The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #1 “The Invasion”

776877Animorphs #1: “The Invasion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Sometimes weird things happen to people. Ask Jake. He may tell you about the night he and his friends saw the strange light in the sky. He may even tell you about what happened when they realized the “light” was only a plane — from another planet. Here’s where Jake’s story gets a little weird. It’s where they’re told that the human race is under attack — and given the chance to fight back.

Now Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco have the power to morph into any animal they choose. And they must use that power to outsmart an evil that is greater than anything the world has ever seen…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: This book has so much going on, guys! It’s like some strange feat of magic that Applegate somehow fits this all in one, tiny book. We have the introductions to the gang, the introductions to the intergalactic war, the Andalites, the Yeerks, the “discover your powers” moment, two wacky mini adventures, and then finally, the climatic final arc.

Basically, 5 teens meet and then decide (very poor decision #1) to wander through a deserted construction site at night. Like you do.They then proceed to stumble across a UFO and a dying alien who identifies himself as Elfangor, an Andalite, whose species is in an intergalactic war with the Yeerks, evil alien slugs, essentially, that take over the life forms of other aliens and who are intent on seizing Earth as their next conquest. Elfangor explains how the Yeerks could be anyone, how they control the body and mind of their hosts by crawling in the ear and attaching to the brain, and how the Andalites are losing the war. The only hope is if he gives these kids a weapon to fight back while they wait for the Andalites to return with reinforcements some years in the future. And this weapon is the ability to turn into any animal whose DNA they acquire through touch. The catch being that if they stay in this morph for over 2 hours, they will be trapped forever as this animal (no terrible foreshadowing here or anything!).

They then meet the enemy: Visser Three, the only Yeerk with an Andalite body as a host (and thus the ability to also morph) who is just like a Bond villain with his villainy spelled with a capital “V.”  There are also other Yeerk-controlled minions made up of Taxxons, disgusting worm creatures with too many teeth, and the Hork-Bajir, the muscle of the group, huge aliens covered with razors. 

Seriously, there is so much plot I’m already overwhelmed trying to re-cap it! The Animorphs get their powers, learn to use them, discover that Jake’s brother Tom is a Controller (all the sads), figure out that this creepy, cult-like youth group called The Sharing is a Yeerk front to recruit new Controllers, and infiltrate the Yeerk pool (where the Yeerks must go every 3 days to feed), barely escaping Visser Three once again and really pretty much failing completely at their first mission. Also, Tobias gets stuck as a hawk. The end!

(I promise this section will be shorter in the future, when there’s less set up to get through, too!)

Our Fearless Leader: This is Jake’s story so we get a lot from him. We learn that he is best friends with Marco, cousin to Rachel, has a crush on Cassie, and saved Tobias from a close-call with a toilet and some bullies. All of this goes to say that Jake is a pretty good guy who naturally falls into the leadership role of this group, much to his own dismay. His relationship with Tom, his older brother, is central to this story and saving Tom from the Controllers becomes his main motivation for continuing this battle. In this book he morphs his own dog, a gecko, and acquires his battle morph: a tiger.

Xena, Warriar Princess: This is Rachel, Jake’s cousin. Our intro to her is rather minimal, but we find out that she is model-level beautiful (but, ew, gross, she’s Jake’s cousin!), but is also the most natural fighter of the group. I had forgotten about her wacky relationship with Marco, but their quipping back and forth was one of my favorite parts of this book. Her battle morph is an elephant, though I’m pretty sure this changes later on as even here this proves problematic. She can’t fit up the tunnel to escape the Yeerk pool and has to demorph as she runs. How she survives, no one knows. Or…you know, author’s prerogative!

A Hawk’s Life: What a bummer this section title even is! Tobias’s life is rough. Terrible home like (no parents, shunted from one relative to another), bully-filled school life, and now, stuck as a hawk cuz he essentially felt more comfortable as a bird than a boy. Some people read his arc in this story as one pointing towards him wanting to become a hawk full-time, but to me, this was a boy who was trying to escape his life, but didn’t mean to fall in this trap. Obviously his battle morph is now himself as a hawk. *sniff*

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot going on in this book. It’s notable that she, along with Tobias, note that Rachel is acting strangely after her first mission into the house.

