Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fables Graphic Novel Series - Adversary Storyline, Volumes 1-12 by Bill Willingham, et al.

The Fables series is a comic book for the masses. There isn't a person out there who's unfamiliar with the motley crew assembled in this engaging series.

You're introduced to a reality where all fabled characters exist. They've lived on worlds of their own for - well for an indeterminate amount of time. Our world, known as the "Mundane" world because of our lack of magic, is just another place occupying space alongside all these others. The fables happily lived separate, doing their own thing, until an unknown adversary begins conquering the fabled worlds - killing, capturing, and forcing into exile all the characters from our favorite childhood stories.

The fables flee to our world and, under the guide of some powerful magic, assume normal "human" lives in New York City with a farm in upstate New York for all the talking animals. The hope is to get back home one day, to defeat this adversary, but the process is slow and the fables are forced to create a functioning community in our mundane world to survive.

Volume One begins with the fable community having been up and running for a long time. King Cole is the mayor with Snow White as his right-hand "man." Boy Blue and Bufkin (a flying monkey from Oz) assist in running the mayor's office. Bigby Wolf, a.k.a The Big Bad Wolf, has taken on a human disguise to serve as Deputy of Fabletown. Among the town's residents are Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and her husband Beast, Pinocchio, and a slew of other familiar and no-so-familiar faces.

While there is an element of the fantastic to this story (how could there not be?) what's happening to the characters is rooted in what's real to you and me. Characters face human struggles from kidnapping to murder to all out war. They've been tossed unwillingly from their homes, given up or lost just about everything and are struggling to make life work in an environment that forces them to keep their true identities a secret from outsiders.

It's the combination of real struggles, familiar characters, and the fantastical that makes this series so compelling. Both the writing and the illustrations walk you through a suspenseful and intricate plot that culminates with the lives of all the characters being changed forever. It's an exciting read that wouldn't be complete in any other form but the graphic genre. It's also accessible to anyone who likes an adventure story - it's not just for typical comic book fans.

Note: The adversary storyline is just the first for the series. With monthly publications, the Fables are already facing new challenges so it's a series with some longevity to it, but not a high cost to you since you're buying brief issues each month rather than an entire novel. Just another appealing aspect :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Spoilers about "Doomsday Book" ahead, read with caution.

A few weeks ago, I was planning a trip to the book store to stock up on some new books. The last time I splurged I only purchased recommendations from friends; which I have discovered is, by far, the best way to purchase books. The last time I went to the store, I branched out and decided I would pick up a few books that I have never heard of, simply because they are award winning books.

Those of you out there that have been reading SciFi books know that there are two major SciFi awards out there, the Hugo awards and the Nebula awards. I figured if I picked a book that had won BOTH awards, I would be in good hands. So I grabbed "Doomsday Book" as well as a few others, simply based on the awards they had won.

Doomsday Book takes place in a future where historians are able to travel back in time as observers and witness history first-hand. A young student at Oxford College named Kivrin is sent to the middle ages to study and observe the people there shortly before the arrival of the black plague. The day that Kivrin is sent back to the middle ages(inadvertently to the exact year and month that the black plague arrived), a corresponding pandemic outbreak happens in the future(present). The book is split between Kirvrin's experience in the middle ages, and the the flu outbreak in the future.

Before I get too into this review, I want to make this point clear: I really enjoy old SciFi, some of my favorite stories were written years before I was born. However, I've found that as time moves on and technology progresses, if a book posits a future in which some of the most basic elements of technology (like cell phones) don't exist, it takes me out of the moment. I know this is a petty complaint, but it's hard for me to really buy into a society that can send people back in time, but still uses land-lines. It removes me from the world and makes me scratch my head. This wouldn't normally bug me, but a major part of the future storyline involves a character constantly asking people to be at his home so they can intercept important calls for him. Maybe I'm spoiled or just being snooty, but this really irked me. This, unfortunately, isn't the only thing that didn't work for me with this book.

I found the medieval storyline to be incredibly fascinating and exciting. A young woman, stuck in a different time, trapped not only by her distance in time, but by the restrictions of being a woman in that time-period. It was the only part of the book that really made me enthusiastic about continuing to read. However, the energy and excitement of the medieval storyline is constantly interrupted by the future storyline, which felt tonally very different. Where the medieval storyline is tense, scary, dirty, anxious, and exciting; the future storyline is slow, plodding and comical at times.

This difference in tone is really what kept me from enjoying the book. It felt less like two different stories in the same book, and more like two different books. There were very basic links between the stories, but not in a way that felt at all satisfying to me. Overall this just kept me from really throwing myself into the book and allowing myself to immerse myself and enjoy it.

The comic tones of the future storyline are quite funny at times, and I can see why so many people have enjoyed Willis' other book "To Say Nothing of the Dog" but when you match a comedic storyline with a serious and bleak storyline (like the black plague) as a reader, I don't know what to think or feel. And while I don't NEED an author to tell me what and how to feel, I definitely need a consistent tone from which to gather my impression of the book and story. For me, this book just didn't work.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

Whoever is editing these books needs to rethink their career choice. First of all there's the numerous omissions of necessary prepositions. I almost didn't make it through the book because of the volume of incomplete sentences. They only needed one extra word to make sense; a "to" or an "of." What do you have against prepositional phrases?

Then, there's the character of Debbie Pelt. Debbie is a shape-shifter and ex-girlfriend to the werewolf who helped Sookie in the last book. She hates Sookie; wants to kill her in fact, but that's not important for this current rant. It's Debbie's job that's the issue. Such a minor detail, but one worth keeping track of for consistency's sake. In Dead to the World, she works in advertising (p. 215,) but in Club Dead she's a legal assistant (p. 123.) Hello, consistency police? Where are you when we need you?!

I've gotten used to the writing style by this point though (one less thing to complain about.) Sookie just over-explains everything and likes to toss in obscure metaphors smack in the middle of the most action-packed sections of the story. Looking past this narrative flaw, the story in Dead to the World is better than Club Dead.

A coven of werewolf witches are attempting a hostile takeover of the Shreveport vampire territory. They've erased Eric's memory and have begun killing vampires and humans working for vampires to establish their dominance. For his safety, Eric is hiding at Sookie's house. So, in a rare occurrence vampires, witches, and werewolves all band together to try and take this evil coven out. All the action relating to this mission takes place at night (of course) so to keep Sookie busy during the day, her brother has gone missing. Sookie is on the trail to track him down, if he's even still alive.

Sookie actually gets time to rest in this book and most of the action builds to a central point rather than bombarding the reader constantly with important action sequences. Sookie doesn't get seriously injured (she really did need a break) and only ends up with one dead body to deal with herself. She's still always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that's just going to be her luck I figure.

Minus the editing issues, which do weigh heavily on my opinion of the series overall, Dead to the World was a better showing than Harris' prior volume. I've got two more books in the series on the shelf - we'll see how they go when I can bring myself to revisit the hectic world of Sookie Stackhouse.