Books Read in 2019 # 112 - African Science Fiction & More Spirit

112. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okarofer - This may be my favorite book I've read by Okarofer. It has much more gravitas than the other books I've read which are more light and funny. This book is a heroine's journey that is merciless in the way that it doesn't flinch away from the Sudan genocide. The book even ends in Dufrar (Darfur) with the heroine seeking to change the Great Book. Apparently the prequel explains that there was an apocalyptic event having to do with colonialism and human experimentation but in this book, the apocalypse is far in the past with rooms of computers to suggest that there was a great deal more technology in the world. Okorafer doesn't explain the past so much as hint at it in order to leave the door open for new books in the same universe. Either way, it read quickly and I enjoyed it (yeah, it's December and I'm not terribly interested in writing professional sounding book reviews at this point).

113.Will Eisner's The Spirit by Darwyn Cooke - This was DC's attempt to revive the Spirit and give the character a new or a retread origin story. Familiar characters from the Spirit show up in the book and get their own new origins. There's the Octopus who only shows up as a pair of gloves (Alan Moore would write a fun twisted Octopus origin story) and there are the femme fatales who are fun. Also love that the Cossack is a villain. I didn't read any Eisner books with the Cossack as the villain but Eisner was Jewish and sorry Cossacks, but Jews are writing the books these days and you guys suck. Maybe your ancestors shouldn't have been so enthusiastic about raping and killing our ancestors.


Books read in 2019 # 110-111 - Will Eisner

110. Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration, based on the exhibitions of Le Mussee De La Dessinee and the Society of Illustrators - This is a coffee table book and as most coffee table books, this is a book where you can find all the greatest hits but also certain discoveries like the attempts in the 1970s to update the Spirit and make him more adult for the Kitchen Sink Press material. There's not enough material on Eisner's graphic novels but the panels from Contract With God are still beautiful. This goes up to the final work that Eisner did which was for the tie-in to Kavelier and Clay. Eisner quite liked the book and obviously the book liked Eisner since Chabon referred to the era when one of the artists was telling the stories of the hero from different perspectives and playing with the narrative (one of the reasons why Spirit is still fun to read when many of the Golden Age comics are boring). So this is a beautiful book yada yada. Nothing much else to say.

111. The Lost Works of Will Eisner - for completists only. It's great that these comics were found but beyond the historical curiosity of reading the newspaper strips that Eisner did before The Spirit, there's nothing to recommend them. They are just the foibles of a fat guy who rarely speaks and runs into problems like getting his pants stolen at a restaurant that tells patrons to watch their hats and coats. That's it. That's the joke.


Books read in 2019 # 107 - Pizza Horror (aka Hey, I'm in this one)

107.Tales from the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror by David James Keaton and Max Booth III - Getting published in respected anthologies is fun. I can spend weeks looking up reviews of the book in order to see if my name is mentioned and even better, I want to read the anthology. When I sell my stories to anthologies where the editors can only put up $5 or $20 per story, I tend to read a couple of stories and then put the thing in the pile of books to hang out on my shelves or get donated somewhere. It's not often that I get published in a respected market. The last one that I got into was Steve Berman's Daughters of Frankenstein anthology from a couple years back.

On the other hand, I can't rightfully review a book where I'm in - at least not at the most brutal honest way. Mostly because I don't necessarily want to see a fellow author writing a review of the same book and saying how much my story sucks. There's no story that I didn't like in this one but I have my favorites. So in the interest of full disclosure, my bias may interfere.

Ok, there's one story that I hated but I think I can name it and review it in a way that will still inspire others to read it. "The Upper Crust" is just disgusting. It's got a point which is that to get to the top of society, there are stupid rituals that no one should have to go through and that makes sense, but after a few pages I found it too much of a gross out story for my liking. So if you are a fan of Human Centipede, this could be your favorite story. I didn't like it, but it's certainly audacious.

