Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Steampunk to kick you out of a reading rut

Cherie Priest returns to the Clockwork Century world she created in the outstanding steampunk adventure Boneshaker with a new novella, Clementine. Her characters are firmly set in an alt-history 1880s, where the Civil War has not ended and a rash of wartime technological advancements have resulted in all manner of fascinating machinery. Spinning out of Boneshaker with supporting character Croggon Beaureguard Hainey, escaped slave and now infamous sky pirate, Clementine is a standalone title which includes hot pursuit of a stolen dirigible, Pinkerton detectives, an asylum, a weapon designed to bring destruction of unparalleled power down upon the masses, and one former real life Confederate spy named Isabelle Maria Boyd. Let me just say that the inclusion of the infamous “Belle” Boyd pretty much made this former history teacher weep with sheer joy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Teen Survey: Anders

There's nothing like discussing a good book at 7 in the morning with an awesome co-worker. Meet Anders, who is probably either reading or going on a sunrise run as I type this. We've been recommending books to each other all summer and we've had lengthy discussions about titles such as I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. by John Donovan and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. After exchanging half a dozen books with Anders, I asked him if he wanted to fill out the teen survey for GuysLitWire. He said sure, and so I now give the floor to him.

Name: Anders

Age: 15

Books recently read for fun: Hero; Will Grayson, Will Grayson; Looking for Alaska; Lord of the Flies

Books recently read for school: Frankenstein; Beowulf; Dorian Gray

Books in your to-read pile: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas; Watchers (I seldom have many books to read)

Favorite authors: I have none - a story is a story no matter who the author is. It's the story that captures me and pulls me in, and I really don't pay attention to who wrote it up (maybe I should?).

Favorite books: Loamhedge; Brave New World; The Tao of Pooh; Hero; The Hobbit; THE ALCHEMIST!!!!!!!!!!

Favorite genres: The good ones. I'll pick up anything that is fun to read.

Why do you like to read? I'm not sure. Because... I find it entertaining? I enjoy reading someone's story and making my own speculations.

Favorite movies: Inception; Ratatouille; Wall-E; Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Favorite musicians/singers/types of music: Cash Cash; The Script; Vampire Weekend; Ingrid Michaelson; Boys Like Girls; (Alternative); (recently) Two Door Cinema Club

Do you listen to music (or TV) while you read? No. I find it distracting unless it's a school book that I HAVE to read and it's really boring (like The Bridge of San Luis Rey). Sometimes the assigned books are so bad that I lose concentration if I DON'T have music on.

Do you finish every book you start? Almost always. If I start a book, I feel uneasy not finishing it. I might take a week break, but eventually I've gotta finish.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes

Tales of the Madman Underground has been reviewed on Guys Lit Wire twice. The first review (over a year ago) was rather lukewarm about the book, clearly not a big fan. The second review, from February, was glowing. I just read the book myself and think I need to break the tie. And by doing this I hope I get as many people as possible to read Tales of the Madman Underground, because it is one of the best written and boldest young adult books I’ve read. How good is it? It is Robert-Cormier-Good. That is the name that kept zipping through my brain as I made my way through all of the adventures of the madman underground. It is outstanding. Read it.

I was born in 1960, but I consider myself a kid of the seventies because those are the years of my youth that I remember. This story takes place in 1973; in fact, all 532 pages take place over just six days in 1973. John Barnes nails the seventies. Imagine for a moment how different life was in 1973. Not just in the obvious ways, with technology or politics, but in how people treated each other, or something more mundane, like how we saw smoking or picking up dog poop. Reading this story immersed me right back into those years as well as the realities of being a teenage boy. The book rings with such an authentic voice, that I was sure Barnes was also a teenager in the seventies. I looked him up, and sure enough, in 1973 he was 16.

Karl Shoemaker is starting his senior year in high school in Lightsburg, his small Ohio town. How small is it? No-movie-theater-small. In many ways the town is dying, both literally and spiritually. There seems to be more empty, boarded-up stores than open stores. And the people of Lightsburg – like so many towns big and small all across our nation – are hurting. They are struggling with alcohol and relationships and anger and drugs and the aimless drift of life. And some of them are just awful people and abusive parents. Karl’s dad died a few years before and his mom is a wreck. She loves him, but she is an endless partier and an alcoholic, and so was Karl as well as his dad, but Karl saw his ugly future in a bottle of booze and quit and goes to AA. I know this sounds depressing, but in fact, the book glows with wisdom and in a way I see Karl as a teenage philosopher.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What's It All For? The Carpet Makers

Oh, the tedium of our lives. Waking up, staggering to the bathroom, brushing our teeth, showering, dressing, stumbling out the door to work or school, sitting all day at an uncomfortable desk...

