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Korgi, by Christian Slade (2007): The woodland escapades and scrapes of a fairy-like young girl and her magical corgi companion – corgis were traditionally said to be fairy steeds. There are three volumes so far; I’ve read the first two.

Korgibook korgi3

This would be a great gift for folks, children or otherwise, who are keen on fairies and/or dogs. Korgi is so cute and so peaceful – nearly as cute as Mouse Guard, and whimsical, dreamy, and celebratory of motion in a way that’s reminiscent of a lot of the first volume of Flight. Slade is not a very good draftsman (wandering facial features + an overall look that is slightly squishy and uncertain), but every panel is well-composed, again and again hitting that evocative sense of marveling at a woodland expanse. Also, his linework is notably enjoyable – scratchy, nervy, woodsy. His treetrunks are so nice.

Something that Slade does really right is letting loose when drawing the villainous critters – their gleeful bloat and gnarl works well to counterbalance the wide-eyed sweetness of the rest of the comic.

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ApocalyptiGirl, by Andrew MacLean (2015): A beautiful, energetic, but morally questionable post-apocalyptic yarn of a young warrior woman and her cat surviving amid tribal warfare.

ApocalyptiGirl

Read it for the crisp action sequences, expressive characters, and scruffy, nubbly, involving environments (rusting, grass-overgrown mechs; a home built in an abandoned subway train). The story’s mysteriousness is dampened by exposition that manages to be both heavy-handed and slightly garbled, and by the pat ending, which seems to lazily undercut all of heroine Aria’s past moral quandaries over the bloodshed she’s seen and enacted.

ApocalyptiGirl

Still, the ambience and visuals are striking and memorable; I’m very happy to own the comic to keep revisiting the art.

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K. J. Bishop’s “Beach Rubble” was first published in Borderlands #1, and recently republished in her short story collection That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote (2012). I’ve been rereading the collection lately for the first time since it came out, and eventually hope to write about most, if not all, of its contents in one way or another. (I’ve previously written about “The Heart of a Mouse” here, I realize.)

“Beach Rubble” is a dreamy, melancholy story of a brief romance between a young man (Zack) and a woman who might be very old indeed (Melusine), set on a virtual-reality island. It shares with The Etched City and “The Love of Beauty” the figures of elusive, alchemical women, and a certain procedural similarity to the bazaar segment of “We the Enclosed,” in its searching-through of accumulated objects for personal meaning. As an expression of the latter, I quote below a particularly beautiful and resonant passage, which works both as an expression of straining to apprehend a loved one who never quite drew near enough, and as an embodiment of the way that many of Bishop’s characters use ornamentation and artifice to delineate their identities.

“I’ve been going through all the stuff in the Lost and Found, looking at the things she chose to keep, discovering something like the shape of a hollow where she had lain in thousands of other people’s minds.”

Throughout Bishop’s work, that luxuriation in surface and artifice rarely goes unaccompanied by a shadow of misgiving: “Art is lust!” accuses the Beast in “The Love of Beauty,” and “the artist is a pornographer!” We see too a few flinching encounters with the ultimate descendant of the love of objects: mass production and consumerism. I think again of the bazaar episode in “We the Enclosed,” of the warped economy in “Heart of a Mouse,” and the several encounters with the pale uncanniness of suburbia in “Enclosed,” “Vision Splendid,” “She Mirrors,” and probably others.

In “Beach Rubble,” the virtual-reality setting is a useful means by which Bishop deepens and makes stranger that discomfort. Here there are no real tigers (sorry, Gwynn and Beth; thinking also of Wallace Stevens’ “tigers in red weather”), only a multiply mediated rendering of one: a virtual rendition of a carved ivory tiger’s head, delivered by a digital art gallery service. Real tigers, back on real Earth, are extinct, it’s suggested too.

