book review: roughneck

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is, like his classic Essex County, a story featuring a hockey player. Derek Ouellette had a stint with the Rangers where he was aviolent goon, and now he lives in a small shitty town in northern Ontario working at a diner and beating people up. When his sister comes to town to get away from a terrible boyfriend things change. Sort of.

What I love about this story is its handling of violence. It’s not a hugely complicated story, but the resolution shows exactly the kind of earned change I want to see in fiction.

The thing I feel weirdest about this book is that Jeff Lemire is a white guy telling stories about indigenous people. In this article he says:

“For me, these were a way to educate myself, that’s what it comes down to. And I hope my experiences up there allowed me to create something and reflect what I saw and show other people.”

For me that makes sense, but like Lemire I need to work out my thoughts in writing and I’m not from a community that has my story told for me, so I’m kind of primed to be sympathetic. I understand that it’s shitty to have white dudes in all these spaces. Don’t read white people’s writing about indigenous people: read (and pay) indigenous people telling their own stories. If you like comics a good anthology for finding some new creators would be Moonshot (here’s an article with some blurbs and examples of artists featured in that book, and Moonshot vol. 2 should be coming out soon).

But as far as Roughneck goes I do like this specific story, even if it’s a symptom of greater terribleness in the world.

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book review: machine moon (descender vol. 2)

I like space operas. They are a very comfortable kind of fiction for me. Assembled families in space ships going around and having adventures is all I really want in life and is actually one of the things I’m saddest will never be a real thing I can do. Since I’ll never get to live in a spaceship I make do with making this kind of thing my favourite kind of RPG scenario and read comics that follow the path.

Dustin Nguyen and Jeff Lemire’s Descender is one of those stories. The main character is a companion robot who is the key to robot evolution and was missed when the majority of robots were exterminated after turning on humanity.

Machine Moon is the second volume in the series and it remains pretty good. Nguyen’s watercoloury art makes it feel more serious than it might otherwise. The dialogue is good and I like the characters and the big problems they’re facing. The main problem is just one of serialization; I’d like to read the whole story in one go but can’t.

This isn’t better than Saga, but I like it.

And I haven’t ever written about Saga on here? What? We talked a bit about it in an old episode of Librarians on the Radio if you’re interested.

booklog summary: august/september 2013

Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Good post-apocalypse stuff. Realistic but not too depressing.
  • Time and the Batman by Grant Morrison: Kind of bullshit. Can’t remember why.
  • Zoo Station by David Downing: A cold war spy novel set in Berlin. I think I’ve now conflated an article I read by LeCarre into the plot, but I liked it.
  • Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire: Good rough early work, but man is his current stuff ever better.
  • Poor Yorick by Ryan North: Good, but not as crazy as To Be or Not To Be, which is gonads-out amazing and will get its own review.
  • 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: I loved this 22 volume manga, even if the end is a little abrupt.
  • Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin: It took me forever to read this book, but that’s just because it’s oppressive and painful like the history it’s based on.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Really good. Different from Mechanique, more grown-up, but I can’t hold that against it.
  • The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno: Not as Encyclopedia Brown grows up as I wanted deep in my heart, but still more than decent.
  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Kidbrarian confession time. Before September I’d only read the first Harry Potter book and only knew the rest of them through Wikipedia. I have rectified that (and think the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite) (and was a little chagrinned that my MBTI says I’m Hermione when I wanted to be Sirius Black).
    Harry Potter MBTI chart

    Harry Potter MBTI – makani.deviantart.com | simbaga.tumblr.com

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter: The earlier stuff was more interesting before it got to the states.
  • The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson: A sort of post apocalyptic noir thing in a similar vein to Gun Machine, but not quite as good. Still decently readable.
  • Sorry, Please, Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu: Very good George Saunders-esque short stories. Highly recommended.
  • Penguin: Pride and Prejudice by Gregg Hurwitz: A comic depicting Gotham’s Penguin as a tragic villain. Much better than I expected, but not amazing.
  • The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge: I love love love the Tines (pack mind aliens. The story was fine but the politics got me angry. Totally worth it if you’ve read A Fire Upon the Deep.
  • By the Balls: Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender: Noir stories set in Nevada in the late-90s. Good pulpy stuff.

