Stumptown is like a really good television pilot for a private detective series. That’s not surprising, since author Greg Rucka is a fan of seventies-era detective shows like The Rockford Files and Magnum, P.I. The crime in Stumptown would fit nicely in one of these shows or in any time–the investigation into the disappearance of a young woman–but the players have been appropriately updated.
The wisecracking protagonist PI, Dex (short for Dexadrine) Parios, is a mess. She’s addicted to gambling, takes care of her mentally-challenged younger brother, and is apparently responsible for the demise of the top dog police detective’s marriage. Her friend Grey, who takes care of her brother when she’s out solving crimes, is smitten with Dex, and Dex is oblivious to this. (See, it’s like a pilot. You need to tune in next week if you want your questions answered.)
The Portland crime family behind the woman’s disappearance suffers from its own dysfunction, with a daughter and son who both hate and love their crime boss daddy, and ultimately just want his approval.
Matthew Southworth‘s art captures the grey, lush atmosphere of the Northwest and the gritty side of Portland, and he simply slays the finale, with flashlights illuminating the action on a dark night.
For me, Stumptown simply isn’t as good as Rucka’s Queen and Country series, but it works for what it is. If this really does turn into a series, it may call for further investigation.
By the way, Stumptown is a nickname for Portland, Oregon. Here’s why.
From the Divine Pen fell the first drop of ink.
And from a drop, a river.”
Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel Habibi is like a gift from literary heaven. The two protagonists in this sprawling epic spend much of their time in hell, which makes the finale all the more precious.
It is a story that tells us cruelty knows no time. It is about a striving for the spiritual, even while we live in a crushing, corporeal world. It is about the sacrifices we make for our beloved (our habibi), or simply to survive. It is about the power and beauty of words. And it is about the ultimate triumph of love.
In an unnamed Arab country, Dodola is sold into marriage at the age of nine. Her husband is a scribe who teaches the young girl how to read and write.
When her husband is murdered by thieves, 12-year-old Dodola is abducted and sold into slavery. It is through this ordeal that she meets a three-year-old boy who she takes under her wing and renames Zam. The two escape and set-up home in an abandoned ship in the middle of the desert.
As Habibi unfolds, we see Dodola and Zam’s relationship evolve as they grow-up together, are torn apart, suffer alone, and are reunited. At different points in the narrative they serve different roles for each other: parent, child, companion, object of desire, inspiration, caregiver, savior, partner, lover. Whatever the fates deal these characters, they each have a constant in their heart—for Dodola it is Zam, for Zam it is Dodola.
Habibi is also stories within stories. Dodola tells Zam stories from the Quran, and it was fascinating for this westerner to see how the stories differ from their biblical counterparts. I don’t know if other readers come to the same conclusion, but I can see the story of these two innocents fitting easily into a book of holy scripture. Their story would teach about the power of love and loyalty, and the nature of evil and its place on the human plane.
Thompson’s artwork is masterful, his writing almost mythological. Together, word and picture make for a thrilling and important work of literature.
Thompson has received great acclaim for his latest, but not everyone agrees. There are complaints about the stereotypical depictions of Arabs, and criticism of gratuitous nudity. The many drawings of a nude Dodola may titillate at times, but they are also a commentary on the objectification of women:
When the world is on its last breath… the masses will need something to distract them from the destruction—and my body will still be a commodity. This is the world of men.”
Any perusal of the many reviews of this book—whether the critics adore the work or have issues with it— will only illustrate the depth that lies within Habibi.
It is the best book I’ve read this year.
I read a couple of graphic works last month. One gets a thumbs up. One gets a sideways thumb at the most.
The Gist: If you’re following Fables–the best darn comic book out there right now–get ready for an epic battle between Mr. Dark and Frau Totenkinder. Meanwhile, Rose Red must put aside her grieving over the death of Boy Blue and pull herself together in order to organize the Fables for the coming conflict with the dark master. We learn about Snow White and Rose Red’s past, more is implied about Ghost (Snow White and Bigby’s invisible child), and Beauty finally births Beast’s baby! If you haven’t been following Fables, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Status: Devoured! Volume 15 includes the wonderful 100th issue of the comic book with lots of fun extras.
