review – winning the game & other stories

RF_WTGVery much like his prior selection The Taker and Other Stories, Rubem Fonseca’s Winning the Game is a high meditation on the desperate attachment to passion in Brazil. Most of his characters, whether they be prostitutes, gamblers, fixers, hit men, lovers or writers, display a wholly unhealthy proclivity to live according to momentary whim. To Fonseca, Brazil has an impermanent culture based on the lure of short-term opportunity, where a moment’s preponderance of contentment often leads to adultery, murder, or perhaps even a drop mercy (but don’t count on that).

Fonseca has a knack for writing stark and concise stories, filled with a humid uneasiness one can experience walking down any particular avenue in Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of his characters’ intentions (and they’re mostly questionable), there is always an underlying scheme going on, often times shrouded in layers. It is here that Fonseca’s writing is both brilliant and terrifying, chronicling the big picture of a society that feeds upon itself as the rule rather than the exception. There is no expectation of justice, rather only corruption and the quick decisions people make that change the course of their lives (and other’s) forever.

The first third of the book sets the stage of Fonseca’s fast-paced worldview. Stories like The Hunchback and Botticelli’s Venus and The Game of Dead Men start harmlessly enough, but take uneasy and tragic turns upon conclusion. By the second third he exposes a more philosophical tone; The Art of Walking in the Streets in Rio de Janeiro introduces a more nuanced and deliberate exposition, a small ounce of embittered salvation through his character Augusto, friend of rats, whores, trees, and those generally transient. The final third of the book returns to the unrelenting machinations of avarice, and it is here where one just might realize how much of a modern Poe Fonseca resembles. Both Passion and the title story contrast the irrational justifications of “winning” in an inherently biased society favoring the wealthy. Fonseca is not subtle in dealing with this discrepancy, whether based in love or money. With humor and a flair for highlighting the bizarre noir of his culture, this short collection is quality writing in its entirety.

review – the martian

Not too many negatives can bImagee said of Andy Weir’s The Martian. It’s a story about entropy and the demanding awareness of its deadly effects. With a well-researched background, Weir both enthralls and terrifies the reader with his depiction of a cold, inhospitable and unforgiving Mars. Mars may be a hot topic among space exploration enthusiasts, but the harsh reality Weir exposes to abandoned astronaut Mark Watney is relentless, and should serve as a primer for anyone even daydreaming of the deceptive allure of a one-way trip. It’s not only a story about how many ways one can die on the red planet due to careless or even the most careful planning, it puts into perspective the resourcefulness of the astronauts trained to think quickly and solve the most superficially insurmountable problem. In addition, it’s an interesting speculation in the hierarchical structures and interplay of NASA, and the geopolitical implications of space exploration. Weir certainly seemed to have access to the personalities and inner machinations of JPL structure in addition to his concrete understanding of the physics and engineering, thereby making the story both believable and accurate as a work of fiction.

The story is breakneck, focusing mainly on injured astronaut Mark Watney’s attempts to survive a sandstorm catching his crew unaware upon their scientific survey. What would have seemed to be an initially fatiguing focus on the minutia of off-world survival, Weir detours back and forth from Mars to Earth, detailing the societal implications of Watney’s life and death, and the scenarios faced with NASA in even attempting to save him at all, and how the world reacts. It’s a good conjecture upon the big-picture implications of space exploration contrasted with the small but critical decisions left to the ultimately prepared mind. That said, my only criticism is that Watney’s attempts at journaling sometimes condescend to the reader in explanation of the scientific ideas underpinning his actions. It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise illuminating story that’s an engaging bridge of more realistic science fiction.