Now for the rest. Cody Goodfellow's "The Vegan Wendigo" earns its place at the beginning of the book with a story about how you really shouldn't trust a vegan pizza shop with a waiter with a wooden leg, especially when the fake meat doesn't taste so fake. Sheri White's "Mickey and the Pizza Girls" takes place in a town that has experienced a body horror merging of bodies, with dead babies hanging off of breasts and two girls stuck together at the head, in a way that has driven them insane. It's a profoundly disturbing stories in a great way of discomfort. Nathan Rabin's "The Violent and Ugly Death of the Noid" is from his Web site so jokes about the Snyder Cut are expected but not distracting.

I think my favorite was "The Parlor" by Evan Dickon, but that says more about my love of mobster stories with ambivalent family relations than anything. I was also a sucker for Thomas Picirrelli mobster family books and Holly Black's White Cat series is still my favorite. Two brothers grow up in a family pizza shop with a relationship to monsters from another dimension. At a certain point, one brother starts using those monsters to his advantage and takes over the shop with the other brother left to narrate it. It haunted me.

Ok, so about my story - I read it a bunch of times and I rather love it but it's definitely an example of my day job bleeding into my fiction writing. I write term papers for money and so I've been sucked into this academic world a little too much, even when I'm just writing the term papers that are supposed to be rough drafts so the students don't get busted.

Also, it owes a great deal to the back chapters in Watchmen where Alan Moore writes from the perspective of former heroes writing their autobiographies, liberal reporters interviewing Ozymandias and an academic discussion of the guy who wrote the Black Sails comic and helped design the squid (for a minor character that artist sure does get a lot of influence).

So I wrote this one as an academic essay based on the characters. I guess it's also part of the writer fantasy of what they are going to say about you after you become famous. "Introduction to Let's Kill the Pizza Guy: The Love Poetry of Yael Friedman in regards to Hadassah Herz" is the title and two parallel stories take place with Yael and Hadassah getting together and killing pizza guys in one part but also the academics fighting over these poems to the point of blowing each other up in their apartments being another.

Oh. I should also mention that this is part of a series of stories that I'm writing about the 12 Brothers at the end of Genesis. I am still trying to sell the first one "Song of Winter" about the boyfriend of the PR guy of the Esav character (I got a bit obvious and named that character Esther Vav) but from that I wrote more stories and I keep trying to make them different. Anyhow, most of these stories are about the massacre of Shechem instead of the kidnapping and sale of Joseph. Instead of Shechem, I made it Dayton, Ohio.

In this story, Hadassah Herz is a big fan of Simon Vav - based on Shimon in Genesis - known primarily for killing off everyone in Shechem with Levi. Levi is an interesting case of a religious fanatic who can do great things or awful things depending on his influence. When Levi is around Judah, he's the spiritual leader. When he's around Shimon, he's brutal and evil. The symbolic nature of the characters renders Shimon's descendants almost gone with Levi as the spiritual leaders (Moses and Aaron, with the priesthood coming from Aaron).

That's neither here nor there, just something that I hope people care about as I sell more of these stories. If I sell more of them.

Anyhow, this is a cool anthology. You should definitely buy it.


Books read in 2019 # 106, 108-109 - Tragic & Unfair

106. Stitches by David Small - This is book about a boy whose parents are messed up and they put their neuroses upon their son which is even more fucked up than your usual coming of age in the repressed 1950s books because he gets cancer and they don't even bother to tell him until years after he got his vocal chord removed. I actually want to figure out how he managed to learn how to talk with one vocal chord. Did he get another operation? Anyhow, the father thinks that all the radiation that he got as a kid was the culprit. The mother is just unhappy and silent. But also gay which works as a mitigating factor to how awful she is portrayed throughout most of it. Most of these books about the repressed families of the 1950s tend to lead to the counterculture of the 1960s. Seems like most artists of baby boomer age had these experiences where their family never talked so they formed these pot smoking sex cult communities where they could at least express themselves. And then go back and talk about how their parents were really sad.