You have no idea.

In Andreas Eschbach's science fiction novel The Carpet Makers, there are artisans who spend their entire lives weaving carpets from the hair of their wives and daughters, thread by thread, morning to night, marriage to death. This holy chore in service to the Emperor provides rugs for the grand palace of a vast interstellar empire, and the entire economy of many planets depends on it.

Until the Emperor dies, of course, and a new government must free these enslaved planets and discover the true purpose of the carpets that never made it to the imperial palace.

What would you do if you found out that everything you've lived and worked for is nothing like you've been told?

Such is the dilemma of the characters in The Carpet Makers. The story passes adeptly from character to character, chapter to chapter, story to story, as we watch fascinating people of all kinds struggle for freedom and meaning against the inertia of history. Some are rebels against the status quo, others are loyalists to the way things have always worked. They live, they struggle, they inquire...all in pursuit of the truth.

None of them can take the value of their existence on faith anymore, and this novel is an excellent reminder that the duty of an intelligent person is to ask questions and resist assumptions. Change, even of the smallest kind, can overwhelm us all without any warning, and it is the adaptable and inquisitive who survive.

Beautifully written, clear and compelling, The Carpet Makers is an old-school science fiction story full of fascinating cultures and far-flung ideas, the kind that keep you thinking long after reading it -- perhaps about just what the woven carpets of your life are really for.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana

"Two Years Before The Mast" is only partly a sailing book. It's also a history of California before the Gold Rush.
When it came out in the 1840s, there were -- I assume -- plenty of sailing books. But there were no books about California. (Or at least not many in English.) Because almost no one had been there.
So when college boy Richard Dana signed up for a sailing voyage and ends up stuck in California, it was the perfect opportunity for him to look around and write down his impressions of the place.
When he penned his book he couldn't have known how interested people would eventually be in California.
Because when he was there it was mostly empty, with just a few Mexican missions and towns. These places weren't much but they have familiar names: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco. Dana was there when cow hides were about the only thing they had to offer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to the Magic - SPELLWRIGHT

When I was growing up, I adored high fantasy. I couldn't stop reading about wizards attempting to foil the End of the WorldTM. Give me Gandalf. Give me Raistlin. Or Pug. And when I played Dungeons & Dragons, I always wanted to play a magic-user. So, the kid inside me was thrilled at the pages of Spellwright.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Richie Perry wasn't supposed to be in Vietnam. Yeah, he'd enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school because he couldn't afford college and someone had to support his family, especially his younger brother, Ken. But an Army doctor said Richie had a bum knee, so he wasn't fit for combat duty. And definitely not for duty in Vietnam.

But there was a paperwork mix up. Richie was shipped off to Vietnam while the rest of his unit was sent to Germany, and although Richie arrived in Vietnam, his medical papers didn't seem to have made it at all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

For The Win: Candidate for the Leaderboard?

I still haven't read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother--it seems like it's on perma-checkout at my library—but I DID fortuitously run across his next book for young adults: a massive (pun intended) online gaming epic titled For The Win.

I liked a lot of things about this book. If you've ever been involved in any kind of role-playing gaming, online or offline, you'll enjoy the familiar gaming lingo. And if you're familiar with classic video and computer games, you'll get the references (I particularly liked the idea of Mushroom Kingdom, an online game set in Nintendo's Mario universe).

I also liked the premise. The setting is not so far into the future, and online gaming has become a enormous corporate venture comparable in scope with any other major industry, with huge portions of the gaming market owned by Coca-Cola (HA!) and all kinds of unscrupulous underworld types dealing in a thriving not-so-black-market of virtual game gold and valuable in-game items. These "gold farmers" employ young kids in sweatshops all over Asia, purportedly paying them to play games all day, roaming the game universes in gangs, highly trained to win the greatest amount of gold possible from in-game quests, which they then re-sell to the highest bidder. But what happens when those sweatshop workers decide their conditions should be just a bit better, when they decide they have rights just like any other worker? At heart this is a book that drives home the value of unions during a time when they seem to be falling out of favor, and because of that alone, it's critically important.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto

Eric Luper's latest, Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto is fun, funny and well-crafted. It's just right for music lovers or for someone who has been dumped for the first time or somebody who has kept secrets or plays golf. It's an excellent end-of-summer read that is light and easy, with an engaging voice and some memorable characters.

