May 25, 2024

Movie Review: Furiosa, a Mad Max Saga (The War Rig Rides Again)


This film is the prequel to George Miller's stone cold classic from nine years ago, Mad Max: Fury Road. This is the continuing saga of Max in Australia's post-nuclear-apocalypse wasteland, but the previous movie introduced the iconic character of Furiosa, portrayed by Charlize Theron, whose backstory we get here. Because Fury Road was in many ways more Furiosa's story than Max's, George Miller decided to tell the story of her growing up, being kidnapped from the Green Place, her fight for survival in Immortan Joe's Citadel and her attempts to get back to her home. 

The first thing to note about Furiosa is that since Miller decided not to de-age Charlize Theron and cast two different actors instead (Alyla Browne in the first two "chapters" of the story, when Furiosa is ten or eleven-ish, and Anya Taylor-Joy fifteen years later, which takes place an unspecified but not very long amount of time before the events of Fury Road), both actors nail the part. They look enough like each other--both have the same sharp-chinned, heart-shaped face--that you can imagine both Browne and Taylor-Joy growing up to be Charlize Theron. They also, since Furiosa doesn't have much dialogue, tear you to shreds with their wide-eyed gaze. 

The other character of note is Chris Hemsworth's Dementus, a rival wasteland warlord to Immortan Joe who is both unhinged and "crazy like a fox." I can see why Hemsworth took this part--it's about as far from Marvel's Thor as it is possible to get. Dementus has more dialogue in the film than nearly everyone else combined, and he spits out his combination of crazed, erudite, and over-the-top lines with scene-chewing glee. 

Unfortunately, there are a couple of plot holes in this one I feel compelled to pick at. The biggest one is after Dementus leaves Furiosa at the Citadel as part of his bargain with Immortan Joe, she is put with Immortan Joe's "wives" (also known as reproductive sex slaves). She manages to escape and after cutting her hair disguises herself as one of the Citadel's War Boys, eventually falling in with Praetorian Jack, the driver of the War Rig before Furiosa herself. This is years later as her hair has grown out again, but at the climax of the movie Immortan Joe doesn't recognize her or seem to notice that the younger version of Furiosa escaped? Dementus also had that problem, not realizing until the last confrontation that the steely-eyed, grease-masked warrior pursuing him is the child he kinda-sorta rescued years ago and called "Little T." But Furiosa's face is distinctive enough that both of them should have known who she was. Also, one of the reveals of this film is how Furiosa lost her left arm, but following the torture scene where Dementus strings her up by said crushed left arm and drags Furiosa's lover Jack to death behind a motorcycle, she seems to have the apparent superpower of being able to chew her own arm off while simultaneously keeping herself from bleeding out? (Followed by a nasty scene of maggots writhing at the end of the stump, thus explaining why she didn't die from a massive infection.)

Technically, there is a bit more CGI in this film, as opposed to Fury Road which was almost entirely practical effects, and nothing like the metal guitar guy in Fury Road whose vehicle was stacked ten feet high with speakers. Dementus does get a six-wheeled rig that can roll right up the sides of steep sand dunes, and Praetorian Jack's war rig is even longer than Furiosa's. The editing is also nowhere near as tight as Fury Road's (editor Margaret Sixel rightly won an Oscar for it). I didn't miss Tom Hardy's Max in this movie (we will not speak of Mel Gibson) as both Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy held my attention as the title character, and I enjoyed finding out more about the sometimes batshit crazy wasteland world. 

I saw this on an IMAX screen, my second such experience this year after Dune Part Two. This time I was able to get a seat near the top (for IMAX, nosebleed seats are definitely the way to go). This film was loud enough that I stuffed my fingers in my ears at several points, and the theater irritated the hell out of me by showing thirty effing minutes of previews before the film I had paid fifteen dollars to see actually started. This pointless annoyance did not engender any urge to see the objects of said previews, with a possible exception of the fourth-wall-breaking Deadpool & Wolverine

Altogether, this film did not scale the heights of Fury Road, which is a masterpiece. However, it is worth watching on its own terms, and I expect to buy it on Blu-Ray when it is released. If you can, see it on IMAX, as you can really get the sense of the blasted, collapsed, dying world these characters are trying to survive in. 