review – dead pig collector

20130809-235805.jpgA concise, intriguing work by Warren Ellis. It’s just as much a meditation on Los Angeles culture as it is a study in psychological, perhaps cultural detachment. Too short for a thorough plot overview, Ellis’s hits some really interesting observations here. About Los Angeles, his principal musing being a city without a center or identity; that in some ways it’s much like Beijing with its subtly encroaching desert and scrubland whenever you need it, especially when in possession of a few industrious seconds. His characterization and interplay is tense, centering around the focused Mister Sun, and atypical valley girl Amanda, bright but a bit too naively enthusiastic. Her shock of the events is muted by the allure to his stoic fastidiousness in such an unconventional situation. It is in this increasingly unquiet crisscross whereby Ellis invites subtle comparison and wonder of modern America with China, and their approach to common problems no one wants to acknowledge. Really though, it concentrates on the idea of the human need for self-direction, and the chilling deliberation of whether the heart is more than mere mechanism.

review – the filth

filthSo I’ve finished Grant Morrison’s The Filth. This work, I think, has been one of the most profoundly, mentally dissociative though unique reading experiences I’ve ever digested. Note that this is not an easy book to read or even finish, despite being a limited run comic. Nothing is easy about it. Not main character Greg Feely aka Ned Slade and his ubiquitous employer The Hand. Nothing is easy about the disturbingly sex-infused settings and the sticky, meaty bio-tech permeating throughout each issue. Even the story, if there really is one, is difficult to follow. Is it about an escape from paranoia, pornography, or just the need for a balance of justice to depravity in society? If you want it easy, just call it gonzo sci-fi and wash your hands. But sorry, it still ain’t that easy.

Now whether the inspired reader can figure any of all these elements out, a tip of the hat will be gladly offered. I suppose though, that the whole point of all this as I see it, is that it’s all relative to nothing. The massive fragmentation, of bizarre storylines, the grimy human/superhero/secret agency trinity, the shock of life’s absurdities and its depravity, and the need for depravity and to feel clean from so much filth is constant. This fragmentation and duality hence, is THE constant. That the reader doesn’t have a definitive clue about Slade’s true identify or even the work’s finale is the point. Life is abrupt, aggressive, violent, absurd. It goes on and we react.  Sometimes in bright suits with bizarre wigs in automobiles looking like biogenic garbage trucks.

PS – I liked it.

review – the complete indigo prime

indigo primeNebulous, a good description for this compilation of the peculiar 2000 AD series. Although I really enjoy the concept of indigo prime, a murky agency composed of eccentric, temporal meta-fixer types repairing the disturbances in space-time, I think I came away with more bafflement than when I started.

Akin to elements found within Alan Moore’s Future Shocks and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe, The Complete Indigo Prime is a collection of serialized shorts from a psychedelic SciFi perspective. If anything, the set details perhaps just how fickle our interpretation of a multiverse is or can be. Eccentric characters floating amid cloudy, kaleidoscopic backdrops stitching events and people back into their proper order is as advertised; perhaps, though, the point of the collection is to emphasize that reality is never so properly sutured, even when left under the care of such unseen professionals.

The cast created by John Smith is enigmatically charged, and the art visualized by Chris Weston and Mike Hadley are equally intriguing. Strange characters obliviously drift in and out of the stories, either directing plotted traffic or playing a more direct role. Fish eyed portrayals of gaping, intestine-laden, multi-mawed hells and planetary nebulae, often bursting ubiquitously from cloudy tendrils of the space-time continuum is par for the course as far the general aesthetic is concerned. Which is actually great, providing a slight but constant feeling of nausea rolling throughout the book, likely a necessary component when contemplating an unbounded set of universes ever folding upon themselves.

It’s too bad, however, that this compilation is too short to get a good feel not only for characterization. The beginning exposition of Fervent and Lobe’s story, combined with their partnership with Almaranda is simply too disjointed from the most accessible “Indigo Prime” tale appearing second to this, and especially those involving Winwood and Cord. The others, particularly Basalt and Foundation, Fegredo and Brecht, lack a more complete introduction required for newcomers to the series.

