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January 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -Short Treks

Star Trek Discovery tried an innovative approach in keeping it’s audience’s attention and building interest- it put out four shorts (each approximately 15 minutes long), one each month starting in October. They were non-linear, with three of them showcasing fan favorites.

Runaway

Ensign Sylvia Tilly was featured in the first episode, with a short that featured Tilly befriending a stowaway alien.

Tilly, in all her awkward glory, has become a favorite of the Discovery crew for many viewers (including me!). In this short, she accidentally meets a new species of alien that can turn invisible. When the two encounter one another in the mess hall, chaos erupts, but when other crew members arrive for a meal, the shambles can be attributed to Tilly being known for unintentionally being a magnet for mayhem. I had to have a huge suspension of disbelief that Tilly never reported this alien, even for the somewhat valid reasons for her being there, and got away with transporting her back to her home world. Wouldn’t there be logs of those kind of transmissions? But I digress. The friendship between the two and the character development you see in Tilly make up for these issues, and it was a sweet slice-of-life short.

 

Calypso

This short proved to be the most atypical as it is set 1000 years in the future and is set on the empty USS Discovery, and the title name refers to a story in Greek mythology.

An unnamed human soldier, who later goes by Craft,  is found drifting in an alien shuttlecraft and inadvertently comes near the USS Discovery.  A tractor beam brings him inside the ship and he awakens in sick bay. Wary, he tries to escape, but he is calmed when the female speaking through the intercom is friendly and non-threatening. We find out the ship had been abandoned 1000 years prior by the crew, and the AI has evolved in that time and calls herself Zora. Craft shares that he was escaping a battle and wants to be reunited with his wife and child, whom he hasn’t seen in ten years. Craft and Zora (in holographic form) bond, and there is a poignant scene in which the two recreate a dancing scene from the movie Funny Face.  The ending harkens back to the title of this episode, and if you aren’t familiar with that myth, look it up!

 

The Brightest Star

 

Commander Saru gets an origin story that explains how the first Kelpien joined Starfleet.

We first meet Saru, living a quiet agrarian life with his father and sister, but the village lives in fear as an alien nation demands tributes on a regular basis. When the alien ship drops some technology Saru examines it on the sly, refusing to accept that this life is all there is. His questions to his father are rejected but he continues trying to send out a message to others beyond his home planet.  Time goes by, but he eventually receives a message from an unknown ship that they will arrive the next day. I gasped with who stepped out of the shuttle, and I’m sure all Trekkie fans started checking their Star Trek canon to see if the years matched up. While this story had a bit of a discrepancy with what Saru previously shared about his home world (edit- and a comment in the first episode of the second season didn’t match either), this was a lovely origin story. His last quote “I saw hope, in the stars. It was stronger than fear. And I went towards it” was perfect.

 

The Escape Artist

Harry Mudd, an expert on long-cons, pulls the wool over many bounty hunters and renegades in a clever way in this last episode.

Mudd is a recurring scoundrel in the Discovery series, based off a character that only appeared twice in TOS. Actor Rainn Wilson is having fun with this role, so his inclusion in one of the shorts was welcome. In this episode Mudd has been sold by a bounty hunter to an alien that was previously wronged by him. We see Mudd also trying to get out of previous jams with other aliens, so we don’t know if this current alien will fall for his tricks. The way he was begging not to be taken to the Federation made me think of Brer Rabbit, and the reveal at the end of exactly how this rogue got out of trouble again was ingenious.

All four of these shorts were strong, and each had a different feel. They were a wonderful lead-in to the start of the second season of Discovery and I hope they continue making them for future seasons. In the meantime, live long and prosper, my friends!

-Nancy

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Top 5 Wednesday: Most Disappointing Reads of 2018

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. This week the topic is the most disappointing books you read in 2018.

Vox by Christina Dalcher

I was so excited at the premise of the story, that detailed what would happen if females were limited to 100 words daily, and how American society would shift because of this discrimination. Since our current administration seems to revel in discrimination, I felt this book was going to carry a deep and timely message, such as The Handmaid’s Tale did. Unfortunately, I could not connect with the main character Dr. Jean McClellan despite the strong start of the narrative, and felt her withering contempt for her husband was too much, especially in light of what he did at the conclusion. I wanted to like this book more, but it didn’t touch me as THT did.