And the exotic setting is, of course, beautifully done –

“The room was decorated with old prints and dwarf palms in African pots. Big windows faced the sea, where dhows and a couple of sailing schooners were drifting around in a world of sun-ignited blue.”

– but that exoticism is obliged to be more self-conscious than anywhere else: “Dark-skinned drones simulated a bustling population.” And all of this idyll funded by a Swiss bank account…

Melusine is a potent choice of name for the female protagonist. It entails secret-keeping (which is this Melusine’s ultimate aesthetic, and which she passes on to Zack), and watery elements, and an actual tail. I like to think that this Melusine might have tried on the alias in an effort at solidarity or identification with the mermaids whom she claims to have stolen her husband. “On nights after that I sometimes glimpsed their long cold tails flashing in the water, but I never saw my husband again.”

The insistently present element of water formed an interesting locus for many of my thoughts about Bishop’s fiction, though the water in “Beach Rubble” is a repetitive and encircling ocean. I associate Bishop’s work more with rivers, tributaries, a sense of continual onward-flowing. Some kind of end, some kind of drastic change in state is approaching (the edge of the Teleute Shelf in “The Art of Dying,” with its mysteriously nonvisible waterfall?); things very soon will not be as they were before; but the river keeps flowing.

I think of Beth’s fishing float being carried away, and her metaphor of whirlpools meeting, parting, and traveling on; of the water that carries the Gleeful Horse to Molimus; of the way that Zack in “Beach Rubble” sends his bottle-enclosed secrets floating out like feelers into the surrounding world, breaching the hermeticism of Melusine’s island; of the way we see Gwynn and his various analogues stride out again and again into various evenings and towards various ends, without ever quite ending.

Another piece of fiction that came to mind while reading “Beach Rubble:” Kelly Link’s story about a superhero convention and a MMORPG Missed Connection, “Secret Identity.” (This was most recently collected in Get In Trouble, which I have yet to pick up.) For me it’s not so much the obvious connection via virtual-reality romance, as it is the light, colorful, playfully sad way that both authors handle the irreal shine of video-game lives and mechanics. I wish Bishop’s shark programs handled my spam:

“It was your smooth white sand and coconut palms kind of beach, with lulling, sparkling wavelets, and parrots and gulls for colour and noise. Efficient shark programs patrolled the water. I’d never seen a single porn bottle or other spam object on the sand.”

As a side note, apologies for the lack of activity around here lately. I’m coming close (ish) (maybe!) to the end of my PhD, so time is at a premium, and writing here has had to fall off my priority list.

Go to:
K. J. Bishop: bio and works reviewed
The Etched City, by K. J. Bishop (2003): review by Emera
“The Heart of a Mouse,” by K. J. Bishop (2010): review by Emera

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 7.13.2014
Book from: Library

Mira Grant’s Parasite is one of the 2014 Hugo novel nominees, and is a competent but bland thriller set in a near-future where, in answer to the hygiene hypothesis, nearly everyone is implanted with a genetically engineered tapeworm. The implants confer systemic health benefits and exude all necessary medications – including, in a nice detail, birth control for women who can’t obtain it in typical form thanks to state regulations. Naturally, things don’t go as expected: the tapeworms start taking over, triggering the parasite-mediated equivalent of a zombie outbreak. The protagonist at the center of all of this is Sally Mitchell, a young woman who suffered total amnesia following her implant-enabled recovery from a near-fatal car accident. The emergence of the “sleepwalking” tapeworm-zombies, their strange awareness of her in particular, and the discovery of suppressed information about the true nature of the tapeworm, all force her to begin questioning whether her new personality might be more a product of the implant she received, than of the human self she used to be.

All of this happens in a surprisingly dull fashion. The characters, the speculative elements, the social commentary, were all just barely well-defined enough to keep me reading; even the action sequences felt rote and, figuratively, bloodless. I started skimming around the 200-page mark.

