Category Archives: Literature

Posts about novels, short stories, and comic books.

Lost at Sea (2003)

I bought this graphic novel solely on the strength of the creator’s name (well, that, and I needed a book to get over the free-shipping threshold, I think). I haven’t actually read any of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s other works, nor have I watched the Scott Pilgrim movie adaptation (2010). But I’ve been interested in both for a while, so I figured I’d dip my toe into O’Malley’s oeuvre with his cheapest available book first before blind-buying the 50$ Pilgrim box.

Lost at Sea tells a modest story befitting its slim size (about 150 pages). Set over a period of a couple of days and nights, it revolves around Raleigh, a teenager on her way back from a trip to California to her first year of college in Canada. She shares a car with three mostly-strangers, acquaintances from her high school who had also spent the holidays in America and more or less accidentally offered her a ride home.

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Snowflakes (2009-2013)

This is a lovely webcomic drawn by Chris Jones and co-written by the normally more adult and irreverent Zach Weiner and James Ashby of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and SMBC Theater. The strips concluded a year ago, but are still available online.

Snowflakes centres around over half a dozen protagonists, all children from the ages of five to ten, living in an orphanage operated by little-seen old nuns high up in the Andes in an unspecified year (sometime in the late 80’s, maybe?). Schooling is mentioned, but to the best of my recollection, never actually seen. Outside a flashback at the beginning, there are never any potential adoptive parents looking in, either.

So the children spend their time with quests of various kinds: the mystery of a vanished ring, an election for class president, and an adventure to find the lost golden city of El Dinoroboto. While I expected a more typical slice-of-life comic with consecutive, but separate arcs, the story actually unfolds much more like a graphic novel, with all of these subplots slowly developing side-by-side, ultimately merging only in the final third of the approximately 400 strips.
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Farmer in the Sky (1950/53)

Some time in the future, Earth is overcrowded. People live in tiny apartments, food is rationed. To relieve the population pressure, the solar system has been opened up for colonisation. With Mars and Venus out of the question for various reasons, the Jovian moon Ganymede is the most promising candidate. When the novel’s story sets in, decades-long terraforming efforts have created a breathable atmosphere and livable temperatures, and potential emigrants are promised their own plot of land and food aplenty. Among those taking the plunge are our teenaged protagonist Bill Lermer, his recently-widowed father, and, much to Bill’s surprise and dismay, a very suddenly-acquired stepmother and stepsister.
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Childhood’s End (1953/1990)

Childhood’s End is considered one of many unfilmable science-fiction novels, even in the age of CGI. One reason for this, in practical terms, is writer Arthur C. Clarke’s staunchly atheist view, also suggested in his Fountains of Paradise (1979), that religion would quickly be obsolete in the face of First Contact with an alien species. That wouldn’t really fly in a mainstream film in the current climate, but you can’t leave it out, because the religious significance of the aliens that descend upon humanity is a central facet of the novel.

The primary reason that Hollywood has, so far, left the book alone, is likely that it’s very much a novel of ideas. Now, that term doesn’t have a single, commonly-agreed-upon definition, so let me give you mine. Continue reading

Avatar — The Last Airbender: The Promise (2012)

Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of the finest animated shows ever to grace American television screens, despite a network that oftentimes didn’t seem to know what to do with it (and in spite of M. Night Shyamalan’s attempts to destroy its reputation). What could have been a pale and presumptuous imitation of Japanese animé managed to establish a thought-out mythology explored by genuinely three-dimensional characters in an intriguing story that became increasingly dark and challenging as it neared its conclusion. It remained a kids’ show throughout, expertly balancing sillier moments, including slapstick, with the serious, complex story the writers wanted to tell.

