Sunday, 31 August 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: That Which Divides review

It's the first book I've ever read by Dayton Ward. To be honest, I'm only reading it because it's a Star Trek book. To be even more honest I only picked up this particular book because there wasn't much to choose from on the half shelf of Star Trek novels that were at the bookstore. I picked up this book along with The Weight of Worlds by Greg Cox because the back cover made them sound the most interesting amongst the selection that was there, not because I had heard good things about these particular authors. While I really didn't like The Weight of Worlds I was still hopeful for this one because Ward appears to be relatively popular by fans of the Star Trek literature. 

In That Which Divides, the Archer-class U.S.S. Huang Zhong is investigating a rift in the Kondaii system. The right only opens for a fixed amount of time and when doing so, it gives access to the Dolysian planet access to another planet called Gralafi. They mine a specific ore on Gralafi which is used as a source of fuel for powering their entire home planet. On their way to meet with the Huang Zhong, the crew of the Enterprise soon find themselves investigating the crash landing of the other Federation ship as well as cleaning up the remains so that the less technologically advanced Dolysian’s are not influenced (as a people) by the Federation’s presence in the area. All of this activity near the Romulan border naturally attracts them and soon the Enterprise is not only dealing with the Romulans but also discovering the true nature of the planet Gralafi and the rift in space. Soon these events all start to threaten the Dolysian’s way of life as the rift will soon be closing and the Dolysians need to resupply their mining operation beyond the rift.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this but The Original Series isn’t my favourite Star Trek series. I like the characters well enough but the show itself hasn’t aged well, in my opinion. Unlike many other fans, I can’t even appreciate it for being a retro science fiction show. I’m usually not too bothered by old special effects (not bad effects, mind you, just old) but there is something about TOS that doesn’t work for me. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I prefer the TOS movies. I love those movies, even the terrible ones. There is something about the old members of the Enterprise crew that really works for me. They have such pathos and personal history that I can’t help but be mesmerized by their new adventures. The problem I face is that most TOS books take place during the original five year mission aboard the Enterprise. If someone knows of any novels that take place later in the chronology of the series, during or after the movies, I would love to know about it. Anyway, here I am with another TOS novel and I’m unfortunately disappointed again.

Some of my disappointment comes from the story and plot itself. A good example is when the Huang Zhong decides to land on Gralafi to do some repairs because they need to access parts through the outside of the ship. I’m not sure how that would be easier to do on the planet. It seems to me like any repairs would be easier to do in space because of the absence of gravity and allowing for better access all around the ship’s exterior. I could understand the need for landing on a planet if some of the repairs would require that the ship’s seal be broken but that isn’t expressed in the novel. I think the only reason the Huang Zhong need to land on the planet is because it need to crash land on the planet and get destroyed in the process. Without the destruction of the ship, the Enterprise likely wouldn’t have had much to do on the planet when they arrived. They would have been kept rather busy by the Romulans. Instead, they spend just as much time on the planet investigating what’s going on there and that allows the plot to move along.

Another thing that also didn’t make sense is that the Kalandan’s base is underground. In and of itself it is fine and doesn’t pose a problem but when you consider the fact that the Dolysians entire reason for being on Gralafi is to mine the planet. Planets are very large, certainly, but when you’re doing mining exploration chances are you would have stumbled on the underground base of the original inhabitants of the planet. I also think it’s difficult to believe that the Kalandan only had one base on the planet.

Those and other issues I had with the story are actually minor. I’m nitpicking because I’m disappointed that what started as a very interesting book quickly declined to become a boring narrative with no life. The characterization of the Enterprise crew is solid. Their dialogue is believable and fits nicely with the dialogue from the TV series. The idea of the artificial rift, the mining planet, the conflict with the Romulans and even revisiting the Kalandans from the TOS episode “That Which Survives” but even with all of those positives, the book falls flat. It’s boring and I’m pretty baffled as to how a book with so many good elements can have no real substance, no engaging qualities. I liked all different parts of the book, including Ward’s writing which fit nicely with the tone of TOS. Come to think of it, that might be part of the problem. It feels too much like the episodes with the difference that it’s not a teleplay, it’s a bit and thus includes narration and the narration slowed down the pace of the book so much that it resulted in a boring entertainment experience. I haven’t read tons of Star Trek fiction but even so I know there are several other novels I would recommend to someone before I would even mention this novel. Maybe I would recommend it to you if you told me that TOS is your favourite and you wished more books were just like individual episodes of the show. Maybe then.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Blog Fantastic 024: Mossflower review

When I was a young teen I had read a few Redwall books, about 5 or so. I still own some of them and I’ve acquired a couple other ones since then but I haven’t read them yet. I remember enjoying them. They weren’t my favourite but there was something about those books I’ve always like. They felt comfortable and safe to read. They were very pleasant. Somewhere along the line my tastes in books must have changed. I’m certain of it and it’s a good thing. My growth as a reader has left me pleasantly surprised quite a few times throughout the years and it’s helped me discover several authors and series I otherwise would have remained oblivious about. It’s also helped me focus my hobby on books and comics that I have a chance of enjoying. It might seem contradictory that I’ve become more interesting in trying new books and authors while also being very adamant on avoiding certain other kinds of books and authors but it really isn’t. It’s just being a smart reader. You won’t love or even like everything you read and there really isn’t any point in trying to like something that you’ll likely never be able to enjoy. I’ve read books in the past, and I’m sure I’ll read more like it in the future, that I didn’t enjoy reading but the experience was still rewarding. Examples of that can be difficult books or books which entertained while also presented ideas, values and philosophies that I disagree with. It can be hard to separate the work from the author or the author’s ideas. Sometimes it’s worth it and other times it’s not.

I mention all of this because I want to point out that while individual readers and authors change over time be it slowly or rapidly. On the other hand books are static but changes in a reader can also affect books. It can help you see them in a new light, find deeper themes present below the surface and develop a new appreciation for a specific book. The opposite is also true. A reader can revisit a book, series or author only to find that they’re no longer able to enjoy or appreciate them. That’s essentially what happened with the Redwall series by Brian Jacques when I read (or reread, I honestly can’t remember) Mossflower.

