Novel Review – Kill The Dead by Richard Kadrey

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Awards

(for the author, not the “Sandman Slim” series”)

  • British SF Association Awards — for SF works published in the UK, voted by British SF Association members
  • “The First Man Not to Land on the Moon” (Back Brain Recluse #23 1997) — short fiction
  • Locus Awards — for SF/F/H works, polled by readers of Locus Magazine
    Dead Set (Harper Voyager) — fantasy novel — 25th place
  • Metrophage (Ace) — first novel — 3rd place Interzone Readers Poll — for stories published in Interzone magazine, polled by readers”Goodbye Houston Street, Goodbye” (Interzone #19 Spring 1987) — fiction — winner

“Let me make sure I have this straight. The cavalry just now rode into town and it’s a Czech Gypsy porn-star zombie killer. Have I got that right?”
― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

About

 

From the publisher, “What do you do after you’ve crawled out of Hell to wreak bloody revenge? If you’re Stark you turn to bounty hunting, tracking and decimating whatever rogue monsters you’re paid to kill. Stark hates the work, but he needs the money, especially the big bucks Lucifer is offering. In town as an adviser on a biopic of his life, Lucifer needs protection, and he wants Stark as his bodyguard. But the gig isn’t all bad; there is the very sexy, very hot French porn star Brigitte Bardo, a friend of Lucifer’s in LA to remake her reputation as a legit actress. While it isn’t love, it’s pretty damn good, and after 11 years of demonic chastity, it’s enough for now.

Stark has enough trouble juggling a diva devil and a scorching French bombshell without a zombie plague to complicate matters. And just what happens when a human-angel half-breed is bitten by the living dead? His human side begins to die, transforming him into an unstoppable angel of death—a killing machine devoid of emotion or thought, with no regrets or future to worry about. Not a bad way to be when your choices are limited. Now, Stark has to decide . . . if he does find a cure for the zombie infection, will he take it?”

My Thoughts

“Hell is hilarious if you’re the one in charge.” ~ Lucifer

I absolutely love this series thus far. It was one of the books I wanted to finish reading by the end of the year via this list. 10 Books I Want to Read This Year.. And Why

My blog post from earlier this year, Kill the Dead” by Richard Kadrey –   I read the first “Sandman Slim” book, aptly named just “Sandman Slim” and dudddde, holy anti-hero batman. Yaas. Bring on the “I don’t give a shit attitude.” I love that the language in Sandman Slim is punchy. Not overly wordy and detailed.  I want some concisely written words.”

I received everything I asked for and more from reading #2 in the series. Sandman Slim should be on more lists and garner more praise. It should be up there with the likes of Dresden, and October Daye; it is just that damn good. It is so refreshing when there seems to be so much unoriginal urban fantasy out there. Always the same sort of schtick. Not this book…

“Twenty percent? What am I, your waiter? I got you five vampires, not a BLT.”
― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

This story picks up a while after the first Sandman Slim story left off. We have our resident anti-hero having a hell of a time mentally, and in some ways physically while he tries to pay the bills by doing the odd killing or menacing here and there. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you enjoyed the first book in this series, “Sandman Slim” you will probably enjoy this one. They are a little different in style and texture. But, the dark humor and great story come through. There is a bit of a love interest, and a new interesting character getting fleshed out in Lucifer. I am going to keep this short, as this book is a pause in a longer story. But read the series. It is so worth it.

 

 

Swine Hill is full of the Dead in Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

Stats

  • 5 out of 5 Stars
  • Hardcover
  • 304 pages
  • Expected publication: February 5th, 2019 by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

About

“[T]his novel is extraordinary . . . It is Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, mixed with H. G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, set in the creepiest screwed-up town since ’Salem’s Lot . . . [A] major achievement.” — Adam-Troy Castro, Sci-Fi magazine

Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going into those rooms . . . They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.

Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.

When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.


My Thoughts

“They could hurt

you. Worse,

they could

change you.”

Swine hill is a place that will hurt your body, wrack your soul at the altar of human selfishness, and destroy you. Imagine living in this place. Imagine working at the store or a packing plant here. Imagine having to share part of your soul with the undead. Hick’s characters do, and for a short time, we readers also do.  Hick’s has invented a story that is so rife with pain, imagination, and horrors that if you could take the spawn of Dr. Moreau and The Haunting of Hill House you would have something close to this. Haunt is unsettling in ways that made me uncomfortable deep down in my bones.

