Tim Powers is one of those writers whose work I know I like, but don’t binge-read. I don’t know why. But I found a cheap copy of On Stranger Tides in a used bookstore and was happy to pick it up. It’s a story about vodoun and pirates in the waning days of the age of piracy in the Caribbean. Jack Chandagnac is a bookkeeper who is heading to Jamaica to confront his uncle (who stole his father’s fortune). He meets a young woman on the ship and then they’re attacked by pirates.
Jack becomes a magic-wielding pirate trying to save his true love from having her soul ripped out and replaced with the soul of her dead mother by her one-armed father who incidentally needs to head over to the fountain of youth.
It’s kind of awesome. If you like two out of pirates, adventure, vodoun, you should definitely take a look.
You might recognize the title from the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As I understand it they borrowed enough elements of the plot from this book it was easier to pay Tim Powers rather than risk weird infringement lawsuits, and they aren’t that similar. Basically I’m saying if you saw that movie and thought it was dumb, I’m more than positive the book is better. And for the love of spaghetti don’t read the novelization of the movie thinking it’s this (I don’t know if such a thing exists and definitely don’t want to link to it if it does).
There’s a lot less to this book than the first one. There’s an attempt to get a grant and everyone is negotiating romantic problems and generally it didn’t grab me the way the intersection of art and terrorism in the first book did. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me want to shove it into people’s hands the way the first did.
Ax is an anthology of alternative manga stories. I don’t really read enough manga, so I figure anthologies are a good way to help me find new things. There were a bunch of stories I didn’t like, because they were too crudely drawn or too much florid art/language (which might have been better in Japanese). But there were a few I did like.
Love’s Bride by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A guy gets possessive about a girl he knows so she tells him to fuck off and he goes to the zoo and falls in love with an ape who truly understands him. I’ve read a bunch of Yoshihiro Tatsumi books before so maybe it’s just familiarity with his straightforward style, but the story was well-done.
Conch of the Sky by Imiri Sakabashira: This one was way more metaphorical and weird, with squids crawling into the sick guy’s futon and then going off on a chase through the dark. The narration and the sinuous but not overdone art really sold it for me. It felt like a fever dream. In a good way.
A Broken Soul by Nishioka Brosis: The art in this story was what I really liked. It felt kind of cubist as the main character discovered his soul was broken.
Enrique Kobayahsi’s Eldorado by Toranusuke Shimada: This is the story of an Eldorado motorcycle found in an uncle’s garage. Toranusuke Shimada draws in a style reminiscent of Joe Sacco and tells the history of these Brazilian motorcycle manufacturers who turned out to have gotten their skills from Nazis. This one probably felt the least like what I think of as manga of the book.
Paying For It is Chester Brown’s comic-strip memoir about being a john. It is a fascinating look at prostitution and the arguments for and against it. Brown documents his decision to start paying for sex and each of the prostitutes he visited (with obscuring details) and the discussions he had with his friends about it.
Basically, Brown decided that romantic love was bullshit and why shouldn’t people have sex with people for whom it is a job? His companions tend to be more romantic (or as the cartoonist Seth says in the afterword, they “experience human emotions”). I should clarify; it’s possessive monogamy that Brown feels is the problem. We can have lots of friends, but why only one sexual partner? The afterword is filled with more information and notes about the book, and even if it doesn’t convince you to go pay for sex, it will make you think about the standard shortcut ways of thinking about prostitution.
Reading this book right after Debt: The First 5,000 Years was interesting, since that one was talking so much about how slaves are people who are removed from their social context, and Brown spends a good amount of time in the afterword debating whether any of his prostitutes were sex slaves (he doesn’t think they were).
When I read Carrie Ryan’s YA novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth I enjoyed it, partially because of how the zombie story and the escape and the doomed teen romance all worked together. The Dead-Tossed Waves is the sequel (and second book in the series), and I didn’t like it as much. It is entirely possible I am getting zombie-fatigue.
Gabry, the hero of this story is the daughter of the hero from The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I quite liked that there was this generational split and that the reader could see Gabry’s mom with different information than Gabry herself had. The big arc for Gabry is how she goes from a desire for safety and security and following the rules to escape and challenge and doing things she didn’t think possible. I’m glad it got where it was going because I couldn’t stand Gabry’s whininess in the first part of the book.
There’s a forbidden love triangle between Gabry, and two boys: Catcher and Elias. Catcher’s been bitten by a zombie (directly after their first kiss – talk about punishing transgression) which makes romance there difficult. Elias is looking for his sister and is so capable but keeps too many secrets (for no real reason other than the plot demands it).