Summer Escapism: Yeah, baby!
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B (I get totally immersed in this world when reading a Fables volume.)
Social Relevance: B (Yes, we’re talking about good versus evil, but Willingham’s Fable characters are too complicated and rich to be relegated to simple black and white.)
General Reaction: The best Fables story arc of the last couple of years. Can this comic get any better?!
The Gist: Hapless geek Jimmy is a mama’s boy and librarian in Oakland who thinks he knows more than he actually does about computers and the Internet. When he loses his best friend Sara to an internship in New York, he realizes that he has romantic feelings for her. So… it’s off to New York!
Status: Read cover to cover
Summer Escapism: Meh…
Strength of Writing: C (Yes, it was satisfactory.)
Social Relevance: B (Jimmy has a job but he’s still a step or two away from being a self-actualized adult. He represents the Emerging Adult, an increasing trend in our country.)
Generation Reaction: Reading this made me feel as empty as Jimmy must feel. Oh yeah, I chuckled in a few of places, but it was generally a solemn read for me. Following Jimmy’s trip to New York and his last interaction with Sara, the reader is left with no idea if the protagonist will begin to gain confidence and take charge of his life. In reading a book, at the very least, I want to know that something has changed for a character, that some revelation about life has been earned. You won’t get that reading Empire State. (Jimmy is a continuing character for Shiga, so maybe we’ll be rewarded in future books.) I’m a great believer that every read does not have to leave you feeling good, and I suppose this story has something to tell us about the state of twenty-somethings in the world today. Maybe I’m just becoming an old fuddy-duddy!
By the way, Shiga continues to have great promise, despite my lukewarm review of Empire State. After all, he did create this! It features Jimmy, too.
Visit ShigaBooks to find out more about this talented artist and writer.
No respite from the searing heat, so I’m staying parked inside flipping pages. Here are my latest reads…
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
The Gist: Oslo police detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearances of several women that have occurred over a number of years. All of the cases have a few things in common: the missing women are all mothers; each disappearance occurs during Norway’s first snowfall of the winter season; and a freshly built snowman is left in the wake of each disappearance. Meanwhile, Harry mulls over an anonymous letter he received earlier about the impending return of The Snowman. Could these disappearances be the work of Norway’s first serial killer?
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: A (The best! In addition to an addictive mystery, you’re treated to a chilly Nordic winter. That’s one way to beat the heat.)
Strength of Writing: A (Nesbo pulls you in and doesn’t let go until you finish. He’s a master at this kind of writing.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B. (A crime thriller that doesn’t make you think isn’t really worth much. Nesbo keeps you guessing.)
Social Relevance: C (Good novels always have something to say about the nature of human existence. Readers are treated to some interesting stats about a couple of human diseases, as well as the promiscuous behaviors of the naked ape.)
General Reaction: A corker of a good read! Nesbo is being promoted as the “next Stieg Larsson,” and it’s easy to get on board this description. Harry Hole is a likable protagonist; flawed, obsessed, and a master sleuth. He struggles with alcohol. His relationships with the beautiful Rakel and her son Oleg are achingly relevant to the main plot line. There are red herrings galore in this book, but Nesbo makes them work. And there are some gruesome scenes; but if you like your crime thrillers served up bloody, then here’s your ticket!
Watch the book trailer for The Snowman.
Check out other Nordic Crime Thrillers.
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volumes One through Four, story and art by Motoro Mase
The Gist: My friend Sadie wrote a review of Volume One on her now defunct Extremely Graphic blog. I’ll let her give you the gist: “In Ikigami: the Ultimate Limit, the government has developed a vaccine that can protect the population from every single known disease. However, to keep the citizens’ appreciation for life, a small percentage of vaccines kill the child before he or she turns 25. A day before their death, a man delivers an ikigami or death card to the victim. Fujimoto delivers these cards.” Yep, that sums it up rather well. Each volume contains two stories about a character who receives an Ikigami, and shows us what happens during their last day on Earth. An overarching storyline concerns Fujimoto’s discomfort over his job as messenger of death.