Hicks explores the premise of a haunted family in a haunted town. It centers around the protagonists Jane and Henry. Brother and sister trapped with the souls of unsettled ghosts inside them. In Jane’s case, it is the soul of a woman who thrives on conflict and secrets. The spirit silently whispers to jane the horrible thoughts and intentions of those around her. Henry has the ghost of a mad inventor inside him seeking to create incredible and awful machines whose purpose is sometimes unknown. The pair is also influenced by their mother and father, both haunted. Her mother is haunted by a person so craving affection that her body physically radiates heat. Enough to burn and scar. Jane is the heart of the family. Silently she pounds away at life and looks after her family as best as she can within the circumstances.

The crux of the story rests around Henry and how his mad ghost creates things. This time Henry invents pig people. Upright human-like animals that are built to self-slaughter and could eventually render the town and by extension humans obsolete. Henry creates many, but individually we meet Hog Boss and his kind son Dennis. Both are good-natured and thoughtful people set at deliberate juxtaposition to the rest of the “human” inhabitants of the town. Enter the fearful townsfolk, frightened of the unknown, in both the pig people and the loss of their livelihood. What happens next can only be described as an explosive clash between the old ways and the new all within the context of Jane attempting to save people.

“Her mother’s ghost

made the house

a suffocating place.

She didn’t touch Jane

often for fear

that she would burn

her.”

The setting in the story is unrestrainedly unworldly. The writing drips darkness and moisture from every page and sometimes, I could swear my kindle was fogging up from the cold. Hicks absolutely has created a world where you should be very afraid that ghosts will settle in your bones.

The underlying theme of this story is relationships: sister to brother, mother to son, lover to lover. In this, it is the immense power of links that can drive a person to the unthinkable or the extraordinary. What would I do for the person I love? What would I do to the person I hate? Person to person a spiderweb of narrative and relationships is created. This web holds the town together and eventually culminating in it blasting apart. 

It is poignantly cruel that these characters, so afflicted, must also contend with the worst problems we see in our own world. Hicks will unflinchingly show you the horrific visage of ghosts and nightmares pulled from the headlines of our own world, leaving you to wonder whether one lot is truly fundamentally worse than the other. And yet, perhaps it is true that they who would grow must first be made to suffer. Certainly, the growth we see in these characters is the result of a purposefully built set of trials and woes; it is not an easy journey for us to follow but it rewards us as only a master-crafted tale can.

Things get harsh and really painful for the characters in this story. I know I have alluded to it vaguely, but I don’t want to give away the cleverness of the story. It is scary, mystical, and bittersweet. It absolutely deserves all of the forthcoming awards that are going to be thrown at it. If you are a fan of the horror/bizarro genre, look no further than this book, but even more so if you are a fan of the written word and the power it can wield, this is a worthy read.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an unbiased review. All opinions are my own. Quotations are taken from an uncorrected proof and may change upon publication.

About the Author

Micah Dean Hicks is the author of the novel Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. He is also the author of Electricity and Other Dreams, a collection of dark fairy tales and bizarre fables. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Hicks grew up in rural southwest Arkansas and now lives in Orlando. He teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.

Review of Laura and the Shadow by Bruno Martins Soares

About

In a world devastated by a rampant maddening disease, Lieutenant J.J. Berger takes his Special Operations team into Southern Portugal to search for his lost comrades. His path will cross with a mysterious woman and her little daughter, escaping from their captors. Their strange powers might hold the key to a better world.

Stats

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • ebook
  • 202 pages
  • Published February 9th 2019
  • Original Title Laura and the Shadow King
  • ASIN B07M815WG6
  • Edition Language English
  • SeriesLaura and the Shadow King

My Thoughts

Laura and the Shadow King was a strange read for me. It is a book that straddles many different genres without sticking a full toe into any of them. For me, that can be good and interested or leave me feeling unanchored as a reader. I think in this situation, it was a bit of the later rather than the former.

The world that Soares creates is a world reeling from a devastating outbreak that leaves countries and governments in ruins. It has also left most of the population a sort or zombie type creature. Alive, but full of incredible aggression with an infectious bite. The apocalypse is all background and setting for what the real narrative is, that of JJ Berger. The leader of a military outfit called Shadow Troop and a woman named Maria. Maria is a woman determined to save her young daughter from the Russian mafia that has taken control of them. The story is shifting perspectives between these two individuals as their lives, and their destinies slowly become intertwined. I think the issue I had with the story was the military jargon. Soares did an excellent job with the dialog. The character’s personalities are clear and concise; it felt like hearing actual conversations between individuals rather than what we think a discussion should sound like. But the amount of military jargon juxtaposed against Maria’s chapters kept knocking me out of the story. At times I found the dialog difficult to parse and keep up with.

