Monday, May 30, 2016

Batman: Black and White, Volume 1, by Mark Chiarello and Scott Peterson- Graphic Short Story Collection.

I found this volume to be a joy to dip into, I would enjoy a story or two then get on with my day.  It also served me well as a quick diversion when I had a few minutes that I did not want to spend watching TV.  I liked being able to pick the book up, spend ten minutes with it and enjoy a complete adventure

The sequential art is wonderfully diverse.  Each story worked so well with the art that accompanied it.

I enjoyed the range in tone.  Some were over the top action while others contemplative.  The editor did a fine job of collecting a wide range of stories.  It gives you an appreciation that comics are not all fisticuffs and super powers.

Batman is also a good choice for this kind of exploration, in that he is the closest thing in comics to a regular guy.  Sure, he's strong, smart and rich but those are not super powers and that's what makes the character relatable.

If you don't read comics or know much about Batman this book makes for a fine introduction to this form of story telling.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Halfway to Hollywood by Michael Palin - A Partial Book Review

I've been a fan of Michael Palin's for many years, not for Monty Python but his world-spanning travels.

Around the World in 80 Days captured my imagination and I was completely taken by this charming man.  I have followed all his journeys, purchased every book and was gifted a beautiful collection of all his BBC trips.

I've known of his diaries for a while now, these have inspired me to write my own journal as a blog.  

I downloaded a sample of his third volume, The Traveling Years, only to discover we are two weeks into the first journey on page one.  I requested his second volume from my public library, Halfway to Hollywood, and began reading the final two years of it.  I wanted to read about how the whole thing came about.

The life of an actor is a chaotic thing.  It is filled with meetings, rehearsals, charity events, script writing, telephone calls and always there is the feeling that he had at least five projects on the go.  It was fascinating and I was convinced I could never cope with that kind of life.

What I discovered about the 80 Days journey is that it came about just like everything else; a phone call followed by weeks of nothing, then a meeting followed again by weeks of nothing.  All the while he continued to work on his various projects. 

The diaries went to show how his life is just like anybody else's in that living is not a linear thing.

He had to deal with tragedy, confusion, frustration, worry, humour and professionalism.

This kind of raw presentation takes some getting used to. It's not a guided tour of one's life but more like being given a box of accumulated memories sorted in chronological order.  It's up to the reader to connect the dots.

I may not have read most of the book but I can say that it was a wonderful experience to be allowed a glimpse into an interesting man's life.

It is not the kind of book you need to read all at once.  You can put it down and come back to it when you want.  It's okay, Michael understands and he'll wait for you.  I kept it in sight and within easy reach because I found myself wanting to turn a few more pages pretty consistently.

Michael Palin

Monday, May 16, 2016

Q Are Cordially Uninvited ... : Star Trek: The Next Generation by RudyJosephs


This was a fun story of Q giving Picard and Crusher a gift on the eve of their wedding. 

As tends to happen in the Star Trek literary world, a minor character is brought back to play a role in the story. This is part of the fun and serves as a tip of the hat to fans who might remember the character in question. 

The story was charming and the pay-off was well done. My only complaint was the lack of Q in the story.  He's there to get the story started and at the end but otherwise he was nowhere to be enjoyed. 

It was a shame, really.  But, as I mentioned, he is terrific in the end.

Firestar by Michael Flynn - Book Report #156

Audio book cover

I read this book a long time ago, see book report #52

It has been over three years since I read the first installment in the Firestar series.  I thought it would be a good idea to relive that book in audio form with the intention of listening to the entire series.

After reading my original thoughts on the book I am looking forward to my enjoyment of it now.  In the intervening years Elon Musk and SpaceX have made great strides in the expansion of commercial access to space so it will be interesting to compare how close his path has come to the this particular story.

It was a 30+ hour investment in listening to the book.  My goodness was it good.  I would call it literary science fiction.  It really was grounded in the here and now.  It had all the frustrations of naysayers, political influence, financial realities, personal and professional rivalries.

It really is a massive subject if you want to try to capture almost every aspect of pushing humanity off the face of the earth.  It is made more challenging by making it a private effort which adds the governmental challenges that can be encountered.

