John Tallow is a New York City cop who accidentally finds an apartment full of guns. Not just a few shelves of them, but guns arrayed on the walls and floor like a shrine. Once they start getting analyzed it becomes clear that this isn’t just a gun nut’s shack; each weapon has been used in an unsolved NYC murder. Investigation ensues.
There’s a lot to love about this book. Tallow is a detective who is very believable in his “just going through the motions” before he starts working the case. Ellis writes likable foul-mouthed weirdos as Tallow’s sort-of assigned partners. The story (and the case) moves quickly, but it works. I bought that this didn’t need to be five seasons of a TV series (though The Wire made me right at home with the police politics on display in the story). There are a few coincidences at work that might make your eyebrow raise but Ellis is playing fair with you. It all works.
My least favourite part is the Native American history that gets bandied about, and that was mostly because I know Warren Ellis is an Englishman and this stuff is easy to get wrong. But anything here is way less problematic from my point of view than Johnny Depp as Tonto.
Though Pappa Warren writes great violence — “From his vantage, three steps back and to the right, Tallow could see Rosato’s eye a good five inches outside Rosato’s head and still attached to his eye socket by a mess of red worms.” — I think my favourite bit of pure wordsmithery was a cooking scene late in the book. There are all these details that work into Tallow’s mental state and the realization he has works so well with them, I wanted to applaud.
It’s a pretty quick read so if you’re not a huge Warren Ellis fan, you might want to go for an ebook edition, but the jacket design is great. There’s also a website with some interesting supplemental materials.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities is a sequel to Ship Breaker, but not a direct one. It features Tool, the half-man war machine from Ship Breaker, but also two new characters who live in what was once long ago the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Now Washington DC is underwater and being fought over by myriad warlords after an interlude a bit more than a decade previous when Chinese peacekeepers were on the ground trying to keep a lid on the fighting.
Mahlia is a cast-off war baby, disliked because of her obvious Chinese descent, and her friend Mouse is another scavenger. When one of the factions of soldierboys end up in their village chasing Tool, everything goes to hell.
The book does a great job in exploring how you negotiate a life in a violent world. Tool was built for war but Mahlia and Mouse weren’t. Mahlia’s mentor is a doctor who is kind and mollifies the people who irrationally hate her for her Chinese father. But when she gets the chance to ally with Tool and let violence into her house, she finds she likes the power it brings. Mouse gets turned into a child-soldier and learns to do terrible things to be a part of a terrible world. Very good stuff.
It feels less YA than Ship Breaker did, and more like a regular science fiction novel that happened to have young protagonists. If you’re into stories about war that don’t glorify it, this’d be a great choice.
MPD Psycho is a comic about a person with multiple personality disorder that solves horrific crimes. It’s not bad, but the writing is nothing special. And there are loads of graphic pictures of dismembered women. Nothing I’m going to continue with.
Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes is a small collection of science fiction stories by Peter Watts. One of the stories was a chapter from his novel Starfish. Another was about rationalizing racial violence with genetics. A story about environmentalists negotiating with orca to feed both sides of a conflict was kind of funny, but I think my favourite story in the book was about the storms that are an alien malevolent force in the narrator’s life, much like his teenage daughter who’d never known a world where the sky wasn’t trying to kill you. It’s a small book, but well worth the read.
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is the story of a group of Japanese soldiers in World War 2 who are stationed on the South Pacific island of New Britain in 1943. There’s no one character that’s the hero, just a bunch of poor saps who have malaria, malnutrition and get eaten by alligators. It’s bleak as hell.
The characters are drawn in this cartoony style while the backgrounds and animals are very detailed, which is an interesting effect. I feel it put me in their shoes as the rookies got slapped for no reason, or as they decided they needed to eat their fill before going on their suicide mission. This kind of manga is a bit different from what the kids these days are all about, but this was a really good comic.
The Complete Lockpick Pornography is two of Joey Comeau’s short novels (Lockpick Pornography and We All Got It Coming) put together in an attractive pink binding that belies all the violence inside.
The first story is about a guy who tries to overthrow hetero-normative society by stealing from straight people. We first meet him smashing a sex partner’s boyfriend’s TV and then stealing a new one to make up for it. He gets involved with a queer team who come up with a plan to break into elementary schools and leave books about gay grandfathers inside. And through all of this the narrator is calling a stranger in the suburbs and asking her questions to try and destabilize her life. Everyone is hurt and angry and trying to make the world better. There’s lots of sex and people trying to negotiate complicated relationships. It’s kind of like a lighter (and non-science-fictional) Samuel R. Delany story.
We All Got It Coming is a much gentler story about two guys in a relationship. The narrator gets pushed down the stairs at his shit job and he quits and tries to find something new to do with himself. He wants to raise hell and be awesome, but the world isn’t going to make it easy. This one is more about responding to violence and being weak and wanting to be otherwise.
They aren’t direct sequels, but I think reading the two stories right after each other works really well. The violence in We All Got It Coming is handled very differently from Lockpick Pornography – it’s much less of a way to blow off steam and maybe think about a little and more something that completely destabilizes a person. Putting the two together gives good perspective on the idea of violence being omnipresent and how control of that violence empowers and disempowers people.
Joey Comeau writes excellently spiky language to get caught in your brain. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.
Gyakushu is a manga-style story written by Dan Hipp of revenge. In a cold kingdom there was a master thief who found a valley of paradise. He was followed there and his wife was raped and eaten by the emperor’s minions and he was fed to a whale. Now he’s a masked and bandaged man out for revenge.
It’s a decent fantasy story, and there are good interactions between the masked man and a 9-year-old kid who looks a lot like his son from the flashbacks. I didn’t really like the narrator old man figure who kept on talking about the story, but it wasn’t done horribly. The black & white art carries the action, and there are a number of good striking visuals (I really like the whale thing).
365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice is a fat little book by J.P. Kalonji that took practically no time to read. That’s because each page is a single panel and probably 90% of them are wordless. You don’t need a lot of words when your story is about a swordsman wearing a beast’s hide who’s on a quest to kill 365 samurai so he can discover the meaning of life.
The book is full of people being startled at their sudden demise and leaping silhouettes and blood in the snow. It’s a beautiful story of moments in black and white, and by the end it has the feeling of a parable. A bleak, filled-with-death parable of enlightenment.
Sleepwalk and Other Stories is a collection of Adrian Tomine stories. Tomine writes and draws realistic fiction short stories, kind of old-fashioned like Raymond Carver. I really liked these stories. There was one about twin daughters going to a comic-con with their dad which I really liked. They were all quite restrained (even the story about a guy getting curb-stomped ends before the worst of the violence) and made you feel lonely. Very good stuff.
Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s comic Street Angel is about an eighth-grade homeless girl who is a badass ninja skateboarder. The stories are about her beating the hell out of people who underestimate her and saving the city from mad scientists and Aztec gods who’ve brought pirates forward through time. There’s an Irish astronaut who became fluent in Australian for ease of alien contact. There’s a one-armed no-legged skateboarder Jesse (the Street Angel) is friends with, but who won’t do the Fastball Special, no matter how much she wants to.
It’s all kind of insane and hella foul-mouthed and violent. There are some really great spreads of chaos, especially in the Afrodisiac story. I wouldn’t recommend it to every teen, but for the right reader, this’d make an excellent gateway to alternative comics. (Also, this is not a very accurate depiction of being a homeless orphan, just to be clear.)