action heavy field missions and the bureaucracy and politics occurring in the operations room. The end result is possibly the most well conceived suspense story to date.

I originally read these comics in their serialized form by borrowing them from my brother. They were great then and their even better now in the collected edition. The only defect is the inconsistency in the art. The art chores for each story arc are handled by a different artist, in the first volume these are Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt and Leandro Fernandez. Each of these artists are wonderful, but their styles due clash a bit in a collected edition like this. Fernandez's chiaroscuro-like inking stands out in particular (although it does mesh fairly well with Tim Sale's cover art). But their individual efforts are all excellent, and the book as a whole is very nearly flawless.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The New Frontier

Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier is possibly the most beautiful comic to be published in the last decade. The book is a love letter to Silver Age DC comics, and to the era which spawned them. The art, which was honed from Cooke's years as an animator, is just gorgeous (especially in the Absolute Edition, my new precious) and the writing on every page shows the sheer joy that Cooke is having playing with these characters (ranging from mainstays like Superman to the obscure, such as King Faraday).

The plot isn't much, based as it is around an element from the War that Time Forgot. But this still allows Cooke to show these larger than life characters discovering themselves, even as the readers first did back in the late 50's and early 60's. This book is simply inspiring, and reaffirms everything that I fell in love with about comics in the first place.