All of this might just come down to a strange collection of, well, strangeness for those uninitiated (like myself) to Indigo Prime. But it’s good fun nevertheless. If anything, the mystery stemming from fragmented pacing and ineluctable characters in this volume might just be answered in the just published anthropocalypse edition. Not a bad read.

review – mean machine (real mean)

meanThis is one curious graphic novel. Perhaps a compilation of the essential stories detailing the everyman-turned-headbutting-mechanical maniac, Real Mean is a typical 2000 AD Mega-City excursion into one of the more obscure though perhaps genuine characters in the Dredd-verse. And if anything, this book is all about character development…or not. It’s hard not to choose the correct option (presented in You Are the Mean Machine) that involves some variation of the sound effect “BOK” and a good amount of head flinging based on Mean’s thought procession. Nay, this could be a higher meditation on the plight of the underprivileged common man of the science-wrought future, his metaphorical chains being only his anger unraveling within. But probably not; Mean Machine is an antithesis of Dredd, with poor grammar.

 It’s not as if Mean’s demeanor is wishing-well deep, for he is not a ponderous creature. When asked a question or faced with an unfamiliar situation his typical fallback response is either the ominous “izzat so?” or the click of his forehead dial “straight to 4″, set to vicious. It matters not, as both lead to his signature head-butt, preferably “down to a greasy spot” if given the opportunity. And don’t let his overcompensating mechanical claw (apart from his missing, nubby left limb) distract you; his head plate is the thing, and his aim is true.

And that’s basically it. Nothing other than mayhem accompanies him, whether his fault or not. Ever pursued by the judges, Mean propels through the pages in all locales both temporal and physical. In the ubiquitous back alley, stolen and bullet-riddled transport vehicle (windowless, of course) or even the odd time machine, to impersonating nuns in the local hospital’s surgery unit, Mean is nothing more than a whirlwind of gristled nastiness best avoided on its blind trajectory elsewhere. Whether exacting revenge, fatherly frustration, even the bliss of unexpected matrimony or just a good “buttin”, readers are given significant pause of his weird state of samadhi.

What makes this compilation intriguing is the detailed art accompanying the sparse, often breakneck pacing inevitably ending in loose teeth and oozy puddles. Apart from the longer, more colorful entries scripted by John Wagner and drawn by Richard Dolan, the ones written by Gordon Rennie, especially The Geek, are just as (if not more) brilliant. One part dumb bludgery, another comic satire, and a third tragic noir, Real Mean makes a bizarre and provoking (thoughtfully or otherwise) reading experience indeed.

review – the ballad of halo jones

halo-jonesYes, the writing’s distinctly crafty as only Moore can pen, but the pacing and thematic development of The Ballad of Halo Jones is really a treasure, a clinic for aspiring writers needing a lesson in concise simplicity. Along with his Future Shocks, this is likely one of the works I imagine Alan Moore knew from the get-go that he had the goods to become his future current self.

It’s impressive to read how these seemingly disparate installments appearing in various 2000AD progs are feathered together to form this bittersweet ballad. Indeed, as this collection is universally hailed as classic space opera, the slow momentum from which it begins seems anything but.  It starts with an all too common motif, the boredom and need for wanderlust in and for a distant future when even space itself has not only been conquered but hotly contested.  Swiftly though, it changes to something more complicated, as life is wont.

Refreshingly, this is not a superhero story. It’s hard science fiction, cosmically emblazoned within the sharpened panels characteristic of 2000AD’s art and galaxy building. It’s not necessarily speculative on our future (other than our cetacean friends reclaiming Earth upon our folly) but on the human condition, that specifically after another few millennia or so, human nature (the best and worst, of course), still won’t change much. Written with subtle strength from the female vantage, as so many top sci-fi stories have been, Halo Jones is ultimately, believably not super, but heroic nevertheless.

But with all Moore’s clever plotting and the roguish, keen sketching from Ian Gibson, this is the story of no one, or perhaps anyone who at the seductive scent of adventure, is brave enough to claim their own future, accepting the good and not-so-good outcomes with each step.