I do, however, recommend this story if you are a fan of military fiction type stories interspersed with a bit of apocalypse and fantasy elements. It is well written and interesting but left me cold.

Procurement

I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my open and honest review.

About the Author – Bruno Martins Soares

Bruno Martins Soares writes fiction since he was 12 years old, and his first book, ‘O Massacre’ (The Massacre), a collection of short-stories, came out in Portugal in 1998. 
It was followed by several contributions to newspapers, magazines and other collective books.

In 1996, he won the National Young Creators Award for Writing, representing Portugal at the 1997 Torino Young Creators of Europe and the Mediterranean Fair, where his short-story ‘Mindsweeper’ was translated and published in Italian. 

His first novel ‘A Saga de Alex 9’ (The Alex 9 Saga) was published in Portugal in 2012, by publisher Saída de Emergência, within a series that features authors like George R.R.Martin or Bernard Cornwell.

A Story of the Muted – Review of Stitches by David Small

Synopsis

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David—a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage.

Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist—will resonate as the ultimate survival statemen.


Stats

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Hardcover 
  • 329 pages
  • Published September 8th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company
  • Original Title Stitches: A Memoir
  • ISBN0393068579 (ISBN13: 9780393068573)
  • Edition Language English
  • URL http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=12185
  • setting Detroit, Michigan (United States) 

Awards

  • Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee (2011),
  • ALA Alex Award (2010)
  • National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (2009), 
  • Goodreads Choice Award finalist

My Thoughts

“The odd thing about recurring dreams is that, no matter how many times you dream the same thing, it always takes you by surprise.” 

David Small, Stitches

“Graphic Novels. They Aren’t Books. They have no literary value.”

Sigh.

I have often heard this. Repeatedly. Books like Stitches are the reason that the argument against graphic novels not being literature heavyweights is so brainless. This story is poignant, as well as painful and oh so very real.

David Small is a famous children’s illustrator who took his childhood memories held them, squeezed them, and wrapped them up into a ball and served us this novel. His childhood was not a happy one; “Dad was never there except occasionally for one of mother’s dry, burned little meals; mother coiled tight inside her shell of angry, resentful silence; my brother in his, and I in mine.” This is a story full of angry moments. At the beginning usually from his mother, later into David’s adolescence, the anger belonged to him. It was full of lying and cruelty on the part of his parents. Often when reading this, I had to put the book down and take a moment to appreciate my own family, my own parents, and myself as a parent. I am doing better than I think I am.

Most of the story centers on a lie David’s parents told him regarding his health and the casualty cruelties accompanying it. What was supposed to be an easy cyst removal in his neck was actually cancer and left David disfigured and mostly mute. His parents never acknowledge what had happened to him until much later. This leaves him with both physical scars, “A crusted black track of stitches; my smooth young throat slashed and laced back up like a bloody boot,” and understandably the mental scars that would come with that.

I am sure at this point you are wondering why someone would read something like this. It sounds like a long story of pain, and it is. However, David’s story is also one of hope and overcoming your past. It is beautiful and tragic and heartbreaking. But this is a story that will dig into your mind and stay with you. There is a reason it is considered one of the best graphic memoirs ever written. Stitches is a collection of profound moments, and by the end of the story, we understand that even in the worst of circumstances one can find their own voice, and be who they want to be even if they are mute.


Procurement

I checked this out from the library.

About the Author

David Small is the recipient of the Caldecott Medal, a Christopher Medal, and the E. B. White Award for his picture books, which include Imogene’s AntlersThe Gardener, and So, You Want to Be President? He lives in Mendon, Michigan.

10 More Feminist Dystopic Books

Recently I posted an article on The Rise of Feminist Dystopic Novels and some examples to check out. I also received a bunch of wonderful suggestions on twitter, and have added them here. Thanks!


The Female Man

by Joanna Russ

It has influenced William Gibson and been listed as one of the ten essential works of science fiction. Most importantly, Joanna Russ’s THE FEMALE MAN is a suspenseful, surprising and darkly witty chronicle of what happens when Jeannine, Janet, Joanna, and Jael—four alternative selves from drastically different realities—meet.


Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind. 


Gather the Daughters

by Jennie Melamed

Never Let Me Go meets The Giver in this haunting debut about a cult on an isolated island, where nothing is as it seems.

Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers–chosen male descendants of the original ten–are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smoldering fires.

The daughters of these men are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony. They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die. But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme. With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly–they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ hands and their mothers’ despair. And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.

Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.

Gather The Daughters is a smoldering debut; dark and energetic, compulsively readable, Melamed’s novel announces her as an unforgettable new voice in fiction.


The Gate to Women’s Country

by Sheri S. Tepper

Tepper’s finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women’s Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women’s Council. As in Tepper’s Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.


Woman on the Edge of Time

by Marge Piercy

Connie Ramos, a woman in her mid-thirties, has been declared insane. But Connie is overwhelmingly sane, merely tuned to the future, and able to communicate with the year 2137. As her doctors persuade her to agree to an operation, Connie struggles to force herself to listen to the future and its lessons for today….


Sultana’s Dream

by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Durga Bai

The female narrator of Sultana’s Dream wanders into a dream city that shuns war and violence. In this utopian world, women rule and men are content with their places in the kitchen. The queen of this kingdom explains how women won and kept their peace against men and their war-like ways.

This edition of a feminist utopian classic is a conversation across time; Durga Bai, a contemporary tribal woman artist from Central India, brings her own vision to bear on a Muslim gentlewoman’s radical tale.


He, She and It

by Marge Piercy

In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions–and the ability to kill….


The Stepford Wives

by Ira Levin

For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town’s idyllic facade lies a terrible secret—a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.

At once a masterpiece of psychological suspense and a savage commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty at all costs, The Stepford Wives is a novel so frightening in its final implications that the title itself has earned a place in the American lexicon.


Swastika Night

by Katharine Burdekin, Daphne Patai

Published in 1937, twelve years before Orwell’s 1984, Swastika Night projects a totally male-controlled fascist world that has eliminated women as we know them. Women are breeders, kept as cattle, while men in this post-Hitlerian world are embittered automatons, fearful of all feelings, having abolished all history, education, creativity, books, and art. The plot centers on a “misfit” who asks, “How could this have happened?”


Bitch Planet #1

by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Goodreads Author), Valentine De Landro

Are you non-compliant?
Do you fit into your box?
Are you too fat, too thin, too loud, too shy, too religious, too secular, too prudish, too sexual, too queer, too black, too brown, too whatever-it-is-they’ll-judge-you-for-today?
You may just belong on…
Bitch Planet

“A comic book love letter to non-compliant women.”
-VOX

Transmetropolitan is a Cyberpunk Technicolor Fever Dream and Why We Need It Now More Than Ever

Synopsis

After years of self-imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city that he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd Century surroundings. Combining black humor, life-threatening situations, and moral ambiguity, this book is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy.


Stats

  • 5 out of 5. I mean c’mon this is a classic.
  • Paperback
  • 144 pages
  • Published February 1st 1998 by Vertigo (first published January 1998)
  • Original Title Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1: Back on the Street
  • ISBN1563894459 (ISBN13: 9781563894459)
  • Edition Language English
  • URL http://www.dccomics.com/vertigo/graphic_novels/?gn=1719
  • Series Transmetropolitan (Collected Editions) #1, Transmetropolitan (BR) #1
  • CharactersSpider Jerusalem, Channon Yarrow, Mitchell Royce, Fred Christ
  • Setting United States of America

A side note. This is a reread for me that I had the utmost fun doing it with Paul at Paul’s Picks. It was terrific to see Spider through the eyes of someone else, and I want to thank Paul for taking a chance on one of my favorite books.

My Thoughts

“TRUTH comes easier when you’re nine years old, too. Everything’s a lot less complicated. This or that. Us or them. Truth or lie.” 

Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1: Back on the Street

Spider is the hero you did not know that you needed. Brash and deranged, Spider yells at the top of his lungs things that make you uncomfortable. And, if you are nervous? Good. Scared to examine painful truths? Good. Because the truth is coming for you, and Spider is going to bringing it with the fervor and intensity of a bulldog on crystal meth.