Seth Baumgartner has just suffered a brutal break-up in Applebee's on his girlfriend's lunch break. To make the situation even worse, while it's happening, he sees his father on a date with a woman who is definitely not his mom. After this, he loses his job. So life sucks, more or less. Seth decides to start a podcast called The Love Manifesto so that he can "examine what love is, why love is, and why we are stupid enough to keep going back for more." The podcast, a new summer job, his wacko best friend Dmitri and Dmitri's suddenly-sexy sister Audrey, all help Seth to make some sense of the complicated universe of love in all its forms.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Felipe Smith redefines manga

Or at least is attempting to with his new manga series Peepo Choo, the first volume of which is out now from Vertical. It's a fantastic series, and so compelling I wrote this review for the website comicsvillage.com as soon as I finished reading it. Apologies for the cross-posting, but I wanted to bring it to the attention of more readers, especially after reading this great interview with Smith by Deb Aoki from Ask.com.

I will say this about Felipe Smith--he is not for the faint of heart. His work is ribald, a brusque, fierce, unrelenting satire that attacks everyone and everything in its path. Nevertheless, he is awesome, and I think his goal--creating a global manga--gets closer to that mark than anything ever has.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Once more into the breach...

I should not be surprised that Ellen Hopkins was disinvited from a teen youth lit festival in Texas and yet I am stunned to see a librarian was involved in this mess. Leila has a roundup of links from Ellen and several others who have since pulled out in disgust over the matter, so she is the place to start in case you aren't up on it. Tera Lynn Childs also has a longer piece up at RT Book Reviews on why she chose to pull out.

All we can do is let the world know about this mess, support the authors in their hour of need, mouth off big time about the librarian and superintendent involved (how could a librarian of all people support dumping an acclaimed author from a literary event? Who the heck is this person???) and yet again, stand up, brush ourselves off, and say we are mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.

It never gets easier does it? Being on the side of the side of the angels just never gets easier.

(And yes, I do think speaking the truth - especially the ugly brutal truth so often in Ellen's books - is the side of the angels. If you don't like her novels then simply do not buy them. That's all you have to do.)

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

The "Middle Eastern conflict" is really a series of conflicts that have been waxing and waning since 1947. People wanting to understand it can quickly get lost amid endless lists of politicians and combatants, military operations, and shifting international alliances.

In Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco tries to focus on a single incident: in November, 1956, Israeli soldiers entered the Gaza Strip town of Rafah, searching door-to-door for weapons and militants. By nightfall, 111 Palestinians lay dead in the streets and school yard. Sacco's previous graphic novels include Safe Area Gorazde, about the Bosnian War, and Palestine. He's been called the first comic book journalist, and his detailed black-and-white illustrations keep the his story from getting lost in lists of politicians and combatants, military operations, and shifting alliances. Instead, the images of cramped Gaza Strip slums, bulldozed houses, and the frightened and weary faces of Sacco's friends and interview subjects keep the human cost of the conflict in sharp focus.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch

So the caveats to this review are that I know Ben; he’s decamped from his town in the gold rush foothills of California here to the City of Angels, where he’s become one of the LAYAs -- that group of us who write YA from our Pacific Rim perches, and occasionally gather at bookfair booths or local bars, to bemoan the long strange transition of Publishing into Something Else, in a century full of long strange transitions.

I also know the area -- the hometown -- he writes about, in disguised fashion, in his freshman effort, “Sophomore Undercover.” I didn’t know, exactly, which town, until he copped to it; I suspected some place a little more due west, though I had the general “central California” part mostly figured out.

Which means, before I ever read the book, I already had opinions formed about Ben (funny guy, quick with an observation, and good company in a green room), and the neck of the woods (hills?) where the book is set.

Which also means, this is scarcely an unbiased review -- but then, really, are they ever?