The Comic Relief: Oh, Marco! How I love thee! Marco is Jake’s best friend, and at first comes off as the stereotypical funny guy of the group. But Marco is also the smartest, I’m pretty sure, being the first to pick up on the “Tom’s a Controller!” and “The Sharing sounds like a front!” vibes. Marco, too, has tragic home life with the recent loss of his mother. This being the case, he’s also one of the more unwilling members in the fight, not wanting to burden his grieving father with another loss. His battle morph is a gorilla.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: These books contain way more body horror than I remembered as a kid! So each review will feature this lovely section where you all get to enjoy the revulsion with me! In this book, we have not only Jake eating a spider while in morph (with all the talk about feeling it move in his stomach later included) but also losing his tail after being stepped on and seeing it wriggle around on the ground behind him.

Couples Watch!: Ahh, teen love! Our couples are already laid out for us in this book, which was another surprise as I thought these hints came later. But Jake discusses how he maybe, kind of, ok really, thinks Cassie is pretty awesome. And Tobias tends to land on Rachel’s shoulder, for some unknown reason that poor, delusional cousin Jake wonders about. So cute!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three makes two appearances in the book, and in both he is established as a big bad with a penchant for show-boating. He boasts and talks himself up at every possible moment! He also has a fondness for tigers, it seems, admiring Jake’s morph while trying to fire blast him as the Animorphs escape.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: A tie between Jake’s older brother Tom fighting so hard to get out of the Yeerk pool only for Jake to see him at breakfast the next morning knowing that the Yeerks captured him and he is once again under their control and Tobias. Just everything about him.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are a lot of truly awful plans in these books, from what I remember. For this book, it’s pretty much the whole plan to infiltrate the Yeerk pool all together. No recognizance. Half of the people don’t have appropriate morphs (Cassie can only morph a horse! A HORSE!). And several things go wrong right off the bat (Tobias already in morph, cutting his time short. Cassie’s missing.) that should have served as enough warnings to maybe spend a bit more time on this whole idea.

Favorite Quote:  This quote illustrates perfectly why Marco is a favorite character of mine and why I, too, tend to get exasperated with Cassie.

“Don’t be so sure,’ Cassie said. ‘We’re fighting for Mother Earth. She has some tricks up her sleeves.’
‘Good grief,’ Marco said. ‘Let’s all buy Birkenstocks and go hug some trees.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 0

This one goes to the Yeerks, since the Animorphs’ biggest accomplishment was escaping with their lives, and even then it was a loss considering the whole Tobias situation.

Rating: Awesome start that is still fun today, full of adventure, danger, and more sadness than is acceptable!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

 

 

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Wondrous”

32578571Book: “Wondrous” by Travis M. Riddle

Publishing Info: January 17, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC

Book Description: Miles went to sleep tucked tightly in bed in his Austin apartment and woke up in the middle of a damp, dark forest in the kingdom of Rompu, a land being torn apart by a civil war between its king and queen.

Miles has few companions in this vast kingdom, which is filled with fantastical animals and flora yet sprinkled with familiar items like digital clocks and vinyl records. As he searches for a way to return home, he discovers that certain memories trigger magical abilities: he can shoot fireballs from his palms, heal with nothing but a touch, and more. But as he struggles to make sense of this new world, his thoughts are punctuated by painful memories of his sick grandmother, quarreling parents, and an icy school therapist.

When Miles learns that a monstrous entity flying through the countryside and killing for sport was summoned from a portal to another realm, he believes this creature is the key to learning how to open another rift and return home. Tracking down this beast and mastering his newfound magical abilities may be the only way for Miles to help save Rompu and get back to his family in Texas.

Review:  I received an ARC for this book from the author, and after checking out the plot synopsis, it sounded like a book that might be up my alley! I always love an “other world” story where our hero is plopped down with as much confusion as we the readers have, and I was intrigued by the idea of the protagonist being such a young boy.

The story doesn’t waste any time getting started. I was a bit concerned after reading the first chapter and having Miles so suddenly transported to this new land with very little explanation for how/why he was transported and no backstory to support the reader’s interest in Miles story. While I still wish there had been a bit more set up to Miles’ trip to this new world, I was pleased to discover the clever way the author provided this backstory and connected Miles’ real life problems to his own burgeoning powers in this new world.

The magic system was rather simple, but the way Riddle connected the use of the power to Miles’ memories of his home life and the emotions that these memories inspired was an interesting take. I appreciated the inclusion of these aspects of Miles’ life. It would have been all too easy to simply write a fun, adventurous romp for this character. But instead, through Miles, Riddle addresses many aspects of childhood that are challenging, such as parental conflict, the death of aged relatives, and struggles with school.