Transmetropolitan was written twenty-one years ago, published by DC Comics between 1997 – 2002, but it might as well been written yesterday for how current and prescient it is. The story is built around the antics of our protagonist and antihero, an investigative journalist named Spider Jerusalem. He is tattooed, brash, brilliant, sarcastic, caustic, drug addicted, and a wild man of journalists fervor. Often drawn wearing a pair of stereoscopic sunglasses, one red lens, and the other green while streams of smoke curl out of his nostrils and usually sporting a scowl of discontent while gesticulating wildly at the idiocy of passers-by. Describing him, he sounds like a lunatic when in actuality he is the reincarnation of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson dropped into the 23rd century.

The first six issues of the 60 issue story make up Vol. 1 Back in The Streets. It is written as Spider is getting his feet under him after a five-year voluntary sabbatical. Called back to finish his book deal with his editor, lovingly known as Whorehopper, he unwillingly reenters The City and society and is equal parts horrified and fascinated by it. The City, as it is referred to, is Id and hedonism run amok puked out in a cyberpunk Technicolor fever dream. If you can dream it, and have the money, you can do it. All of which sounds impressive when tempered with wisdom and ethics. However, The City is neither of those things. Spider is constantly reminded of why he hid in the wilderness and eschewed all human contact.

Issue three of Volume 1 talks about Spider’s first story back into the throes of journalism. He is covering a pseudo-alien messiah named Fred Christ, as he represents the Transcience movement. The Transience movement being a subculture of body modification fetishists who use technology to change themselves to something resembling a new species. In this case, adapting aspects of an alien species. Fred Christ’s base is located in the Angel 8 district of The City. After Spider burns a transient guard in the eye with a cigarette, Spider notices how tense the Transient population is. It is a powder keg ready to blow. Spider finds Fred Christ and has a brief interview with him where Spider basically eludes that Fred is puffed up with fake power and that the government is going to come down and stomp out this little movement of Freds.


“There’s one hole in every

revolution, large or small.

And it’s one word long— PEOPLE.

No matter how big

the idea they all stand under,

people are small and weak

and cheap and frightened.

It’s people that kill every revolution.” 


Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan,
Vol. 1: Back on the Street

Here is where the writing shines. Eventually, the government does get with the stomping, and Spider gets right in the middle of it and live blogs. He brings the gritty moment to moment of the brutal beating of the Transient population by an uncaring police authority to the people. Eventually, this sways the audience gawking at this display via Spider’s writing and causes a public outcry shutting down the beating. Spider helped. I don’t think he intended to help but to speak the truth as he saw it; however, his truth saved some transient people.

God, I love Spider Jerusalem. He is everything I wish Journalists still were. Raw, uncut assholes who search for the truth as they see it no matter what they have to go through. In the politically charged climate of now, it seems that those who speak truth to power are not the journalists as we used to know them, but bloggers and users of Twitter.


“- You know what this is?
– Nope
– It’s a bowel disruptor.

And you are just full of shit.”


WARREN ELLIS, TRANSMETROPOLITAN,
VOL. 1: BACK ON THE STREET

The question is “Should you read this?” Should you delve into the gritty world of Spider and meet with the truth on his terms. I am of a resounding yes, there is a reason why he is a classic graphic novel series. I think the world needs Spider Jerusalem’s even if he is just ink and ideas. All Hail Spider Jerusalem!


Paul and Myself’s Running Issue Commentary

Paul – #1. What the hell had Beth got me into?!?! Transma-What?!?! Ok. So there’s this guy who lives in a house on a mountain. Spider Jerusalem been there for 5 years, sorta paranoid, hermit style. He was an author/journalist, but still owes his publisher 2 more books on the contract. He needs money and inspiration.He gets in his car and drives back to the rat race in the big city, and yes, he has a rat as a passenger and bombs his local bar on the way… yet, as he crosses the city line, his journalistic blood starts pumping. Itching for a story.
What a character! I’m not really sure what the story will bring, but I know I will like Spider’s vicious one-liners and outlandish ravings. I can already tell that Ellis and Robertson have created a crazy-clever future world of greed, vice, and dark speculation…

Beth – #1. It’s crazy! Spider is who I think most journalists want to be. He is living on all sorts of edges trying to get the truth, the real story. I think #1 and most of #2 are just giving you background on who he is and where he comes from. Hirsute crazy dude living on a mountain, no human contact because he hates people. Has to come back to “The City” two write two books, plus earn enough money to love. Earning money means finding stories. The one-liners are amazing.

“My household appliance is on drugs.”

Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan,
Vol. 1: Back on the Street

‘you worthless scrap of frogshit with a pulse and a bit of authority.” I agree this world is greed, and vice run amok. It is if you took the Id of the general population and laid it out on the table for everyone to see. It reminds me a lot of this scene from Fear and Loathing



Paul – #2. Spider’s first story is an investigation into transcience… a body mod movement that has spliced alien genomes into people and created humanoids who are ‘between bodies.’ Not allowed jobs and forced to live in slums, the transcients are two steps away from government annihilation. An interview with their leader, Fred Christ, gives Spider the insight he needs. This is a story arc with mordern-day implications. An ‘other,’ a people who have chosen to have body modification and are deemed different and illegal. I’m wondering what role Spider will play in this as a journalist. And how he will help these people. Lots of thoughts going on. Can’t wait to get read another issue tomorrow night.

Beth – #2. It is current, right? The things spiders sees and the insight he has can be directly laid on top of our current political climate.

“I don’t have to put up with thus shabby crap! I’m a journalist!”

Having read this before, and with the reread I am catching so much more than I did the first go through. It is almost like I am reading a brand new story.


Paul – #3.

‘Journalism is just a gun.

It’s only got one

bullet in it, but if

you aim right,

that’s all you need.’

Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan,
Vol. 1: Back on the Street

A transient riot has been manufactured and Spider speeds to the neighborhood to report the brutality handed down by the police. The power of Spider’s pen is about to be unleashed!
This is a great issue that really helps the reader see past the image of the main character to what he is actually capable of. His ‘superpower’ of reportage. The ability to expose corruption, and we find that the plot will not be as simple as we maybe first thought. 

Beth – #3. Yes, the power of the written word and of truth. For all of spider’s bluster and screwing up things and people, he has a real gift of getting t the heart of a matter and explaining it to the people. He isn’t all bluster and bravado. I think if he were his publisher would not give two shits about him. I am so glad this is connecting with you. Spider is one of my favorite characters. 

This story is about fist clenching stomach churning anger. Anger at the system that we are all involved in, the mass media, commercialism – but mainly I think this story is outrage and a desire to not just lash out but to make things better. Spider at his venomous little heart wants to use the truth to set people free. Whether that truth is painful or not. It is still the truth, and because of his journalistic integrity and his give no fucks attitude he wants to rip the band-aid off peoples wounds and sally forth. 


Paul – #4. A new assistant and a meeting with the president. Spider has a chance to mentor a young journalist in the art of The Truth. And then during an unexpected chance meeting with the president, he gets a couple shots in.
The entrance of a tutee enables Ellis to open up Spider’s many thoughts on the role of the press… and yes, Beth is correct, even though published 20 years ago, Transmetropolitan is buzzing with current issues. Spider’s accusations of the presidents nefarious behavior is a front page story in many present-day newspapers.
I’m wondering where this will go. What is Jerusalem’s endgame? 

Beth – #4. I really like the young journalist. She makes a perfect counterpoint to Jerusalem’s antics. Where spider is spastic, Channing is more measured. Probably no less nuts, but at least she is more measured in her actions.

I am not sure at this point Spider has an endgame except to expose the truth from as any nefarious characters as possible. It doesn’t even phase Spider that the president might not be a person who he should screw with. Or the cops as we found out the last issue. Bring them all down!


Paul – #5. This issue doesn’t move the plot forward too much, but it certainly utilized Spider/Ellis’s fangs when it comes to popular culture and media. Jerusalem decides he needs to hunker down and really do some research into the culture of The City. So, he promptly turns on the TV and starts flipping through the channels. Reality TV shows like Cops and the sexualization of advertising are parodied and lampooned to the extreme. He also takes some shots at the talk show circuit. Funny stuff!!!
And I definitely agree with Beth. Spider’s assistant is perfect. She gives it right back to him and then some. He was attacked by angry police a couple issues ago, and she seems to know that his antics will garner only more recourse from the authorities. What protections will he have and will his words be enough to combat the powers that be? 

Beth – #5. This issue is pure holding pattern, very funny but I think it is setting us up for the next issue. It doesn’t move the plot forward as it is for having Spider acclimate back into popular culture via TV. Which is pretty much the cesspool of popular culture. Spider responds in the typical Spider fashion by lashing out and attacking lies that he hears. This time via call-in radio/television shows. My favorite part of this issue is where an advertising bomb exploded in his head so he dreams advertisements. I know that I have gotten jingles stuck in my head for days at a time so I can relate.


