Book Review: Girl Genius Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and The Heirs of the Storm (Foglio, Foglio)

December 27, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Girl Genius Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and The Heirs of the Storm by Phil and Kaja Foglio was released July 13th, 2010 by Airship Entertainment (hard- or softcover, full-color, $22.95 soft, 144 pages).

I squealed when I got this book in the mail.  Girl Genius has been a favorite of mine for years–I usually read it, as you can, thrice weekly at the comic’s website.  This is less expensive than buying the books, but you miss out on all sorts of extra goodies like giant bathtub snails.  And book-versions of webcomics make great gifts for our less-savvy loved ones.

But Ray, you say, what is Girl Genius actually about?  Ho!  I am so glad you asked.  The cover should probably have tipped you off, but this is steampunk at its best.  The slogan of the series is “Adventure!  Romance!  Mad science!” and it lives up to that, but I would also add “Hilarity!  Irreverence!  Tiny robot civil wars!”  Seriously, guys, this stuff is… genius.  They say that there is nothing new under the literary sun, but you have never seen anything like this.  Down to the tiniest details of the art and dialogue, it’s off-the-wall fun of the type that won the series the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2008.  Cheers, Professor and Professoressa Foglio–five years and counting, with hopes of many more to come.

Just as a last note, this is, of course, the ninth book in the series.  All of the comics are archived by the authors on their site, and can be read there free of charge as I mentioned earlier.  You can start with this volume if you like, but despite continuing the GG tradition of excellence, it won’t make much sense on its own.

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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.


Book Review: The Animal Review (Lentz, Nash)

May 5, 2010

*ARC alert*

Throughout history, humans have been studying their fellow animals and judging them in various ways- these are good to eat, we kill those, this one makes a good pet. But Jacob Lentz and Steve Nash, operators of the Animal Review blog, had another question- are these animals even any good?

The answers are in in this 144-page gem that serves as a report card for some of Earth’s most beloved and reviled species. It mixes hilarity with fact to provide a learning experience you’ll never forget- personally, I think that their analogy between sea cucumbers and people will remain burned into my brain until the day I day. This book will make you reexamine your opinions on every animal it lists- yes, pandas are going extinct, but have you ever considered that they might deserve it? And are hippos, which make adorable stuffed animals, really the serial kilers of the animal kingdom?

The Animal Review is especially perfect for reluctant readers who might need a little help in biology, or anyone who is bored on a rainy day. It’s a brief read packed with laughs that also manages to educate- and a surprising number of the jokes turn out to be scientifically accurate. If you’re still not sure, check out the blog link above for a free taste of what these two biology wizards can do.