May 20, 2024

Review: A Marvellous Light

A Marvellous Light A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in a trilogy about magic, magical objects, a well-thought-out magic system, and queer romance, set in an alternate-history Britain with native magicians who inherited the magic of the fae when they withdrew from the world. Hundreds of years later, this so-called Last Contract, with its potential to allow unethical magicians to basically steal others' magic without consent for their own purposes, is the subject of a hot pursuit by a group of ruthless magicians who have penetrated to the upper echelons of British magical society--and they are willing to kill to get their hands on the "cup, knife and ring," the three items that will unlock the Last Contract.

Our first of two viewpoint characters, Sir Robert (Robin) Blyth, is unwittingly drawn into this mess when he is appointed to a civil service position after the disappearance of the previous holder of the job, Reginald Gatling. Unknown to Robin, Reginald's great-aunt Flora Sutton is the leader of the Forsythia Society, a group of self-taught female magicians who discovered the "cup, knife and ring" decades earlier, and upon realizing what the Last Contract could mean for British magicians, separated the three items and hid them away. But the aforementioned people trying to hunt the items down could not wring any information about them from Reginald before he was killed, and now they have focused their attention on Robin, thinking he might know something. A painful curse is laid on Robin, and his attempts to get it removed bring him to the attention of one Edwin Courcey, the son of one of Britain's magical families. Edwin unfortunately has very little magic himself, but he has a keen intellect and a knack for solving puzzles. He is also gay, as is Robin, and naturally after their meeting a romance follows (albeit a reluctant one on Edwin's part, due to his dysfunctional family and his fraught relationship with his bullying elder brother Walt). Edwin and Robin work together to remove Robin's curse, discover who killed Reginald, and locate the first of the three magical items, the ring.

This is a really fun story. It's also so very British, down to slang and atmosphere and stiff upper lips (especially on Edwin's part) and the rigid classes of the time. Edwin is the more damaged of the two main characters, and I think undergoes the greatest character growth: he has to overcome his fears of his nasty elder brother and his own self-doubts and low self-esteem due to his small natural magical ability. He also must navigate the hurdles of his burgeoning relationship with Robin (the laws and discrimination against queer people at the time are not explored in any great detail, but they are there). Although Robin, at least initially, is the more well-adjusted of the two, he undergoes a bit of an awakening of his own, as the curse laid on him uncovers a latent ability of foresight.

The best part of this book, however, is the worldbuilding. The magic system is well put together, and sticks to its stated rules--no gotchas or plot-dictated "whoopsies, I can do this now when I couldn't in the previous chapter." There's a rich sense of history to this alternate world, and many unanswered questions: why did the fae leave all those years ago, for instance, and why on earth did they agree to let humans inherit their magic? The fae, or at least the specter of them, are sort of hovering in the background of this whole thing, making me wonder if the dark prophecy of "something is coming" thrown out by those in search of the Last Contract, as the reason for their willingness to kill to find it, is the possibility of the fae returning.

We will see. I've just started the second book of the trilogy, and I've placed a hold on the third at my library. I wasn't expecting too much when I started this series, but now I'm going to see it through to the end.

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May 16, 2024

Review: Unraveller: A Novel

Unraveller: A Novel Unraveller: A Novel by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is only the third book I have read by this author, but while the first, A Skinful of Shadows, didn't grab me, I loved the second, Deeplight. This book definitely follows in Deeplight's footsteps. Hardinge's writing, purely at the craft level, is lush, precise and gorgeous:

Over thirty years, the marsh-woods had started to reclaim the clearing. The grass was thigh-high and ridden with giant thistles and sweet-knot. Trees stretched out their boughs over the clearing and tried to touch fingers. There was still a ragged canopy of sky left above, however. A few stars winked through the evening haze, and the moon was a half-closed yellow eye.

