book review: green mars

Green Mars is the sequel to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. They’re books about Mars! Green Mars was good in its discussion of how a new world trying to become free might act. The politics between the various factions in play on the planet feel much more realistic than something in which people rise up in a monolithic block. So for its depictions of politics, I like the book.

What I don’t like is how distant I felt from everything. Part of that comes from the varying POV characters, but a huge part of it is the timescale the book covers. See, in the first book they also invented a life-extension treatment for humans that basically means they won’t die from natural causes. It means that the characters in this book are mostly members of the first 100 on Mars and by the end they’re well into their second centuries of life. Even the kids we meet at the beginning of this book are 70 by the end. I found connecting with these characters hard when we’d gloss over so much of their lives with “and then she spent a decade working on aquifers.”

I get that terraforming is a long process and as a writer you want to keep your characters in the mix, but I’m more interested in what someone who only had twenty years might have to contribute. The longevity thing is the disruptive technology in this book much more than the terraforming is. It makes it more alien and science fictional which is good, but I think I’d settle for a smaller scale story that made more of a connection with the characters.

Desolation Road remains my gold standard for Mars novels even though it has a bit more “indistinguishable from magic” style technology.

book review: the sixth gun (vol. 1 & 2)

My librarian friend Jamie picked up the first two volumes of The Sixth Gun on a whim recently and recommended I read them. Very glad I did. They’re set just after the American Civil War and the titular guns are basically forged in hell demon weapons that are bound to their wielders.

In Cold Dead Fingers we meet Drake, our badass antihero who’s been hired to look for the guns. The last owner of one of them (the one that let the wielder see the future) had been killed and hidden on sacred ground, but his old posse (with guns that spout hellfire, or plague, or grant eternal youth, or summon golem armies from the people they kill) kill all the priests and dig him out. The future-glimpsing gun gets bonded to the daughter of a preacher who’d been hiding it. Lots of crazy action happens, culminating in Drake being bound to the other four guns.

The second volume, Crossroads, has Drake down in the swamplands looking for information about the guns and what to do with them. There we discover what a magnet for trouble weapons forged by the devil are and how vodoun spirits would also like to get their (metaphorical) hands on such things. More crazy action happens.

These books have an excellent melding of crazy action, magickal weirdness and characters you care about. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (both of which do sound like fake names) are telling a pulpy tale that’s worth following, especially if you’re a fan of the Weird West (and stuff like Deadlands) like I am.

book review: the drowned cities

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.

book review: the five nations of new york (dmz vol. 12)

So DMZ is done. The Five Nations of New York closes out the story of Matty Roth and the civil war that defined his life. It’s interesting when a story like this ends, because it’s the story of how Matty stopped being an entitled journalism punk who picked up a gun and got into politics, but it’s a story of how he tells a story, and how he fucks up telling the story.

By the end of this book he’s taking the blame for things he didn’t legally need to, and [SPOILER ALERT] goes to jail for life. Which isn’t an altogether unhappy ending. I mean, I can see how it’s not. Because what is Matty going to do now that the war is over? The character we got to know through these 12 volumes can’t really exist outside the DMZ, and parlay his six years into punditry and all the rest. Anything he’d become would be so different from who we know. Prison gets to seal Matty Roth in lucite, having learned something about life, having his only opinion that matters, and then he’s gone from the stage. This isn’t the model for a life, but it’s a good way to seal off a story.

As far as long-form comics go, DMZ ranks right up there with Transmetropolitan for me, but then I would love science fiction journalism comics, wouldn’t I?.

book review: free states rising (dmz vol. 11)

DMZ is almost done. In trade paperback form. I think the final floppy has already arrived, but I read them on delay. Free States Rising is the 11th trade paperback and it fills in a bit of background with a two-issue prequel about the Free States and moves Matty Roth forward on his redemptive path (after being a total asshole a few volumes previously). Loose ends are being tied up, along with the war.

I don’t have any real criticism of the book at this point. If you haven’t tried it yet and you like stories about journalism and about a sense of place, you really really should read DMZ. I give individual volumes 4-star ratings but taken as a whole it’s in my top-5 comics ever. (And yes, the post when I’m done volume 12 will probably be very similar to this. Sorry.)

book review: collective punishment (dmz vol 10)

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.

book review: captain america: reborn

I read Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Reborn at the library in Pott’s Point, a fairly seedy red-light and backpacker district of Sydney where I spent my first week. I liked the idea of reading something so patently North American in Australia. I was wearing a baseball hat and spouting of hard Rs the entire time. Sadly, that’s about as much fun as I had with this story.

See, Captain America was killed a few years ago, as happens to superheroes. And of course, he came back. This was the story of how he came back. See, he wasn’t shot with a regular gun. It was a time gun that sent him skipping through his own past (the line “Captain America is unstuck in time” did make me smile in the way you do with the recognition of a meme) so the Red Skull could take over his body. Whatever. I only knew the basics of Captain America (and the fact that he’d been killed a few years ago for defying the superhero registration act) and for me this story was boring and I didn’t care.