Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”

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Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

In this third volume, Spider Jerusalem begins to crumble under the pressure of sudden and unwanted fame. Having had enough of the warped 23rd century Babylon that he lives in, Spider escapes into a world of bitterness and pills. As he stumbles through this haze of depression and drugs, he must find a way to cover the biggest story of the year, the presidential election. Armed with only his demented mind and dark sense of humor, Spider embarks on an adventure of political cynicism, horrific sex, and unwelcome celebrity which culminates in a shocking and ruinous ending.

Review: When we left of in “Transmetropolitan”, things got a bit existential and a bit off track of the main plot. That isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the stories that we got in “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. I actually really did enjoy them for what they were and what purpose they served. I liked learning more about the world that this series takes place in, and the limits and limitlessness that society lives with. But I’ll be honest, I was stoked to see that we were getting back into the down and dirty nitty gritty with “Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard”. Spider’s assistant Channon has left him in the lurch, and he’s turned to drugs and angst. But then he is approached by Vita Severn, the campaign manager of the candidate who is going to rival The Beast. This man is known as The Smiler, as he perpetually smiles and tries to show off a chipper demeanor to counteract The Beast.

Spider, of course, is NOT fooled by any of this bullshit.

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(source)

As much as maybe in this moment I needed someone to rail against The Beast in any way, shape, and form, it was very nice to see that Spider Jerusalem stayed true to form and showed a blatant mistrust for any and all politicians, even ones that could possibly take down the monster in charge. The whole point of this series is that corruption is rampant and a simple answer isn’t readily available because of it. But along with that, we get to see that sometimes in an imperfect situation, there are symbols of hope. And I am, of course, referring to the lovely, strong, and badass Vita Severn, the one friggin’ symbol of true hope that The Smiler’s campaign truly has.

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Here she is with a literal Princess Leia ‘do. That’s deliberate. (source)

I had completely forgotten about Vita. I know why I did (no spoilers), but this time around she left such a positive impression on me she has skyrocketed up to my top five favorite characters in this series. I love that Ellis writes women so well and in such varied ways. You have Channon, a volatile and snarky, but ultimately supportive and caring, ex stripper who will protect Spider at all costs. You have Vita, a brilliant political mind who knows that her choice in candidate is not perfect, but truly feels that it’s the only way to take down an even worse threat. And then, there’s the introduction of Yelena, Spider’s new assistant. Yelena is so different from Channon, in that she has no interest in hanging out with Spider, and deeply resents that she is being made to (she’s Spider’s boss’s niece). And if you thought that Channon didn’t take crap from Spider, Yelena is the absolute master of not taking crap from him. On my first read through of this series I wasn’t as into Yelena, but this time around, I am really enjoying her thus far. Even if she’s a bit 2 Edgy 4 Me at times.

As far as the plot progression goes, as I mentioned before, we get back on track with the main plot in this collection. Spider gets fully pulled into covering the Election, pressured to speak out in favor of the Smiler in spite of the fact that he finds the Smiler pretty corrupt in his own ways. I liked the issues that this raises, bringing up the questions of supporting someone who is flawed and bad in different ways in the name of dethroning and taking down someone who is the evil you already know. I can see arguments for both sides, and I think that Ellis does a good job of showing why both positions have their pros and cons. Along with this, we get to see how flawed Spider himself is. Sure, in the first two collections he’s definitely brash, violent, bitter, and rageful. But in this one we see that he’s also spiraling now that Channon is gone, and that his addiction to drugs is back in full swing. Spider is certainly based in part on Hunter S. Thompson, and it’s in storylines like these that we are reminded that Thompson himself was incredibly screwed up, no matter how brilliant he was. I love Spider, but I applaud that Ellis isn’t making him free of critique or problems that could really do damage to him and to those around him.

Plus, the ending of this collection…… It just gutted me. I had forgotten about it, and I gasped out loud when the big climax happened, because damn was it unexpected, and DAMN did it hurt.

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So much pain. SO MUCH PAIN. (source)

This series continues to be great, and I can’t wait to see what I rediscover next. Even if I know I’m going to get emotionally ravaged again and again. Thanks, Spider. Thanks a lot.