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

I was terribly disappointed with this book, especially after seeing many positive reviews by others. I am a fan of the zombie/dystopian genre (Revival, TWD, World War Z) so I thought this book would definitely be up my alley, but after a promising start, it fell apart for me.

Temple is a teen surviving alone in a world that collapsed about 25 years ago in a zombie apocalypse. She is practical to a fault, knowing how to fend for herself, but haunted by her memories of a younger brother who is no longer with her. During her travels she happens about a conclave of survivors in a nearby city but her independent streak makes it an ill fit for her. While there, she thwarts a sexual assault, and in self defense she kills the man. His brother vows revenge, and the rest of the book details the ridiculous pursuit between them, and reminded me of Jean Valjean and the obsessive Javert saga in Les Misérables. The people they encounter on their travels range from Southern Gothic wannabes to a deranged mutant family and of course endless zombies. The whole time people keep on remarking on how amazing and deep Temple was which annoyed me- for I felt it was pretentious, show don’t tell this characteristic. I kept on putting this short novel down which is never a good sign, and by the time the conclusion wrapped up everything, I simply did not care about any of the characters.

Artemis by Andy Weir

When I read The Martian, I was sucked into Andy Weir’s plausible science fiction story. His resourceful hero was funny and appealing and readers rooted for his survival. So I eagerly looked forward to his next book and was pleased to find a heroine living on the moon in his second novel. Imagine my dismay when my opinion of the book plummeted chapter by chapter.

You can read more about my dislike for the book in my previous blog post.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Vaguely reminiscent of Grisham’s book, The Litagators, this story delves into the world of everyday lawyers, not the high paid corporate lawyers from his famous earlier books. Students Mike, Todd and Zola are in their last semester at a third rate law school, and up to their eyeballs in debt, when a good friend commits suicide. Shaken by his death, they all impulsively drop out of school and start to masquerade as a law firm despite no degrees.

This is when the story went absolutely sideways for me. Upset that their loans are overwhelming and with no job prospects, they decide that committing fraud and hustling unsuspecting clients is a legitimate way to live their lives. They bumble around, get caught, but then decide to double down by getting involved in a mass torts case against the bank that worked with their law school giving loans to unqualified students. In the midst of this Zola is dealing with her undocumented family getting sent back to Senegal. Mike and Todd, who quite frankly are interchangeable, manage to keep one step ahead of the authorities and the whole ending is just preposterous.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I listened to this book on audio, which had received the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album, and was prepared to love it. I didn’t.

At first, hearing Carrie Fisher’s voice was both wonderful and melancholy, due to her passing. I’ve been a big fan of hers for years, as she surpassed her Princess Leia persona, and was a well respected author plus funny as hell. The new set of Star Wars movies yanked her back into the fandom and people are eager for any tidbits about the original trilogy, so the finally confirmed romance between Fisher and Harrison Ford was big news. She writes of their romance, but yet I still did not feel it was fleshed out. She has every right not to share details there were too intimate between the two, but the romance remained an enigma to me.

She ends up being very repetitive elsewhere in the book, and much of it seemed filler. She speaks wryly of life for an actor after their biggest fame is over, and the struggles and concessions they need to make to remain relevant and earn an income. As she re-imagines some conversations she has had with her fans at conventions, I had to skip ahead on the audio as they were painful to listen to. So I ended up feeling disappointed by the end of the novel, and felt guilty thinking so. Nevertheless, her candor and humor make me want to look up more of her past works.

I rarely give up on books, and most of these books had promising starts, but they all ended on unsatisfactory notes. Did anyone else have similar feelings about these books?

-Nancy

The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit content passing his days sitting on his front porch, blowing smoke rings, and drinking tea. All that changes when the wizard Gandalf appears on his doorstep, asking if Bilbo would like to participate in an adventure. Well, hobbits simply do not have adventures! But despite Bilbo’s protests, Gandalf along with a large group of dwarves show up at his door for tea the next day. They are on a quest to take back the stolen treasure that is their leader Thorin Oakenshield’s birthright. One problem… the treasure was stolen by a dragon named Smaug. Bilbo, of course, is horrified… and intrigued. Despite himself, he finds himself travelling with the band of dwarves and wizard. Together, they meet elves, almost get eaten by trolls, get kidnapped by goblins, and confront the most feared dragon in Middle-Earth.