Like many early Redwall novels, it begins with the hero Martin the Warrior. He is on his way passing through the land of Kotir, right next to Mossflower wood. There he is stopped and taken to Kotir castle where he is imprisoned by Tsarmina, a wildcat who plots to kill her ailing father and take the throne for herself. She does and soon the land of Kotir suffers under her tyrannical rule aided by her Thousand Eye army. Heavy taxes are extoled from the population and soon all of the good beasts (moles, hedgehog, squirrels, otters, etc.) flee to the security of Mossflower. It’s not long before Tsarmina extends her rule to the woods and in doing so capture Gonff, a mouse thief. Through meeting Gonff and breaking out of prison with him, Martin befriends the rest of the good beasts of Mossflower. They recognize that he has the spirit of a warrior and enlist his aid in freeing their land from Tsarmina.

What follows is a simple fantasy story about good versus evil. A character is immediately considered good or evil based on the kind of animal they are. Wildcats, rats, weasels are all evil (with the single exception of Gingeviere) and otters, hedgehogs, mice and badgers are good. Good always finds a way to triumph evil more than in any other fantasy I’ve ever read. They manage to do so without being portrayed as evil or even morally grey by the author even though the good beasts use the same wartime tactics as the evil beasts. There is definitively some authorially mandated hypocrisy at work and I think it goes against the story and its themes of camaraderie, friendship and freedom to live peacefully.

Jacques does a great deal of good things in Mossflower. It might be a simple read targeted at younger readers but it does that what it sets out to do very well. The book is filled with songs and poems and some of the animal species talk in funny dialects, the moles especially. Their dialogue is quite fun to read aloud. There are also mouth-watering descriptions of various meals. I’m surprised any of the good beast are able to fight off the Thousand Eye army as they should be too fat and bloated to do much of anything. There is also a good and balanced representation of the sexes. Characters, good and bad, are given equal opportunity to be either male or female. The villain is female and some of the leaders of the good beasts are also female. They’re not always in the spotlight but truly, few characters are as the cast is quite large for a young adult novel. Even so, the female characters get to play important roles in the story and in the hierarchy of the social groups.

Mossflower serves as a good introduction to the series as it tells the original of Redwall Abbey. It’s a bit long and meanders around the middle and the ending feels abrupt. It also lacks depth of characterization as few characters are explored beneath the surface. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed it because it tapped into my inner child and while I found the book to be predictable and unoriginal in its plotting, it was still satisfying on some level because of the way the story was told. The good beasts of Mossflower are contagiously positive and kind. It’s a good message for young readers. Even during battle the hero of the story, Martin avoids being cruel. Their goal in fighting the Thousand Eyes army is to regain their lands and live in freedom, not to return cruelty in kind to those who first stole their lands.

Mossflower is a good book and it can easily be enjoyed by many readers, particularly those that are willing to overlook its simplicity and enjoy the story being told. The story and the approach used by Jacques to tell the story are both simple and there is very little, if any, subtext present. The anthropomorphized characters are not used as an allegory like it has been the case with several literary classics. Some people have opined that Redwall is Christian literature. I would disagree but the series still presents a rather rigid, black and white, world view. Because of that the book holds no surprises and only the present matters. That’s why the novel’s pacing is so quick. Something happens and we move on to the next plot point. It gives the illusion that the novel is engaging when in fact, it’s simply providing light and admittedly fun entertainment. Mossflower isn’t bad I can’t recommend to just anyone. It’s target audience is rather specific: young readers. I doubt that anyone above 14 could truly love these books. Nonetheless they have quite a bit to offer to young readers, especially those which parents who are willing to read with them and have fun reading aloud all of the various animal dialects, particularly that of the moles.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Saga volume 3 review

It’s pretty clear that Saga is a unique comic in the current publishing landscape of the medium. It feels fresh and unique and the creators are having a noticeably good time working on this book. The third volume presents a lot of the same of what we’ve seen so far. If you liked the first two volumes, you’ll certainly like this one. Likewise if you didn’t like it, you won’t enjoy the latest volume. Eighteen issues in, I think it’s pretty clear that the series has found its long term identity. By that I mean that it’s found its footing, both narratively and visually.

Fiona Staples art continues to impress. She appears to work exclusively with computer software and it shows the most in her backgrounds. Some of them are picturesque and do a great job establishing the various settings and locations in which the action takes place. Some of her other backgrounds present a different style. Things are blurry, muddy, and undefined. It distracts from the action and the characters stand off and stick out, as if they do not belong. For the most part, her backgrounds have improved in these issues. I don’t know what her approach to drawing an issue is but I can’t shake the feeling that she works on the backgrounds and characters separately. The art style being used is just too different and it surely requires her to be in a different frame of mind. All that said, she gets it right more often than not. When the backgrounds and characters work well together it’s superb. When it comes to her characters, she has a way of making them look real. Her work on body language is impressive and her facial expressions do the job, even on non-traditional (read: alien) faces. Horns, single-eyed or with multiple eyes, the facial expression get the message across. I also think Staples is very good at making fashionable and memorable clothing designs. It helps to ground the series by giving the reader something real to focus on amidst all the various other space opera visuals.

If you look at the writing, Brian K. Vaughan’s plotting, his dialogue and the comic’s themes also retain the same overall feeling and style of the previous volumes. In this case, more of the same is good because there hasn’t been any loss of quality since the first issue, much the opposite, the series has gotten a bit better. I didn’t feel it as strongly in any of Vaughan’s previous comics, but the dialogue in Saga sometimes panders to the reader. While it’s not surprising, since he had discussed his identity as a father and its influences on this particular comic, he also uses Saga to comment on the current opinions of non-traditional families or to provide parenting tips and tricks. It works more often than not, but every once in a while it pulls me out of the story a little. Likewise, the narrations from Hazel were more metatextual this time around. She provides the reader with information regarding certain aspects of writing. Unfortunately, off the top of my head, I can only think of an example from the second volume in which Vaughan and Staples, through Hazel, tell the story of the main characters’ “meet-cute”.

One example of muddy backgrounds to be found in volume 3. To give credit where it's due
Staples backgrounds were better than in the previous volumes.

In most of his previous comics, Vaughan would use a lot of pop culture references in his dialogue. Since Saga doesn’t take place in our universe (well, at least not our galaxy), references to the nature of something real in our universe such as “meet-cute” just doesn’t fit. It makes the characters too self-aware. I can’t quite figure out what it is about their dialogue but something about it feels off. It doesn’t stop it from being entertaining as characters regularly say things that I enjoy.