What I got from this novel is that 1) parasites are cool and 2) scientific hubris is bad. I’m a microbiologist, so 1) is a gimme, and 2) is… well. The boilerplate zombification scenario seems like a disappointing use of the timely and plausible-enough health-manipulation premise. I haven’t read it yet, but from what I’ve heard, Nick Mamatas’ 2011 novel Sensation sounds like it could be a more sophisticated take on the intersection of parasitism and human agency and cognition, though without the medical angle.

With respect to the science, Parasite starts out vague enough to be plausible, but this goes pear-shaped around the middle of the novel, where talking-head exposition proliferates. Genetic engineering is discussed in a mystifyingly pre-Mendelian way, where genomes, rather than being modular structures with rather well-defined architecture, are fuzzy entities that must be “blended” properly lest they become “unstable,” like… radioactive smoothies??

It was frustrating to me that Grant obviously relishes the wiliness and tenacity of parasites, but doesn’t penetrate beyond a superficial and often confused understanding of biology. I’m not saying that a truly deep understanding is necessary – sf just has to sound right enough – but the representation of science in Parasite is both simplistic and inaccurate enough to undermine plausibility in really basic and distracting ways. For example, Grant’s scientists appear oblivious to the existence of high-school-biology-level vocabulary distinguishing different kinds of symbiotes, instead repeatedly referring to “bad” and “good” [engineered] parasites. Parasites are by definition bad, while commensal organisms are neutral or beneficial to their hosts, a distinction one would expect marketing-minded scientists to be eager to publicly reinforce.

I realize that I’m a tough audience for this novel, but these are all things I would have been willing to overlook had the novel had enough interesting character-based, sociological, or other elements working for it, which was not the case. All in all, I might recommend Parasite to readers who are strongly interested in zombie-style stories with unconventional underpinnings, with the caveat that even simply as a thriller it’s not terribly exciting.

Go to:
Mira Grant: bio and works reviewed
Emera’s 2014 Hugo short story ballot

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 8.8.2013
Book from: Personal collection

To the best of my knowledge, Patricia McKillip has only written three novels of science fiction, all back in the mid-1980’s – the duology beginning with Moon-Flash (1984) and ending with The Moon and the Face, and 1987’s Fool’s Run. All three are out of print, and hence some of the only McKillip works I hadn’t/haven’t yet read, my teenaged obsession with her work having settled to a fond simmer by the time that I was in a position to go OOP-hunting. But the McKillip fangirl of yore emerged from hibernation when a dear friend (with whom my friendship was cemented largely on the basis of our taste in reading – geek pre-teens ahoy!) offered to ship me much of her McKillip collection, including The Moon and the Face, in the course of downsizing her belongings.

Having forgotten that The Moon was the second in the duology, I dove right in. Reading series out of order was standard practice for me when I was younger, since I’d just read whatever volume my dad brought home from the library for me, without regard for chronology. If I liked it, I’d beg him to navigate the mysteries of Interlibrary Loan for me and find its series-companions. Stepping into the midst of an already fraught narrative appealed to my relationship with uncertainty: I like the feeling of being an eager novitiate, working to unravel all that came before with hungry ears and eyes, and lingering equally pleasurably over those mysteries I couldn’t penetrate. (All told, I probably read more series out of order than in, back then.)

Since McKillip often works to appeal to this mode of reading anyway (I think here especially of the densely mystifying opening of the Riddle-Master trilogy), it took me some time to realize that The Moon and the Face was a sequel; it could have worked perfectly well as a stand-alone.

The novel is an elegant fable about homecoming, heritage, and the meeting of cultures. McKillip is very good at writing lovers in separation (thinking again of Morgon and Raederle in the Riddle-Master trilogy), each working intently towards divergent ends. Here, we meet Terje and Kyreol, who previously journeyed out together from a sequestered aboriginal culture, have become integrated into the futuristic world of Domecity, and are now pursuing very different vocations as cultural explorers: Terje has returned to their native Riverworld as an anthropological observer, barred from being seen or otherwise making contact, while Kyreol is trepidatiously preparing for her first offworld expedition. Both meet with unexpected dangers and sorrows, but the narrative moves with implacable gentleness towards reunification on both the personal and cultural levels.