I found the characters believable and well rounded.  Some were frustratingly stubborn, just like real people.

What struck me was how the endeavor becomes exponentially more complex as you move forward.

This feels like an important book to read if you are interested in today's space program.  Much like the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson it deals with the known realities of the day.  In this book Flynn does not push the technological speculation very far beyond what was know and proven.  He took results from NASA's X-plane program and pushed them into production instead of the reality of cancelled programs.  Which is much like the environment of today's commercial space efforts who are mining the past efforts of NASA and turning them into private companies.

It's all very exciting.

Paperback cover

Michael Flynn

Monday, May 9, 2016

Batman Noir, The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller (artist and writer) and Klaus Janson (artist)

With all the hype around the new Batman Vs Superman movie I thought I would go back to Frank Miller's work. He is credited in the movie as being an inspiration.

Miller is a strange cat and he sure can put some serious violence and crazy on a page.  I've always liked his noir sensibilities but, incredibly, the art in this book somehow missed the mark for me.  Batman should have been easy to create a menacing mood as the covers surly did.  The interior art, however, was manic and, at times, impossible to understand what was drawn.

The book is a collection of four issues first published in 1986. Miller wrote the story and collaborated with Janson to draw the series.  The mini-series told the story of the return, after a 10 year absence, of Batman.  It explored the reaction of his return by the populous of the city, the criminals and, most interestingly, Bruce Wayne's.  Wayne has aged, and now, in his mid-50's, has to cope with his physical limits.

The entire run was narrated by television news which I thought could have been eliminated. Without it the story would have been cleaner, clearer and darker.  To be honest I felt like I was reading a Judge Dredd story.

Some panels felt more like sketches than finished art and I was constantly wishing Miller had used more of his Sin City methods in the telling of this story.  In the third story, Hunt the Dark Night, the Joker's flying kid-bombs were just too cartoon-like and took me right out of the story.

The entire book was redeemed with the last installment, The Dark Knight Falls where he comes to terms with Super Man and begins to take his crusade in a new direction.

Frank Miller

Klaus Janson

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Walking Dead Volumes 1& 2 by Robert Kirkman (writer) and Tony Moore(artist)

I will admit that I found the television series boring to the extreme.  There was simply far too much, "BOO!" ZOMBIE!!  After a while it got old.  I watched four episodes then gave up.

However, I loved the premise; instead of trying to explain how it all happened we just follow the main character, after he recovers from a coma, as he discovers and adapts to his world.  The narrative begins after the plague has been around for a long time.  How does he cope?  How does he come to terms with this new reality?  Where is his family?  Will he ever be able to have a normal life again?

I have coworkers who love the show and talk about it after every episode.  Everybody I talk to says the same thing; it's not really about the zombies but about how the "living" cope with a changed world.  It's a post-apocalyptic story which can always be interesting.  But I really did not want to invest in watching more television.  Instead I thought I'd go to the source material and read the collected editions of the comic series.

My friends were right the story is not about the zombies, although they are everywhere just like snow is everywhere in winter.  Volumes one and two collect the first 12 issues of the series.  Like a novel the entire story is told in chapters, also know as plot arcs, of 6 issues each.  There are currently 25 collections in print with the 26th due out soon.  The comic is still in production so there is a lot of this world to explore.

I've been reading the series in eBook format borrowed from the Edmonton Public Library.

Volume 1 tells the story of our main character, Rick, a sheriff's deputy recovering from injuries sustained on the job.  He makes his way from the hospital to his home then begins to search for answers and his family in Atlanta.

Volume 2 picks up the story with Rick, now the leader of the group, and their search for a safe haven.  First they find a gated community then a distant farm.  There is a gathering tension as food and fuel run low and members of the group begin to crack under the stress.

So far I've enjoyed the series but I am not sure if I'll be able to sustain my interest.  Since The Walking Dead is still in production as a comic there is likely no satisfying conclusion.  Comics live and breath on open-ended story telling, I get that, and each chapter is a story in and of itself, with a cliff-hanger ending.  I'm just not sure I'm willing to spend a lot of time in such a bleak world.  As story tellers I'm sure Kirkman and Moore will break the tension from time to time.

Robert Kirkman - writer

Tony Moore - artist.