The Massive Comics Feature

May 31, 2010

It has come to my attention that I have a bunch of drafts for posts about comics series sitting around cluttering up my to-do box. Thusly, I have decided to combine them into one massive post which will feature all of my favorites briefly and will probably end up being longer than my ridiculously long post about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Mmm, cheesecake.

My secret shame first– Witchblade. Top Cow’s flagship series has been running since 1995 and is one of those series which features a main character who is an impossibly thin, hot woman who, in addition to being liberated and independent, spends an improbable amount of time near-naked. The plot is nothing special, a great concept confusingly carried out with the occasional added complaint of redundancy. It’s something you read and like despite knowing that you shouldn’t, like Twilight (okay, well, let’s not get crazy; it isn’t that bad). There’s a little bit of police procedural, a little bit of history of the Witchblade, a lot of conspiracy, a ton of irrational mood swings on the part of Sara Pezzini, the lead… and a lot of Sara being naked and having the Witchblade (barely) cover her moneymaking parts for her. Way to stay classy, Top Cow.

After shelling out sixty bucks for the compendium of the first fifty issues, I can tell you that nowhere in there does Sara get any real answers about what the Witchblade is or what it wants. Every time she seems to gain a modicum of control over her sentient weapon, that disappears a few pages later with no explanation. And whenever she kills a bad guy they seem to come back to life with no explanation somewhere down the line. Oh yes, and every couple of issues there will

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Book Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Larsson)

May 31, 2010

I have a particular habit which many people find, well, offputting. I carry a small but distinctly solid hammer in my purse, which comes everywhere with me. I could go through my whole rationale to prove that that doesn’t make me a crazy person– after all, who wants to mug the psycho bitch with the hand tools? –but really, all that is relevant here is that the practice was inspired by a heroine who is very uniquely herself and like no other character I have ever had the pleasure of reading: Lisbeth Salander.

I have been waiting to write this post for a long time.

I am by no means alone in praising the Millenium Trilogy; indeed, the late Steig Larsson has gained international acclaim for his series, which is completed by the newly released The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. His story is famous: shortly before his unexpected death at the age of 50 due to a massive heart attack, Larsson turned in three complete manuscripts which he never saw published. Unfortunately for the world, he didn’t live to finish the other books in the series, of which there were to be an eventual ten. He left behind three quarters of a completed fourth volume, and synopses of fifth and sixth books may also exist. As of this May, the Millenium Trilogy has sold a total of some 27 million copies worldwide.

I could go on about how Larsson’s work highlights and condemns a broad spectrum of anti-feminist thought (in its original Swedish release, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was titled Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women). I could talk about how great it is to see a guy writing about a strong female character who isn’t grossly oversexualized and doesn’t turn into a ninny at the crucial moment and need saving. It’d be true; I do admire Larsson for that. But what I really want to gush about is Lisbeth Salander. Salander Salander Salander. When asked by a friend how I liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my only complaint was that it didn’t have enough Salander; that one focused mainly on Mikael Blomkvist. This unfortunate condition was remedied in the second volume, The Girl Who Played With Fire. Don’t get me wrong– I Read the rest of this entry »


Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Jemisin)

May 28, 2010

I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.

I must try to remember.

These are the first words of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, book one of the Inheritance Trilogy. From this enigmatic beginning the story unfolds in a way that is both disjointed and arrestingly personal. In most books narrated in the first person, the narrator tells us what happened to them without mentioning any bearing that it has on them now– they relate the events of their story, occasionally offering insight, but never making it clear what has happened since it ended or why they are offering it. Yeine proffers her tale in tantalizing bits and pieces, mixed up and out of order, interrupted by distracted tangents that support the assumption that she is looking back on all of this with regret. She may be talking to the reader, or simply to herself, but from this jumble she draws pieces that she draws together more and more tightly, right up until the dramatic finish. I loved Jemisin’s bizarre but highly effective style.

But I’ve gotten a bit out of order myself– it’s rather essential to mention what it is the story is about, wouldn’t you say? I’ll see if I can do it justice.