I also appreciate that she doesn't seem to do series, at least not yet. Almost all of her books appear to be complete, self-contained stories. It's a testament to the strength of her imagination that she comes up with these fresh new fantasy worlds every time.

This story takes place in the country of Raddith, a secondary fantasy world full of magic, intelligent spiders known as Little Brothers, many different kinds of fae and faerie monsters (though they're not called that)--and curses. The monsters live in the marsh-woods called the Wilds, and decades ago humans tried to conquer them:

Raddith is ruled by Chancery, a government of master merchants who believe in honest dealing, level-headedness and worth you can measure. A hundred years ago, Chancery looked at the Wilds and saw only wasted land. Great dykes were built to subdivide the marshes so that they could be drained more easily. Trees were hacked down, the seeds harvested, and smoke used to clear the spiders.

Then the Wilds struck back.


The humans soon found themselves outmatched, and they journeyed into the heart of the Wilds to negotiate with what lived there. The two sides came up with the Pact, an agreement that humans do not want to break. This backstory is summed up in a creepy, atmospheric three-and-a-half-page prologue before we get into the story proper: the tale of Kellen, the teenager who makes his living undoing curses, and Nettle, his sidekick whom he freed from a curse of her own, after she had spent three years living as a heron, cursed by her stepmother. In this world, we discover, curses are borne by violent emotion, "curse eggs" growing inside people until they are released to transform their victims into pretty much anything--animals, clouds, inanimate objects. The cursers are taken away when caught to be imprisoned in the Red Hospital. But Kellen can, as he calls it, "unravel" curses if he can discern the motives behind them.

There is a twisty plot here, borne along by Kellen and Nettle's excellent characterization and the superior, atmospheric writing. One can almost feel the dampness of the marsh-woods and swamps, and hear the noises of the strange creatures that live there. Kellen and Nettle confront those who do not want cursers to be imprisoned away from society, who want them to be able to live with their own people and not be afraid of discrimination. This is a group/cult known as Salvation. Along the way, Kellen discovers the true origin of curses, and realizes he must step up to take responsibility for those whose curses he has unravelled, something he refused to do before. Nettle, on the other hand, must come to terms with certain things she did during her time as a heron, and reconcile herself with her human life.

There is no romance between Kellen and Nettle, which is a good thing: the book as a whole has a dark-fairy-tale feel to it, borne along by very good worldbuilding and the lovely writing. This is a satisfying stand-alone story for children of all ages.

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May 13, 2024

Review: The Siege of Burning Grass

The Siege of Burning Grass The Siege of Burning Grass by Premee Mohamed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts out as fantasy and evolves into more-or-less science fiction at the end: it's admitted that the human inhabitants of the planet are the descendants of colonists who came from (presumably) Earth thousands of years ago, and their floating cities and other technology are plausibly the repurposed remnants of their colony ships. This, however, is very much not the novel's focus. Its central conflict is the opposing philosophies of violence/war and nonviolence/pacifism, as embodied by the protagonist Alefret and his jailer/torturer/warrior companion Qhudur.

Alefret is a leader and founder of the Pact, the pacifist group who staunchly refuses to fight in the never-ending war between the conquering, biotech-based (they have giant pillbugs serving as tanks, for example) country of Varkal and the more technological country of Meddon, with their floating (antigrav-powered, probably, though it's never specified) cities. At the book's opening, Alefret has been captured after one of his legs was blown off in the war, and the Varkallagi medtechs are regrowing it with their specially bred medicinal wasps. He is offered the chance to win the war by using his reputation to infiltrate the final Meddon floating city and bring it down. This book is the story of Alefret's and Qhudur's journey to that floating city, and what they really find there.

