In Station 11, Emily St. John Mandel Finds Light Shining in the Darkness

“Survival is insufficient.” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

About

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.


“No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Stats

  • 5 out of 5 Stars
  • Hardcover
  • 336 pages
  • Published September 9th 2014 by Knopf
  • Original Title Station Eleven
  • ISBN0385353308 (ISBN13: 9780385353304)
  • Edition Language English
  • Characters – Miranda Carroll, Clark Thompson, Kirsten Raymonde, Jeevan Chaudhary, Arthur Leander
  • Ontario (Canada) 
  • Michigan (United States) 

“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Literary Awards

  • Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (2015)
  • PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Nominee (2015)
  • Sunburst Award Nominee for Adult (2015)
  • John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015)
  • British Fantasy Award Nominee for August Derleth Award (best horror novel) (2015)
  • The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2015)
  • NAIBA Book of the Year for Fiction (2015)
  • Toronto Book Award Nominee (2015)
  • The Great Michigan Read (2015)
  • Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015)
  • Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2015)
  • National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014)
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2014)

My Thoughts

“Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream.” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Survival is insufficient. 

In speculative fiction, I think we as readers forget that to survive humans must do more than live, humans need to thrive. Humans need to explore and challenge ourselves, to watch sunsets, be moved, and feel joy. Humans need more than to breathe. Good fiction knows this but great fiction, like Station 11, explores this.

The story of Station 11 starts with multiple endings.

  • A play of King Lear at a Toronto Theater where 51-year-old Arthur Leander has his final moments on stage after suffering a major heart attack. That was his end.
  • A man runs on to the stage and attempts to save Arthur. In this moment of heroism, his wandering has ceased. It has ended. He has found his calling.
  • A little girl watches the death of Arthur followed by the end of life as she knows it. Her childhood has ended. 
  • The first cases of superflu affect people. This ends in a worldwide pandemic that decimates that human population, cities, culture, and infrastructure. This is the end of human civilization as we know it.

The world ends, not with a bang but a cough.

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Endings are important in fiction, they are the culmination of something. But, an ending is only a moment, a person dying on stage, a man running to save him, a little girl weeping in the wings, and the two weeks that followed. These moments are like stones dropped into a pond. It isn’t so much about the stones as it is about all the ripples sent out from it. The endings are the springboards for beginnings and that in this novel is the important part.

We move forward twenty years and meet Kirsten who was the little girl who witnessed the death of Arthur. She is now a 28-year-old actor and part of the Traveling Symphony. A group of artists dedicated to performing Shakespeare and traveling around from city to city. They sing for their supper, but more than that they give a peek into something that is more than the drudgery of day to day. What in the world is more magnificent and resembles the height of human culture than Shakespeare?

I will not say any more about the plot. First, this is an intricately woven plot and surmising it any further than the blurb does the story injustice. There are too many small pieces. Second, this is a highly atmospheric novel. It is not so much about the words themselves, but the mental image the excellent storytelling it evokes. I couldn’t do it justice in a paragraph about plot highlights even if I wanted to.

Here is where I think this story is brilliant and surpasses many other speculative stories and should be read. It is the celebration of art and humanities. Art is such a human thing and it shines a light on the darkness of an apocalypse. There is so much dark, and drudgery in surviving. Find food and shelter… repeat. That isn’t important. It is the moments of joy and bliss that should be celebrated. Find hope amongst the shadows, find light in the dark. Celebrate that joy and write a story about that. That is what Station 11 is. It is a light on the darkness. I hope you read it and are as moved as I was.


Procurement

I downloaded this from Scribd in both audiobook and written form.


About the Author

Emily St. John Mandel was born and raised on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. 

Her fourth novel, Station Eleven, is forthcoming in September 2014. All three of her previous novels—Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—were Indie Next Picks, and The Singer’s Gun was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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

Down and Out in Space – Vagrant Queen by Magdalene Visaggio and illustrated by Jason Smith

Synopsis

Former child queen Elida was driven from her throne at age ten and forced to wander the galaxy, evading the revolutionary forces that wanted her dead. When an old frenemy claims to know the whereabouts of Elida’s long-lost mother, she is forced to return to her former kingdom and stage a rescue.


Stats

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Paperback
  • 192 pages
  • Published February 26th 2019 by Vault Comics
  • ISBN1939424410 (ISBN13: 9781939424419)
  • Edition Language English
  • Series Vagrant Queen #1-6

My Thoughts

This story isn’t Firefly, and it isn’t trying to be. But it has bits and pieces of what made Firefly so beloved. This story is a straight-up space opera complete with quipping protagonist and smart and scheming “second in command”(he isn’t second yet – but you get the vibe). I love stories like this. Space opera is the guilty pleasure of the sci/fi loving crowd. Action, sex, humor, and excitement all rolled into a little sci/fi package. If Space Opera were a food, it would be a glazed donut.