When it comes to plot, Vaughan focuses a lot on providing readers with an interesting cliffhanger at the end of each issue. It’s another staple from his writing bag of tricks. You can also expect a more meaningful or more shocking cliffhanger at the end of each six-issue arc. This volume is no different and it shows the reader that the story has jumped ahead in time. It’s exciting and it makes me anxious for the release of the next volume. I really like the cliffhangers but sometimes the structure of a particular issue reads as though it’s geared entirely towards producing that final page. You would think that three volumes into the series Vaughan wouldn’t need to put as much effort into baiting the reader to come back for more and that he could trust his story to do that job for him. At the very least, Vaughan’s focus on providing end-of-issue shockers helps to move the story along at a brisk pace which keeps things exciting for the reader.
As for the themes, they’re old as hell. Saga is about love, war and family. Despite being well-trodden themes, Vaughan makes good use of them here, particularly family. He’s updated it for modern audiences it and family means more than just blood, it’s also about choices, dependability and trust. Family is also a group in which love and war can, and do, take place. It’s like the universe but in smaller doses, many individual elements all coming together and forming a whole. I don’t have a whole lot to say on this subject but, like most of the items I brought up in this review: it’s more of the same. That’s a good thing though as it’s familiar yet different and that’s contributing to the comic’s success.

An example of one of the better backgrounds. The city skyline is better suited to Staples's
 digital art. It doesn't work as well for more organic or natural backgrounds as above.

Three volumes in and the creators have clearly established their tone, style and direction for the comic. The same goes for you and any other readers. If you’ve enjoyed the comic so far you’re likely along for the whole trip. Readers who didn’t like it or who were still sitting on the fence have likely taken their leave. I know that I’m here for the long haul and I’m sure I’ll continue to enjoy Saga as Vaughan and Staples are at the top of their game. My only concern is whether or not the creators can maintain this high level of craftsmanship to the story’s conclusion. It’s a small concern though since Vaughan and Staples make a good team.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West review

Last year saw the release of Battling Boy by Paul Pope, his longest comics work in years. Perhaps unsurprisingly to many, it was a great read and one of my favourite comics of 2013. The Rise of Aurora West is co-written by J.T. Petty and Paul Pope and it is illustrated by David Rubin. I can’t help but to compare this comic to Pope’s Battling Boy. I apologize for that but only briefly because the comparison has helped me realize just how much The Rise of Aurora West effectively stands on its own, despite the obvious ties to Battling Boy.

This comic is a prequel to Battling Boy. It’s set in the same universe (an alternate Earth) as that story and most of the story takes place in the city of Arcopolis, a huge city that has a problem with monsters. Science hero Haggard West, a combination between Doc Savage, Indiana Jones and Batman, has made it his personal mission to fight the monsters that wreak havoc in the city and spend their nights kidnapping children. Though he plays a big role in the comic, the focus is pretty clearly put on his daughter, Aurora West. She is training in the art of monster slaying under her father. Many comparisons can be made between the relationship Aurora has with her father and the one Battling Boy has with his father but I do not want to spoil anything by saying too much. I will say that Haggard, for all his faults, seems to be doing a better job of instilling values in Aurora and raising her to be a resourceful young woman. He is teaching his daughter how to be independent and work her way through any situation that could arise. He puts a lot of value into preparation. The thematic developments and character growths of Aurora West and Battling Boy are a delight in contrasts and similarities.

While Battling Boy lacked some of the more mature elements of Paul Pope’s previous comics, it wasn’t exclusively for children and young teens. It was a very good example of the wide appeal that great all-ages comics can have. At first I wasn’t sure I would be able to say the same for The Rise of Aurora West. I’m not sure how I developed this opinion but by the time I finished reading, it was clear to me that it’s a great companion piece to Battling Boy even though it has a different tone. Young readers will certainly enjoy all of the monster hunting action while adult readers will appreciate Aurora’s growth as a character. It’s a book that offers quite a lot to enjoy and it’s clearly the work of skilled creators.

Similarly to how I can’t help but compare the story of both works, I can’t avoid comparing the art by David Rubin to the art of Paul Pope. Much like the comic as a whole, Rubin’s art differentiated itself from Pope’s art and the final result is a style that is occasionally similar to Pope’s but ultimately something unique to Rubin. I wasn’t sure if Rubin was trying to ape Pope’s style and after looking at sample artwork on Tumbler and on Rubin’s blog, I came to the conclusion that he’s not intentionally trying to mimic Pope for Aurora West but Pope is clearly one of many influences on Rubin’s overall style. I also see the influence of Rafael Grampa, particularly in Haggard’s large chin and in some of the smaller details on clothing and hair. Funny enough, that’s also where I see a lot of Pope’s influence, in the clothing and the hair. A lot of the technology feel informed by Pope’s renderings in Battling Boy and that just makes sense considering the close ties this comic has to it. The facial expressions and the monster designs are entirely Rubin’s.

Initially, I felt bad that there was an artist who had to follow Pope’s act. Pope isn’t just a master illustrator, he’s also an excellent storyteller. He has what I would describe as a difficult style. You need to learn how to read it before you can truly appreciate it. He gives the illusion of an artist who is rushed and decided to publish sketches instead of finished art but under that high-energy line work is a mountain of details to be absorbed and cherished by the studious reader. He also uses a lot of heavy inking and in the hands of a lesser artist that could easily be disastrous and result in unreadable and muddy pages. Pope manages to make it all work without putting the storytelling elements out of focus. Pope’s art can seem unpolished and unaesthetic to readers who are unfamiliar with his work but I’ve come to really admire and enjoy it.

Rubin is a different kind of artist. He’s much more expressive than Pope and that works to his advantage in The Rise of Aurora West. He does try to capture the looseness and the frenetic feel of Pope’s art but he doesn’t always succeed. His line work is softer and rounder than Popes and there appears to be the influence of cartoonist, not just skilled illustrators. There are several examples of very good cartooning in this comic. I won’t be adding Rubin’s name to my list of favourite comics artist just yet but he shows promise and I’m looking forward to seeing more work by him. It’s commendable that Rubin took on the challenge of illustrating Aurora West and I hope that he receives the recognition for his efforts on this book. I also hope that his future projects are packaged in a larger format as the 5 x 7 ½ pages weren’t big enough to allow me to fully appreciate his artwork.

