February 4, 2023

Review: Once and Future, Vol. 5: The Wasteland

Once and Future, Vol. 5: The Wasteland Once and Future, Vol. 5: The Wasteland by Kieron Gillen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More and more as I read comics, I'm finding I like stories that are one and done, rather than legacy characters that are endlessly rebooted and rewritten (looking at you, Marvel). That gets boring. This is why I think for the most part Boom! and Image comics are superior, and this series is a good example of why.

This is the final volume of the Once & Future series, which is basically Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table returned to England as nasty zombie monsters. The series also has some interesting things to say about stories, as the mythic tales of the past are brought to sometimes gory life. Our lead character Bridgette (a rare example of an older woman leading the way) is a fascinating example of a morally gray and generally not-nice person, but her knowledge, experience, stubbornness and overall badassery saves the day.

In this tale, zombie monster Arthur, his Knights, and Merlin are eventually defeated, by Bridgette, her grandson Duncan, and Duncan's girlfriend Rose, who in a nice twist ends up being the reincarnated Arthur and pulling Excalibur from the stone. Of course, after all is said and done, the three have to drink the waters of Lethe and forget everything that happened....except in the final pages, Bridgette looks at a note left by her previous self that says, "Vomit now!" She sticks her finger down her throat and ends up remembering everything that happened, including the roles of Duncan, Rose and her own lost daughter Mary, Duncan's mother, who stayed behind in the underworld.

The final panel shows Bridgette bluntly stating that she's not a good person and if she had to, she'd drag them all back in again. In that way, the door is left cracked for a reboot or continuation of the series, but I really hope they don't. This is a satisfying story with a proper ending (and the art and lettering is gorgeous) and it doesn't need to be revisited.

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January 30, 2023

Review: Goldilocks

Goldilocks Goldilocks by L.R. Lam
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book had an intriguing concept: five women hijacking a spaceship built to travel through a "warp ring" to an inhabitable exoplanet which is meant to become a new home for humanity trying to escape a dying, poisoned Earth.

Unfortunately, the execution is less so, and that is mainly due, for me, to the not well thought out worldbuilding. For instance, the author references the overturning of Roe v. Wade (in a heartbreaking bit of prescience) but also pairs that with mandatory birth control and fines for women having more than one child. Sorry, but that simply isn't going to happen with the fanatical forced-birth crowd, as we've seen since Roe was actually overturned. They don't give a crap how many children women are forced to have, even in this future of floods, wildfires, rising sea levels (even more so than what's already happening) and Earth's habitability for humans possibly having only a few decades remaining.

There are other bits of worldbuilding and technology that simply don't mesh, and contribute to a vague, unsatisfying story as a result. The characterizations are marginally better, especially the dysfunctional relationship between the protagonist Naomi and her manipulating and (as we discover) murderous adoptive mother Valerie. It's good that Naomi finally sees Valerie for what she is and breaks free from her influence, but the characterizations don't seem to have much depth. Due to these problems, the story unfortunately ends up being pretty forgettable. I didn't actively dislike it; it didn't leave enough of an impression on me to dislike. I can write a great deal about books I hated, but this one wasn't worth the effort.

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January 25, 2023

Review: A Strange and Stubborn Endurance

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very fat book, but the story is thoroughly absorbing, at least to me. Your feeling the same would depend on your tolerance for fantasy politics and a slow burning romance that encompasses self-discovery and healing from trauma. (There are content warnings for rape and suicidal ideation at the beginning of the book, and they're accurate. Pay attention to them if you're sensitive to those topics.) There aren't any epic battles, and the fate of nations doesn't hang in the balance. Rather, we have a very personal story affecting our two main characters, Caethari Aeduria of Tithena and Velasin vin Aaro of Ralia, and their arranged political marriage and love story in the midst of court intrigue and murder.

These are two well-drawn characters with depth. I appreciated the author's technique of switching sections and points of view--Velasin's chapters are first person and Caethari's third. Velasin is the character who suffers the sexual assault by a former lover at the beginning of the book, and his storyline involves recovering from this trauma and learning to fit in with his new husband, family and country in Tithena. (Velasin's home country of Ralia is a repressive place; he is gay and people like him are barely tolerated.) He was meant to marry the daughter of the ruler of nearby Ralia, but once his orientation is discovered--which scene is the aforementioned assault scene and the basis for his PTSD throughout the book--he is contracted to marry the Tithenai tieren's (ruler) son instead. This is Caethari, the other viewpoint character, a Tithenai warrior who is not pleased to be abruptly married to this stranger. Caethari also has a tangled family situation that provides the other storyline, the murder mystery that ensnares both Velasin and Caethari as soon as he arrives in Tithena.