Alefret is an interesting, complicated protagonist: he is an extremely large man (seven feet four) who is viewed as a "freak" and a "monstrosity" by Qhudur and the people in his home village:

So huge, so ugly; look at that face, must be simple, he'll never speak, never read, never think, not really. He'll eat you out of house and home if he lives. And you can forget having in-laws, forget being taken care of when you're older, you'll die alone and penniless, you should never have let him be born. All those things people said to them as Alefret watched. As if he could not understand the words. His parents had never defended him, only nodded, wept, nodded.

He wished he could hate them for it, but even now, with them both dead, he could not; there was only a great bewilderment, because he could speak, and could write, and think, and they dismissed it all, till he himself wondered whether he really could do any of those things or was simply imagining them, locked into a skull as thick as everyone said he had. As thick as a bull's, they said. No room for a brain. And that great misshapen forehead: like horns.

Even when he was older, and had made his living teaching mathematics and geometry and science to the village children, when he had his own school at the family farm, sold his own wool and eggs, even when he purchased his house, the village said: We love you. And in the next breath: You monster.


Qhudur, Alefret's minder, is sent with him to infiltrate Meddon's floating city. Qhudur is dangerous, and more than half nuts, and espouses some disturbing ideas of his own:

" You're part of the masses. You think you shouldn't be given the vote?"

"I don't vote with the masses. Anyway, both countries used to have the right idea. Ruled by a king. Or a dictator. Maybe with a small council of wise men unaffected by this...rabble. More educated. Able to think for themselves instead of doing what everyone around them is doing."

Alefret sighed. It was another rehearsed speech. Qhudur had again betrayed his youth, no matter how experienced he claimed to be in matters of war. He thought like a surly teenager. In his daydreams, when he fantasized about the subjugation and (no doubt) mandatory high-pressure washing of this hypothetical mob, he was never among them. Qhudur was the king, the tyrant, the grand vizier: no undignified crowd of ignoramuses had voted him into power. He had power because he was one of the ones who deserved power. Or he had been appointed by a man of power, singled out, sanctified and raised up, to sit on this mythical council of wise men.


When Qhudur and Alefret finally reach the floating city (they're towed there by one of Varkal's giant genetically-engineered pteranodons) they meet up with an underground group inspired by Alefret's writings. Alefret tries to start a nonviolent revolution in the city:

"It's not the way to end the war," Alefret said, trying to quell the thin man's unease. "It's a way to end the war. Nonviolent solutions to anything have to be tried again and again and again, and at different angles and in different ways and with different people. Governments like the violent solution because they've tried it, it works, and it's fast. They don't want to conceive of anything different. But there are other things to try--slower, more experimental, because they call for more people. And anything with lots of people moves slowly. But it has more power when it does."

This tension, this ongoing grappling, between violence and nonviolence, war and pacifism, makes for fascinating reading. This is not a breezy, fast-paced book. Alefret manages to thwart Qhudur's murderous plans and bring the floating city down without much loss of life, but we see at the end that there is still much more work to be done. Alefret is going to return to his home town of Edvor, see if he has any friends remaining, and start over: organizing "properly this time," as he puts it. The SF/fantasy elements are there, but the worldbuilding isn't the book's focus: the ideas and themes are. It makes for a very good read, if the reader is willing to adjust their expectations to what they'll actually be getting. It's an unusual story, but it's worth it.





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April 29, 2024

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 211

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 211 Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 211 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another good issue of Clarkesworld, with four outstanding stories and one story that I thought was....kinda weird, but still notable.

We start out with the longest story in the issue, Rich Larson's novella "The Indomitable Captain Holli." Now Rich Larson can be hit or miss with me; he tends towards the cyberpunk in his stories, and I can only tolerate so much of that. But while this story starts out with a cyberpunk narrative and setting, it gradually reveals what it really is: a post-apocalyptic story of survival, with what may be the last humans on earth living in two giant towers (think Burj Khalifa-size) in a ruined city, guarded--and preyed upon--by the AIs and robots in each opposing tower. The primary viewpoint character is six-year-old Holli, who takes turns being cute and being a little sociopath. It's a deft, risky characterization.