The writing was also quite good. Petty used more dialogue than I’m used to seeing in a comic by Pope but I think that worked to his advantage. One of my criticisms for Battling Boy is that it felt light. There wasn’t as much story going on in those 200 pages than what I wanted. Pope usually writes comics that are dense, both in story and in art. The small format of Battling Boy and the quick story made for a lighter than usual read. Contrary to that, The Rise of Aurora West packs significantly more story in its 160 pages than its predecessor did. The dialogue isn’t superfluous though. Petty uses this comic to tell the story of Aurora. That might seem like a strange thing to say but it’s not uncommon for the boy hero to overshadow his female counterpart. I was quite happy to discover that most all the other elements of Battling Boy’s story were found in this comic with the exception of Battling Boy himself and any other gods. This statement might make me sound like a cynical comic book reader but female character often get the short end of the stick and I’m just happy to say it’s not the case with this comic.

As a prequel, it’s very effective because the focus is truly on Aurora West. She learns about her mother and her father’s past. But we also learn a lot about Aurora herself and the life she had growing up as the daughter of the hero of Arcopolis. We also learn about her connection to Sadisto and his gang. I would not have been surprised to discover that Pope and Petty used this comic to further develop the world introduced in Battling Boy and that’s exactly what they did but they did it through characters and that made it feel more organic. There are a lot of things we do not know about this world. Where did the monsters come from? Why are they attacking Arcopolis? What are they doing with all of the children they’re kidnapping? We do not get comprehensive answers to any of these questions but we do get a better understanding of Aurora and Haggard’s relationship to both the monsters and the city.

After finishing the first volume of Aurora West’s solo adventure, I realised that the comic developed its own identity, separate from Battling Boy. It’s a big compliment but the density of the story, compared to Battling Boy, made it feel substantial and that was rewarding to me as a reader. The character development, for Aurora and Haggard also contributes to making this comic feel like an important addition to the story begun in Battling Boy. It’s not just a cash grab comic. You also can’t argue with the cover price, $11.50 (Canadian) isn’t a bad price for 160 pages of comics. Pope has said that he has plans to continue to expand the Battling Boy series. It’s unclear if he has any specific plans beyond the sequel to Aurora’s first solo story or the sequel to Battling Boy but if he does, it looks to me like First Second has a hit series on their hands. I’m already looking forward to Battling Boy: The Fall of the House of West.

My advance review copy was provided by The Rise of Aurora West will be released on September 30, 2014.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Blog Fantastic 023: Dragonsong review

Dragonsong is a bit of an oddity when compared to the other books in the Dragonriders of Pern series. In some ways, it works to its advantage but in other ways it’s boring when compared to the first two books in the series. What follows is part review and part comparison with Dragonflight and Dragonquest. I would compare it with other books in the series but I haven’t read them in years and I cannot trust my memory to provide me with information accurate enough to make the comparison worthwhile.

The biggest difference between McCaffrey’s first two novels in the series and Dragonsong is that the latter is written specifically for the young adult market. In fact, the entire Harper Hall trilogy, of which Dragonsong is but the first entry, is targeted to young adult readers. It was the idea of her editor Jean E. Karl who having a new imprint for young readers at Atheneum Books asked McCaffrey for a story. The goal was to attract more female readers to science fiction and fantasy. Knowing this actually increased my appreciation for Dragonsong but not really my enjoyment. It’s a fine novel for young readers, specifically girls, but it’s not a very good Dragonriders of Pern book. Simply put, the novel didn’t quite fit in with its predecessors and it made for an underwhelming read.

Originally published in serialized form beginning in July 1968, Dragonflight was collected and released as a novel in 1969. Shortly after a sequel, Dragonquest, was published in May 1971. These novels make up two thirds of the first Dragonriders of Pern trilogy which was concluded with The White Dragon. Before McCaffrey went on to complete her first trilogy, she wrote two thirds of a second trilogy, called the Harper Hall trilogy of which Dragonsong is the first volume and was published in March 1976. The last book in the Harper Hall trilogy was published after the release of The White Dragon. The first trilogy is clearly targeted at adult readers due to the inclusion of themes that deal with gender politics and sexuality. They also have a few violent scenes (McCaffrey is good at writing knife fights) thought by today’s standards, those wouldn’t be out of place in a young adult novel. The second trilogy is targeted at a young audience and it shows in the story. It’s odd that both trilogies are entangled so during their initial publication. I do not see the benefit of this aside from the fact that McCaffrey had an offer for a particular book and she went ahead and wrote it without finishing her first trilogy. That in itself is fine, but it causes a bit of a problem for readers who are new to the series and are trying to read the Dragonriders of Pern in the “correct” order. That’s actually simple to do if you’re not interested in reader the young adult novels of the series. Just skip them and move on ahead to The White Dragon.

I didn’t want to do that. I’m curious as to how the young adult Pern novel stands up. I’m also curious as to how its story fits in with that of Dragonquest. As it turns out, it doesn’t have much of an impact at all but it does provide an opportunity for the reader to enjoy scenes from Dragonquest from a different point of view. Two of those stories include Brekke’s healing process after the loss of her gold dragon and the hatching of Ruth and his impression to Jaxom. It’s nice to have the new perspective on those events but it only works if you’ve read Dragonquest. I’m certain that readers who aren’t familiar with the overall setting of Pern have no bearing to help them appreciate the second perspective. In other words, those events don’t have any meaning for readers unfamiliar with them because they’re taken out of context.
The type of story told in Dragonsong is very different from the first two Pern novels. If you continue to compare Dragonsong with Dragonflight and Dragonquest while reading, you likely won’t enjoy this book much. Yet Dragonsong has plenty of good stuff to offer, particularly to young female readers. The story’s basic theme is that due to the fixed gender roles of Pern, Menolly is denied the freedom to pursue her dream. Her father specifically forbids it but her mother supports her father’s decision and likewise, the rest of the village is in passive agreement of it. I say passive because they do not specifically try to stop Menolly from pursuing her dreams and her passion for music but they do nothing to encourage her. As the story progresses Menolly is given opportunities to continue developing her talents in music as well as a way to escape from the confines (both physical and mental) of her village. Her arrival at Benden Weyr makes it look like a very progressive place in comparison to Holds and small villages. That’s kind of strange considering just how odd and constricting gender roles have been presented in the previous two novels, at Benden and elsewhere on Pern.

Dragonsong is essentially a young woman’s power fantasy. Menolly is good at everything and she’s the main character in a story that is concerned, primarily, with showing the reader just how perfect she is. Of course, for it to have any meaning and emotional importance for the reader, her dreams are heavily discouraged in the first third of the novel. The rest though, is all about Menolly excelling at every challenge and task that bars her way. I have nothing against such a novel. In fact, I think it’s an important novel due to its theme and focuses on a female lead, even in today’s market. The problem is that as an adult male, I appreciate the book more than I like it.