We don't spend much time in Ralia, which is just as well; the culture of Tithena is a fascinating place. The worldbuilding is not dropped in chunks, as the author uses Velasin's unfamiliarity with the country to bring the reader up to speed as well. This whole story takes place, as far as I can tell, over the period of about a month. In that time, Velasin has to begin to work through his trauma, try to get acquainted and settle in with his new husband, and solve a series of murders that threaten both him and Caethari.

The relationship between Caethari and Velasin is the heart of the book, as they first agree to be friends and slowly warm up to each other and fall in love. It's an adult relationship with real problems to overcome, and the author handles these (especially Velasin's trauma) with insight and sensitivity. The interplay between these two is delightful. The story's ending wraps up the current storylines satisfactorily, but there's clearly a lot more to tell about these two characters and their world. If there is, I will be reading it.

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January 17, 2023

Review: To Each This World

To Each This World To Each This World by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have many books by Julie E. Czerneda, but this is one of her best. It's a stand-alone, which is relatively rare these days; but it wraps up its story in a most satisfying and poignant manner. It's a complex, hard SF tale of aliens, clashing cultures, misunderstood linguistics, implacable alien biology, and above all, one man trying to save the remaining Human population scattered across several planets.

Henry is the Arbiter on the planet of New Earth, in charge of maintaining the negotiated agreement between humans and the Kmet (who, as best as I can make out from the descriptions, are giant alien slugs with flippers). The Kmet have access to wormhole technology called the Portals. There are only two of them, and they swap out their Portals to allow travel to distant systems. Thirty-seven years ago, the first Arbiter negotiated an agreement that brought the so-called Duality into existence: a joint agreement to allow both humans and Kmet to flourish. But two hundred years ago generation ships were sent out from New Earth to settle other systems, and returning probes from those ships are throwing the Kmet into panic. They insist an entity called the "Divider" is going to kill the humans on these other worlds, and the Kmet insist on taking Henry and a pilot, Killian, to those other worlds to evacuate their inhabitants to New Earth.

What follows is a race against time to evacuate the inhabitants of the colony worlds, with their widely varying peoples and cultures, and a deepening mystery regarding the Kmet and their motives behind what they are doing. Since Czerneda is a biologist by training, the solution to that mystery lies in the Kmet's biology, and what happened to their ancestors centuries ago. It's pretty complicated, but she makes it understandable to a layperson.

The gems of this book, though, are the characters. Henry is a dogged, loyal, determined man trying his best to save the people on the colony planets and New Earth. The Portal pilot, Killian, is a grumpy, rough-edged spacer who comes to appreciate Henry and what he can do. But the best character of all is Henry's ship and companion, Flip, a "polymorphic matrix" (read AI, but contained in shapeshifting nanotech goo, given to the humans by the Kmet). Flip goes through hell to keep Henry safe, and at the end has to watch as Henry is stranded on the final colony planet. Henry ends up negotiating with the enormous underground beings who originally made the Portals to return the Kmet to their world of origin, destroy the Portals, and save New Earth.

This is a lovely read with excellent pacing and an emotional ending--the room got quite dusty as I turned the final pages. This is one of the last 2022 books I have read, and one of the best.

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January 8, 2023

Review: Leech

Leech Leech by Hiron Ennes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one weird book. The closest analogue to it I've read is Seanan McGuire's Parasitology trilogy, but that is a much more straightforward near-future science fiction thriller. In this one, the worldbuilding is all over the place, and precious little of it is explained. I have the impression we're centuries, perhaps millenia, in the future, after a climate collapse and near-extinction, and humanity is just again beginning to pull itself out of the mud and rebuild a technological civilization. There is old, rusting and forgotten tech everywhere, and satellites falling from orbit are depicted in stories as "dog's noses" dropping from the sky. Or I think that's what happening, at least. Nearly everything about what worldbuilding exists is ambiguous, and the reader has to put their own interpretation on it.

