Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 11: Hammered and Quatre aventures de Spirou et Fantasio (Four Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio)

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear:

Before I star with the review I want to play it clear that I will be reading another book by Elizabeth Bear but it won't be the sequel to Hammered and it won't be science fiction. There really isn't much about Hammered that I enjoyed and the part that I did were inconsequential to the plot and buried in chapters that had such little impact on me that it didn't matter.

I was in the mood for reading a military science fiction novel and I ended up with Hammered. To anyone who’s read the book you’ll likely agree that calling this military sci-fi is more than just a little off the mark. The story takes place in the not-too-distance future of 2062. China and Canada are the two competing superpowers, mostly due with their involvement with space exploration and military strength. It’s a future world setting where body modification, mechanical prosthetics with neural network connections and virtual reality games are common.

The most interesting characters were an artificial intelligence and his creator, a fascinatingly intelligent and capable psychiatrist. All the other characters were bland, boring, unconvincing and inconsequential. As for Jenny Casey, the star of the show, she's a walking cybernetic cliché. The plot goes nowhere. Normally when I finish a book in a trilogy I have a desire to read the second book. With this one I felt relief that the book was over and I was also upset that the plot had barely started to kick in. I’ve read a few reviews where people applauded the book for being tightly plotted. I doubt they read the same book I did.  Hammered  is 330 pages of setup and it’s not a satisfying read .

Considered it Covered:
Paul Youll, I like this guy. His art on the covers for the Star Wars Rogue Squadron are awesome. This cover, while very striking, didn't work for me after I started to read the book. To be clear, the cover played a big role in my decision to buy Hammered. Look at that blue! Look at the bold yet relaxed pose. We can't see Carey's head and while I would normally consider that to be a shame (thanks Kelly Thompson) she's not painted in a provocative way so it works. I like the outfit, I like the boots, I really like how the gun's pistol grip looks thick. That gun looks heavy and it would be ridiculous for it to have a tiny handle. Look at the bottom and the top of it, it's thick. That makes sense for a gun which has such a heavy barrel and sight.

I've got a lot of positive things to say about a cover I don't like, don't I? Well here's what doesn't work. Like many science fiction and fantasy covers it doesn't accurately portray the characters or the book. For starters the cover is clean and sleek while the book is gritty and I get the sense that our not-too-distant future is a dirty place. The same thing goes for Carey's skin and her prosthetic arm. She's approaching fifty and her skin is flawless! She survived very severe burns and she doesn't have a single scar to show. Granted she's not showing a lot of skin but her skin looks too perfect. Maybe on a younger character but not for Casey. Her prosthetic arm is also too clean and new looking. I pictured something more banged up and lived in, especially considering she's had it for approximately 25 years. Did I mention she's has Native American ancestors? Mohawk, I believe. Again I want to point your attention to her skin. Certainly, this is a minor quibble as genetics are complicated business and for all I know she could look like that. I just kind of doubt it. And where is her holster? You don't keep a gun like that in a shoulder harness. The cover is sleek and it lied to me about what kind of book was about to read. Bear’s writing is gritty at times. I didn’t like the cover after reading the book and after finishing the book I realized that I wasted my time. It had potential and I really wanted to like it but there just isn’t enough to keep me interested about this book or its sequels. My next book by Bear is going to be a fantasy novel, that’s for sure.

Quatre aventures de Spirou et Fantasio (Four Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio) by Franquin :
This is often regarded as the first Spirou et Fantasio album. A series of albums that still continues to grow today, albeit under different writers and artists. I got a hit of nostalgia a short while ago and I took a bunch of the earlier albums from my Dad’s basement. See, I remember some of the earlier stories by Franquin as my favourites. Not this album in particular but I figured since I’d be going back I might as well start at the beginning.

Well, it wasn’t worth it. My memory of these stories was better than what they really are. The stories aren’t particularly bad. It’s good considering the year in which it was released but it’s so tame compared to other albums in the series. The stories are fluff entertainment clearly directed at young boys. It lacks the more mature content, though still all-ages appeal, and storytelling skills of later albums. They’re not bad, they’re just very dated and it makes for an increasingly less enjoyable read as time goes on

You can’t even appreciate this collection of stories for being the first Spirou et Fantasio story. Well that’s not true. It’s not even the first Spirou et Fantasio album. It’s not even the first Spirou et Fantasio album by Franquin! It’s just one of many other albums. This is one of the longest bande dessinée series and it’s because of its longevity that it’s gone through multiple changes in creative teams. Based on how long a specific creative team has stayed on the book, the style and quality of that person’s run can also vary. The original Spirou by Rob-Vel is different than the Spirou et Fantasio by Fournier which is different than the one by Yoann & Vehlmann who work on the series today.

The best thing to do with Spirou et Fantasio is just explore the series from any starting point you want. Simply choose and album and keep reading the stories in publication order from there, only going back to previous albums when they’re references in an album you’re reading. I can’t recommend starting here unless you’ve read a lot of other ones but doing so might actually decrease the enjoyment you would get out of this album had you read it first. Really though, if you’re going to spend as much time thinking about it as much as I did it’s probably not even worth picking it up. I’d probably recommend Spirou et Fantasio #4: Spirou et les héritiers as a satisfying starting point. I’ll get to it but i’ve got two more albums to review first.

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