by Geoff Ryman

Oh, Air. You have been a hard mistress. I originally purchased the book in August 2012. I finally finished almost three years later. I picked it up and put it down too many times to count. The first hundred or so pages were rough. Character names were difficult to remember. The book is written almost as if Ryman himself was a peasant in the fictional Central Asian country. The complete backwardness of the characters often had me frustrated.

After about the hundred page point it sped up a lot as the main character, Mae Sung, breaks out of her shell of tradition and leaps into the changes coming. Then she goes a little insane. The final hundred pages were slowing more and more until the last dozen were almost painful to read. 

So what is this book about? It's Magical Realism meets Cyberpunk. It's not clear but it sounds like it is supposed to be set in a Soviet breakaway state that at one time had been part of China. The year is 2019 and the wealthiest family in the village has bought the first computer to this last place on Earth to have internet access. The protagonist of the book is Mae Chung, an illiterate middle-aged woman whose two children have grown up and left. Her semi-worthless husband was a local hero for his athletic prowess in school and is now walking the edge of alcoholism. Mae in addition to hard work, like most of the village, in the rice paddies also is a dressmaker and purports to her neighbors to be a "modern" fashion expert. She knows it's a sham, but it brings in extra money. The book spends a great while introducing the lifestyle of the village and Mae. What they don't know is the world is approaching the activation of a new system: Air. Air is a direct-brain transmitted connection to the internet. No hardware needed. Later on the book explains how it works through some quantum mumbo-jumbo that is best left as magic. Before the final activation, a global test is going to run. This comes as a shock and a surprise to the small village. People die and get hurt when it happens. Mae is in the presence of her neighbor's ancient grandmother when the test occurs. After it is done, she discovers that Mrs. Tung is dead, but her mind is now intertwined with her. Additionally, unlike other people she still has limited access to a Wikipedia-like system over Air after the test. What follows is a series of painful transitions for Mae, her family, her friends, the village and her nation largely driven by the changes in Mae, her ambition, and the access to new knowledge. 

The books go over the course of the following year until the final activation of Air globally as Mae becomes intertwined with the National Government, New York fashion magazines, village politics, and the mob. There are new loves, oracular visions, miraculous events, biblical disasters and a birth fit for ancient Greek mythology and more in the process.

The book explores topics of the nature of humanity, the importance of heritage, medical and scientific ethics, the democratization of trade by globalization, and the cyclical nature of history.

In the end, I'm glad I finished it, it gave me a lot to think about. But I'm not sure if I would recommend the book unless you are a really dedicated fan of cyberpunk or magical realism.


Modern Rituals: The Wayward Three, #1

Modern Rituals: The Wayward Three, #1

by J.S. Leonard

I admit it. I judged this book by its cover. The kind of weird fiction art of dark tendrils controlling a man like a puppet was fascinating. Sure the description was kind of like "The Cabin in the Woods" but I was hoping for something different and new. For the first 70% of the book, I was disappointed. While it did a better job than Whedon did in the movie explaining how such an elaborate operation could be mounted, I was a bit disappointed that the ideas seemed the same.

Unlike Whedon, Leonard doesn't seek to surprise you with what's going on or leave you bewildered. Leonard expects you to see the movie that inspired him and he even has winks and nods to the movie throughout the book. As a result, none of this summary is very spoiler-ish, but if you haven't seen "The Cabin in the Woods", stop now and watch it first.

Ok then? So to summarize, there is an ancient powerful organization called Magnus. They serve one purpose: to maintain a truce between the Old Gods and man by performing/facilitating complex rituals to provide the Gods a sacrifice as they see fit. The book goes between character's viewpoints both as "participants" of the ritual, those to be sacrificed, as well as Magnus operatives. Unlike in Whedon's movie, the participants are selected randomly amongst the about to die and somehow whisked away to a secret installation that resembles a Japanese High School. 

For most of the book, the characters are trying to unravel what is happening to them and stop a creature, like the monster from the Japanese horror film - Ringu, while the operatives are trying to make sure nothing goes wrong. 
Just like in Whedon's film, things do go wrong but this is where things begin to diverge. There is something helping the participants and power politics going on among the Magnus operatives.

At the 70% point in the novel the ritual is apparently completed, the survivors are being promised a return to their lives and the political intrigue appears to be about to resolve itself. And  the book takes a turn. I won't spoil anything about what happens then, but this turned my opinion of the novel around. I think Leonard's turn is fantastic and a good setup for what I assume to be six more novels. I hope the series can keep itself together and am looking forward to getting a hold of the second book (which Leonard has kindly offered for free to people who subscribe to his site for free). 

I do have two criticisms. Many of the characters felt a little too stock. I know Leonard means them to be archetypes. Colette's backstory is completely absent and is just a cardboard "succubus", really just a slut as there is nothing sinister to her at all. Keto and Anthony are also woefully underdeveloped. However, I do like that figuring out who matches to what role is a part of the fun of the book. I was genuinely misled and surprised when it came to some of the characters' identities.

My other criticism is I think Leonard's conditions for a successful ritual are not met in the end as two of the deaths seem not to actually qualify. I'm really uncertain, but can't get into it more without spoiling some of the twists.