What doesn't have to be interpreted is the central conflict. The first-person narrator, a nameless (at first) doctor from the Institute in the central city of Inultus, is riding a train north to investigate the death of its predecessor. Only, as we come to find out (and also why I used the pronoun "its") this physician is not a singular individual. It is a sapient parasite that has invaded and occupied the host bodies of all the remaining doctors in this post-apocalyptic society, and at least at the beginning of the book, it looks out through myriad eyes and speaks with multiple mouths. When the doctor autopsies its previous host, it pulls a wriggling black worm out of the dead host's eye socket, a competing parasite it names Pseudomycota...and the hunt begins.

Since this book has heavy gothic elements, the brooding and decaying chateau where this all takes place becomes a character of its own, and the inhabitants therein are a dysfunctional, horrifying "family" that comes apart at the seams as the story progresses. The baron who is running the place seems to be a cyborg (as do a couple of the other characters--in fact, the doctor brought with it some tubing to place in one character's artificial heart? but in this, as so many other elements, the worldbuilding is vague and frustrating), his son and heir Didier has a heavily pregnant wife who keeps miscarrying mutant babies in the attempt to produce a son, as her only surviving offspring are twin girls who seem to be attempting to become conjoined. Didier himself is revealed to be a thoroughly nasty person, as he is repeatedly raping his servant Emile because Emile looks like his lost love.

And that's just the horror inside the chateau. Outside, as the doctor goes looking for the source of Pseudomycota, the doctor and Emile descend into the depths of the "wheatrock" mine (a major plot point that is never fully explained; you can eat the stuff and also somehow use it to grow crops, and it's hinted that it might have an extraterrestial origin). They track it to the source and the full body of the creature is revealed, as it comes wriggling out of the dark with its goopy, many-segmented arms. (Cthulhu would be proud.) The doctor tries to reach out to its fellow hosts in Inultus, but at this point in the story the doctor is severed from its own parasitical overmind and is imprisoned in its host, all alone. For a while the doctor thinks help is coming from the Institute, but winter is settling in, such a winter as will bury the stone spire of the chateau in snow clear to the second-story balcony, and all the characters, including Pseudomycota, are trapped inside to fight it out.

If you like worldbuilding that makes sense, as I do, you won't find it here. But as I continued, it became clear that worldbuilding was not the author's primary concern. Once the doctor has become a singular person again, the story focuses on themes of identity, personality, and memory, and the person the doctor previously was begins to emerge, along with traces of her past. (Yes, this host is female, and at the end we learn her name: Simone.) Eventually, after discovering she has inadvertently infected everyone in the chateau and the surrounding town with the spores of Pseudomycota (including herself, but her Institute organism fought the invader to a standstill, localizing it in one eye, which is removed, and Emile is somehow immune to both parasites), Emile and Simone burn the chateau to the ground and escape. They catch one of the spring trains to ride south, back to Simone's community of origin.

There is a lot of body horror in this book--black ooze coming out of people's orifices, bodies being cut open and organs removed--so if that's something you can't handle, you'd best not start this. I considered stopping a couple of times because the worldbuilding is so vague and unsatisfactory, but the story, and especially Simone's rediscovery of herself, drew me on. (That, and the fact that Emile gets a most satisfying revenge on everybody who did him wrong.) It's not quite in the train-wreck category, but I definitely couldn't look away from it. It's an unsettling, disturbing read, and one of the more unique stories you'll come across.

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January 2, 2023

Review: Dead Silence

Dead Silence Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurbs on this book's covers tout it as a "haunted house ghost story in space" and liken it to the classic sci-fi/horror movie Alien. Both those are true.....to an extent. The ultimate reveal of what is going on ends up not being either one, but for most of the way through, the spooky atmosphere, creeping sense of dread and rising tension definitely fits both categories.