Rating 9: We are back on the main storyline and it goes as dark and darkly funny as you’d expect from this series. It was great seeing Yelena finally show up, and Spider continues to be both the best and the worst.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): The Year of the Bastard” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 3): The Year of the Bastard” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”.

Kate’s Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”

22417Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has become a household name in the future City he calls home. This latest collection of twisted tales showcases Spider’s horrific yet funny screeds on subjects as diverse as religion, politics, and his ex-wife’s cryogenically frozen head (which has been stolen). “Transmetropolitan” has been called “brilliant future-shock commentary” (Spin), and this new volume shows why.

Review: It boggles my mind, the things that I remember about “Transmetropolitan” and the things that I forgot. I definitely remember Spider and his ways, how couldn’t one? I remembered The Cat, the two faced feline, and Channon, and other characters that have yet to show up. But various plot points completely left my mind, and I Think that those plot points had more to do with the vignettes that you find in the comics every once in awhile. Because while “Transmetropolitan” has it’s overall progression and story arc, it also has stories that stand alone, even if they sometimes affect the broader plot. “Lust for Life” is one of those collections, where none of the stories really apply to The Beast, or the campaign, or Spider’s role in the political climate of The City or the world he inhabits. This collection is really there to give more depth to the characters and the world that they live in, and I forgot how filled with pathos this series could be until I picked this one up.

The stories in this collection do have some absurd moments (the frozen head of Spider’s ex-wife going missing, for example, and the romp that ensues). But there were two storylines that really stood out as heart felt and just plain sad. The sadness that comes in this collection really gives all the more strength to the series as a whole, to show that it’s not just one big cyber punk filth and cynicism festival. The first involves Channon, my favorite character in the whole series, and her inability to come to terms with letting her degenerate boyfriend out of her life. Channon is strong and she has the patience of a saint to put up with Spider, but you can tell that she’s also very lonely, and looking for validation. She never falls into a trope, but she has a turning point as a character when her boyfriend decides that he wants to leave his body and transfer his consciousness into a gaseous vapor. Sounds oddball, and it is, but Ellis does a great job of making this story more about letting go of loved ones, no matter how much it hurts, and how necessary it is. The entire sequence is both tragic and beautiful, and seeing Channon in this new, vulnerable role is incredibly rewarding.

The second storyline that really punched me in the gut was that of Mary. Mary is a subject of one of Spider’s columns, a woman who lived a vibrant and exciting life in the 20th century. She was a photographer who travelled the world and was present at a number of historic events. When she was older, she and her husband decided to go through cryogenesis so they could wake up in the future…. Except, her husband died before he could be frozen. And when Mary wakes up in the world of Spider Jerusalem and The City, she is in the body of a twentysomething… And completely alone in a place that she cannot comprehend. It’s a story about wanting to live beyond your time, and taking a chance on it only to find yourself all the more isolated within a world that is already incredibly isolating. It was a story that reminded me that Ellis can write snide and cynical and crude stories, but he can also write some seriously existential and pathos ridden stuff. The City is already claustrophobic for the people who live there and are used to it. But to bring in a person who is, by and large, an analog for the reader and the time frame that we are more comfortable with, it makes you really think about what the hell it would be like to live there instead of just reading about it from the outside. And for me, damn was it lonely and really, really scary. I remember once one of my classes asked me if I would take a chance on being frozen to be awakened at a future date. While a number of classmates said yes, I was a solid ‘no’. And I wonder if in the back of my mind I was remembering the story of Mary, and how she goes from a formidable and thriving woman to a scared and lost stranger in an alien land.

I do wish that more actual plot line had happened in this book, but overall I did enjoy “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. It’s nice to see that Spider does cover more than just the crazy campaign that is going to be a huge part of this story as a whole.

Rating 9: Though it isn’t as focused on the main storyline, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” does a good job of examining philosophical issues that could apply to it’s world, as well as our world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Gonzo Books”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”.

Serena’s Review: “Oryx and Crake”

46756Book: “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

Publishing Info: Anchor, March 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.