On the other end of the length spectrum, the delightful "Occurrence at 01339," by Kelly Jennings, comes in at only 1800 words but packs a helluva lot into a few pages. This little story explores the search for sentience and how it would be defined. Ruby the mining bot is trying to answer that very question, proposed by an alien probe under the threat of human destruction if she cannot satisfy it in 10 queries. There's a nice O. Henry style twist at the end.

"An Intergalactic Smuggler's Guide to Homecoming," by the fine new writer Tia Tashiro, is a crisis of conscience of sorts, as the titular Miko smuggles seven hundred intelligent thumbnail-size aliens out of their home system, where one bioluminescent faction of the Xellia are being targeted for extinction in their civil war. When she delivers her cargo and discovers why the client really wants them (for a "potent psychoactive" they naturally produce, the extraction of which will cause the death of all the aliens), she bolts with the Xellia. Her quest to save them dovetails with her reunion with her estranged twin sister Rina.

The novelette "The Arborist," by Derrick Boden, is a bit of a mythological horror story, set on an alien planet being terraformed by a "vast solitary organism," genetically modified, which will wipe out the nasty native life and prepare the planet for the arrival of humans from Earth. But some of the team members on the planet supervising the organism's progress begin to have second thoughts about their mission, naming the organism after the mythological "world tree" Yggdrasil, and calling it a "plague" that will eventually spread along with humans to other worlds and exterminate all life. This story has a bit of a philosophical divide and struggle, pitting human survival against the survival of other life, and whether humans have any right to wipe out other life, intelligent or not, to save themselves.

Finally, the aforementioned weird story, "The Rambler," by Shen Dacheng, translated by Cara Healey, is the fantastical tale of a pedestrian bridge that comes to life, pulls its four concrete supports, like legs, out of the ground, and walks off. We follow it as it learns to maneuver its "body" and flees into the wilderness. I guess this story could be called "magical realism," perhaps, as this one essential strangeness is just accepted by everyone in the story. While those following the bridge intend to disassemble it if they can make it stand still long enough, it eventually fords a river and escapes.

As always, if you like these stories, or this magazine, please subscribe. Amazon's Kindle fuckery, explained here, resulted in the magazine (and many others) taking what could be a crippling hit. I've subscribed to this magazine for years, and it is worth saving.

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April 26, 2024

Review: Ghost Station

Ghost Station Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This author seems to be making a career out of sci-fi horror, and a successful one: this book, her second, is more assured than her first. The back cover blurbs also compare this book to the classic sf/horror movie Alien, although that's not entirely accurate--there are no Xenomorphs to be found here. But there is a mystery and the slow reveal of alien possession, and the dawning horror of being taken over by a mysterious outside entity.

As in the author's first book, the protagonist Ophelia Bray is a troubled woman with a traumatic past of her own. She is the daughter of one of the richest families on Earth, and she is also the daughter of Field "Bloody" Bledsoe, who succumbed to ERS--Eckhart-Reiser syndrome--and killed twenty-nine people about twenty years before. Ophelia, then known as Lark Bledsoe, was present during the massacre and needless to say has been haunted by it ever since. She is now a psychologist studying the syndrome and trying to come up with ways to cure it, and as the book opens she is preparing to go into cold sleep for a three-month interstellar journey to join the Reclamation and Exploration team of the ship Resilience. They are on their way to an abandoned planet where an ancient alien city has been discovered, and Ophelia is taking new equipment provided by her employer, the Montrose corporation, to see if ERS can be prevented.

But the R & E team don't want Ophelia there, and she has a difficult time settling in with them on the planet. Then comes the slow reveal of things starting to go wrong, and the rising horror of the ruins infecting all the team members and taking them over. One of the most effective things about this is that the cause of the possession is not defined--is it the two black alien towers on the planet, some sort of sentient nanotechnology that killed the original inhabitants thousands of years ago, an alien organism that manifests itself as black sludge oozing out of noses and ears, or something else altogether? It doesn't really matter, because after all the pieces are set in place this becomes a tightly written struggle for survival, as the surviving team members race to get off-planet before they are completely taken over and no longer in control of their own bodies.