I quite enjoyed that we get to see the role of a Harper in action. We get to see the importance of Harpering in Pernese society. We’ve been aware of the existence of Harpers since the very first novel and we know that they’re entrusted with the job of sharing knowledge and history through songs and poems. Teaching ballads play an important role in the education of children as well as the continuing education of entire Holds. That makes sense considering the type feudal-like society that inhabits Pern. Why then would Menolly’s father be so opposed to the idea that she could become a Harper? Simple, Pern isn’t a planet of equal opportunity, especially not in small Holds where every able bodied person is expected to pull their weight in the development of local economy. In Half-Circle Sea Hold that’s fishery. 

There are things about the novel I simply don’t like. Fire lizards are not replacements for dragons.
The focus is too small. I liked the large canvas that McCaffrey used in the first two novels. There is a planet wide scope and I liked it. Dragonsong also has a predictable story and it doesn’t offer any surprises. I think that’s due to the target audience more than anything else. It’s a simple and straightforward story. Still, young readers are capable of understanding beyond what adults think young readers can manage. The book doesn’t pander to the reader but it doesn’t challenge them either.

The prologue does a good job setting up the location of Pern and the threat of Thread. It’s a nice, succinct introduction to Pern and it’s pretty essential in establishing the planet as something wondrous, different and often dangerous. It’s really big deal that Menolly runs away from home because being caught outside during threadfall usually results in death. Menolly is very talented and skilled. She also has the strength of will to make her own choices and deal with the consequences. When she’s living in the cave with fire lizards, she doesn’t whine and complain without end about her predicament. She’s well aware that she is there of her own volition and she makes the best of it. The problem I have with Menolly is that she’s too good at everything. She’s amazing at everything she does and I can’t help but read her for what she really is: a Mary Sue. It’s distracting. Menolly doesn’t just have a couple fire lizards, she has NINE.

The reason I found the book to be a little on the boring side is that Menolly’s journey is completely predictable. The novel starts by telling us just how great she is and it continues to do so while also offering up Menolly’s ignorance at her own self-worth. It’s completely believable for a talented teen not to know just how gifted she is but to present it as the main theme of the novel give the book an underwhelming feeling since it’s painfully obvious to the reader that she is quite talented. At the same time, it’s for that very same reason this book probably works really well for young adults. Discovering that Menolly has self-worth can likely help young readers realize that they too, have self-worth. I think I’m just out of the targeted audience for this one. I appreciate it more than I like it.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Hombre by Elmore Leonard review

“It was one thing to know a woman would die if she didn’t get help. It was another thing to say you’d die helping her.”

Elmore Leonard is one of those authors I’ve known about for a while but haven’t had a chance to read his work. For reasons I can’t remember, I thought of Jackie Brown a few weeks back and instead of popping in the DVD as I’ve done nearly a dozen times before, I decided to track down a copy of the book it’s based on. Rum Punch was my first Leonard novel and I really liked it and I wanted to read another book by Leonard because I was already pretty familiar with the story of Rum Punch. I found out Leonard wrote westerns early in his career and since I couldn’t recall ever reading a western before, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.

All this led me to Hombre, known as one of his better westerns. While it was a short read (under two hundred pages and the font was slightly larger than usual for a mass market paperback) it packed a punch and similar to Rum Punch, the whole story kind of sneaks up on you. As I mentioned, this is my first conscious foray into western literature and I was pleasantly surprised just how little the genre mattered to the story. The western elements of it (said the western genre noob) were more just set dressing and the story feels as though it could easily be transposed to a more modern, even a contemporary, setting. In other words, Hombre is crime fiction.

The plot is simple, as befits a novel of short length. It’s a first person account by a young man name Carl Allen who wants to put to paper his account of the trial he and a few other passengers went through during a trip in a mud coach. The novel quickly setups the fateful encounter of six passengers who embark on the last trip of Henry Mendez, a division manager of a stagecoach company. Complications ensue when bandits rob the coach, specifically Mr. Favor and Indian agent who’s defrauded the American Government of a few thousand dollars. The events of the robbery, which doesn’t go as planned, leaves all the passengers in a very difficult situation. The passengers are stranded in the desert mountains of southern Arizona with very little food and water and four criminals on their heels. 

While the above serves as a good description of the plot, the story is really about the man (or hombre) named John Russell. He was raised by Apaches and, at the novel’s beginning, he is on his way to claim his father’s farm and potentially return to white man’s society. His background is crucial to the story because the other passengers act in a specific way towards him based on their own identity and background. The passengers on the coach include Mr. Favor and his wife, young Carl Allen, a teenage girl who was kidnapped by Apaches and lived with them for a month, a man who turns out to be one of the bandits and Mr. Mendez as the coach driver. All of them view Russell in a different way and due to the seriousness of their situation after the robbery, how they view him is directly linked to their survival because if there is one man capable of getting them out of the shit hole they’ve got themselves in, it’s Russell.

Leonard uses this setup to play around with some interesting, and rather gripping, themes. The story deals mostly with self-preservation in the face of helping others. It’s individual wellbeing versus the collective wellbeing. The use of characters that are of different races (Mexican, Apache and white American) as well as characters that have been affected by their interaction with other races gives the survival themes a more disturbing edge. All of the characters quickly developed a strong dislike of Russell even though he’s the one who’s kept them alive for the duration of the book but their dislike, and for some it’s hatred, of him is reflective of their inability to act. By making him the defector leader of the group the other characters are in a position to argue with him about what he does and doesn’t do, not realizing they’re incapable of making those same decisions. It’s easier for them to point the finger at him because in their eyes he’s an Apache Indian and as such, is a second class citizen.

How the characters interact is the key to the novel’s success. It’s riveting to see what they argue about and what their reasons are for making those arguments. It’s also interesting to see how they act when they’re given the power to do something. By using a first person narration, Leonard is able to clear the path and let the reader deduce his own reasons for explaining the characters’ behaviours. Carl Allen is young and naïve and he asks more questions than provides answers. Those questions are left there on the page for the reader to answer, as uncomfortable as some of them are. It’s short and Leonard’s writing is punchy, even so early in his writing career. I like how short it is because any longer and this story would have run out of wind but as it stands, Hombre is a tense and engaging read. I’ve genuinely curious if his other western novels are as good and it’s something I’ll have to look into.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 09: Yoko Tsuno and Samuel R. Delany

Yoko Tsuno: Le Matin du monde (The Morning of the World):
The seventeenth album in the series, Le Matin du monde asks a pretty important question: is a bande dessinée still good when it’s a simple story told by a highly skilled storyteller? I would argue that yes, it’s still good but it makes for a slightly disappointing read.