Who the hell doesn’t like a glazed donut?

At least that is how I think about it. It doesn’t mean that space opera doesn’t have literary value or merit, quite the opposite. Star Wars is a space opera and where would we be without that. It just a genre type like anything else.

There are a few things (according to wikipedia) that define what a space opera is. I am going to relate a few of them back to Vagrant Queen.

“Colorful” – This story is colorful, both in dialog and commentary as well as the cast of characters. Multi-humanoid races are represented as well a smattering of alien races. It all makes for a rich stew of characters.

“Dramatic” – “Former child queen Elida was driven from her throne at age ten and forced to wander the galaxy, evading the revolutionary forces that wanted her dead.” Does this not sound like high drama to you?

“Large-scale science fiction adventure” – Again, multi-planet conquests spanning an entire generation searching for child queen Elida.

“Competently and sometimes beautifully written” – This is excellently written. I enjoyed Elida quite a bit. She had a definite Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds vibe to her. Being that I am a ride or die Firefly fan this appealed to me.

“Usually focused on a sympathetic heroic central character and plot action” –  Elida is a sympathetic character without appearing weak. She can’t be weak; everyone is coming to get her. She needs to be wily, strong and intelligent – and she is. It is such a refreshing thing to see in graphic novels. Elida needs no one to save her; she can save her damn self.

“Characteristically optimistic in tone” – This isn’t a dystopia. The narrative of the story is not about the overarching problems of society and how they relate to Elida. It is about how Elida is going to escape past gunships that are blocking her way.

“Large stakes” – Elida is a former child queen being chased across the galaxy. The stakes are high.

See you should read this! Action, adventure, power struggles, history, it is all here. Is it perfect? Not yet. The story just started and the writing and art are getting their proverbial feet under them. But it has a ton of promise.

Procurement

I received a digital edition of this from the publisher as well as a copy from Netgalley. Thank you to both of them for giving me the opportunity to review this in exchange for my open and honest review.

About the Author – Magdalene Visaggio

Magdalene Visaggio is a comics writer and essayist. She’s the writer and creator of the GLAAD and Eisner-nominated series Kim & Kim, as well as Eternity Girl at DC Comics. She currently resides in Manhattan.

Grief and Artificial Intelligence in Lingering by Melissa Simonson

“Whenever I think of Clarissa, I always think of her mind. I told her that once, but she called me a liar around a plume of smoke she’d been exhaling.”

Lingering by Melissa Simonson

About

Death doesn’t have to be the end. 

With Lingering, your departed loved ones are only ever a phone call or text message away.*
Say all those things you should have said. Get their advice, hear their comforting words. Let them celebrate your achievements and soothe your fears like they used to. 
Everyone is welcome, and consultations are always free. 

*Some conditions may apply. Please call our office for details.


Stats

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • ebook
  • Self Published
  • 326 pages
  • Expected publication: March 31st 2019
  • Edition Language English

My Thoughts

Lingering by Melissa Simonson is a story about a man who is dealing with the sudden and violent death of his fiance and the grief therof. The story begins with the main protagonist, Ben visiting the graveyard of his newly deceased fiance. He is a mess, as one would be after experiencing his loss. Simonson talks a lot about the all-consuming viciousness of grief and how it can change your perspective and personality. This particular day at the cemetery Ben is accosted by a woman named Jess. Jess, much like a dealer to a junky, mentions that she has a way for Joe to speak to his fiance Clarissa again.

“She examined the dismal paint job on a thumbnail. “What would you say if I told you you could talk to her again?”
I pressed a hand to my eye hard enough to make red patterns bloom. “I’d say you’re a real bitch with a serious lack of anything better to do, trolling around a cemetery. What is this: your singles lounge?”

Lingering by Melissa Simonson

She has a way to ease Joe’s pain, and it is rather disgusting. Her character comes off as a used car salesman selling pain relief. She claims she is a Lingering Specialist.

After a challenging evening, Ben closes his hand around something in his pocket, the card he had received in the cemetery. On a whim, he calls Jess and sets up a meeting to find out what she can do for him. After the initial call, the story moves at a quick pace. Ben is drawn into the world of Jess and Nick. Nick is the technology behind the company Lingering. A revolutionary way to speak to your deceased loved ones via gathered social media data that is collated into a profile and voice of your loved one. Something of a painkiller for your grief. The new reincarnation of an almost-but-not-quite perfect Clarissa pulls Ben from the world and his friends. Specifically, a man named Joe, who is also dealing with the grief of losing his wife. Joe acts as a counterpoint to Lingering. He is dealing with his grief in a real an entirely human way unlike Lingering that is exploitation and has a wrongness to it. The story progresses, and Ben gets pulled further and further into Lingering until the story has a very dramatic emotional climax and cliffhanger.