108.Buddha: Volume 1 Kapilavastu by Osamu Tezuka - This one was reminding me of the medieval Jesus plays (not the Passion Plays which were all about the crucifixion - Mystery Plays?) where everything is a rough social and family comedy until the last scene where suddenly everyone wants to tell you about Jesus. Medieval Literature is very strange because it doesn't conform to any of the rules that we expect because many of these rules had not been written yet. Anyhow, the main point of this book is that Buddha gets born, but it's mostly about a slave boy who gets adopted by a warlord and how he learns how to be a warrior but also a human being. But he never forgets his mother and this causes complications in the last act where the hero who can take possession of multiple animals vows revenge. Also Buddha is being born with everyone going "hey, this guy is going to be awesome!!!"

109.Like One of the Family by Alice Childress - This is a fun one but also it's about the perspective of housekeepers in New York in the 1950s telling stories about their employers, their families and life in New York. This was Childress' way of talking about social issues including racism in the South, the North's smug way of acting superior and the need of domestic workers for a union. The title comes from one of the first stories (these stories are about 2-5 pages long) where the boss says that she's like one of the family and she points out that family members are not expected to iron everything. One of the last ones is about Harriet Tubman where the narrator is telling a Sunday School class about Tubman and fighting against their general ignorance (from textbooks) of the woman and their doubts that she ever existed. History is a battlefield indeed.

high school reunion

Books read in 2019 # 104-105 - comic books and a sense of overtime

104. Adventure Time vol 2 by Ryan North et al - I think I am bored with Adventure Time. I like this comic well enough. Time travel. Future dystopia. Lots of shenanigans with Princess Bubblegum (written around the time Finn and PB were a potential couple). But I think that the shine is off and I can't really get excited for these tricks anymore. Last year when Adventure Time was playing its last episode, I got excited. I remember liking the show. I remember not seeing it in a long time. I put everything on hold. Then I learned that Adventure Time had hit a rough patch in its last few seasons with many recycled tropes and retcons just gumming everything up. The stories were still interesting and entertaining but I was losing my affection for the tragic story of Ice King which was all I was paying attention to. So yeah, Adventure Time. It was fun but it went on too long.

105.The Walking Dead vol 31: The Rotten Core by Robert Kirkman et al. - The show is boring now. I tried watching the season after the end of the Saviors War and I can't even get through it. The comic is finished so these are the last few stories and they only prove that the whole thing went out with a whimper. So now everything is coming back together. The extended Dark Age that most zombie apocalypse shows posit is coming to an end with the city state run by snobs who force people to do whatever job they were doing before the Apocalypse. I wonder at the infrastructure that could justify that kind of caste system so easily in light of a zombie apocalypse. So this new safe space isn't safe and Rick is getting suspicious. The comic ends with Duane getting killed by the political establishment and Rick deciding that he's going to have to take over.

I almost want to admire a comic that has been repeating the same story but in a way where the stakes continually increase. Rick and friends come to a place. They think it's safe. For various reasons it turns out not to be safe. They have a big war. People die and then there's a semblance of order. The scale increases from a prison to a cult to a suburb to a loose confederation to a would-be feudal lord and now we got an actual modern city. There's also the whisperers who seemed like a threat until Negan did his last great moment.

But yeah, the whole book - it's really Negan's book. Negan is great. Without Negan it's boring.

high school reunion

Books read in 2019 # 97-103 I have been reading a lot over the chagim

97.A Different City by Tanith Lee - I was going to entitle this entry "heartless bastards" because the first two entries were this book and a Hellraiser book where the authors are leaning heavily on the whole "John Constantine screws over everyone" but the issue with talking about Tanith Lee protagonists as heartless bastards is that most of her heroes are sociopaths who view the world with a cool and lethal detachment. That's kind of her thing. This one ranges in quality from brilliant to well ok I suppose. The first story "Not Stopping at Heaven" is an adaptation of a script her father wrote in the 1970s and it's very much the kind of story you would see on Night Gallery, with the dumb trusting wife, her evil manipulative husband and the shrew of a mistress. Like all of these stories, the dumb trusting wife manages to turn it around and take revenge in a supernatural manner. Idoll is the worst of the bunch mostly because there's really no redemption for anyone in this story, just a poor girl whose extended family steals her inheritance and her only escape is to merge with a statue. I would consign this book to the trash that I place Lee's Blood Opera series if it weren't for the last story "The Portrait in Gray" which is a twist on the Oscar Wilde classic. Only in this one, the portrait painter uses her art as a revenge and paints the subject with all of the flaws that the Dorian Gray picture takes on toward the end. It's a rather adorable piece about a patient vengeance through paint.