“Sophomore Undercover” tells the tale of Dixie Nguyen, the 15 year-old adopted Vietnamese son of a local cop and his family, who, in the Roman-a-clef town of “Stilton,” California, comes across what he thinks is a meth/crank -pushing scheme among the hated school jocks, who are responsible for the routinely recurring humiliation Dixie endures.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Doug TenNapel, Revisited.

Doug TenNapel’s new graphic novel, Ghostopolis, inspired me to re-read some of his older titles. While he is probably best known as a creator of the Earthworm Jim character for video games, here are my favorite graphic novels from this author.
Creature Tech has always been my favorite of TenNapel’s. With a background in theology 19-year old Michael Ong turns to science, wins a Nobel Prize and is then contacted by the U.S. government. Michael is forced to return to Turlock, California to run the Research Technical Institute, otherwise known as Creature Tech.

Back in his home town, he is going through a rebellious stage making him clash with his preacher father. Every day Michael deals with government secrets and strange creatures. When an evil doctor is resurrected by the Shroud of Turin, Michael has to stop him from destroying the world. Of course the most important aspect of Creature Tech is that there are lots of monsters and a humongous space eel.

Iron West is a steam-punk take on an outlaw who is deputized in an emergency. In California in 1898, some prospectors accidentally awaken some deadly metal robots. Preston Struck always looks out for himself, but a near death experience and his alliance with a mysterious shaman and Bigfoot begins to alter his path.

Doug TenNapel's Gear is fairly bizarre but follows the author's heavy use of monsters and robots. The art style with its vibrant colors strikes a different tone than in many of his other graphic novels. Amid the manic energy of a book about war, cats, theology and the afterlife, is a deeper story about choices and consequences. this is a good one to go through multiple times because it is a quick read, yet I find more to think about each with each reading.

TenNapel's catalog of graphic novels is among the best our there right now. They are all exciting, with great action and humor, yet TenNapel injects themes of redemption and courage to make you think.

Fans of Kazu Kibuishi's graphic novels, especially Daisy Kutter, will enjoy these works by Doug TenNapel.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Unrealistically, My Most Excellent Year

Musicals, Red Sox, and Mary Poppins!My Most Excellent Year is a novel of love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park by Steve Kluger.

My Most Excellent Year is a novel about three high schoolers stumbling their way through relationships, family, school, and working their way toward whoever they’re bound to become. Being teenagers, essentially. TC is from Boston, lives baseball, loves Alé, is Augie’s best friend. Augie is gay, is Chinese, breathes theatre, knows how to keep everything around him on track. Alé is the daughter of a former diplomat, is new, is smart, has a secret passion for performance. They’re in search of their happiness, and discover it in pursuing making happiness happen for others.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Damage Done

Every once in a while, I feel like I should review some fiction. Not very often -- I prefer nonfiction, and get discouraged by all the fiction reviews I see. But I found a novel by Walter Dean Myers this month. I enjoy both his nonfiction and his fiction. Sunrise Over Fallujah is about the invasion of Iraq. More precisely, about conditions soon after the invasion. And as General Sherman warned us, war is hell.

So I'm glad Myers doesn't try to glorify the conflict:

"You bombed my village," the old man, his head down, replied slowly in English. "First you shoot into my house, then you come to the door."

"Where you learn to speak English?" Jonesy asked.

"I drove a cab in London for twelve years," answered the old man. "When I had enough money to buy a house for my family, I came back to my country."

"You're going to be all right," Jonesy said. "We don't hurt our prisoners."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Future, Tense

In 1975 it was clear to me as a teen reader that the future was not going to look like what was promised back in the 1950s.  Even now, sixty years after those flights of architectural and aeronautical fancy first filled post-war imaginations, we are nowhere near living on other planets, getting around by flying car, or residing in floating Fuller Dome cities in the oceans. I think the reason for this failure of vision was that technology was viewed as means to an end product for consumers – Look at all the nifty futuristic things we can own!  Even robots were seen as servants to our lifestyle, not as artificial intelligence that would further mankind's thinking.