The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.

my top 12 books of 2012

One of my friends did a list of her top 12 books from 2012 for her library. I saw her list and went, man, we read very different stuff. I’d heard of four of her books and read none (though a few are in my interminable and not written down anywhere “to read” list). But here’s my list of books I really liked that were released this year. All the links go to my reviews if you want more information than might be conveyed in the specific prize each won.

  • Best book about art: The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  • Best book about love: Ask The Passengers by A.S. King
  • Best book about politics: The Five Nations of New York by Brian Wood (Technically this is only the end of a much longer tale spanning many years of story, but it was a damned good ending.)
  • Best book about sex & politics: The Complete Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau (Technically these are older books than 2012 but putting them together in one volume, as was done this year, makes the experience different enough to make the list.)
  • Best book about war: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Best book about mechanical bees (with spies): Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • Best book about giant moles (with philosophies): Railsea by China Miéville
  • Best adaptation of a book: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson and Madeline L’Engle
  • Best adaptation of that feeling you get from the best episodes of the Twilight Zone into a book that isn’t really an adaptation at all: The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
  • Best book about a society I would no-shit never ever ever want to live in: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
  • Best book about high school (with ghosts): Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
  • Best book about books (with immortality, data-visualization, friendship and epic fantasy quests): Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

What were your favourites?

book review: the hunt (animal man vol. 1)

I think The Hunt is the first trade paperback that came out of DC’s New 52 initiative that I’ve read. Animal Man is a superhero who can take on the powers of different animals through the lifeweb, but he’s also done some acting and at the beginning of this book he’s trying to kind of stay out of the whole “dress up in a costume and fight crime” scene. For his family.

Then he starts bleeding out his eyes and his daughter is reanimating animal corpses and she’s being hunted by agents of the Rot and everything goes pear-shaped.

It’s perfectly fine commercial superhero storytelling (which is kind of odd, seeing as it’s coming from Jeff Lemire, whose non-superhero stuff I love), but didn’t feel like a really personal story. Which makes sense. It’s work-for-hire, not The Underwater Welder.

At the end of the book Animal Man is off to find Swamp Thing, which is a pairing that certainly makes sense, but not something I’d ever really thought of before. Not that I think that hard about DC mythology on my best days.

Really. I don’t.

book review: the underwater welder

The Underwater Welder is Jeff Lemire’s story of being scared of becoming a father. It’s so good. The introduction to the book sets it up as “the greatest Twilight Zone episode that was never produced.” I like that conceit but that makes it sound a lot more self-contained than it was.

Jack and Susan are expecting a baby in the next month. Jack keeps running off to his work on the oil rig, as an underwater welder. We know something bad happened between him and his father at Halloween some year, and it’s keeping him attached to the loneliness of solitary work in the ocean instead of the flesh and blood people surrounding him. It’s an ominous and looming kind of story that pushed in on my chest as I read it.

Lemire draws the book with the same kind of scratchy style he used in Essex County, but here it feels different. Maybe it’s just all the water that makes the wobbly lines feel like they’re the distortions of seeing everything through bubbles. The big splash pages work very well, especially the ones with the floods of memories coming in like clouds of angular bubbles.

It’s a beautifully done book. Highly recommended.

book review: the nobody

Jeff Lemire’s The Nobody is a pretty excellent “Drifter comes to town and bad things happen tale.” The fact that he’s wrapped in bandages makes it just that much odder and gives the 16-year-old narrator a good hook to get into the story. If you hear “wrapped in bandages” and you’re thinking mummy, well, that’s what he looks like but it’s the other classic sf reference going on here. More importantly, the book’s about blending in or fading away. The art’s black and white with pale blue washes and is good, kind of reminiscent of Blankets but a bit less flowy. The dialogue is excellent. The main characters aren’t tremendously talkative but nothing really clunks. I liked it.