What sets this book apart, I think, is the main character, Claire Kovalik. As the story starts, Claire and her four-person crew are in the midst of servicing the commweb, the network of beacons that boosts intrasystem communications. After two years of maintenance on the furthest-out commweb sector, Claire and her crew are coming to the end of their tour. But for Claire, it will be her final tour ever, as maintenance robots from her corporate employer, Verux, will now take over her position, and she will be confined to a desk-jockey job on Earth. It's a thought she can hardly stand, as she does not like being on a planet and around people. This is due to her complicated backstory: as a child, a plague ripped through the Mars hab where Claire and her mother were living and killed everyone except Claire. She had to spend a month alone with decaying bodies before she was rescued. This gave her severe PTSD and made her corporate employer distrust her, to the point where she had to fight to get any off-planet posting at all. She is frantic to remain in space, even to the point of considering suicide as the story opens rather than return to Earth.

But the crew of the LINA abruptly receives a distress call that Claire insists they check out, though a couple of the other crew members are against it. When they arrive at the signal's point of origin, they realize they have stumbled upon a fabulous find: the ship broadcasting the call is the luxury liner Aurora, which vanished with all hands and passengers twenty years before. Claire's crew wants to claim a finder's reward for the vessel, as the shares thereof, even split five ways, would make all of them independently wealthy. Claire agrees, and they park their small ship in the Aurora's cargo bay and board the seemingly lifeless ship, looking for something to bring back to prove that they have indeed found it.

The eerieness starts right away, as Claire sees the ghost of her dead mother in the cargo bay. As they work their way up to the bridge, they find signs that something terrible has happened here: the bottom cabins are barricaded shut, and there are various messages ("I see you," "Leave me alone") scrawled on the walls in what looks like blood. In a skin-crawling reveal about halfway through, the team discovers where the majority of the missing bodies ended up: floating in the ceiling of the ship's atrium, with signs of the passengers turning on and killing one another.

Meanwhile, Claire's crew is also starting to hear and see things that aren't there. This is nothing new for Claire: she has seen ghosts and visions ever since her childhood incident (and as we learn, even before; her mother took the job in the Mars hab because a five-year-old Claire kept saying she was seeing her dead father). The crew becomes increasingly unhinged, and in the last thing Claire remembers before apparently fleeing the ship in a lifepod, one of the crew tries to stop the voices in his head by piercing it with a plasma drill.

This is structured as a told tale for the first half of the book, with Claire recounting what happened to two investigators for the corporation in the Verux Peace and Rehabilitation Tower on Earth. She was brought there after being discovered in the lifepod by a ship seeking out why the LINA missed its scheduled rendezvous. The investigators are convinced Claire killed the other members of the crew, but they also want to use her to recover the Aurora. And so, over Claire's objections, a team is put together to return to the Aurora and bring it, or at least some of the bodies, home.

Things go even further to hell, of course. About two-thirds of the way through the book, we discover what is going on: what happened aboard the Aurora has neither a supernatural or an alien cause, but rather a technological one stemming from the eeeevvillll corporation. In fairness, this has been seeded throughout, with fair clues and red herrings. The last third of the book is a tense race against time for Claire and the final surviving member of her crew, Kane, to escape the Aurora before it is blown up to hide the evidence of the corporation's malfeasance. Claire and Kane manage to do so, and break the story wide open. At the end, Claire has enough money from her finder's fee to buy her own ship and start her own hauling business, and she invites Kane to join her.

Claire has a nice character arc throughout this book as she learns to stop isolating herself and to be vulnerable, to let go. Some readers might find the reveal of what's actually happening to be a bit disappointing. For my part, I was rather relieved to see there were no ghosts or alien monsters (even though there's at least a slight sideways glint towards the supernatural as Claire is still seeing ghosts of her new ship's crew at the end). Sometimes mundane things like greedy corporations are scary enough. But the first part of this book is dripping with atmosphere and rising dread, quite enough to merit the comparisons. The pacing is also very good. All in all, this is a satisfying story and worth the read.

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December 31, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: Severance, Season 1


I know I'm quite late in singing the praises of this surreal, bizarre, gorgeous little show. I watched the first episode a while back and didn't get it at all, so much so that I didn't continue. But I kept seeing people saying how good it is, and I finally decided to go back to it. 

I'm glad I did. This show, and in particular its gripping finale, "The We We Are," is one of the best things I've watched this year. 


This show takes off from its "what-if" premise: what if your brain could be "severed," and a separate personality created specifically for your office job? This second person would spend your 40 hours a week at work, and cease to exist, or rather be switched off, as you got in the elevator each evening to leave. You as the original personality, the "outie," would not have to deal with the stupidity, boredom, and sucking soul-crushing of your mysterious job, and could live your life without that stress. 