Paul – #6. The New Religious Movement Convention! Oh boy. What’s Spider going to do here? ‘Fucking Vampires…’Many ‘truths’ out there and our man has decided to rough up the convention goers. Shake em up and crack some skulls while he’s at it. Whoa!Quick aside. I was very happy that Channon punched Spider in the nose in this issue. Ok, maybe not literally, but she got him to shut up for a minute and listen.

The first six issues have established Spider and Channon’s characters, and given them at goal/ mission. His character develops further while he flings his philosophy around the city, and we are exposed to the currents in society… media, religion, and alien infusion. A mindwarping title that I suspect is only going to get better. And I dare say that as Beth and I have discussed, this comic will hold up for a long, long time.

Beth – #6 This is Spider in his element. Ample opportunity to dissect the masses and fling his philosophy around like he is sprinkling the masses with holy water. It would be preachy if it weren’t so damn good. The writing is fantastic. Ever see that scene on Newsroom where the lead answers a question that generally would be verboten. “Why is American the greatest country in the world?” It would be preachy or awful as if the writers of the series going on a rant, but it isn’t. It is amazingly well written, so good that you are stunned into silence.

That has been this volume for me. It could have gone the preachy, ranty path but instead, we have a crazy character, great journalism, and writing. 

Questions

Do you think there are any gonzo journalists left?

What would a city look like if it was all hedonism and money? How would someone speak truth to power?


Procurement

I checked out a copy of this from the library as a buddy read with Paul.


About the Author

Warren Ellis is the award-winning writer of graphic novels like TRANSMETROPOLITAN, FELL, MINISTRY OF SPACE and PLANETARY, and the author of the NYT-bestselling GUN MACHINE and the “underground classic” novel CROOKED LITTLE VEIN. The movie RED is based on his graphic novel of the same name, its sequel having been released in summer 2013. His graphic novel GLOBAL FREQUENCY is in development at Jerry Bruckheimer TV for the Fox network, and his GRAVEL books are in development for film at Legendary Pictures, with Tim Miller attached to direct. IRON MAN 3 is based on his Marvel Comics graphic novel IRON MAN: EXTREMIS. He’s also written extensively for VICE, WIRED UK and Reuters on technological and cultural matters, and is co-writing a video project called WASTELANDERS with Joss Whedon that will appear some time before we both die.. He is serialising a new graphic novel, TREES, with artist Jason Howard, through Image Comics. Warren Ellis is currently working on a non-fiction book about the future of the city for Farrar Giroux Straus. His newest publication is the digital short-story single DEAD PIG COLLECTOR, from FSG Originals. His next book will be the novella NORMAL, also from FSG.

A documentary about his work, CAPTURED GHOSTS, was released in 2012.

Recognitions include the NUIG Literary and Debating Society’s President’s Medal for service to freedom of speech, the EAGLE AWARDS Roll Of Honour for lifetime achievement in the field of comics & graphic novels, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire 2010, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History and the International Horror Guild Award for illustrated narrative. He is a Patron of the British Humanist Association, an Associate of the Institute of Atemporal Studies, and the literary editor of EDICT magazine.

Warren Ellis lives outside London, on the south-east coast of England, in case he needs to make a quick getaway.

Magic, Sexism, and STEM

“Apparently your feminine wiles are capable of making them idiots, Rhen.”

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Synopsis

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.


Stats

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Hardcover
  • 352 pages
  • Expected publication: March 19th 2019 by Thomas Nelson
  • ISBN0718080963 (ISBN13: 9780718080969)
  • Edition Language English

My Thoughts

“Rhen Tellus opened it simply to see if she could scrape off the ink and derive which substances it’s been created from. Using her father’s strangely fashioned microscope. Which is how she discovered that this time the lettering was created from two types of resin, a binding paste, gold flecks, and a drop of something that smelled quite remarkably like magic.”

To Best the Boys is a lot of great and grand things. It is surprising, exciting, sad, bittersweet, and most of all remarkable. Mary Weber wrote a noteworthy book. It is a YA dipped in light fantasy without coming off as silly or unsophisticated, a rare feat nowadays. I cheered Rhen, she is a hero that young and teenage girls can look up to. Who says that women can’t be excellent at science and math? Who says they can’t look at dead bodies and not squeal. Rhen can! Rhen is the person capable of doing the saving, and if you listen to her, respect her opinion, she might help you out along the way and be your savior instead.