Yeine Darr is an outlander from the barbarian north of the empire that is the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. When her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the royal city of Sky, where, to her shock, she is named one of the heirs to the king’s throne. Despite the fact that Yeine would rather go home and deal with the monarchy from afar, ruling her own people as best she can, she is quickly drawn into a tangled web of conspiracy and lies which centers around the relationship between the Arameri (the ruling family) and the gods, who the Arameri long ago pulled down from their pedestals and enslaved, and who are every bit as terrifying as, but in ways more human than, Yeine’s royal relations. What Yeine cannot puzzle out is exactly why the Arameri would be interested in her— let alone the gods. Only two things are certain in the floating city of light and secrets– Yeine is held out of her depth by those around her, and many of them want her dead.

This book contains explicit sexual content.


Myself on Writing

May 28, 2010

I don’t think I’ve even mentioned it here that I myself write, outside of reviewing other people’s work, but I don’t think it’s uncommon for book bloggers. I’ve never been published outside of school newspapers and such, and I’ve never finished anything longer than a lengthy short story, so it’s understandable that no one has ever asked me about my creative process the way writers get all the time.

I guess I’ve always secretly wanted someone to, though, because when I got an email from someone in one of my Yahoo! Groups asking everyone to outline their creative process for a psychology project she’s working on, I was a little bit thrilled. I’m just going to indulge myself and post it here. Apologies if this whole deal is terribly vain of me.

What role does the creative process play in your writing?
That’s pretty much what my writing is, isn’t it? I write fiction, so I spend much more time crafting the characters, setting, and story than I do doing research. Most of what isn’t creative process is editing, really.
Do you think the creative process or the final product is more important?
Hard to say- I’ve never had a huge finished product. When it comes to short stories, though, I definitely enjoy writing them more than editing or being done with them. I’ve put getting published out of my head for the time being, because I feel that the writing is more important than chasing some unlikely goal which may or may not make me happier.
How has your creative process evolved, grown, or developed as you practice writing over the years?
My writing now is different from than when I started four/five years ago in that:
*my stories now contain elements like character development, descriptive language, and plot direction
*I’ve always essentially written about civil rights in a fantasy or sci-fi context, but now I’m actually involved in the LGBTQ rights movement and have learned a lot more about the history of this stuff as I’ve grown, which I feel makes me better able to portray bigotry and ignorance in a way that will resonate with people.
*My sentences are longer (haha), something which I try to limit. My vocabulary is also much better.
How do things usually play out in your mind while you’re trying to write a story?
I’ll come up with a picture of a character of some sort, maybe a whole scene, and it’ll either fascinate me or not. If it gets its hooks in, I’ll start asking myself- who is this person? Who are these other people in this situation with (usually) her? How did they get to this place and what’s really going on? I’ll develop a setting, a list of rules on which the world operates, a political and religious climate. I’ll dream up backstories and back-backstories and history of that world that involves obscure characters I’ll never even mention. I’ll come up with how their wildlife is different, what their culture is like, what stories they tell their children at night. I go into ridiculous detail with it all. And while I’m coming up with all of this stuff, parallel to it, I start with that first scene and go back to the beginning, what it was that started the chain of events. And I’ll move forward, too. I’ll build those world details in as I go and come up with a story, sometimes just a direction based on character relationships to each other, sometimes a whole plot outline. Often by the time I finish all this planning the original scene won’t even be part of the story anymore, but I’ll still have those characters and they’ll be like real people in my head. I read somewhere that many writers show signs of schizophrenia, and I’d be willing to believe it. I certainly have voices all the time.
Do you usually think of a place, plot, idea/ premise, or characters first when creating a story?
The characters first, almost always. Sometimes I’ll come up with characters and put them in a setting that I’ve used before, and which existed before them, but I never start with that setting– I just expand it to accommodate new stories.
Do you feel that writing is more so about creating, discovering, or revealing truths?
I love being able to create an alternate world that doesn’t have the same depressing limitations as ours, but it’s a bit of a paradox because I also feel that everything I unfold in my stories is true. Maybe not literally true- there’s never been a girl named Ella, for example, who was a werewolf and fell prey to the stigma associated to that. However, there have been countless people throughout history who have experienced hatred because what instead of who they were, and many of them triumphed over it, and many of them didn’t. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t quite decided which she’ll be because either path is true. That’s sort of how everything about my writing works, really– what it is, in time and space and material presence, is fantastical. But who these people are and their inner lives and their triumphs and their troubles, that’s based on reality and largely my own life.
Why do you write?
Escapism, because it makes me happy, because I have hopes that I hardly admit to myself of being a respected author someday.
Is the creative process the most rewarding part of writing for you?
Definitely.