I received a digital copy of this book for review from NetGalley and the publisher.


New Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Pure Insanity and Defective

New Suicide Squad, Volume 1

Pure Insanity

by Sean Ryan
I have to say I have mixed feelings about DC. While a lot of the standalone work is excellent and the Vertigo imprint has put out incredible work, I often feel like the main continuity work is a bit odd. Superman, for instance, feels a bit dated. Batman has become a self-parody. The entire concept of "families" in DC is very bizarre to me. For the most part, I stick to stand alone or Vertigo properties. That said many of those are among my favorite comics: We3, Red Son, Hellblazer, Sandman, Gotham by Gaslight, Y: the Last Man, Watchmen, and Fables. It seems that in many ways DC takes itself less seriously than Marvel and is much more willing to take risks.

I also have to say that I am not too familiar with the Suicide Squad's previous iteration. My awareness of it came mainly out of the growing hype for the new movie. Just a brief glance into online material about the team gave me a list of members I was either unfamiliar with or vaguely familiar with. Except for Harley Quinn.

I am a huge fan of Harley. The character always struck me as complex for a villain in comics. Yes, she's crazy, but she is aware of it and delights in it. Beyond that she is extremely devoted in her love (bordering on obsession) with the Joker. She knows he takes advantage of her and that he is bad for her, but just like real people stuck in abusive relationships she can't seem to escape. Harley is probably my favorite DC villain. So I figured I'd give New Suicide Squad a try.

For those not aware. The idea of the Suicide Squad is that a top-secret military agency with the backing of the President wants to conduct illegal and messy operations. These missions are so dangerous and have such a high impact for political fallout if pinned on the US that they decide the best solution is to use people who they can easily deny and no one would question -- supervillains.

As the new series opens with Pure Insanity, a new program director is appointed to keep an eye on the squad and their handler. He introduces conflict by adding Deathstroke and Joker's Daughter enraging Deadshot and Harley Quinn respectively. An insane disaster follows which ironically does manage to accomplish the tasks. Betrayal, injury, and in-fighting continue but somehow the group makes it out mostly intact.  Black Manta starts to show a glimmer of leadership.

Defective continues the story line with a second mission with Captain Boomerang rejoining the team along with Ninja Man-Bats, which I think is DC's way of reminding us that it is in fact still DC. Again chaos breaks out and again Black Manta's budding leadership seems to pull everything together.

Throughout both stories, a back plot of political intrigue is brewing, sinister multinationals are hinted at, and new adversaries start to lurk. All in all, I think the issues are a great introduction to the team and I have to say I will keep my eyes out for the upcoming issues.

I do have some criticisms. First, I don't like the direction the art for Harley is going. It seems like they are trying to make her too modern-gritty and it doesn't seem to mesh too well of how I envision the character.

Also, the use of multiple artists leads to inconsistencies across the book. Take bonnie:
Sorry Boss, I had a few Bloody Marys before work. 
The Joker's Aunt?
I wonder if she will realize I'm her younger sister? 
I changed clothes and got my hair done on the way home.

No, Bonnie, it's not ok.

It also appears the ethnicity of the unnamed Chinese Metahuman was in dispute by the artists:

Very Chinese
Maybe Chinese?
Channing Tatum?
Also, there are occurrences of very sloppy art like this car:

The worst problem is the seemingly simple matter of how many sides the Pentagon has.


That aside, New Suicide Squad is a ton of fun and I'm really excited to see where it goes!

I received a digital copy of this book for review from NetGalley and the publisher.

On Goodreads.


We Are Pirates

We Are Pirates

by Daniel Handler

Handler's latest adult fiction book is a strange beast. It is written similarly to Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and Slapstick and somehow similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Thematically it explores the kind of existential themes you'd expect from Palahniuk or Ellis with all of the moral ambiguity of them too.

The book has two intertwined narratives from the points of view of a middle aged radio producer, Phil, and his directionless daughter, Gwen. Both characters work through their own ennui and moral shortcomings to arrive at a slightly ambiguous and strangely saccharine lessons about reality and family.

The biggest concerns I have with the book is the female characters. The mother is a shew, Levine is a slutty and incompetent manic pixie dream girl, Gwen is beyond naivete to the point of holding bizarre beliefs about radio, reality, life and morality that collapse under the lightest of analysis. Naomi also feels cliched in her closeted homosexuality and obsession with rebellion and teenage angst.

In fact the male characters are all pretty cliched also. From the nebbish Phil, to the starry-eyed innocent love-struck teen Cody. The entire book seems to be stock cardboard characters.

While there was a kind of charming anachronistic gothic/victorian feel to Handler's work as Lemony Snicket, in We Are Pirates it feels a bit stilted. Especially with the kind of Vonnegut-type language acting like the story is being told from the distant future. I expected a scenario like Slapstick where the entire structure of the world alters, instead it becomes "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing", perhaps that is too strong, it may just be much ado about nothing.

That said the throwback and longing for the Romantic Age of Pirates is palatable through the book. Even the cover feels like an old adventure novel. I did enjoy the book, was surprised by the twist by the Captain near the end. But the other "twists" were so expected and obvious that their reveals often made me think, "ok, I knew that already".

On Goodreads.