98. The Bellblazer: The Inspiration Game by Tim Seeley, Richard Kadrey and others - Kind of sick of the whole "John Constantine is a bastard" story. In the early days of the character he was a manipulative bastard with a heart who genuinely was trying to save the world and haunted by his dead friends. Jamie Delano brought in his ghosts almost every issue. But now we get John Constantine being an asshole and proudly being an asshole as if he was made for the 4chan crowd. The first story is all about John hooking up with an old cop girlfriend and how she is bitter towards him because I don't know. Demons. Anyhow, there's an alternate reality version of her but mostly it's the demons and then the clincher is that after he wins and they have a reunion, he goes "you were always so sweet to me and believed in everything. So fuck off." The San Francisco one with the Buddhist type destroying New Age con artists is fine but it also ends with Constantine going "fuck off". So yeah, John Constantine is the DC character that tells people to fuck off.

99. Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic - There's a Iron Man story where Dr Doom keeps showing up wanting to help out and I didn't know why that was a thing but then I found that this was the ending of this trick. Basically, it has the same function of Crisis on the Infinite Earths (housekeeping, getting rid of the alternate universes) with the Secret Wars conceit from that original series (Battle World where everyone is supposed to fight - leading to Dr Doom taking over with the Beyonder's powers). It's actually quite fun and it doesn't make it too obvious that the main point is to get rid of the Ultimate titles but keep Miles Morales. One wonders if this thing would have been done in the 90s had any of the New Universe titles been halfway interesting. The Thor brigade is great and there are some cool ideas. Ultimately, it's mostly a fight between Reed Richards and Dr Doom with a lot of yada yada magic talk to explain anything.

100. Black Panther: Long Live the King by Nnedi Okorafor & various artists - This is a pretty good one, mostly it's about T'Challa trying to figure out how to balance the monarchy with tribalism. Okorafor notes that she's Igbo and therefore pretty non-impressed with royalty. There's also one in Nigeria of course. As much as I liked this one (and certainly liked it better than whatever Coates was trying to do), I don't really get much of an impression at all.

101. Wonder Woman Rebirth by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott - The new origin of Wonder Woman feels a great deal like the movie origin. Diana really feels like she has to leave Paradise Island. There are followers of Mars walking around. Eventually she meets Ares/Mars and that's about it. I read it and I feel like I want to watch the movie again.

102. Captain Marvel: Earth's Mightiest Hero by Kelly Sue Deconnick - I think I read this one before. I really think I read this one before. The first story is a space adventure but the next two stories have certain elements that were either in this book or before. I think I read the one with her old friend dying (complete with a long flashback to Carole helping her old friend grieve) in a different book but then I read the Secret Wars one (where Carol Danvers figures out that Doom is not really God and something is weird on Battle World) in this one or a different one. I don't know.

103. Dissolving Classroom by Junji Ito - this certainly isn't the most innovative Junji Ito story and it's not even the funniest one, but it certainly is funny, especially with the combination of Yuuma always apologizing (which makes people melt) and his sister Chizumi - who really wants to eat those people when they melt makes a comic duo. The major variation is the one where Yuuma can also melt faces by telling girls that they are beautiful and the more he says it the more deformed they become. It also fits in the pocket.

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Books read in 2019 # 94-96 - Comic Books!!!!