The story is very straightforward. Yoko visit Monya in Indonesia (confirm) and they, along with Rosée du matin, Vic and Pol (confirm name) travel back in time to 1350 in order to save the life of a dancer who’s condemned to death because of Monya who interfered in the local village during a previous visit. Monya’s reason for travelling back in time in the first place was that she simply wanted to. After making Indonesia her adoptive home in the present at the end of La Spirale du temps, she began to study the country’s history. This led to an exploratory trip back in time. That’s pretty irrational behaviour for someone who’s seen the negative side effects of time travel. You would think she’d be more responsible. Likewise, it’s kind of unsettling to see Yoko endangering herself without a second though to her newly adopted infant daughter, Rosée, on so many occasions. I can’t say I’m happy about it but at least her friend Vic (dark haired one, confirm name) called her out on it.

I get the feeling that Leloup liked the idea of the special bond Yoko developed with the mural of the dancer at the temple near the home of her cousin Izumi and he wanted to explain that bond through a time travel story. That seems to be a pretty clear starting point when thinking of a time travel story, start from the end and work your way back. It’s unfortunate that Leloup couldn’t think of anything more interesting than a time travel rescue mission, especially when the end of the story is a breakneck race to the finish line, as if Leloup ran out of pages in which to tell his story.

For a series that has regularly been defined by its intelligent plotting, it’s disappointing to see Leloup produce something with so little depth. I can forgive him because his art continues to be top notch but I sure hope the next Yoko Tsuno story I read seems him once again in great form.
My review is based on the French edition published by Dupuis in 1988.

The resolution sucks. It went all wonky when I shrank it down.

The Jewels of Aptor written by Samuel R. Delany:
The Jewels of Aptor is the second book written by Samuel R. Delany that I read. I’m not sure exactly how I discovered him, it could have been because some of the writers I like listed him as an influence or maybe I regularly found his work on lists of best science fiction and fantasy books. I don’t know. I can’t remember but he’s been on my radar for a little while so naturally I looked for his books at my local used bookstore. I found most of his oeuvre and many of the novels were there in multiples. The first I read was Babel-17 because I liked the title and the cover. I read this one because it as a slim volume and I wanted to read something quick between other novels. I was good but I’m not blown away. I had a similar reaction to Babel-17 thought the latter is a much better work and I think I would enjoy it better during a second read because I know what to expect. One great thing about Babel-17 is that it defies expectation of a science fiction novel of the 1960s. I doubt I would enjoy rereading The Jewels of Aptor and it’s a shame because I really want to like Delany’s work.

The story is one of those often strange and regularly unappealing combinations of fantasy and science fiction. It might be better described as post-apocalyptic fantasy. There isn’t much science so I’ll just drop that entirely. The story is set approximately 1,500 years after the Great Fire, a nuclear holocaust of some sort. The Great Fire resulted in many different birth mutations and other strange phenomena. Even after all those years women are still giving birth to children with multiple limbs or to children with magical abilities. Sometimes the mutations are obvious and other times they are more subtle, such as a man who’s grown larger and stranger than any other man. His mutation has gone unnoticed for most of his life while others, such as people with four arms, are easily identified as mutants.

It’s in this setting where a goddess, or one representation of the goddess, sends two men to the island of Aptor to acquire her daughter (or yet another facet of the same goddess) and the titular jewels of Aptor. The men in question are Geo, a young poet, and his friend Urson, giant sailor. Most of the book focuses on their time spent on the island and their various theories as to what is going on. The characters frequently discuss what is happening to them and they try to make sense of it all. The one constant of the book is that everything changes. Perceptions, allegiances, individuals, magic and technology, religious and mythology, everything is constantly shifting. It’s one of the main themes of this work, mutability. Knowledge, understanding and discussion also play an important part but it doesn’t make for a captivating story. Yes, the prose is dense yet filled with poetic language and turns of phrase. Delany, who wrote this novel at the tender age of 19, shows tremendous potential and he’s lived up to that potential.

Like the story, The Jewels of Aptor constantly changes. It’s a story that works within a few different genres; the characters are both fascinatingly original in how they’re presented but also very familiar. Events that take place seem to involve science of old on moment and the next, something more akin to magic. Parts of it are great, they really art but parts of the book are also a real bore. While I didn’t love Babel-17 I could recognize why it’s considered a classic novel. It was, at the very least, interesting. I haven’t enjoyed The Jewels of Aptor nearly as much but I’m still glad I read it as it’s helping me better understand the works of Samuel R. Delany. I’m not done exploring his oeuvre, I have at least two novels waiting on my book case. I just hope they’re more along the lines of Babel-17 or something even better.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Blog Fantastic 022: Dragonquest review

I was torn while reading Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey’s first novel in her acclaimed and popular Dragonriders of Pern series. I felt very similar while reading Dragonquest as McCaffrey’s follow up to the first successful novel is simultaneously better and worse. There’s a pretty simple reason for this. McCaffrey expands on nearly everything that was present in the first book. That includes the good as well as the bad. I admit that I enjoyed the second book more simply because the focus was widened considerably.

In my review of Dragonflight I wrote the following:
Everything is structured based on dragons and their importance to the survival of Pern. What's interesting is that the threat of Thread occurs regularly but with a significant amount of time between each occurrence that Pernese tradition and culture relaxes and changes. Cultural changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing in our world. Modern life becomes increasingly complex as time passes and change is inevitable. In the world of Pern however, too much change to tradition can lead to the destruction of the human colony. The organization of the Weyrs and Holds was such as to protect mankind.
The transformation of modern Pernese culture is one of the main themes of Dragonquest. The book begins with a prologue in which McCaffrey gives the reader a pretty good look at the history of Pern from the point of view of the original settlers. It includes their initial encounter with Thread and their development of their defences against it. We learn quite a bit from this prologue and it contributes to the world building of Pern, mostly by providing historical information. More importantly, we learn that dragons were genetically engineered and developed with the help of human empaths. The Weyrs were built in extinct volcanoes which explain their bowl-like shape. This is the time in Pern’s history were tradition regarding the defence against Thread were shaped. The story of Dragonquest focuses on the transformation of traditions established centuries ago.