Along the way Ophelia undergoes a nice character arc: she is riddled with survivors' guilt and self-hatred for being the daughter of "Bloody" Bledsoe, and she has to learn to let that go and recognize she is neither responsible for the past sins of her father or the current sins of her mother's family. There is a hint of romance between Ophelia and Ethan Severin, the commander of the expedition, but for the most part the focus is firmly on the horror of the situation and the fight to survive. After reading the author's first book, I can see how she has improved as a writer: this effort is more mature, with better pacing, worldbuilding and characterization, and simply a better story. This book is well worth your time.

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April 24, 2024

Review: The Saint of Bright Doors

 


When I read books, especially ones I know I'm going to write about later, I stick slips of paper in the pages to mark items that interest me and which I think will interest other readers: a particularly lovely prose passage, a paragraph of worldbuilding, a section explaining the book's theme. The more scraps of paper I have in the pages, the more complex and thought-provoking a book is, to me.

This book has more slips than I've used in a long time. 

I don't even know how you would classify this. It's science fiction in that it has hints of a multiverse and other worlds, but at the same time it's very much a fantasy with virtually immortal humans who gain godlike powers and the ghosts of people from those other worlds coming through the titular "bright doors." It's not our Earth--there are references to two "supercontinents"--but the characters also have automobiles, cell phones, television, crowdfunding, and the internet. Sometimes in reading the story you almost get a glimpse of the real-life cities, countries and history the story is based on (the writer hails from Sri Lanka) but then the story will take a wild turn and go off in its own fantastical direction (particularly when the protagonist, Fetter, is wandering through a "prison" that must encompass hundreds of square miles). It's a book where you gradually realize that Fetter and the character actually telling the story are not one and the same, and when it dawns on you just who--or rather, what--the narrator is, your entire perception of the story is thrown for a loop. 

It's a unique story unlike just about anything I've read before, bursting with inventiveness and ambition. Its scope is as large as making Fetter's father a 2500-year-old god-human who can twist the fabric of time and space, and as tightly focused as taking on a country's repeated occupations and the repression of undesirable castes and races. At the same time, it's the story of Fetter, a former child assassin who outgrew his god-mother's manipulation of his childhood, attempting to mold him into a weapon to kill his god-father, and how he learns to let go of his anger and become his own person. 

With all this density, needless to say, it's not a quick read. You have to take your time with this one. Let the characters and concepts slowly sink in, and contemplate what the author is trying to say. The book sometimes meanders in places (especially when Fetter is walking through that miles-long prison, with its hundreds of districts) and you might be wondering, what is the point of this? But every weird situation Fetter gets into, or strange character he encounters, does have a point, and eventually you will find out what it all means. 

I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would; usually a book like this is not my cup of tea at all. It's a helluva debut, and this writer is one to keep an eye on. 

April 22, 2024

Review: Shubeik Lubeik

Shubeik Lubeik Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This graphic novel was originally published in Arabic, and the translation to English carries over the same format: reading from right to left instead of left to right. This left me a bit disoriented for a while--I felt like I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I did get used to it, however, and was eventually able to get into the story.

This story explores the effect of one change on the world: if wishes were a real thing that could be refined, bottled, and sold. The world as laid out here has an extensive alternate history weaving the industry of wishes into our world's politics. There are different grades of wishes, regulations around their production and use, and registration requirements. This is interwoven with three separate stories about the use of three "first-class" wishes, the kind that will change one's life. Aziza was thrown in prison because someone thought she wasn't supposed to have her wish and didn't deserve it; Noud, whose story is the longest, is grappling with severe depression and wrestles with whether or not to use the wish to cure himself. The panels in this story illustrating the contradictions and levels of depression are quite clever in portraying the disease. In the final story, Shokry, the shopkeeper who had all three first-class wishes to begin with, is trying to use the last wish to save someone's life. The woman he is attempting to save tells him a harrowing tale of revenge about her life with an abusive husband and how her children die. Decades later, she is dying of cancer herself and only wishes to join her children, and asks Shokry not to use his wish. All three tales explore the Egyptian culture and the culture of wishes in this alternate world.