94. Criminal: The Sinners by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips - Guest starring Joe Hill. That was the part that made me laugh. The one character mentions a corrupt cop named Joe Hill and in the next panel there he is - with the black beard and the features that pretty much outed him as Stephen King's son well before he admitted to it. And then he gets killed because this is what thriller writers like to do to each other. Also there's a lot of noir about the main character trying to find people who are killing mobsters. Fortunately most of the mobsters are pretty understanding and they don't go to war. Also it's a bunch of kids being induced to do it by a priest. In the end, the main character becomes a superhero - able to walk away from jumping out of a window and then in such great shape after taking care of all the mobsters that he's ready to go back to the military where he's AWOL. Because they would totally want someone who should be crippled from that jump out a window.

95.The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Life is too short, Squirrel by Ryan North et al - So this one is about a Skrull on the run who is terrible at hiding and faking identities. This is the reveal halfway through after she steals the identity of Squirrel Girl (with a faked death) and then Tony Stark in a ridiculous manner. Anyhow, she's a cool character but the Skrulls are apparently villains in this one - more like the Kree in the movies. So she needs to hide and then the earth becomes a Skrull defector refugee center with Stark faking their deaths.

96. Dead Man (miniseries) by Neal Adams - meh. Seriously meh. There's a cute rat at the end which is a cliffhanger, but yeah mostly this is a big conspiracy revealing story where the Dead Man finds out that his brother is in the League of Assassins, but so is his father and mother. There are also Yetis. Somehow people want him to go to Nanda Prabat but then that doesn't really work either.


Books read in 2019 # 91-93 - Murder and Injustice

91. The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly - the last time I reviewed a Michael Connelly for one of these odd numbered years, I said that he deserved to be a bestselling author. I still think that he definitely has a great writing style and you can read through one of his books in a week. However, I must say that I enjoyed reading this book more than I like reviewing it now. In the reading, I was happily going along with his reporter protagonist as the murderers were known to the reader in a Hitchcockian "bomb under the table" manner. And I did keep reading. It has a three act structure - 1. Reporter stumbles into the work of serial killers while chasing a story, 2. After reporter is almost killed, he and his FBI agent girlfriend seriously investigate the murders and 3. cat and mouse game with the serial killers as reporter figures out where the murderers are finding their victims.

However, within the context of the book I have some issues. First off, there's more than a little bit of racism at the beginning where our hero gets a phone call from an angry black woman who stepped out of a minstrel show to tell him that her son is innocent. Then when he investigates the woman (who is really the kid's grandmother but don't tell him that), he gets jacked by gang bangers who charge him a tax. And then when the kid is exonerated (he was only trying to steal the car, not the body in the trunk), he shows up to appear on a talk show with our hero and can't stop saying motherfucker and "Am I gonna get rich off of this?" It's a pretty ugly depiction and while yes, there are dumb kids who live in shitty neighborhoods and run with gangs and won't stop saying motherfucker in front of their trashy mothers it's just too easy. Makes me understand why Linda Fairstein built a literary career out of her success in railroaded five innocent black teenagers.

Also one of the characters gets fridged. The plucky young reporter who is all enthusiastic about serial killers and wants to be part of the story disappears when our protagonist goes to Las Vegas (the killers are IT guys and super hackers who can make things look sinister by losing people's emails) and when our hero comes back to his house, she's dead under the bed (he fucks his ex-girlfriend from the FBI first). It makes narrative sense as the killer wanted to make it look like a murder-suicide and only the arrival of the ex-girlfriend saved him. But it's still an ugly trope that needs to go away, especially when there aren't a lot of female characters in Connelly books anyhow (speaking of which isn't Bosch's back story about his mother getting killed).

And in the third act, the killers are way too clever for words, to the point that only our hero can really save the day as all of the FBI agents are babes in the woods.

So overall, fun book and I would read Connelly again, but if he goes on a Dan Simmons tirade I not only will be unsurprised but there's a good chance it will stop all enjoyment of his books.

92. The Unwanted by Don Brown - This is a rage inducing graphic novel because it brings up a topic that most people seem to want to forget about and do everything in their power to ignore. Fuck Tulsi Gabbard. This is about the Syrian refugees crisis and it's beautifully rendered and discusses the background of the Syrian civil war including the ways that the protests turned deadly and how ISIS was loosed upon the world. Most of the book is about the path of the refugees through Greece and Libya with the coyotes who are smuggling people for a vast sum of money and no guarantee of safety. This is a powerful book and one that should be read everywhere.