At the end of Dragonflight Lessa travelled 400 turns (years) into the past and when she returned to the present day she was accompanied by five Weyrs’ full of dragonmen. These dragonmen are known as the Oldtimers and they’re having a difficult time adjusting to modern life. They agreed to travel to the future in order to help in part because they were bored now that threadfall had ended in their timeline. Fighting Thread was what they did and without their regular battles against the spores of the Red Star, the Oldtimers had nothing to do. Now that they’re in Lessa and F’lar’s present time, their dislike of the changed traditions is making them bitter and difficult to deal with. Likewise, the existing Lord Holders of Pern are having a difficult time adjusting to the custom of giving their Weyr a tithe as repayment for protecting them during threadfall. They’ve never had to do that before and the Lord Holders are continuously putting pressure on the Weyrs, particularly Benden Weyr, to find a permanent solution and end the problem of Thread once and for all.
Because Lessa and F’lar of Benden Weyr did a great deal of work to protect their planet in the first book of the series, most of Pern’s population is now looking at them to continue to protect them. It's interesting that Benden Weyr would not relish the opportunity to consult the Oldtimers on traditions, the care of dragons, the political and economic structure of the Weyrs and Holds and the fight against Thread. Many, many different things have changed in the last 400 years instead of the present day people learning from the Oldtimers’ experience and the Oldtimers learning about the new traditional elements and social structure of the future, both groups just clash. It’s ok for a couple of reasons. The first is that without this conflict between both groups of people there would be very little other conflict in the book. The second reason is that if you tried to look at the situation realistically, based on how two different social and culture groups behave in opposition in the real world, this outcome is to be expected. The issue now though is that F’lar and many others, refuse to consult the Oldtimers on how they did things and simply continue to make it up as they go along. Similarly, the Oldtimers refuse to accept that traditions change.

Lessa and Mnementh by John Schoenherr
The focus of the novel is still on world building. The conflict with the Oldtimers and the Lord Holders that began in the first novel gets a whole novel to itself (Dragonquest) to allow for the conflict to play out. As such, Dragonriders of Pern isn’t a typical fantasy novel because there aren’t traditional elements such as a quest (despite the title) or a clearly identified villain. The book is essentially world building through narrative storytelling. The focus is on developing the world and some elements work really well and others don’t. An example of an element that worked well is the Red Star. It’s played out in a very enjoyable way and even though this is an old book I don’t want to say any more than that. McCaffrey could have written the Red Star sub-plot in so many different ways and, for a while during the book, I was worried she’d get it wrong but she sticks the landing. It’s one of my favourite parts of the book. Other elements of the book like time travel and characters, simply don’t work nearly as well.

Time travel wasn’t originally part of McCaffrey’s series but when her editor on Dragonflight suggested she include it, she liked the idea so much it became a pivotal element of her stories. I found it to be a copout, a quick fix ending to the first novel but there aren’t any huge time jumps in Dragonquest. It’s still used regularly but it’s mostly to time jump back to the beginning of a threadfall. If time travel continues to be used this way, I’ll get over it. It’s not ideal because it makes surviving threadfall that much easier. If they miss some they can just travel back to where it began. If McCaffrey wrote about the mental and physical strain of time travel (fantasy jetlag) on dragonriders I would appreciate it more but as it is written, it’s one of the weaker world building elements.

It seems strange to me that McCaffrey has her characters deal with the Weyrs’ isolation politics with a technological solution. They have the capabilities to communicate rapidly by using dragons and going between (space and time travel) but for reasons that are never quite explained, Dragonriders are extremely reluctant to do so. Instead some Weyrs and Holds use a system of drums and drummers to communicate. There also isn’t a whole lot of details of this. From what I understand there are drummers and located at intervals between Holds and Weyrs. That seems unlikely though because the combination of isolation and the threat of Thread probably make for a dangerous situation. Fandarel, a builder, develops what is essentially a telegraph but it works without electricity. I think it’s strange that Fandarel develops or redevelops a lot of technological solutions to some of the population’s problems over the course of the book. I understand why a lot of technology was lost and that Thread forces the people to spend more time developing way to survive than they were able to give to focusing on other things like renewable energy, refining raw materials and developing sustainable technology. I guess that the use of technology in this book kind of exemplifies the contradictions present in a world where traditional science fiction and traditional fantasy elements are two side of the same coin. It think it also serves as an example that increasing the scope of your world building can leave entire sections of your work underdeveloped.

The other big problems, similarly to Dragonflight, is gender roles and characters. The gender roles are as disturbing in this book as they are in Dragonflight. F'nor reflects on the roles and activities of women in the Weyr. In short, they're constantly occupied providing for the Weyr and the dragonriders by making numbweed salve, treating wounds and other similarly domestic functions. This keeps then active, in shape and as F'nor reflects "appealing". The women in the lower caverns are there for the picking when dragonmen want sex. As demonstrated in the first book, if a woman becomes pregnant it’s not uncommon for a dragonrider to abandon her and move on. Women in the Holds have a different job to do. They're responsible for giving birth and raising children until their bodies no longer allows them to do so. It's unsettling way in which Pernese society is structured. It’s structured in such a way as to allow for their survival but that structure is done at the detriment of women who are reduced to manual labourers, tools of sexual pleasure and baby making.

I recommend clicking on the image and making it bigger. It's a great cover by Michael Whelan.

Is there no such thing as a familial structure in Pernese society? I couldn't find a definitive answer to this question in the first two books. It's odd though that five Weyrs full of dragonriders (five or six Weyrs?) agreed to travel 400 years into the future where they will permanently reside; a decision they made nearly instantly. There I no way such a large number of individuals would have done that if they had families. The Dragonriders of Pern series is so cold and emotionless. Maybe being bonded to a dragon makes it near impossible to maintain an amorous human relationship that would lead to children and family life. It’s odd that Lessa and F’lar have a child but they don’t spend any time with him at all. He kind of wanders around the Weyr while mom and dad, Pern’s power couple, take care of business. Maybe family life is something McCaffrey explores in later books. I don't know. I'll have to read them. The absence of a strong familial structure would also explain the absence of surnames.