I wavered back and forth with regards to my opinion of Miles himself. In many ways, he was a very likeable, young boy. But at other times, perhaps realistically, he came off as a spoiled brat and it became hard to understand the patience with which the adult beings in this new world had for him when they were in the midst of a very trying war. My other struggle with Miles was his age. Nine years old is very young, and at times it was hard to buy-in to Miles’ inner voice and thought process that sometimes verged into what felt like an older child’s range, perhaps 12 or so. Ultimately, I still did enjoy Miles when I could get past these few distractions.

As for these side character, they also had varying mileage. The species we meet are creative, but there were a few stylistic choices that sat oddly, like a frog-like species called Rompun speaking French. But these choices may work better for young readers.

Speaking of young readers, some of these concerns, simple world-building, a lack of depth to certain narrative choices like Miles trip to this land and the relationships between the different species that make up this world, could be explained by the target audience of this book. Though it isn’t explicitly stated anywhere in the book description, I’m guessing that this book is aimed towards middle grade readers. In this case, some of these choices make more sense (in particular, in the end there were a few rather implausible, narrow escapes for our supporting cast) if Riddle was wanting to keep the tone of the book more light. However, I would also suggest that middle grade fiction should still be held to a similar high standard with regards to some of these choices. It is possible to add depth to a fantasy world and create positive, but more believable, outcomes to dangerous situations that is still approachable to middle grade readers.

All in all, I had a fun time reading this book, but feel that it is an example of middle grade fiction that might be received better by its intended age range, rather than adult readers. If you have a middle grader who likes escapists fantasy, this might be the book for them!

Rating 6: A fun story, but had frustrating moments for me as an adult reader.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wondrous” has just been published, so it isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet. However, an obvious similar book would be “A Wrinkle in Time.” Both feature young protagonists thrust into new worlds with new alien beings.

 

 

 

Brief History and Introduction of the Great Animorphs Re-Read

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2016 was the year I entered my 30th year of life. And with this milestone comes the right to now wax nostalgic about my own childhood. (Don’t ask who made up the rules! *coughmecough*). For me, book nostalgia cannot be discussed with out talking about K. A. Applegate’s series “The Animorphs.” It is also fitting that 2016 was the 20th anniversary of the first book’s publication in 1996. So with these justifications backing me up, I introduce the Great Animorphs Re-Read where, every other Friday, I will review each book in this long, long series. Be ready, people.

A little background about this series: “The Animorphs” was a middle grade science fiction series that was released monthly between the years 1996 and 2001. You do the math on that one! Needless to say, there are a lot of these books, including several branch-off books that serve as back stories and accompaniments to the regular run of books. To keep with this schedule, Applegate co-wrote the series with her husband Michael Grant (a young adult author in his own right), and, later in the series’ run, many of the books were ghost written (to their detriment, as I remember).

Each book is told from first person perspective from one of the Animorphs, 6 teens whose age we never really discover, though I’m guessing they start off at around 13. The series is cleverly set up in  a way that allows kid readers to imagine the story taking place in their own hometown, USA, with no direct references to town names or even the full names of the kids themselves. The five kids, and later their teen alien buddy, are given the power to change into any animal for 2 hours. With this ability, they are tasked with saving the world from a group of evil, alien parasites called Yeerks who take over the body of other lifeforms in their ongoing campaign to, essentially, conquer the universe. And Earth is next! Dun dun dun.

The series was released in what I would call the “pre Harry Potter” era of children’s publishing when it was thought that young readers would not be willing to read longer novels. Like its contemporaries, (“Goosebumps,” “Baby Sitters Club,” “Fear Street,” etc.), each book was only given around 150 pages with which to work. Unlike many of these series, however, “The Animorphs” did contain many serialized elements that encouraged, if not required, readers to read the books in order.

“The Animorphs” reached a peak in popularity in 1998 when it was picked up by Nickelodeon for a short-lived television series. It was pretty awful, if my memory serves. We will see how engrossed I become in this re-read to determine whether I want to subject myself to experiencing those episodes again!

As each book is so short, I won’t be doing a traditional review for each book. Instead, I’ll include a brief plot synopsis and then break up my review into sections based on some of the re-occurring themes of the books or just whatever amuses me! (Think section titles like “Couples Watch” where I will focus on all the tween romance found in these books! Or “Body Horror” where I come to realize how truly disgusting some of these descriptions are that I didn’t remember at all!)