McKillip works here in a significantly pared-back style compared to the trademark baroque or tanglewoodsy dream-impressions of her fantasy work. Freed of many of her more kitschy stylistic tics, like constant worshipful references to characters’ eye colors, what emerges is a style of light, dreaming lucency; it goes down like clear water. I was reminded of some of Ursula LeGuin’s science fiction, particularly “A Fisherman of the Inland Sea,” with which it shares strong emotional and thematic overlap. Certain elements still threaten preciousnesss – principally, McKillip’s complete unwillingness to threaten her main characters with serious physical harm means that long stretches of narrative are devoid of plausible tension, other than the sense of mystery that she excels in cultivating. Still, I felt happily rewarded simply by the elegance of the language and narrative movement, and the gentle humor of the characters’ relationships. Terje and Kyreol’s concluding exchange in particular is memorably sweet and wry, and left me smiling for a long time.

Now, to go back in time and seek out Moon-Flash

Go to:
Patricia A. McKillip: bio and works reviewed
The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia A. McKillip (2008): review by Emera

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 2.14.2013
Book from: Personal collection

I’ve been doing some thinking this spring about figuring out reviewing practices, or a mindset, that don’t have me regularly consuming 3+ hours for writing and headscratching that I meant to have done in one, doesn’t give me hives, and generally achieves a higher fun/stress ratio. We’ll see how this goes.

Saga Vol. 1Oh Saga! Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is so much fun that I can only assume that if you like fun, you will like Saga. It seems like Vaughan set out to create an X-rated Star Wars in comics – galloping galactic conflict in an expansive science-fantasy universe, plus some very colorful violence, and equally colorful sexytimes wherever characters seem like they might want or need to have ’em. But its immense irreverence has me reaching for Firefly as the easiest comparison.

However, the humor feels less strained to me than Firefly‘s. (The ticking of Joss Whedon’s brain behind the goings-on, working at being quirky or heartrending or whatever, is often too loud to me.) This is helped along by how boundlessly, weightlessly, beautifully weird the universe of Saga is.

Alanna and Marko are Romeo-and-Juliet runaway soldiers and new parents – much of the emotional weight of the comic rests in the anxieties of parenthood; the star-crossing romance seems forgettable by comparison. Their getaway ship is an enormous tree powered by personal sacrifices. Their babysitter and guide is a bisected ghost-girl (whose choice in headgear and allover pinkness reminded me of Runaways‘ Molly). Their pursuers include a TV-headed robot prince who just wants to get home to his recently pregnant wife, and a taciturn uber-mercenary with relationship hangups and a puma-sized, lie-detecting hairless cat. And given that all of the characters, even those that only appear for a few panels, are believably animated by a cantankerous, stubborn humanity, none of this feels like a burden of whimsy on the reader’s patience; I moved to greet each new surprise with incredulous laughter, and greedy eyes.

Fiona Staples (check out her sketchblog here) paints lushly, lushly, with a palette heavily reminiscent of the cool, dreamy neons of, naturally, 1970’s sci-fi – the soulkillingly garish bordello planet where The Will (aforementioned mercenary) makes a detour put me in mind of Bespin’s Cloud City, on acid.

Much of the imagery is clearly, simply meant to make the reader pause, and feel the uplift of wonder; I did plenty of that. Oh, those panels of the ship-tree drawing itself together to jet through space; oh, the towering beasties and haunted blue-green woods and luminous mountainscapes.

Alana reads her favorite romance novel

I am grateful that this comic exists, and am going quietly insane until the second trade comes out (July 2!).

Go to:
Brian K. Vaughan: bio and works reviewed

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