Status: I’ve read the first four volumes of this series
Strength of Writing: Volumes One and Three get a B; Volumes Two and Four get a C (Volume One is rated highly because of the originality of the idea and the explanation of how the Ikigami program works. Volume Three has the two best stories so far in the collection.)
Strength of Art: A (If you like Manga art, which I do.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: C (What would you do if you were told you had 24 hours to live? Would you do what the characters do? Yeah, there’s a bit of stimulation and neural activity.)
Social Relevance: ummm… OK, I’ll give it a C-
General Reaction: While reading about the reaction of people who receive their death notices is interesting (the stories in Volume Three really are very good), I am more interested in Fujimoto’s growing distrust of the Ikigami program. The introduction of psychoanalyst Dr. Kobo, Mr. Fujimoto’s attraction to her, and my suspicion that she may be working against the Ikigami program despite appearances, are intriguing. But this overarching plot needs to develop faster. If it never does, or if it’s ultimately disappointing, I could end up rating the series a fail. Will I keep reading? Yeah, probably.
Read Ikigami online for free!
Wonder if we’ll get to see the Ikigami movie here in the USA?
OK, folks, now it’s your turn. What are you reading this summer?
Why are things the way they are? Why are there stars? Why do alligators have scaly skin? Why do rabbits have those cute powder puff tails? Why do buzzards have bald heads? Native American mythology often employs the character of the trickster to explain the state of the world and its creatures.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trickster as: a cunning or deceptive character appearing in various forms in the folklore of many cultures.
A trickster can be a god or spiritual being, or simply another human being or animal. The stories of the Native American tricksters (which are typically in animal form) have been oral tales told through the centuries, passed down from one generation to the next. The tales often incorporate a moral, imparting a lesson for young listeners.
These stories are being retold more and more in book form, and now comic book creator Matt Dembicki has brought together more than 40 storytellers and illustrators for TRICKSTER Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection.
This collection of 21 tales marks the first time such stories have been told in a graphic or cartoon format. Editor Dembicki explains how the book came about:
“As a comic book creator and someone who appreciates nature, I mulled over the appeal of producing Native American trickster stories in a sequential format. A little research revealed that such a book didn’t exist. For this book, I wanted to be authentic, meaning they would have to be written by Native American storytellers… The storytellers each selected an artist from a pool of contributing talents to render their stories. Additionally, the storytellers approved the storyboards. In terms of editing, text was changed only when panel space was an issue and only with the approval of the storyteller. The point wasn’t to westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories…”
Four storytellers with Oklahoma roots have contributed their stories to the collection: Joyce Bear, Greg Rodgers, Michael Thompson and Tim Tingle; and Oklahoma artist Roy Boney Jr. illustrated one of the tales.
The book is a delight for readers of all ages, but it would be especially perfect for reading to children. I remember my mom reading Aesop’s Fables to me, and I can see young people experiencing that same kind of wonder by hearing and, in this case, seeing, the tales of the Trickster.
Don’t forget to hit your nearest comic book store or library on May 7 to pick up your free comic book. There will be lots of titles for all ages to choose from.
All this talk about comic books started me thinking about the recent controversy over Superman, which Matt Price addressed on his excellent Nerdage blog. In Action Comics #900, seems the Man of Steel is ready to renounce his U.S. citizenship because he’s “tired of having (his) actions construed as instruments of U.S. Policy.”
Well, for starters, he was raised as an American. He arrived as a child and was nurtured by Ma and Pa Kent in smalltown Kansas, where he was taught all those Red, White and Blue values.
But what if he had arrived elsewhere on Earth? I dug out my copy of Mark Millar’s spectacular Superman: Red Son—because that’s the exact premise of this work. Little Kal-El lands in Soviet Russia, and Millar uses this idea to create one of the most fascinating reimaginings of the beloved DC universe. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luther, Braniac, Bizarro Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern Corp are all here, and all reinvented; for if Superman really did work for the Soviets, nothing would be the same.
Superman as Big Brother is chilling enough, but Millar doesn’t simply play this one-note theme; he’s smarter than that. Instead he creates a new world where the reader is challenged to reconsider the ideas of communism, socialism, capitalism and American Exceptionalism. It’s a provocative ride, and it’s not always comfortable.