These books were my all-time favorite series up until the release of Harry Potter, and I loyally saved up my allowance every month to purchase the $5 copy at my local bookstore. So, yes, I do still own all of them, though they now live in a box in storage rather than taking up so, so many shelves on my book shelf at home. But now it seems it is time to pull them out, dust them off, and see how these books hold up in the harsh light of 2017 and supposed adulthood! Look for my first post where I review #1 “The Invasion” next Friday, and then the remaining books on alternating Fridays going forward!

 

 

Serena’s Review “In the After”

12157407Book: “In the After” by Demitria Lunetta

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2013

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

Book Description: They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you’ve ever seen.
And They won’t stop chasing you…until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.

Review: This is the kind of book that walks the line between Kate’s preferred genres and mine. There is definitely horror and suspense, but it’s also a post-apocalyptic story, the type which, especially in YA fiction, often falls under the all-encompassing “speculative fiction” category. Either way, it was a nice change from my usual reading, and while I can’t say that it was necessarily a “fun” read, its very lack of “fun” is what lends me to rating it more highly.

This book could easily be split into two separate books. The first is a fairly typical survival story. Strange creatures have invaded the earth and swiftly killed off the majority of the population. Our heroine, Amy, survives purely due to lucky circumstances (a fact that is refreshingly not glossed over), but over the course of years, she grows to become an expert at living in this new “After” world. There were several portions of this first part that I really enjoyed.

First is the inclusion of Baby, a toddler that Amy finds and adopts after the first month of devastation. These two’s relationship is key to the plot and it was so refreshingly new. All too often the primary relationships in these types of YA books are romantic. This, a sisterhood/parental relationship between a teenage girl who raises a toddler for several years alone, is completely unique. Further, I was very impressed with the author’s ability to portray Baby so completely. As a small child, it would have been very easy to simply gloss over her as an actual person while instead simply relying on general child attributes as fill-ins.

Second, the use of a substantial time jump is well executed. Through clever positioning of flashbacks, we see Amy’s journey through this new world and the events at each step that directed her ability to survive the many challenges of this new world, from how to survive the creatures themselves to how she evolved her approach to interacting with other survivors. Amy doesn’t just become a badass survivor out of nowhere. We see her mistakes and understand what lessons she had to learn to become who she is in the present day.

The second half of the book is a complete switch to what living in a community built in this post-apocalyptic world would be like. The horror, too, takes a sharp turn away from the monsters-in-the-night to what monsters humans can be. This part, while maybe slower than the first half, was even more horrifying to me. It was a strange reading experience because I was so frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable on Amy and Baby’s behalf throughout it all that I had a hard time enjoying reading it. In this section, you know that something awful is coming and you’re just watching these beloved characters walk towards their doom. (I wish I had read this book before we did our “Walking Dead Read Alikes” list as this would definitely have been included based purely on its similar exploration of the different ways that communities of people find to live in a world where society has fallen away.)

In the later half, there were a few twists that I felt were a bit expected. It’s definitely not a unique set up, but I don’t think that lessens the overall effect. It’s also a bit jarring to suddenly have many other characters introduced halfway through the story, and while I enjoyed many of them, I was sad to see Baby fading into the background a bit. However, I did enjoy most of these characters. I also appreciated the fact that what little romance is introduced in this part of the book is very light and never overpowers both the action/horror of the story or the primary relationship between Baby and Amy.

I also listened to this as an audiobook and I thought the reader did a very good job. Especially in the second half of the book, she made some clever choices with her general reading style that allows listeners to immediately identify flashback sequences from the other portions.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the final book in the duology. I might need to give myself a break between the two as they are definitely not light reading, but I’ll be getting there soon, I hope. This book does end on a cliffhanger, fo sorts, so for anyone going into it, beware of that.

Rating 7: An intense ride with a unique primary relationship, though it did get a bit predictable towards the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In the After” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Less Known Doulogies/Trilogies I Might Check Out” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

Find “In the After” at your library using Worldcat!

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”.

Kate Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”

22416Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1998

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: 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.