Simonson has written some very believable but not entirely relatable characters. Specifically in the character Nick. I can see a person like him existing in the world. His ethical boundaries are non-existent, and he seeks to exploit a piece of technology that he has created. I find him a completely irredeemable and well-written character. His smug smarminess practically dripped off off the page. The issue that I have with the story is Ben. He is a well-written character but, for me, he jumped the shark a few times and threw me out of the story. I had a few times where I thought, “absolutely no way would someone do this.” Maybe they would? But, I had a difficult time understanding his choices. This led to a level of disbelief for the story. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the premise.

The story is marketed as science fiction; however, I found that it had a tough time finding its voice. Was it a murder mystery? A treatise on guilt and grief, or a science fiction about AI? I think if Simonson focused more on the science fiction aspect of it and less on the grief and murder aspect it would be a more successful read for me. To her credit though, Simonson created a very original idea. It is an intriguing, AI to deal with grief. Science Fiction has explored a lot of the AI plot ideas; power, desire, sexuality but this is the first I have read about grief. Although I might not be the correct reader for this story, I am looking forward to Simonson’s next read. She has a great voice inside of her, and her next book will be even better.

*quotes are taken from an eARC and may change upon publication.


Let’s Talk

  1. What do you think about AI being used in grief abatement?
  2. What are some other stories that use AI run amok?
  3. How do you think grief is handled in literature?

Procurement

I received an eARC from the author in exchange for my open and honest review.


About the Author

Slave/mother to a herd of animals, Loch Ness monster enthusiast, breaker of many a wine glass. 

Do not challenge her to Harry Potter trivia unless you wish to be slaughtered.

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.

A Story of Parallel Universes and Human Histories

Synopsis

Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States—an alternate timeline—she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts—a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback—and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.

But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. And when the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.


Stats

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Hardcover
  • 324 pages
  • Published March 5th 2019 by Tin House Books
  • ISBN1947793241 (ISBN13: 9781947793248)

My Thoughts

The butterfly affect. Beautiful.

Excerpt from Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess

K Chess’s debut novel, “Famous Men Who Never Lived” is a diverse blend of different science fiction, sociological, and psychological ideas. Profoundly cerebral, it is a collection of thoughts that pose the question: who we are, and how do we go on? Are individuals a collection of their past moments? Or, are people (specifically the UDP) the promise of what they can bring to the future?

The premise of this story is simple. Take a group of people, UDP (universally displaced persons), from a failing dimension almost identical to ours, and have them escape to our dimension. Things are almost the same, but not quite. Technology is slightly different, history and culture are almost but not quite the same. How do survivors of that world fare in our new one. That is the questions K Chess asks. The UDP’s each have a different past both large and small, and even though they have gone through an intensive reintegration program to adapt to the new timeline, they still remain a curiosity to some and a focus of outright hostility and prejudice for others. If you have ever seen the show Fringe in season 3 of their run, they had a very similar premise. I felt like a lot of the tone from Fringe and Famous Men was very similar.

The narrative follows different people as they surf the woes and difficulties adapting to living in a new timeline — specifically those of Hel and Vikram. Vikram’s favorite author, a man named Sleight, died at a early age in out timeline. Thus he never got to write the book Pyronaughts. When Vikram fled his own dimension he grabbed a copy of this and with the destruction of his home world, his copy is the only known copy in existence. Hel feels as if there is something strange about Sleight, a divergence that happened around his life and death between the two timelines and Vikram and Hel decide to figure out what that is. There is a lot more to this story, but I don’t want to give it away.

Thus prepared for the worst, Hel brought practically nothing. Packed in her padded shoulder bag: her portable ordinator and its charger (not compatible with anything here, of course), the medical journal she happened to be reading at the time, her allergy medication, two liters of water. And just to be safe, inside a plastic folder, her passport, birth certificate, and a copy of her New York State medical license.

Excerpt from Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess

“Famous Men Who Never Lived” is marketed as a science fiction novel; however, I felt it was more a character study based in a science fiction premise. The writing is well done, the characters are well-formed and interesting, especially for a debut novel, but I felt that the story did not know precisely what it wanted to be and that led to it feeling choppy chapter to chapter. I enjoyed reading it, but due to its narrative style I could not connect with the story as much as I wanted to.


Procurement

I received an eARC from Netgalley and Tin House Books in exchange for my honest review.


About the Author

K Chess was a W.K. Rose Fellow and her short stories have been honored by the Nelson Algren Award and the Pushcart Prize. She earned an MFA from Southern Illinois University and currently teaches at GrubStreet. She lives with her wife in Providence, RI.