Overall, the characters of Dragonquest are fine on the surface. Some of them even manage to be interesting but as soon as McCaffrey starts to develop relationship between characters everything goes to shit. Some characters, primarily Kylara, seem to be in the book only to be used for slut shaming and to demonstrate the complicated, odd and often time disturbing gender politics of Pern. When she becomes pregnant early on in the novel, she travels between where the incredible cold of teleportation kills the child in her womb. It’s teleportation abortion and free of any motherly responsibility, she can continue to be as promiscuous as she likes. She’s one of the most problematic characters in the book. She’s had five children at this point and she’s determined not to have any more. She’s mean spirited about it though and she regularly uses her dragon’s ability to fly between as a fantasy and science fiction method of the morning after pill. There are no contraceptives on Pern and the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancies is to be abstinent which Kylara refuses to be. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands when she becomes pregnant. It's very unfortunate that the one pro-choice female character in Dragonquest is also characterized as a slut that revels in engaging with whomever she wants whenever she wants. 

Lessa and F’nor have change for the better since Dragonflight but their comments towards the behaviour of others (again, Kylara) suggests they’re also poised for problematic character development in the next book. I liked that F’nor got a larger role in this book than the previous one. I also enjoyed his budding romantic relationship with Brekke, the rider of a gold dragon, up to the point where their first romantic encounter was turned into a scene of romanticized rape. The only characters I like without reservation are secondary or background characters. Robinton, the Masterharper of Pern is one such character. I also quite liked Manora, the Headwoman of Benden Weyr but she doesn’t get to do much and works mostly in the background.

That’s a lot of problems to deal with but, somehow, McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series still manages to be interesting and enjoyable to me. It’s not always enjoyable to read, certain passages make for uncomfortable reads, but the series often provides food for thought.The problem is that there isn’t really anything I love unabashedly about the series. Any recommendation I would make of this book would come with a disclaimer and a few words of caution. There are pacing issues (there are a lot of people standing around talking), problematic gender politics and characters that are interested but flawed due to a single or small handful of character moments that just ruin them for me. I also have a few point of content with McCaffrey’s writing in general. Despite all these problems I can’t help but be swept away by the world she’s created. When I think at the world, the dragons and the history of Pern, I’m very interested in all of those things and I think they make for a fascinating setting for stories. When I look at the characters, I like them from afar and I only dislike them when I spent too much time in their heads or watching them shame others and take part in unsavoury actions. I like it and I dislike it! Thankfully, I am able to communicate why certain things bother while also being able to separate the implications of some of the elements found in Dragonquest from my enjoyment of all the different things that work. I will be revisiting Pern again but I think I need a little break from all the insanity that takes place there.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley review

One of my favourite comics of the last decade was Scott Pilgrim by Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley. It became its own little phenomenon and everything built to an exciting final volume followed, just a couple weeks later, by the release of the film adaptation by fan favourite director, Edgar Wright. It’s a modern comic book success story and ever since the release of Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, that I and many other fans of O’Malley have been eagerly anticipating the release of his next comic. It’s finally here and Seconds doesn’t disappoint.

My initial reaction to Seconds is that it feels hefty at over three hundred pages. I had no idea how long the book was going to be because I haven’t really read much of anything about the comic. I knew O’Malley was working on something new and that was enough for me. My second reaction is just how familiar his art style is. It’s simpler than what his art developed into during the Scott Pilgrim volumes. Because of that the manga influence in the character is as strong as ever before. The characters look like chibbi manga characters with large heads, big eyes and expressive faces. There is another vein of influence that is new to works by O’Malley and that’s European comics. Specifically more modern series, not Franco-Belgian adventure comedies like Astérix et Obélix. The influence of European comics can mostly be seen in scenes that take place outdoors. Those panels focus on scenery and architecture and it add quite a bit to the overall feeling and tone of the comic. Both influences fit well with the story and despite the cartoonish art style, O’Malley is able to tell a well-crafted story with meaningful themes. The story is a made up of layers of more serious fantastic realism and light-hearted rumour.

What made Scott Pilgrim so good for me is that it captured a specific energy and time during a young adult’s life. It’s was also a very good representation of a specific generation during the first decade of the 21st Century. Seconds does something similar by crafting a story around a different part of an adult’s life, the late twenty (and early thirties). Katie is almost 30. She is a chef working at Seconds, a restaurant she opened with the help of friends and business partners over four years ago. Since Seconds opened she’s been saving up her money to open her own restaurant in which she’ll be an equal partner of the business. She’s been working hard and waiting for a long time. She’s getting impatient and her life takes several turns for the better (but also for the worse) when a house spirit appears in her dreams and she finds a magic mushroom. What follows is a story about making choices, fixing mistakes, the rewards of hard work and the shortcomings of taking the easy way out. The comic is about making friends, growing up and learning to be responsible for your actions. There is a Groundhog Day like morality component to the story that combines well with the lighter themes and the humour of the comic. 

There are a lot of little things I really like in this comic. The way Katie and the Narrator interact is used very well. She can hear the Narrator and she sometimes replies to it, most often when the Narrator is informing the reader of how she feels. Her reply is often to deny what the Narrator is saying and most times it’s pretty funny. I quite like that O’Malley steals a joke form the movie adaptation of Scott Pilgrim and he apologizes for it by writing “Sorry!” in pale yellow letting outside of the panel borders. There is also a nice cameo of Scott and Ramona dining at Seconds. I’m already mentioned that there is a comforting simplicity to the art but that’s not to say there isn’t any detail. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll find some nice embellishment in the background and added definition to some characters physique and their actions.

I also like having a comic by O’Malley that is in colour. I’m never read any of the coloured volumes of Scott Pilgrim and though I would love to own them, I can’t convince myself to buy a comic I already own. This is the first work of his that I read in colour and it was pretty enjoyable. The colours are simple, as it should be in order not to clash with the simple (but effective) cartooning. Unfortunately, I don’t have much more to say about the colouring. It supports the art and the storytelling without getting in the way and that’s already better than a lot of comics colouring.

The underlying message of Seconds is a more serious but equally life affirming than the rest of O’Malley’s body of work. The winning combination of a story about continuing to grow up, even once you’ve reached adulthood, mixed up with plenty of humour and magical realism, Seconds is another example of O’Malley’s successful storytelling formula. It’s not a ground breaking comic but I dare you to find a comic that is as fun to read and will make you think about some of the deeper meanings of life. I love Seconds because the themes connect with me on a personal level. I’m not unique in that regard. O’Malley’s ability to connect with his audience on a personal level, with the style and content of the humour and with the story and its themes, is one of his greatest strengths as a comic’s creator. There’s no news on what his next project will be, but I’m already looking forward to the next chance I can read a comic by O’Malley.