Too Much Future

Normal by Warren Ellis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. 9780374534974.

normalHidden in an experimental forest in rural Oregon is a facility funded by various government agencies and NGOs, a facility where professionals help mentally ill futurists. They observe trends in technology, finance, and warfare in order to predict what comes next, and are driven mad by what they predict. Foresight strategist Adam Dearden arrives after a breakdown and is ready for time away from the constant inbound information that controlled his life. Then a patient goes missing from his locked and very closely watched room, leaving behind a huge mound of writhing insects on his bed. The facility goes into lockdown and everyone begins to panic. Adam decides that the safest thing to do is to solve the mystery before anyone from the outside world comes and investigates his background too closely.

Ellis provides his usual gonzo, fever-dream take on current and near-future technology, much of it based on the work of futurist friends. He writes a fast-paced mystery that will leave you unsettled by the doomsday scenarios that brought patients to the facility.

What do you think about the birds in the sky?

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. TOR Books, 2016. 9780765379948.

allthebirdsGene: I think my pitch for this book to you was, “This book is breaking my heart.” I couldn’t read very much of it at a time. I think I started it in July or August, but I didn’t finish it until December after we decided to do it as a book club. I think I was just so upset by the early chapters… but they were also so beautiful, so beautifully done.
Sarah: I remember you telling me that it was great and that it kept changing genres, it kept breaking your expectations. And I thought, “I would read it for that.”
G: Breaking expectations and also my heart. In a way that kind of put it in that Neil Gaiman area.
Continue reading “What do you think about the birds in the sky?”

Oops!

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland. First Second, 2017. 9781596439368.

spill-zoneThis graphic novel is currently being serialized online at http://www.thespillzone.com/

Addison lives with her sister Lexa at the edge of the Spill Zone. Their old hometown is part of it, and it cost the girls their parents. No one knows what happened. Was it a nuclear accident? Nanotechnology run amok? Aliens? Or something weirder? The military has cordoned off the area. No one is allowed in.

But Addison needs to make money, and it’s usually fairly easy to sneak in past the patrols, enter the zone, and snap a few photos. Colors have changed in the zone, so has physics. Rats behave as if possessed. Animals have mutated. Empty swings move back and forth like there are kids in them. And people caught during the event float in the air, meat puppets with glowing eyes.

After a close call with a monstrous wolf-thing, Addison is contacted by the collector who has been purchasing her work. She’s offered the chance to make a life-altering amount of money, which she could use to help Lexa, but it will mean violating all of the rules that keep her safe while in the Zone.

Westerfeld is a great writer, so it’s no surprise I found myself rooting for Addison, but it was Puvilland’s colors and Zone creatures, at once fascinating and horrifying, that had me rereading it. And there’s a creepy talking doll, too.

Wow! Flying Dinosuars

Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City by Brendon Leach. Secret Acres, 2016. 9780996273930. 44 pages.

pterodactyl-huntersGene: It came out 5-6 years ago from Top Shelf, oversized on newsprint. Which fits, because it has fake news articles, and it was just this big, beautiful black and white thing. But I never wanted to buy it because I was paranoid that I couldn’t keep it nice. I don’t collect newspapers.

Sarah: It’s just going to get scrunched up under something.

G: It was going to be destroyed and I was going to cry. So I bought a copy from amazon.fr because they had an oversized hardcover edition.

It’s a vignette set in an alternate 1904 New York. It’s not quite steampunk, but it’s guys in hot air balloons hunting pterodactyls with these harpoon rifles. And then eventually, of course, dynamite. That’s my pitch: old timey pterodactyl hunting above New York City.

S: Look at that! You can see the head turn in the sketchy bit!

Continue reading “Wow! Flying Dinosuars”

B-movie Brood

American Blood by Benjamin Marra. Fantagraphics, 2016. 240pp. 9781606999523.

american-bloodThis is tasteless, B-movie madness in the best sense of the word, a collection of comic book length work by the creator of Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. reproduced, for some reason, in purple ink. You’ll find something to love here if you find joy any of the following: the most tasteless blaxploitation films, The Ripping Friends, the more tasteless episodes of Ren & Stimpy, Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit, Blade, Korgoth of Barbaria,  Steel Dawn, The Blood of Heroes, the wooden dialogue in Krull , the carnage in Django Unchained, and big-haired porn of the 70s. (If you only like some of those things, you’re going to find something objectionable.)

Sarah: This is like a tasting menu of the tasteless and/or the start of a really fun theme party!

Here’s the back cover, which serves as a more specific pitch for each of the stories in the book. (Click on it for a larger image.)

american-blood-back-cover_small

Coppertop Cops

Copperhead Volume 2 by Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, and Thomas Mauer. Image, 2015. 9781632154712.

copperhead-2Most of my favorite low budget science fiction movies take place in a desert — it’s a cheap place to film. And a lot of them are just westerns with better set dressing and costumes. In the first volume of Copperhead single mom Clara Bronson became Sheriff of a small mining town on a nowhere planet. In the second volume, her deputy, a huge furry alien nicknamed Boo, urges her to take the night off after a futile high speed chase through the desert. She heads to a bar where she tries to hook up with the local schoolteacher while, at home, her son slips past his babysitter to visit his friend, the artificial soldier Ishmael (who figured in the first book). Local power brokers want Boo’s help getting rid of the Sheriff. A gang of thugs are on their way to Copperhead to free their leader’s little brother from jail. Violence breaks out in short order, and soon there’s a race across the dry sand to The Bastion, “safe haven for outlaws everywhere.” (It looks more like the kluged together island in Waterworld than Jabba’s palace.)

Why I liked it: the alien melting pot, a single mom taking on small town criminals and crime lords, and oversized Boo, who is clearly on his way to becoming Sheriff Bronson’s Chewbacca. It pushes all the right buttons in my B-movie loving heart.

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos and Hwei Lim. Image, 2016. 9781632158345.

Contains Mirror #1 – #5.

mirror-the-mountainBefore I get to the plot, I want to talk about Lim’s art. It’s soft, expressive, apparently done in watercolor. It contains an amazing amount of detail when needed and a lack of it when it’s unnecessary. And she colors outside of the lines! It has the perfect calmness for capturing this fairytale of mage scientists, love, and anthropomorphic animals on an alien world.

The plot: An asteroid’s magic shapes the animals there, making them more than they were — intelligent, and to different extents more human. There is a war underway between the animals and the human colonists, though some work for the humans — most prominently a rat named Zun and a ghost that looks like Sena (a dog), who is one of the animal leaders. Sena still loves Ivan, her friend (and clearly more) who became a talented mage scientist and is helping Kaz, who is trying to understand how the animals changed so that he can use the process to make soldiers.

Confusing? A bit. It jumps around in time. It’s less guns and bombs and more about a quiet, indirect, emotional conflict. At the heart of it is Kazbek, his “son” the minotaur Aldebaran, and Ivan, who continues to love Sena (who was, yes, at one point his dog) despite the fact that she once really hurt him.

I know this sounds disjointed, and it is, but the story really is beautiful, and it’s going to have a lot of appeal for readers who don’t normally go for science fiction. Many will pick it up because of the art and stay for the magic and its “lovers on the opposite sides of a war” aspect.

A glimpse of the minotaur got me reading it. I stuck around for the art. And then I reread it because it was so beautifully told, and I knew that rereading it would clarify the plot and deepen my understanding of the book (though even now it feels difficult to explain in a linear way). Good stuff.