On the other hand, the "innie," the person who only exists for those 8 hours a day, sees nothing but the same huge white room with its green carpet and four workstations clustered in the middle, with old-fashioned desktops that most certainly don't connect to the internet, day after day after day. There are no windows, so the innie never sees the sun and never gets to step outside. When they go anywhere inside the complex, they walk down what seems like miles of white mazelike hallways with no end, occasionally stumbling across surreal things like a guy handfeeding a bunch of baby goats. The innie stares at their monitor for hours, fetching strings of "happy" or "scary" numbers from a continually changing numerical display and depositing them in buckets along the bottom, over and over again. They have no idea what those numbers are, why some of them have to be plucked out and put elsewhere, and what "macrodata refinement" actually is. They don't know what Lumon Corporation is or does. They never see anyone but the same four co-workers--Helly, Dylan, Irving and Mark--day in and day out, until a few episodes in when they go to visit another department. They don't know who their "outies" are, or anything about their lives: are they married? do they have families? Hell, the innies don't even get to sleep (napping during worktime is one of many things that are forbidden, as is fraternizing with other co-workers or reading anything but the approved employee handbook). Their outies and bodies do, but these artificially created persons do not. 

If you're thinking this is a recipe for psychosis and disaster, you are absolutely right. This entire first season is an exploration of both the innies and outies, and each one's attempts to find out about the other. It's a slow and deliberate peeling back of the onion, and one must have patience with the first few episodes. But I can tell you that all of the reveals of the last three are sprinkled in perfect places (for instance, the black oily ooze that Irving sees dripping from the ceiling? turns out to be the thick black paint his outie uses to paint endless canvases of long dark hallways--evidently demonstrating some bleedthrough of his innie's experience--and painted to, of all things, Motorhead's "Ace of Spades"). Mark Scout, the Macrodata team leader, is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife Gemma; his grief over her death two years previously is the reason he agreed to the severance procedure (although that really doesn't make sense, as the separate work personality wouldn't remove his outie's problems). The new hire, Helly, has a great deal of trouble adjusting to her innie's reality, and in fact Helly changes her mind after the severance chip is implanted in her brain and repeatedly petitions her outie to resign--never mind that this would presumably lead to the innie's personality being wiped and her death. But Helly is desperate enough that she tries to commit suicide at the office more than once, once by hanging herself in the elevator. She does this after she watches a video sent to her by her outie, which includes some of the most chilling lines of dialogue from the entire show:

"I am a person; you are not. I make the decisions; you do not. And if you ever do anything to my fingers, know that I will keep you alive long enough to horribly regret that."

In the final episode, we find out exactly who Helly is and why her outie underwent the procedure. The final two episodes ramp up the horror of the premise and tease just how sinister Lumon is as a corporation--not that I expected anything different, but what they're hinted as setting up to do to the entire world is a whole new level of WTFuckery. 

The finale is an unbelievably tense, edge-of-your-seat ride, as Dylan sneaks into the security office and enacts what is called the "overtime contingency," essentially standing in one place with both arms outstretched for the episode's runtime of 40 minutes, holding two switches that will enable Mark, Helly and Irving to wake up in their counterparts' bodies in the outside world. We follow each character as they see who their outies are and struggle to convey what is being done to them. It's expertly paced and edited and one of the most suspenseful episodes of TV I've ever seen. And the final few minutes, capped by Mark's single anguished line of dialogue: "She's alive!" followed by a fade to black and the closing credits, left me with my jaw hanging open.     

I'm still thinking about it, days later. There's been a lot of good stuff on streaming this year, but this show has vaulted right to the top. It would be worth paying for a month of Apple TV just to watch this (along with For All Mankind). If this show doesn't get multiple Emmy nominations, there ain't no justice. 

December 29, 2022

Review: Even Though I Knew the End

Even Though I Knew the End Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book back to back with another religious/Christian fantasy. It was rather constructive to compare them, to see the different ways different authors can approach this genre. In this case, this book is the superior of the two, with better worldbuilding and characterization. It's just a better book all around.