(Oops!)

May 28, 2010

It’s just come to my attention that reviewers are supposed to disclose when they have received a free copy of a book/payment for a review, to avoid conflicts of interest and such. I have not and do not intend to ever get paid for reviewing books, since that would indebt me to the author or publishing company. No one is exempt from bias.

I do, however, receive ARCs all the time. As soon as I’ve hit publish on this post I’m going to go back and edit all prior posts to note when my copy of a book was free, and will keep up this practice in the future. I do not believe that I am influenced to give a book a better review just because it was free, but I do think that my readers have a right to know.


Don’t Mess With Textbooks!

May 23, 2010

What.

As a former Texan, I just have to say that I am disgusted. These people are indeed rewriting history. I fully intend to find a copy of this thing somewhere online and read it so that I can be sure I know what I’m talking about, but really. Really? Requiring that students be taught about the NRA isn’t “correcting a liberal slant,” it is most definitely adding a conservative one. Cutting out Thomas Jefferson from many mentions of influential philosophical figures? Downplaying religious freedom? The Founding Fathers may have primarily been talking about the right to be Catholic or Protestant, but that was centuries ago and even our precious Founding Fathers were capable of being wrong. Religious freedom is something that I’ve grown up learning as one of the primary tenets of the US as a nation, and not something that a few conservatives down South should be able to influence. Readers, you can be sure that you’ll be hearing more out of me as soon as I’ve found a link to the full alterations.


Book Review: The Windup Girl (Bacigalupi)

May 23, 2010

There is no denying that Orwell’s 1984 was a relevant and terrifying speculation on the future when it came out in 1949, and that elements of its prophecy have come true, but fascism is not the threat to our way of life that it once was. The world has changed, and its nightmares have changed with it. Paolo Bacigalupi has provided an updated account of what humanity is doing to itself: welcome to the world of The Windup Girl, where domestic cats have been supplanted by flickering engineered cheshires, calories are currency, and governments and corporations struggle to stay one step ahead of the bio-terrorist super-blights which ravish the world’s rapidly diminishing supply of produce.

Many of the world’s nations have already fallen to blister rust, cibiscosis, genehack weevils, and the predations of the midwestern monopolies, which sell sterile crops so that none can take their market. Thailand has survived by nationalizing its seedbank and keeping the secrets of the last natural flora for themselves, but Anderson Lake has come undercover from AgriGen to take their secrets for his company’s profit. But his factory manager Hock Seng, a Chinese refugee from genocide, has plans of his own.

Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, the Tiger of Bangkok, leads the Environmental Ministry’s white shirt enforcers and spends his days intercepting and destroying smugglers’ loads of illegal produce and trying to elicit a laugh from his stoic second, Kanya.

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a beautiful and illegal genetic hack designed to be the companion of a wealthy Japanese businessman, abandoned on the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as abhorrent and unnatural by the Thais, she allows herself to be pressed into the life of a prostitute in exchange for shelter from the white shirts who would euthanize her.

These are the characters around whom Bacigalupi unfolds his epic tale of the age after oil, the characters whose intrigues and desperate attempts at self-preservation may tip the scales on the fate of the entire kingdom in which they machinate, may push humanity to the very brink of extinction. The Windup Girl is as relevant and terrifying as 1984 must have been when it was new. It is a vivid and fully realized conceptualization of what world we may find in the next century, and a dire warning for us all.

For more information and free reading of a few short stories set in the world of The Windup Girl, head on over to Bacigalupi’s website.

This book contains explicit sexual content.