The subtitle stresses that it’s an illustrated edition, which I think in a few respects is true. While it is laid out like a graphic novel, and reads like one, this one is significantly more text-heavy than previous graphic novel adaptations I’ve read. It takes dialogue and expository passages straight from the book. As a result, there are many more text boxes into which the text was all squished. This made the text very small and hard to read at times. The book could have greatly benefited from a larger format (it was a little smaller than your usual trade paperback), or further editing to cut out some of the more unnecessary text.

The illustrations were lovely. They were whimsical and colorful and perfectly suited the lighter tone of The Hobbit. Even the darker places and passages were filled with a light and airy quality. I enjoyed them very much, and I could easily see the appeal for both older and younger readers. Like with the Harry Potter Illustrated Editions, I could see this edition being used by parents to introduce Tolkien to young children. It was in the teen graphic novel section at the public library I work at, but I’d say middle school children would be able to read it on their own.

While a bit too text-heavy for my taste, this was a wonderful adaptation of The Hobbit in graphic novel form. The illustrations will be the big appeal here, as they draw you into a whimsical and colorful Middle Earth.

– Kathleen

Tolkien, J.R.R. Adapted by Charles Dixon with Sean Deming. Illustrated by David Wenzel. The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic. 2001.

Bone Parish

Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go.

A quick synopsis: “A new drug is sweeping through the streets of New Orleans—one made from the ashes of the dead. Wars are being fought over who will control the supply, while the demand only rises.”

The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. The oldest, Brae, is chomping at the bit ready to take over the enterprise and questioning his mother. Brigitte is the scientist who is the only one who knows how to turn the dead into ash properly and won’t reveal to others how to do so as to keep her position in the family safe. Leon and Wade end up doing much of the grunt work for the family, with both of them questioning the morality of it all.

As the popularity of the drug grows in the Big Easy, other drug cartels realize the scope of the operation and want in on the action. Several contact Grace with offers of buy-outs but she refuses. Not surprisingly they don’t take it well, and put a target on the family’s back. Some dirty cops are also involved, with Brae trying to control that aspect, but double crosses are part of the game.

There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you back track to look for clues. The story has potential for a thought provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. My excitement for this new series rivals what I felt for Briggs Land, another layered crime saga with an intriguing family led by a strong woman.

The art by Jonas Scharf was perfect for the story, and was reminiscent for me of Gabriel Rodriguez who illustrates the Locke and Key series, which is high praise indeed from me. He establishes the Winters family in a distinct manner, showing a welcome diversity within the family, in addition to when he draws other characters and realistic crowd scenes. The colorist Alex Guimarães really sets the tone with the coloring with an earthen palette for the everyday life, and vibrant pinks and purples to signify the hallucinogenic effect.

As much as I loved the story, I have a few criticisms. The big one: how is the drug controlled by the user? How do they tap into the specific memory of the deceased, as they would have a lifetime of memories to choose from? How do memories from the past physically manifest in those who are taking the drug? Will this be explained, or do we just have to have suspension of disbelief and go with the flow? Also, while I love that Grace is portrayed as a powerful and still sexy matriarch of the family, she looks too young to be a mother to her children, especially Brae. I, myself, am a mother to three teens and I still want to be thought of as a hottie, but Grace should be realistically aged just a tiny bit more.

I believe this new series has a lot of potential for growth and I absolutely will be reading future volumes, as I wish to find out what consequences are in store for the Winters family and those who choose to take the drug. Thank you to NetGalley for approving me to read this novel early, as I believe this series could really take off after it’s release in March.

-Nancy

Kingdom Come

I’d forgotten until I was halfway through this one that Nancy has already read and reviewed it… but by that point, I was committed to finishing it! The show must go on, right? And I figured I’d see how similar or different our opinions were on it =P

Just before his death, the Sandman begins to have terrible visions. His friend, Pastor Norman McCay, is with him in his final moments – but then the visions transfer to him after the Sandman passes. The visions are horrible, filled with fire and blood and thunder. The Spectre appears to Pastor McCay, saying that he needs his help, because Armageddon is almost upon them. He needs a human soul to help him judge whomever is responsible for the impending evil.