Skip ahead now to the mid-1980s.  Images in popular culture of our future no longer seem so rosy.  There is a world on our horizon filled with people using technology to augment their dreary reality, as a means to escapism.  Some rent themselves out as living memory caches, others jack themselves in to muck around inside the digital Matrix for a heist, and there are the corporate raiders who intricately deal and double-deal genetic designers in elaborate cat-and-mouse games.  Its a world where hackers fly to NYC to buy stolen Russian microprocessors, then to Hong Kong and back to fence their wire transfers to Zurich, then back to LA to bring down a Mob-run empire with the ease we know today of flying daily commuter routes and surfing the internet on our cell phones.  This is the world of William Gibson's collection of stories, Burning Chrome.

I came back to this collection, which has remained in print since it's original release back in 1986, just to see how well it would hold up for teen readers today.  Would mention of the Matrix elicit smirks from teens who first heard that term uttered from the mouth of Keanu Reeves?  My fear was that the writing would feel as dated as sci-fi movie effects looked back then, pre-digital, when obvious cutaways between a latex head and the wooden acting of Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't quite mesh in The Terminator.  Happily (though I shouldn't have been surprised) Burning Chrome remains both solid in its cyberpunk visions and as an introduction the work of William Gibson.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Metamorphosis: Junior Year by Betsy Franco

There better be some god of journals and blogs who cares about what I'm saying, or I'm screwed.

Thus starts Metamorphosis: Junior Year, the story of a high school junior named Ovid, whose sister got hooked on meth and ran away, leaving him home alone with his hovering parents. Ovid is an artist and a poet, so occasionally there are poems (by Betsy Franco, like the rest of the text) and drawings (by her son, Tom Franco - and yes, he's one of James Franco's brothers).

Ovid spends a lot of time talking about his friends in high school, all of whom are in situations that are very much like those faced by actual teens - a girl with an eating disorder, another who shoplifts and might be bisexual, another who prefers to hang out online and can't really deal with an in-person relationship; a guy who totally loved his girlfriend and was messed up when she dumped him; another who cuts himself. There are others, too, with different problems.

Ovid talks about his parents, too - how they are trying so hard to get everything "right" with him so that he won't turn out like his sister that he's going mental. He talks about his sister, too - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and about his artwork.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The First Boundary: Books that Make You Want to Read More Books!

A lot of guys grow up thinking books are not for them, that they shouldn’t be lost in their own imaginations with the printed page lighting the way. But if you get the right book, at the right time, you see such bias for what it is: an illusion that might deny you some of the best adventures you’ll enjoy.

Outside of comic books, I wasn’t a big reader, but a few books completely blew the lid off the illusion that reading was lame.

The first was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. While I loved Star Wars and Star Trek, this was a different kind of cosmic adventure. The story was big. Really big. End of civilization as we know it BIG. And through a series of linked stories that tied together an adventure to save the universe over thousands of years, Asimov painted an epic story of smarts against vice and decay, all using a cosmic background. I’ve never been moved by any other Asimov stories, but as a young man, snowed-in and sick, the adventures of Hari Seldon and the mighty villain known as the Mule blew apart the lie I’d believed: that books couldn’t be wicked fun and smart at the same time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dark, Dystopian, and Damn Good: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

When I first read The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first volume of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, I was absorbed. I was horrified. I was swept right along. And then I was MAD. Because it ended at possibly the most intense and stressful moment of the story. If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about. I cursed Mr. Ness roundly and then went about my life until such time as one of my fellow GLW contributors sent me a review copy of the second book. Oh, I was thrilled, just as I was thrilled when I got the privilege of reading an advance copy of the last volume recently.

And what can I say? This is one of the most striking series I've read in quite a while, period. It's raw and honest—because, of course, each of the male characters has his "noise," making his thoughts audible to everyone within range. But this series isn't just about what happens when everyone around you can hear what's running through your mind. It's also about deception, and how deep the roots of deception can go. It's about devotion, and how love can be powerful enough to fight back hatred and greed. And it's about redemption, asking the question of how far you can go before you are irredeemable.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans: ATreasury of XXth Century Murder, #3 -- Rick Geary

I love comic books.  I love unsolved mysteries¹.

So it was a good bet that Rick Geary's The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans would be right up my alley.

Hoo boy, was it!  I'm going to have to get the first two in the series now, as well as his series about murders in the Victorian Era.  Because I'm in love.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson

What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson
"Thoughtful and moving, What they Always Tell Us is a powerful debut novel about the bond between two brothers—and the year that changes everything.