Review: Margaret Atwood is a master of dystopian fiction. And that is why I read her books rarely. Want to sink deeply into existential malaise? Wallow in the realization that many of these “dystonian” constructs seem frighteningly close to the truth? Oh boy, get ready! And while this is a glum start to a review, the fact that she is able to tap so directly into these dark themes is simply an example of her expertise in action.

“Oryx and Crake” drops readers off right in the middle of the action…er…inaction. A man who calls himself “Snowman” is seemingly the last human alive on a very clearly climate-impacted earth. Surrounded by bizarre hybrids species such as Rachunks (raccoon/skunks) and Wolvogs (wolf/dogs), he spends his days sleeping in a tree, scrounging for food, and acting as a sort of prophet to the “Children of Crake” a humanoid species that he shares his beach with.

A beginning like this is definitely challenging. Atwood starts her story in the middle and leaves readers to trust that the answer to an overwhelming number of initial questions will come. The story does become clear slowly throughout the book using extended flashback as Snowman thinks of his life before when he was known as Jimmy and had a brilliant friend named Crake and a mysterious lover named Oryx. Through these flashbacks and what seems like the slow decay of Snowman’s sanity given his isolation, important facts and connections can be gleaned and fit together forming a complex puzzle that is incredible once you reach the end. However, while I loved this tactic, some readers may be frustrated with the amount of trust and patience that is required early on in the story.

The main focus of the story is the life of Jimmy/Snowman. Knowing the end result, it is fascinating reading about his life unfolding and spotting the signs that things would not end well. And right here is what I’m talking about! The mad science of this society that comes across as horrific to an omniscient reader who knows the outcome can also be easily seen as a natural progression of a society gone wild with its own power of creation. What’s more, in the moment, lacking this foreknowledge, these advancements would seem as nothing more than the logical next step in society. And it’s terrifying, the ease with which one can imagine these things as all too plausible in the near future! Atwood pulls no punches in her critiques of society, science, and the pitfalls of humanity’s relationship with nature, science, and, perhaps most importantly, with itself.

As a character, Jimmy is the everyman of the story. As the son of two scientists, Jimmy’s life is one of privilege given the state of society. He grows up in a “compound,” one of the elaborate campuses that private companies create to house their most prized goods: the brilliant scientists they hire. Outside these communities lie the “Pleblands” where the average members of society make their living. I wish we had heard more about this outside world. As I said, Jimmy starts life in a very privileged position and this start is enough to successfully carry him through a life inside the more cozy world of these compounds, even though he doesn’t possess the brilliance of his parents or genius best friend, Crake. That being the case, we see very little of this outside world. It seems to still run like current society, with a hierarchy of wealth within its boundaries as well, though more plagued by crime, disease, and, obviously, poverty, than the compounds.

The second member of the three main characters is Oryx, the love interest for Jimmy and Crake, though this is a very small part of the story, as far as I could tell. The book description plays  it up in a way that I don’t think rings true at all. Of the three characters, her life story is the most tragic and she is the most ambiguous. It is clear that Jimmy never fully understands her, so we as readers glimpsing her only through Jimmy’s own perceptions never see a clear picture either. While I enjoyed hearing her story and seeing different aspects of society through her life, as a character she was probably the weakest. Her storyline did not seem as integral to the plot overall.

And Crake. Jimmy has a better understanding of him, but an understanding that is constantly distorted through rose colored glasses of childhood friendship. Again, knowing the outcome and in combination with Snowman’s more cynical thought process in the present, the story of Crake is one of simmering horror.

“Oryx and Crake” is the first in a trilogy, however, it reads well as a stand alone novel. I will most likely continue the series (again, once I’ve given myself a rest from the dread that Atwood so effortlessly dredges up), but I am satisfied with the story as it stands now, as well. Her writing is strong, the characters intricate, and, as always, this book definitely reads as a cautionary tale for humanity.

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Agent Smith had it right, according to this book!

Rating 8: Dark, but great.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Oryx and Crake” is included on the Goodreads list “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction” and “Science Fiction Books by Female Authors”.

Find “Oryx and Crake” at your library using WorldCat!