Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Jonathan Safran Foer’s September 11th novel. It’s about an odd boy whose father died in the World Trade Center. He finds a key in a vase with the word Black on it and decides to go talk to all the people with the surname black in New York. It takes 18 months. There’s also the story of his grandfather and grandmother layered in. It’s pretty good, but not something I’d rabidly recommend to someone who wasn’t specifically looking for a 9/11 story.
Goliath is a fitting conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy. While Leviathan and Behemoth both referred to Darwinist creations in their titles, Goliath is an electrical super-weapon designed by Nikola Tesla to end the Great War.
The story follows Alek and Deryn as they ride the airship Leviathan over Siberia to Japan then California, Mexico and New York. The plot in this one was a little bit less urgent and more episodic. Alek is desperately trying to find a way to end the war, but can only really find a role in being an assistant to Tesla, while Deryn’s disguise as a boy is the big thing at risk for her in the book. It relied a bit more on meeting real people from history than the previous books as well.
But the climax was thrilling and fit the story perfectly, there were giant fighting bears (sadly not in the climax) and the thing ends happily. Good steampunk; great story.
Jew Gangster is about a kid in depression-era New York who becomes a gangster as a way of climbing out of poverty. It’s a pretty classic story with all the proud disapproving father, friends who hang on for a taste of money, and moving away from the family the gangster was trying to help elements that feel like they’re in every gangster story.
It does all the elements well, but there isn’t anything groundbreaking in here. Religion only really came into play when the protagonist couldn’t sit shiva for his father, which seemed like a missed opportunity, given the title. The black and white art is good and it feels more of its time than something like Sandman Mystery Theatre. But if you like gangster fiction there’s not much here you haven’t seen before.
I picked up Teju Cole’s Open City because I saw his bit in The Atlantic about the White-Saviour Industrial Complex. This book isn’t really about Africa, but about being a man distanced from the world.
Julius is a Nigerian-born psychiatry resident in New York and the story follows him walking through his city, a trip to Belgium and his memories. There are multiple relationships touched upon, including that of his German mother, an elderly professor and people half-remembered from his childhood.
The book creates this sympathy for a calloused and detached person whose job is to connect with and resolve issues for his patients. It’s very good. Contemplative. A revelation in the end changes how you perceive Julius throughout the book, and that’s probably as close as the book gets to a plot.
A Good Fall is a collection of short stories by Ha Jin. They’re set in America (many of them in Flushing, New York) and are about Chinese immigrants. Most of the stories are at least a little bit funny, playing on impossible situations the characters are put into, like helping to hide a former mentor who’s come to the U.S. to defect but ends up as an undocumented worker. Or the husband whose mother comes to visit on a 6-month visa and tries to wreck his marriage because the wife is at school and doesn’t cook and clean for him “like a wife should.”
I love how Ha Jin writes so simply and clearly. You always understand the chain of logic protagonists are following even if you completely disagree. They’re very interesting little stories. Highly recommended.
This is the volume where Matty Roth deals with the aftermath of getting involved in politics and where he makes the decision to get back to what he originally went into NYC to do: journalism. I’m not feeling bad for all of his poor choices any more, because he’s trying to set things right. When he talked about that kind of stuff in Collective Punishment I didn’t have the background of this new decision and it all felt weak. Of course, the people he’s dealing with in that book didn’t get to see all the stuff that happened in this one either, so maybe I had a more authentic DMZ-inhabitant experience when I read it with this hole in my knowledge.
Before that redemption-filled part of the story, there are a great bunch of supershort vignettes with different artists.
The Hourman and the Python is another pair of Sandman Mystery Theatre stories. In these ones, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont have become romantically involved and one of the things I loved about this book is all the unmarried sex they have. It’s not something I’m used to in stories about that time.
Another interesting thing is that Dian knows Wesley is the Sandman and they actually have a somewhat realistic relationship along with the vigilantism. The difficulties of that kind of life are dealt with in a thoughtful way, which I appreciated.
The Hourman is also introduced in this book. He’s another DC superhero, who uses drugs to give himself amazing strength but only for an hour at a time. There’s some interesting comparison between how he and the Sandman operate, but it does throw some of the noirish tone off a bit. I do appreciate how the Hourman’s meddling causes a lot of problems that punching something can’t solve.
I have a friend who loves the Sandman Mystery Theater series. He’s the one who first told me about the excellent crime stories Matt Wagner was making with these books. I read one volume, liked it and then never really followed up till last week. The Face and the Brute is volume two, and has two stories about Wesley Dodds, the wealthy detective who dresses up in a gasmask to follow up on the dreams he has about crimes.
The comic is most interesting in how it deals with its setting, New York in the 1930s. The racism against Asians is front and centre (not in Wesley, but in the secondary characters). Dian Belmont is dating an Asian man and grisly murders are happening in Chinatown. Everyone is scared for her safety and encourages her to leave that terrible foreign world alone. But she won’t. The dealing with class issues is done very well, in that the issues actually show up in the writing.
They’re good stories, but I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. It’s all just a bit garish for what I like in my noir comics.
Collective Punishment is Volume 10 in Brian Wood’s sf series about a near-future civil war in New York City. This volume is a collection of shorter bits mostly about some secondary characters as the city gets the shit bombed out of it. It’s following the aftermath of what Matty Roth hath wrought in his time in the DMZ. I love this series, but so much of my love is based on a lot of identification with Matty Roth, it’s hard reading these books after he’s fucked up badly, especially since I don’t know how it ends yet. I care about this version of New York and the people in it, and it sucks what’s happened in the story. You know, the way war does.