Review: I’m going to be honest, readers. I was utterly dismayed and ashamed of the way that our Presidential Election ended up. And angry. And as I woke up the next morning and confirmed the news, on friend Kevin had a post on his Facebook wall involving “The Smiler” from the comic series “Transmetropolitan”. More on him as the series goes on. And in that moment, I knew that I needed to re-read that series. Be it inspiration, perfect timing, or personal therapy, I went to my book shelf and grabbed “Back on the Street”. I needed Spider Jerusalem in that moment. And re-discovering him and his strange, obscene, and digitized future that’s drenched in filth, insanity, greed, and cynicism, was a small comfort. Because God, did I miss Spider.

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” throws us into a future scape where humans have evolved technologically, but have fallen into absolute indifference, moral squalor, and a very divided society. Spider Jerusalem is a journalist who is in self-imposed exile up in the mountains. And he doesn’t even come back because he wants to make the world a better place, or to bring the ethics and integrity of journalism back to the forefront in a corrupt society. Oh no. He comes back because he owes his publisher some books he hasn’t written and he doesn’t want to get sued. Boy is he resentful of this fact. And that is the heart of Spider Jerusalem. He hates the society that he has been forcefully thrown back into, and even though he is at his heart a good person, he is so cynical and bitter and pissed that he doesn’t even like the fact that he’s a good person. He has a drinking problem, he has a drug problem, and he has a foul mouth and a sour attitude. But he is by far one of the most endearing comic book characters I have ever encountered in all the years I’ve read comics. Though in Volume 1 we haven’t quite gotten into the heart of the series, it is already giving hints as to what to expect while still speaking for itself. “Back on the Street” is an arc that could easily stand on its own two feet, and give us a story and a moral that we could get behind and be comfortable with. I love Spider and I love how snarky and Hunter S. Thompson-y he is (I mean, it’s pretty common knowledge that he’s an homage to that amazing Gonzo journalist), and he makes me smile and laugh just as much as he makes me think. He is a hero that this world needs, a madman who is just mad enough to take on the madness of the world that he lives in. His shining moment is when he exposes the police violence towards a group of disenfranchised people called Transients, people who have taken on mutated Alien qualities who are trying to live their lives in peace in one small part of the city. As the police rain down violence upon them, Spider jumps in and broadcasts it to the world, speaking up and fighting for their right to exist, in his own brash and evocative Spider way. You cannot help but stand up and cheer as you read his musings against politics corruption, and the media. He is so well written and so well rounded, a flawed but inspirational character with a lot to say about the world he lives in and the world we live in too.

Spider aside, the setting that Ellis has created is so damn perfect and layered. The City (no further name given so that it can be any city) is filled with so many different and strange people, all of whom are frantic and overbearing. It’s dirty and anxious and you get a sense of unease being in it. Ellis’s City is really a character in and of itself, a personality that is basically unbearable within a place that I would never, ever want to live. Ellis has also made a number of really great supporting characters that manage to shine through past Spider and his grandiosity. You have his greedy and opportunistic boss, Royce, who takes Spider onto his team, albeit nervously. There’s Spider’s Cat, a two faced mutant feline with just as bad an attitude as Spider. But my very favorite this far is Channon, Spider’s assistant whom he met when he took shelter in a strip club while covering a volatile story. Channon could have easily been the butt of jokes at her expense, being a former sex worker and the straight man to Spider’s antics, but she is a force to be reckoned with who provides an anchor to him and a voice of reason he must listen to. Channon is the best and I love the balance she brings to the story. If it was just Spider being crazy, yeah, it would probably get a bit old. Channon humanizes him, but doesn’t neuter him. It’s a great dichotomy.

And finally I need to talk about the art. I LOVE the style that Darick Robertson brings to this story. His pictures of The City are so fraught with confusion and insane details, you can see so many different stories nad messages in just one frame.

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(source)

I mean, holy crap. Just look at this. There is so much to see, and there is so much going on, but it never really crosses the line into too much. I love the style because it feels like it matches the content. Over the top and edgy, but filled with a lot of heart.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the introduction of our first main antagonist: The Beast, aka the President of the United States. Just one question for Warren Ellis: are you a soothsayer, sir?

spider
Too real. (Vertigo Comics)

So I bet you can understand why I felt a need to go back and re-read this book.

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is the beginning to an amazing series, and I had totally forgotten just how fun it right from the very start. It’s just what I needed. It’s vulgar and it’s brash and over the top, but it’s so darn therapeutic. And it’s a classic. Welcome back into my life, Spider Jerusalem.

Rating 10: A biting and hilarious satire of politics and journalism, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is a wonderful start to a classic and tremendous series. Spider Jerusalem endures.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” at your library using WorldCat!

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!