I was also disappointed that there was so little nautical adventure, considering the title. There were tantalizing mentions of pirates but none actually appeared in a book named for the sea. Maybe they’ll be in the third. The end is set up for a direct sequel, not a next generation kind of thing.
It’s not a bad book. There’s a good clever puzzle Gabry solves using Shakespeare to find their way through the gates in the forest, which I quite liked. It pushes a little hard on the doomed romance angle for my tastes; it feels more like the Edward/Jacob setup than a Peeta/Gale situation, but that’s probably because Gabry feels much more like a Bella than a Katniss, at least early on in the book.
I liked Niklas Asker’s Second Thoughts. It’s a comic about a writer and the way relationships slowly end. She’s writing a story about a relationship and it mirrors the relationship she’s in. It’s kind of your traditional literary fiction and doesn’t do anything really new, but it’s very well-crafted. I really liked the opening sequence of P.O.V. panels that included phantom images of the woman the P.O.V. character was talking to in the scene. By the end the person who inspired the story buys it in a bookshop and reads it, and the universality of the whole story comes around. Very well done.
Mercury is a comic by Hope Larson that takes place in Nova Scotia in two timelines. In 2009, Tara is new to Grade 10 in the town she grew up in. Her mother is off in Alberta working in the tar sands. She meets a boy who looks just like her and they go looking for buried treasure. In 1859 Josie’s farming family (Tara’s ancestors) take in a young prospector who Josie’s mother thinks is shady and up to no good. The intersection between the stories comes in the form of a quicksilver filled pendant.
It’s a very cleanly drawn book and the similarity in appearance between Tara and Ben works well. I liked the jumps between the timelines, but on the whole it felt like the story needed something more. It wasn’t quite understated enough to play that as a strength but not enough happened. I do feel we got to know Tara well, but Josie much less so.
But yeah. It wasn’t bad. Good Canadian content and all, but nothing I’d be rushing to put in people’s hands.
Doug TenNapel writes great zany science fiction actiony kinds of comics (as one would expect from the creator of Earthworm Jim and Ratfist). Ghostopolis is about a guy whose job is to send ghosts back to the afterlife, but he fucks up an operation and banishes a living boy (with a terminal disease) as well. His boss doesn’t trust him to be part of the official expedition to get the boy back, so he goes through unofficial channels. Meanwhile the boy is meeting his dead grandfather and they’re getting into wild exciting adventures.
There’s romance and jokes and kings and eloquent speeches and at one point the city of Ghostopolis is animated by two rivals who are punching the heck out of each other. It’s pretty awesome. (I also like his Creature Tech and love Iron West.)
Holly got some DVDs from the library the other day, and one of them was The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), based on the book by John Fowles, which I’d read in China. I remembered that there was a Victorian gentleman and he ends up sort of ruined because of his interest in a woman not his fiancee, and I remembered that it had an intriguing double ending.
What they did to bring the book to the screen was pretty awesome. There are two stories in the movie: the story of the French Lieutenant’s Woman and the story of the two lead actors in the film adaptation of the book they’re shooting and their romantic entanglement with each other. It’s kind of awesome.
Early on we see them rehearsing scenes that meld into the story. They talk about the statistics behind how many Victorian prostitutes there were in their offtime. Late in the movie, the lead actress’ partner asks the lead actor what they decided to do about the ending of the book. “Which ending are you going to use?” he asks. It’s all very meta and Harold Pinter’s adaptation adds so much in kind of the same way Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation (2002) does (and Holly’s just pointed out to me that Meryl Streep is in both films). Adaptation’s the only movie I can think of that does this kind of thing, but I’d love to hear about more.
I’m slowly catching up on Bill Willingham’s Fables series. It really is as good as everyone said. The general concept is that all the fable characters are immortal and have been living in New York since they were chased from storybookland by The Adversary. After Animal Farm (which saw a failed uprising by the more inhuman Fables in their upstate location), the status quo seems ripe for upsetting.
In Storybook Love there are a few stories. One is a caper where a bunch of the Fables, led by Bigby Wolf have to deal with a journalist who’s cottoned onto their “secret.” There’s also a story filled with political machinations (and some romance).
These stories are great. Not as literature dependent or complex as something like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but a lot of fun. Who’s a villain and who’s a hero isn’t as easy as remembering the original stories. Willingham does a really good job of making these characters fit their roles, but also develop. Excellent stuff.