From the opening panels—where President Eisenhower announces to the American People that the Soviets have “an alien superman committed to communist ideals whose very existence threatens to alter our position as a world superpower forever”—to a surprising twist at the end, Millar has created an unforgettable saga.
I didn’t forget it. That’s why all of this talk about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship sent me digging down into a bedroom drawer to pull out and rediscover this comic gem.
Here’s what’s on my nightstand:
• Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable by Bruce Hood (Beyond culture and the handing down of beliefs, Hood thinks there is something inherent in our nature that makes us believe the unbelievable.)
• The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (An adventure in an alternate world, where people really–I mean, *really*–value literature. What kind of drugs is this author taking?)
• The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham. (Latest installment of maybe the best comic/graphic novel series ever!)
(If you’ve been following this blog, you may be interested to know that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is no longer on the nightstand!)
And what has been taking up Miss Kitty’s time?
• No Going Back by Lyndon Stacey (An ex-cop and his retired police dog solve a crime.)
• Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth (It’s about our relationship with food.)
• The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (A modern-day woman discovers she has a connection to the Salem Witch Trials.)
Plus, Kitty says she’s so fed up with this weather she’s getting ready to read a Christmas romance: Scrooge and the Single Girl by Oklahoma’s own Christine Rimmer.
OK, now it’s your turn. What have you been reading this hot, hot season?
Hmmm… with all these titles, I wonder how many categories I should tag? Let’s see…
I typically don’t carry grudges, but I still haven’t forgiven HBO for canceling Carnivale, and that was years ago! There’s nothing worse than being in love with a story, only to have economics take the tale away from you before it’s finished.
This fabula interruptus happens in the comic book world as well. Comics long ago adopted the serial form. (When I was a youngster, there would occasionally be a two-part story; and a three-part story was a *really* big deal.) Original comics are now born to tell a specific story that may run dozens of issues before the “series finale.” Alas, comic book series are as susceptible to cancellation as your favorite television show.
I only recently discovered Book of Lost Souls, Vol 1 (a compilation of the first six issues of the comic with the same name). I loved it, only to find out that there is not and never will be a Vol 2. The comic died after that sixth issue. We will never find out the ultimate fate of Jonathan or his new friend, the cat named Mystery. And is the Dark Man god or the devil, or something else? Nope. Won’t ever know. Rats!
Then there’s A Distant Soil. I’ve been waiting and waiting for the final installment. Will it ever come?
But the most disappointing story interruption for me is the great comic book Drafted. In this story, the entire human race is forced into military service by an alien race in order to save Earth from a hostile extraterrestrial threat. Twelve issues were released, and a stunning revelation was made in the final full-page panel of issue 12. And then… nothing! I can’t find any information on the web about future issues. Searching for the author Mark Powers turns up nothing about plans for Drafted. There is a report that the work is being turned into a movie, but I can’t find additional information about that either.
In the meantime, I wait, wondering if these great stories will ever find an end.
Have you been affected by a story interrupted?
Young Bill Young here, writing on Kitty’s blog once again. (Thanks for the space, Kitty!)
About a year ago, I realized that much of the recent geeky entertainment I’ve been enjoying touches upon a common theme: Identity. Indeed, what is a person?
Let’s start at the beginning with the reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series. The cylons (robots) of the new series had evolved to look like us. When they died, they downloaded into new bodies and retained their memories. They laughed, cried, slept, loved, killed, nurtured, sulked, experienced joy and understood complex ideas. Were the cylons truly alive? Did they have souls? It’s ironic that the very first line of dialog in the series is a cylon asking a human this question: “Are you alive?” Ironic, because the humans struggle throughout the series asking that very same question about the cylons.
I was intrigued by the show enough to read a couple of pop culture books that discussed the issues presented on my television (including those issues of identity and what it means to be “alive”): Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Knowledge Here Begins Out There and Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica. Heady stuff, with a number of references to Ray Kurzweil’s idea of the coming singularity, when humans transcend their biological limitations in order to relate to superintelligent AIs. Really heady stuff!