That story involves a hundred-year war between the militaristic Fire Nation and four other, similarly element-themed “tribes”, all with their own sorcerors (“benders”) whose abilities depend on their element. The series’ main character is Aang, a young airbender who also happens to be the Avatar, the only sorceror in the world who can wield all four different kinds of magic. Over the course of the series, he assembles a team of teenagers and almost-teenagers to assist him in ending the war: waterbender Katara, who becomes his girlfriend; her brother Sokka, a non-bender who turns out to be a surprisingly effective warrior nonetheless; blind earthbender Toph; and Zuko, son of the main villain, the Firelord.

The Promise is a three-part, 210 page comic book that starts right after the series finale: The war is over and the world has been saved. With his father imprisoned, Zuko is set to become the new Firelord. The titular promise is one he begs Aang to make: if Zuko should ever be driven power-hungry and dictatorial by his new responsibilities, Aang should not hesitate to “end him” to preserve peace. Said peace is fragile, as Team Avatar (or “the Gaang”, as they are affectionately called by fans) soon discovers. Over the decades of Fire nation rule, colonies have been established in Earth Kingdom territory, and the colonists, who have lived there all their lives, are loath to leave. Zuko at first agrees to dissolve the colonies, but soon changes his mind, pitting him against the peace agreement, and against his former comrades in arms. The issue threatens to devolve into another war, and Aang is forced to consider whether to keep his promise. Continue reading

Sword of My Mouth (2009/10)

In this book, at least a year has gone by since the beginning of the rapture, and presumably some time since the end of Therefore Repent, another “post-rapture graphic novel” written by Jim Munroe. The timeframe we’re dealing with here isn’t entirely clear because the two books don’t share characters, but reference is made to certain revelations from the earlier comic. So Sword of My Mouth is not really a sequel, more of a parallel story taking place in the same world.

Where exactly? Still the United States (and still unfortunately no word about Europe or the rest of the planet, although once again New York is prominently mentioned, but not seen), but Detroit this time, not Chicago: Post-rapture, young mother Ella’s boyfriend has left her – ostensibly to aid the resistance against the Angels, but probably to get away from his responsibilities as a father – leaving her to deal with their infant son alone. When her house burns down, she moves in with a bunch of urban farmers who try to deal with the collapse of trade and food shortages by returning the soil to its original purpose. Simultaneously, a man who appears to be the reincarnation of Famine (of Horsemen of the Apocalypse fame) arrives in town, and starts preparations to make sure he lives up to his name.
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Therefore Repent (2007)

If the recent hullabaloo about the impending end of days served any useful purpose, then that it reminded me of a graphic novel about the same topic I had never finished reading. Over the weekend, I took the opportunity of a train ride to correct that mistake.

Turns out, it’s not actually about the Rapture so much as it is about what happens after the Rapture, which occurs just how many fundamentalist Christians in America thought it would: the true believers literally levitate up to heaven, leaving behind Jews, Hindus, atheists, and other people unworthy of immediate salvation. The premise reminds me of another enjoyable comic, Robert Kirkman’s decade-old Battle Pope, but Repent is less gleefully blasphemous. In comparing the two, it’s interesting how Kirkman’s no-holds-barred, satirical approach makes it read like a fantasy story, with a colourful cast of fantastical creatures that just so happen to have a biblical coat of paint, whereas Repent goes for a somewhat more realistic and subdued way of showing the aftermath of the Rapture, and in the process seems more biblical and “mytho-real” despite featuring fewer supernatural elements.

This is reflected in the art, drawn/painted by Salgood Sam. It’s black and white; not starkly so, but nicely shaded, in a way that’s occasionally more reminiscent of fine crayons or pastels than pen or pencil lines. I’m not a big connoisseur when it comes to graphic novels; if I’m able to tell what’s going on, that’s all I need. Sam’s art goes beyond that: postures are clear and manage to convey both moods and movement well; the faces are detailed, expressive, and consistent. I did at times find it hard to tell characters apart, but that confusion mostly cleared up by the end (with the exception of the angels, where I’m still not exactly sure who is who).
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