It is a new millennium, and the superheroes of old have retired, or gone back to their homes, or gone into hiding. The new heroes – the descendants or proteges of those who came before – act without thought or reason. One of them, who calls himself Magog, killed The Atom, causing a nuclear fallout across the American Midwest. Wonder Woman appears to Superman, pleading for him to come out of his self-imposed exile and show the world hope once more. He reluctantly agrees, but the world is not what it used to be. Humanity hasn’t retained the same morality or capacity for hope. Is it possible for Superman to stick to his old morals to reach the next generation, show them the hero’s way, and save humanity?

… Holy crap. This book challenges the role of superheroes in a new millennium and an ever-changing society – and succeeds. Though it was written in the late ’90s, it still holds up extremely well today. The heroes you know and love are seen here as older, some jaded, some still hopeful they can make a difference. They are caught between their love of humanity, their deep-rooted morals, and the realization that sometimes the world moves on without you, and you have to change and adapt to it rather than expecting the world to bend to your will (even if you’ve superhuman will). I loved how these things conflicted within each character. This goes for our narrator Pastor McCay, and the villains who appear too, not just the heroes. Spectacular writing by Mark Waid all around.

The art… I cannot say enough about it. Two words: Alex Ross. He makes magic with superheroes. He works in more of a photorealistic style, making your favorite heroes really come to life. His sense of color and lighting, especially when it comes to the metallic aspects of some costumes, is unparalleled. Since his style takes longer to render than usual comic book art, he usually only does covers – seeing a whole comic with his art is a real treat. I’m not exaggerating when I say you’ve never seen a comic book illustrated like this before.

TLDR: As an artist, Alex Ross makes me want to quit daily X,D

In short, Kingdom Come is a must-read for any comic book fan. Waid’s writing challenges the place of superheroes in a new society, which is only augmented by Ross’ spectacular art.

– Kathleen

P.S. I didn’t read Nancy’s review until I’d finished mine so I wouldn’t accidentally borrow her thoughts and ideas. I only knew she loved it, but the reasons why ended up being pretty similar. Except for the “One Year Later” ending… I HATED IT! EW!! GROSS!!! Save for that, we’re of the same mind on this one 😉

Waid, Mark, and Alex Ross. Kingdom Come. 2008.

My Brother’s Husband: Volume Two

My Brother’s Husband concludes in a beautifully written two book series about preconceived notions about the LGBTQ+ community and how to fight those prejudices.

Author and illustrator Gengoroh Tagame is a well known openly gay Japanese artist whose previous manga series are extremely adult orientated. Tagame typically writes gay erotic manga, but in this case he decided to write an all ages book written to combat prejudices against gay culture. He succeeds brilliantly.

In the first volume, we first meet Yaichi, a divorced dad to daughter Kana. He receives a visit from Mike, a hulking Canadian, who was married to Yaichi’s twin brother Ryoji. Ryoji has recently died, and Mike wants to meet his family and see where his husband had grown up. Kana is absolutely shocked to meet him, for first of all she didn’t even know her father had a brother as the twins were estranged, and secondly she did not know men could marry.

This second volume continues with the reminder of Mike’s visit, three weeks in all. Yaichi, Kana, and Natsuki (Yaichi’s ex, whom he remains on good terms with) take Mike to an onsen, which is a traditional Japanese hot spring. The four of them have an enjoyable time there together, which makes Yaichi further reflect on his previous ideas of who makes up a family unit.  While he regrets that his relationship with his twin ended so sadly he can go forward teaching his daughter to make better choices than he did.

We get further acceptance when Kana’s teacher calls in Yaichi for a conference regarding Kana’s sharing with her classmates that her gay uncle is visiting. Yaichi schools the teacher on being accepting, which is one of the first times he he is outspoken in public about changing perceptions that are ingrained in Japanese culture. When Mike heads home back to Canada, you know Yaichi and Kana’s life has been changed for the better by his visit. You will be hopeful that this new family will continue their relationship, and they will stay connected.

This quiet slice-of-life manga deftly shows how one family can start to break a cycle, and for those people to then branch out in sharing their awareness and how it could radiate out to others. So I was pleased to find out that these two books was adapted into a three episode Japanese television program, which hopefully gave it a medium for reaching even a larger audience. Kudos to Tagame for showcasing an important message and for changing perceptions in a loving and positive manner!

-Nancy

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