Over this past year, I’ve found myself exploring this subject in other books and shows. For example, I’m watching Josh Whedon’s Dollhouse. Persons who have their memories erased are called dolls. They are imprinted with the memories of others and sent on missions. Does a doll actually become this other person? Is the doll still the person they were before their memories were removed, or is a person a collection of ongoing memories?
Then it was on to Robert Venditti’s graphic novel The Surrogates, in which people use humanoid remote control vehicles to interact with each other. This is similar to the idea used in James Cameron’s movie Avatar, except in Cameron’s work, the “remote” is actually a biological entity.
Even my most recent guilty pleasure, Jenna Black’s series on demon exorcist Morgan Kingsley, addresses the horror of real identity theft during possessions.
Now I’m reading David Brin’s Kiln People. In this future, people can download their memories into clay duplicates (dittos) that are sent out to work, to party, to accomplish menial tasks, or to perform a mission that would be dangerous to a biological person. The ditto has all of the memories of the original person (the rig) up to the time of downloading. Dittos are short-lived, lasting only about a day. Dittos must get home in time to download their memories in order to continue “to exist.” When the rig downloads the ditto’s memories from the day, those memories become part of the orignal’s experience as well.
There is a slightly chilling scene where a ditto awakens and observes “his” rig, and you realize that, at the point where the two sets of memories diverge, a new person has been born. Dittos may be shortlived, but that doesn’t stop a human rights movement promoting the idea that “Dittos are people, too.”
I suppose this obsession with identiy and personhood in recent science fiction could all be a natural extension of themes ignited by Willliam Gibson’s groundbreaking Neuromancer, as well as the real science and technology that is evolving around us. I don’t expect to live to see Kurzweil’s singularity, but if I do, I wonder if I will wake up some morning and ask, Am I me?
Young Bill Young here. I’ll be your guest blogger for the next couple of days while Kitty is out of town. First up: Oklahoma author CJ Cherryh’s latest sci-fi triumph, Regenesis. (Yes, I know CJ has moved to cooler climes, but she was raised here, taught school here, and wrote here for many years. We still claim her. Who wouldn’t?)
Regenesis is the long-awaited sequal to the Hugo Award-winning Cyteen—and yes, you do need to read Cyteen before tackling Regenesis, despite what some reviewers say. It took more than two decades for the sequel to see light, and Cherryh dedicates the book to Daw Books publisher Betsy Woolheim’s “determination.”
Cherryh’s Union/Aliance universe, the setting for Regenesis, is rich and complex, and I’ll let you follow this link to find out more about it.
When Regenesis opens, Arianne (Ari) Emory is 18 years old, and heir to the Reseune company which operates on the planet Cyteen, headquarters for the Union government. She is the clone of the original Arianne—a brilliant, but morally suspect, scientist whose genius has allowed Union’s population to grow (through cloning), giving it an advantage over its Earth and Alliance foes. Following the murder of the original Ari, Emory is cloned. Much of Cyteen focuses on the effort by Reseune personnel to make sure young Ari turns out as brilliant as her predecessor. This leads to cruel familial separations so that young Ari has the same traumatic experiences as her “parent,” but it ultimately makes Young Ari very different from the original: Old Ari doesn’t trust. Young Ari wants desperately to trust. Old Ari has no friends. Young Ari has several friends. Old Ari doesn’t (or can’t) love. Young Ari *does* love.
Where Cyteen was epic in scope, Regenesis is more intimate, taking place in the space of only eight months. But it is an eight-month period filled with political and psychological suspense as the young genius works to keep herself alive, solve her parent’s murder, protect Reseune and Union interests, and protect those she loves.
While telling the story, Cherryh weaves in the big issues that humans deal with: the need for development versus the need to respect nature; the meaning of identity; the need for self preservation versus the need to trust; and (especially in a post 911 world) the rights of the individual versus the need to stay alive and protect a way of life.
Cherryh doesn’t shy away from the big issues. (Why would you write science fiction if you were timid?) But she knows how to tell a story, too, and how to make you care about the characters (both born and cloned) that populate Regenesis.