JAMES: Popular, smart, and athletic, James seems to have it all. But the only thing James really wants is his college acceptance letter, so he can get far away from Alabama. In a town where secrets are hard to keep, everyone knows what Alex did at the annual back-to-school party. The only question is why.

ALEX: With his friends no longer talking to him and his brother constantly in motion, Alex is prepared to get through junior year on his own. And he would, if his ten-year-old neighbor, Henry, didn't keep showing up, looking for company. What Alex cares most about is running, and when he's encouraged to try out for cross-country, he's surprised to find more than just a supportive teammate in his brother's friend Nathen."- summary from Martin Wilson's website

This book was a refreshing read after all the fast-paced, quick adventures I'd been reading. Wilson's debut is more character-based than plot-based and, because of that, is quieter than a lot of books out there right now. It's a fantastically written debut that goes back and forth between two brothers over the course of a year and the change that comes over them during that time. It was a bit weird reading in third person, even though I've gotten used to it; for some reason, it just didn't feel right to me sometimes.

Being a gay man, I found myself wanting more of Alex's chapters and less of James' which I know is very selfish. I did enjoy James' story but Alex's rang more true to me and so I identified with it more. The romance in his part was just very swoon-worthy in my mind and I want my own Nathen now. It was nice to read a book that didn't have a lot of angst associated with the main character realizing he's gay. Alex just accepted it and moved on, much like how I did, though I didn't have a hot guy to help me figure it out.

Wilson spends a lot of time making his characters fully three-dimensional and he did a great job of conveying a lot of emotions subtly. Like I said before, it's a very quiet book and it's one that you want to just curl up and spend your time with.

One character that's a constant between the two stories is a young boy named Henry and there's a whole sub-plot mystery going on with him which was fun to read. He was a great inclusion into the book because he befriended both of the brothers and helped them change over the year. I don't know, I just really liked his character- very smart and perceptive.

Overall, a wonderful, coming-of-age debut that makes me eager to read more of Wilson's writing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Goon: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker

If you don't already know who the Goon is, you will soon enough. Post Comic-Con 2010 the buzz is already building for the David Fincher-produced (and richly computer animated) Goon movie. And from the looks of the trailer, it's going to be a faithful translation of this singularly bizarre comic book.

Explaining The Goon is not the easiest task around. Writer/artist Eric Powell has taken pieces of multiple genres and combined them into something far greater than the sum of its parts. Think 30s-era gangster films crossed with H.P. Lovecraft-inspired monsters, zombies and a heavy dose of circus angst and you'll just begin to scratch the surface of what The Goon entails. The character of the Goon is just as complex as his namesake book. He's a heavy drinking mob boss/enforcer all rolled into one who travels throughout a mythical cityscape, eliminating those who dare cross his path. Along for the ride is Goon's sidekick Frankie, whose blank, totally white eyes should remind even a casual reader of the characters in Little Orphan Annie.

Most of the collected volumes of The Goon comics are self-contained stories. By its very nature, The Goon is episodic and piecemeal, something of an homage to its varied source material. And up until recently, the character of the Goon, while fun and interesting, has not had significant depth. That is, until Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker.

This completely self-contained story does not require that you know anything about the Goon or his menagerie of characters, so it's the perfect first read for a Goon-newbie. Beyond that simple fact, it's one of Eric Powell's most emotionally compelling works, opening doors of insight into the Goon's character and motivations. Beneath his simple, brutal and cartoonish appearance, the Goon has a heart, and it is that heart that is explored in tragic detail in this graphic novel. It's still fun, as all Goon stories tend to be, and there's still plenty of action, but underneath the violence lies a truly heartbreaking story. For me, it's Powell's best work. Read it. Telling you any more would spoil the experience.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bad Kids

Lily, Noah and Simon are "bad kids." Or they think of themselves that way, and try to promote that impression of themselves. They smoke cigarettes and pot. They attend parties and partake in underage drinking. Noah is a dealer. The three of them are best friends, and spend much of their time "hanging out," getting high, listening to music, skipping class.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sailing through Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes

After my recent dire experience with The Island, Peter Benchley's 1979 pirate adventure (see my post here), I was leery of another "best-selling" author tackling the same subject. I was doubly leery when that author was the late Michael Crichton, a writer whose brilliant and innovative ideas are invariably balanced by a nonexistent sense of pacing, characterization and style.