Helen Brandt is a mystic and private investigator who is doing one last job before her soul is forfeit to Hell. She bargained her soul away ten years ago to save the life of one of her family members. She works for Marlowe, a woman who (Helen discovers during the course of the book) is actually a demon. There is someone who is harvesting the souls of people like Helen just before their IOUs come due, and Marlowe hires Helen to find out who is taking her souls before she can claim them.

Helen is involved with Edith, a sound engineer for a local radio station who gets an offer for her dream job in San Francisco. Helen would love to go with Edith, but her time is running out in three days--that is, until the demon Marlowe offers to return Helen's soul if she tracks down the White City Vampire (not an actual vampire; that's about the only supernatural creature missing in this story), the being who is stealing Marlowe's souls.

That's the bare bones of the plot, but there is a lot of layers to this story: family, love, and an exploration of the power of the Brotherhood of the Compass, the society of mystics that kicked Helen out of their ranks after her "damnation," as they put it. Helen is reunited with her estranged brother, the person she bargained her soul away for all those years ago. In another plot twist, she meets up with a fallen angel, Haraniel, who is also trying to track down the White City Vampire. Helen, Edith, Haraniel, Marlowe and Helen's brother Teddy all come together in the action-packed climax, which sees Helen regaining her soul and sacrificing it again to save Edith's life.

The worldbuilding is well thought out in this book, and the characterization is lovely. Helen and Edith's relationship is believable and mature. The ending is bittersweet: would you condemn yourself to Hell in ten years to save your true love? Readers may answer the question differently, but I was so invested in Helen and Edith by the end that I couldn't argue with Helen's decision.

This is a novella, and while it is short (133 pages), the pacing is excellent and it packs quite a punch. It's a quick read, but it will linger in your mind.

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December 28, 2022

Review: Tread of Angels

Tread of Angels Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book falls into the esoteric category of "religious fantasy." This particular religious fantasy is of the Christian variety, with fallen angels, regular angels, and demons fighting a war on Earth. One fallen angel is killed, and his body (which apparently turned to stone afterwards) provides the miraculous "divinity" mineral that powers a great deal of this alt-history steampunk America.

This sounds interesting, and would have been if the world had been a little better explored. Unfortunately, even at 200 pages, I felt like we were just scratching the surface. The tight focus on the protagonist Celeste didn't help this, as of course she already knew exactly what Elects and Virtues were, and didn't feel the need to stop and explain them. I as a reader however was a bit lost. I wish a few pages out of the 200 had been used to better flesh out the world.

The other problem is with Celeste. For someone who is supposed to be a card dealer/sharp, she was pretty naive and slow on the uptake, especially when it came to her sister. Now, I can understand clinging to her sister as her last surviving relative, and not wanting to believe bad things about her, but as the book went along, everything in the plot pointed to the sister actually being the one to commit the murder. But Celeste refused to even entertain the thought, and did some pretty bad things as a result--including attempting to frame an innocent woman for the murder, which would have led to said woman's death. Celeste also roped her former lover, the demon Abraxas, into this scheme, which resulted in Abraxas' turning away from her completely at the end.

I suppose if the author's intent was for her main character to hit rock bottom, she succeeded. However, the book stops at that point, and we never get to see her start putting her life together again. Since this story is lacking in both worldbuilding and characterization, I wonder if it should have been a longer length. As it is, it ends on a frustrating and unsatisfying note. I generally like Rebecca Roanhorse's books, but this one is not one of her better efforts.

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December 26, 2022

Review: Winter in America

Winter in America Winter in America by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ta-Nehisi Coates started writing Captain America after finishing up his run on Black Panther, and I can see the improvement. The first few issues of Black Panther were pretty shaky, as the author was still finding his voice and rhythm. In this story, he has a better grasp of the medium and the characters.

This story takes place after the Secret Empire run where Hydra used a fake Steve Rogers to conquer America. I haven't read it, but Coates makes enough references to it for the reader to understand what took place. Though some things are set up for future storylines, this volume is mainly dealing with the ramifications and consequences of what came before. As a result, there is a lot of interior monologue and reflection from Steve. He is full of doubt here, both of himself and the American dream, and wrestles with it throughout. If you prefer your comics action-heavy, you should skip over this, because you really don't get that here. But if you prefer a slower pace and some good character moments, this should be right up your alley.

The art, lettering and colors really takes this up a notch. This story may be partly setup, but it's interesting enough to continue.

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