book review: gun machine

Gun Machine is the new book by Warren Ellis and it is great. It’s less weird than Crooked Little Vein, but is a tight little police story you can tell is from the same guy who wrote Fell.

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.

book review: sir cumference and the viking’s map

I have a couple of friends who are getting their education degrees right now and one of them asked if I’d read any of these Sir Cumference books. I hadn’t, but now I have.

Sir Cumference and the Viking’s Map is a story that goes over the basics of the Cartesian plane. There are two kids who get a map that’s supposed to lead to treasure and they have to figure out how the coordinate system works, while being chased by enemies.

I like the concept but thought there weren’t enough plausible mistakes in it. They just read the clues and knew what the negative numbers meant and that you’re supposed to read the X axis first. There are probably sound pedagogical reasons for that, but it made it feel overly simplistic as a story. It felt too obviously like a lesson and not like a story you could happen to learn something from – for my taste at least.

Now I’m looking for more math/story books to see if I can find some I really like and will let you know if I find any.

book review: the city of ember

I’d known the storyline of Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember from my time working in the children’s department, but I hadn’t read it till now. There’s a lot less to it than I imagined.

Lina and Doon are twelve, so they’re assigned jobs in their underground city called Ember, which is all the world anyone knows exists. Lina gets to be a messenger and Doon is working in the Pipeworks. The thing is that the city is undergoing a crisis: they’re running out of supplies and things are breaking down more and more. Doon wants to save the city by figuring out how to fix the generator. Lina keeps dreaming of another city out beyond the darkness. The story follows these two kids dealing with the growing crisis that no one else seems to be handling.

It’s a simple story with much less urgency than you would think. There’s a chewed up message the kids are trying to interpret so they can be the saviours of everyone, but it’s more difficult than they’d first thought. There’s a none-too-subtle environmental message to the story, and kids rebelling against terrible authority, which is always fun. Good book with an easy straight-forward storyline. There are (necessary) sequels.

book review: friends with boys

Faith Erin Hicks first published Friends With Boys as a webcomic, which is how I read it. It’s a great story about Maggie, a homeschooled girl heading to high school (in Nova Scotia). She’s not alone there; her three older brothers went through the same transition, but somehow it all seems different. And she’s being haunted by a silent ghost.

The story is about Maggie making friends and dealing with the aftermath of relationships other people have left for her to stumble over, including her mother who doesn’t live with the family any more. There’s also interesting discussion of horror movies, ghosts and home-schooling.

I love the black and white art for this book. It’s a great mix of textures. One of my favourite recurring bits is Maggie’s map of the school that gets annotated. I think it only shows up twice, but it’s a great visual for how a person gets used to a place.

Obviously there are comparisons we can make to Anya’s Ghost (which is a little more cartoony in its art and has a very different kind of ghost in its story) and I hope that Hicks’ book gets the same sort of attention and accolades.