Rhen is a woman in her late teens trapped in her families financial situation. They dare to be working class people. Rhen’s parents, her mother born an Upper and her father born a lesser, fell in love and married against her mother’s families wishes. Rhen’s family has been shunned by her mother’s side her entire life. But, in a city built on familial connections, Rhen has been associating with her Aunt and cousin Seleni most of her life. In a bid to help her out of the Lesser social class. Rhen is a bit of a prodigy in math and sciences, and along with her father work tirelessly to find a cure to whatever is ailing the poorer classes in her port town. Those affected include Rhen’s mother. Here is the impetus of the story. Rhen must work tirelessly to find a cure, but Rhen is a woman and therefore not worthy of having her opinions heard. She is stuck in a catch-22 unless she can change the social equation. Each year a wealthy aristocrat and inventor holds a contest of magical and mathematical tests.

“All gentlepersons of university age (respectively seventeen to nineteen) are cordially invited to test for the esteemed annual scholarship given by Mr. Holm toward one full-ride fellowship at Stemwick Men’s University. Aptitude contenders will appear at nine o’clock in front of Holm’s Castle entrance above the seaside town of Pinsbury Port on the evening of 22 September, during the festival of the Autumnal Equinox.”

If Rhen can win the tests, she can gain access to the education that is necessary to help her friends, family, and people of Pinsbury Port fight off this spreading disease. She has the need and drive to succeed in this. What she faces as a contestant is fantastical creatures, science, math, and logic puzzles. As well as other contestants conspiring against her. You know she can do this, but Weber affectively amps up the suspense of the story until the reader is on proverbial pins and needles.

How does this story mimic our world today?


Although we live in a reasonably forward-thinking world, generally speaking, little girls face the same challenges of sexism when it comes to STEM(science, technology, engineering, math). Woman are still considered too illogical by some to be analytical enough to be a scientist. There are still real sociological and environmental barriers that girls need to overcome to become immersed in STEM. This story echoes that. Rhen is a woman continually being told that she does not have the mind and attitude for male-dominated STEM subjects.

Different men in Rhen’s Life


A quality I appreciated in this story was how men were depicted. Men are just as varied in personality, intelligence and spirit as women are. The author could have gone the route of stereotyping the male characters, but she didn’t. There was no type-casting for characters. Each of the players in this story has an individual mind and personality that mimics the variances in actual culture.

Political opinions and class warfare


Rhen comes from a poorer class, and although it is a peripheral plot point, Rhen’s working-class neighbors and friends have to deal with out of touch upper-class people thinking they know what is best for them. Those decisions cause a significant calamity for the working middle class and poor people of this village. It is an important vignette that mirrors political and social change taking place in our world even as we speak.

What I did not like

There is very little not to like with this story. My only slight complaint was that I felt like maybe there was one too many ideas in the plot. The plot line with the town’s fisherman seemed just a little much. Maybe that plot line would have been better seen in book 2.

Should you read this?

Absolutely. I cannot stress this enough, I loved this book. It is exceptionally well written, the plot is interesting, the characters are cheer-worthy. The message is one that can resonate with young girls, and when you get to the end, the reader feels empowered. You want to do better in your life and for those around you after reading this book.

Quotes taken from eARC are subject to change upon publishing.


Discussion Questions

  1. Many times in the story Rhen encounters situations with other male characters in the story that leave her uncomfortable. Rhen is gaslighted, talked over, embarrassed, shamed, and shunned. How does this make you feel as a reader.
  2. Are there other books in the YA light fantasy genre that talk about STEM and girls? How is it portrayed in other stories.

Procurement

I received an eARC of this novel from Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my open and honest review.


About the Author

Hi. I write books. I eat things. I kiss things. I believe in mermaids.

I’m also the author of the Storm Siren Trilogy, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow series, and the March 2019 release, To Best the Boys. When not working, I sing 80’s hairband songs to my three muggle children, and ogle my husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. We live in California, which is perfect for stalking aging movie stars while wearing fanny packs and sweatpants.

For those who like to know such things (mainly my mom), Storm Siren was featured in the Scholastic Book Fair and my novels have been endorsed by such nice humans as Marissa Meyer, CJ Redwine, Shannon Messenger, and Jonathan Maberry (in fact, Marissa Meyer and I have a fun interview in the paperback of her book, CRESS). Also, Boba tea & sweatpants are life.