Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Review: Hellboy Volume 3 - The Chained Coffin and Others

book cover for Hellboy volume 3A collection of seven individual stores, one of which, "Almost Colossus", follows up the events that transpired in volume two. With the exception of the last one, the stories are folktales that Mignola has re-worked into the Hellboy mythos. They take place all over Europe, from spooky graveyards to ruins on lonely heaths, from catacombs to abandoned mountain villages.

I liked "The Chained Coffin" and "The Wolves of St. August" as they delved a little into Hellboy's past, revealing the good guy he is at heart. But I didn't care for "The Iron Shoes" and "The Baba Yaga" as they were too short, over before they got started. "The Corpse" was worth a few chuckles, revealing that people can be just as annoying dead as they were when they were alive. "A Christmas Underground" and "Almost Colossus" were ok. The latter was the one story where we're given the POV of someone else, the homunculus from volume two. It fills in the details that Hellboy and the rest of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) were not privy to.

Speaking of the BPRD, Hellboy is joined by Dr. Kate Corrigan for two of these stories. Her role in both stories is to provide background information on the location they're investigating and someone to protect. Although she comes across as a damsel in distress, in reality she's just someone who isn't skilled in paranormal combat.

There were a couple stories where the artwork seemed a little on the sloppy side. I see it mostly in human faces, making them unnecessarily uglier. I also thought the coloration was off in those stories as well. But overall still good, particularly with "The Corpse" and "The Chained Coffin."

3.5 stars.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Review: Transmetropolitan, Vol 3

book cover for Transmetropolitan, volume 3The first two volumes got readers acquainted with Spider Jerusalem and the city that he loves to hate. The stories were primarily single or double issues with the overall narrative running in the background. Volume three gives us a story over six issues, "Year of the Bastard."

The presidential election is coming up, and the Opposition Party convention is in town. Spider is assigned to cover it. Two candidates figure prominently, and Spider wants to know if either is capable of taking down the current president, aka "The Beast". He interviews one and attends a campaign rally for the other. Neither of which make him feel good inside. As the convention convenes and a candidate is nominated, Spider smells a rat and digs until he finds the truth.

With the departure of his first personal assistant, Spider receives a new one: his editor's niece, Yelena. Spider's not exactly a charmer, so it doesn't take long for her to hate him. While resolving their conflict, Ellis gives a bit of insight into Spider. There's also a back-and-forth between Spider and Vita Severn, a political director for one of the candidate's campaigns. She recognizes the importance of having the press on her side, and he enjoys the access to the candidate that she provides. But there's more going on there.

Written over 1998-1999, it is just as relevant now as then. Besides the obvious oversaturation of media in our daily lives, there's the politics. This quote from Vita Severn about one of the candidates sounds like it could've been about the 2016 campaign:
"His Florida campaign for the candidacy rested entirely upon cultural and economic divides, the exploitation of tensions and the vestiges of prejudice. His appearance in Sanford looked like a Nuremberg rally."
Spider relies on the usual assortment of cigarettes, booze, pills, and sex to help him cope with his resurgent celebrity as well as sift through all the political bullshit. Inspiration is typically the result of intuition and amplified by the biochemical mixture in his system. After the binge required to write a column, there's always the comedown and hangover. Copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes get him through it. Going forward, it might take more than that. While this volume has concluded, it is clearly just the first act in a much larger story arc.

Darick Robertson's artwork continues to vividly convey the story. All of the characters' emotions, the action, the minutiae of city life, and the chaos of the political maelstrom are exquisitely rendered in fine detail.

4 stars.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Book Review: The Quantum Thief

book cover for The Quantum ThiefThink of this as a post-Singularity heist story. The main character is modeled after Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief from a series of stories by Maurice Leblanc. You don't need to know Lupin (or Lupin the Third) to appreciate the story—I certainly didn't.

Rajaniemmi does a superb job imagining what life could be like for our digital descendants. While there are several "interludes" that assist the reader in understanding this world, Rajaniemmi throws the reader in the deep end of the pool from the start, forcing us to gather the meanings of new words from context in order to swim through the story. I'd imagine that plenty of readers have drowned along the way.

The story starts with our hero, the gentleman thief, in a dilemma prison. Shortly thereafter, he's busted out of said prison, for a price, and whisked off to Mars to retrieve his memories. His rescuer/employer is Mieli, a woman who needs him to pull off a heist to rescue her lover, a secret she keeps hidden from him. The other major character is Isidore, a promising young detective in the mobile city of Oubilette on Mars. He starts off as a bit of a puppy dog, trying to please the tzadikkim, a group of highly respected vigilantes in the city, but gradually comes into his own.

While some futurists will have you believe that the Singularity will bring paradise, Rajaniemmi posits a future where that certainly isn't the case. Equality is a lie. Some of those responsible for forging Creation 2.0 have granted themselves far greater powers for their uplifted minds than others. Rajaniemmi's new gods are just as capricious as the ancient ones, and their struggle for power always leaves mere mortals as collateral damage.

The malleability of memory is an important theme running through the book. It seems that our digital descendants have a harder time with memory than our analog selves. While memories can be shared, it appears that they can be forged as well. While we've been struggling with disinformation on the internet the last few years, at least there's a way to uncover the truth. That doesn't seem so easy here when collective memories can be overwritten. The truth has never been so fragile.

There are many interesting elements that I'm not going into such as time as currency, personality pirates, multi-level privacy shields, matter shaped by thought, death as a time of public service, and so on. Recommended for sci-fi fans looking for something challenging and different.

A solid four stars.


Friday, January 4, 2019

2018 Ends; 2019 Begins.

Yep, I survived the 2018 holiday season. Three months of prepping for not only holidays, but birthdays as well. Woo boy, I'm exhausted. Still catching up on lost sleep, and now I need to lose ten pounds. Seriously. Twenty would be better.

Unfortunately, the fourth quarter of 2018 was a bust for writing. There hasn't been time. I completely understand why some writers run away to remote locations or hide themselves to get work done. I love my family and friends, but maintaining healthy, happy relationships requires time and presence. So, writing is neglected. And as I watch the pages on the calendar flip by on the breeze of time, I try really hard not to let it eat away at me.

Here's to a more productive 2019.