But like the rest of Syria will just get ignored.

93.Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill - This is an interesting book because many of the subjects in this book are not popular. There's a W.E.B. Dubois story but it's mostly about his school that was illegal in many places. Some of these people are famous for being magicians or bicycle racers, but a lot of these historical figures are people who did the best they could with what they had. The one about the escaped slave who wrote two letters to his former slave mistress telling her that he was going to take his daughter off the plantation and it's not stealing because she's his daughter is particularly powerful. Bass Reeves is a particularly fascinating study since he was a U.S. marshal picked for the position because he was black and less likely to get heat from the Indians in the territories. Only there's the detail about Reeves arresting his son that seems purposefully vague, especially since the son is narrating the story. And the ending is the fact that Reeves was the basis of the lone ranger.

Teddy Bear

Books read in 2019 # 89-90 - Graphic Novels that need to go back to the library

89. Secret Wars Prelude by John Hickman, Jim Shooter et al. - I did want to read Secret Wars, the new Secret Wars, the one that put Miles Morales into the Marvel Universe in order to put a nail on the coffin of the Ultimate titles (they lasted much longer than the New Universe). So I put Secret Wars on hold at the library. I ended up getting a lot of crap. I don't even know if Secret Wars is even its own title or if all the Marvel titles just participated in the Secret Wars storyline in order to let everyone know what was up. Quite a few of the Marvel titles went white and then the next week came back as if nothing is changed (except Kamala Khan has a new friend who is also Spiderman). I probably should try to find that out. Anyhow, prelude gives us the last couple issues of the original Secret Wars, a Fantastic Four title, the first Ultimate Spiderman with Miles Morales and the New Avengers where some alien being comes along and lets everyone know that the world is ending. In other words, we get that Doctor Doom is going to be the master power in the series, Miles Morales is going to be part of the Marvel Universe and Hickman pretty much just figures that Crisis on the Infinite Earths gave us a great set up for this kind of thing so why not use it?

Pretty dull.

90. Smashed by Junji Ito - This might be the last Junji Ito book I get from the library, or the last one I haven't read yet. I plan on putting Uzemaki on hold to re-read frequently if I don't just buy it first. These are great little stories and none of them have quite the power of the one with the human shaped holes in the mountain. The one where all these people end up stuck in one place is quite chilling. Mostly because the twist is not that they are rooted to that place over grief or sorrow but over guilt that they might not even feel themselves. The main woman's boss ends up in her apartment and only later is it revealed that he's the one that assaulted her (even as he's confessing his love). A lot of the stories are one element story including the one where the anorexic woman is given sustenance from vampire bats, the laughing syndrome one and the one where everyone who eats a form of honey gets smushed. This is an enjoyable Junji Ito book but they all are.


Books read in 2019 # 88 - The Black Death's Greatest Hits

88. The Great Mortality by John Kelly - This was a frustrating book. It began with such a fascinating portrayal of how the plague began at a besieged town but the first patient zero was traced to a wandering tribe. That was great. But then the book jumped from one place to the other to the point that it felt like every chapter could have been its own book. Granted, some of the places that were affected by the Black Death did not have chronicles, but many did and the fact that these subjects were given only a chapter if that felt frustrating. I wanted to know more about the penitents who seemed like the alt-right of their day. I wanted to know more about the controversy over which plague wiped out half of Europe. I wanted to hear more about how it affected England or how the post-plague years were full of reactions in the extreme. I may not have wanted to read a full book on the pogroms that took place during the Black Death (because Jewish history is so damn depressing at times) but I would have felt like more was going on than the one chapter.

The book also avoids talking about the effects of the Black Death in China or even the Middle East where it also had a great impact. I guess I already got a good general overview of the Black Death from the Philip Ziegler book. I was hoping for more indepth discussion.