This volume is quite thick and heavy and alternates color and black and white panels. There is also a liberal sprinkling of Arabic, even in the English translation (in particular, the djinn are depicted as whirling bursts of Arabic characters). It's not the best graphic novel I've read so far this year, but it's worth picking up.



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April 16, 2024

Review: Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, after reading this, I wish Kelly Sue DeConnick could write all the comics.

I realize there are many other talented comics writers, such as Tom King and G. Willow Wilson. But I've rarely seen a better fit between a writer and a world than DeConnick and this Amazon origin story.

This supersized volume tells the story of the six goddesses who went behind Zeus' back and created the Amazons; the human queen of the seventh Amazon tribe, Hippolyta; and the war between the Amazons and the gods that ended with their banishment to Themyscira. Wonder Woman appears at the very end of the story, as a baby freshly created by Hera; the focus is on Hippolyta and the losing war she fought with the gods, and the terrible decision she made so her sisters could live.

Hippolyta is a different, and interesting, lens to view the Amazons' origin story through. She is haunted by the choice she made at the beginning, as a working midwife, to take an unwanted newborn baby girl and expose her to the elements, setting her adrift on a basket in a stream to die. She changes her mind and goes back for the child, but cannot find her; and thereafter runs and runs until she is captured by some marauding men and freed by the Amazons. From there she follows the Amazons relentlessly, meeting up with the goddess Artemis along the way (Artemis is one of the best characters in the book, by the way--a prickly, stubborn goddess-child), repeatedly asking to join them, until she and a group of similarly rescued women are finally taken in to become the Amazons' seventh tribe, and Hippolyta is chosen to be its Queen.

This interweaving storyline of humans and gods is fascinating in and of itself, but it's the art that really elevates this book. It's an oversized book to begin with, coffee-table size, and it needs and uses every bit of the extra room for the glorious page spreads. There are three issues contained therein, with three separate artists, and as much as I gripe about comics artists changing as a series goes along, these three (Phil Jimenez, Gene Ha and Nicola Scott) mesh better than most. If I had to pick one, Phil Jimenez, who drew the first issue, has simply gorgeous art (if a bit busy--you really have to pause and look over his pages to pick out the many details he offers to expand the story, but the art and colors are so beautiful I didn't mind taking the extra time).

This is an excellent addition to the Wonder Woman world and myth, and is worth seeking out.

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April 13, 2024

Review: The Mimicking of Known Successes

The Mimicking of Known Successes The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella successfully straddles several genres at once: hard science fiction (the setting is a human settlement of Jupiter, with floating platforms and rails that circumnavigate much of the planet), noir (the plot involves a murder mystery), lgbt (our protagonists are Mossa, the investigator probing the seeming disappearance of an academic with many secrets, and Pleiti, a scholar of pre-collapse Earth and its ecosystems; they were past lovers and find their way to each other again in a sweet, understated romance), and post-apocalyptic (in this timeline, Earth was drained dry of resources and rendered uninhabitable, and Pleiti's Preservation Society guards the remaining genetic material of animals and ecosystems). That is quite a lot to stuff into 166 pages, but the author manages it well.

Mossa and Pleiti also have elements of Holmes and Watson, needless to say, with Mossa's single-mindedness and deductive powers (it's never stated outright, but she seems to be on the autism spectrum to me). Pleiti broke off their relationship several years previously, when they were at university, but they get a second chance in this book. There's also a fascinating future history of humanity that could have taken up many more pages, but the author only reveals as much as she needs to.

The mystery is parceled out and dealt with fairly, but it's the worldbuilding and characters that shine here. The author could easily put a full length novel in this setting. Perhaps that will happen someday, but in the meantime do pick this up. It's a quick read, but it has nice depths.

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