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S. Bentley "stuarthoratiobentley" (North Yorkshire)
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Lagoon
Lagoon
by Nnedi Okorafor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.65

4.0 out of 5 stars Nobody owns Lagos, 18 April 2014
This review is from: Lagoon (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having read this book I still aren't entirely sure how I feel about it. Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death was a book I enjoyed very much but Lagoon is very different to that book. There is no central character in the book and from chapter to chapter the perspective shifts through a wide community of characters who are tied together by geographic proximity. All are based in Nigeria, and particularly Lagos, which means Lagoon, hence the title of the book. This in itself is necessary to the theme of the book but means that characters don't have as much space to live and breathe and become a particular set of characteristics pushed along by the plot, rather than influencing the plot themselves.

The plot seems, at first blush, to have been cribbed from old science fiction films. A trio of individuals, a marine biologist whose marriage is collapsing, a soldier who has assaulted a superior officer with justification, and a rapper, encounter an alien who is living in the sea. They are momentarily abducted and then return, with the alien, to Lagos. The alien has the ability to see into people's souls, more or less, and make pithy yet gnomic comments on people's lives. The people of Lagos respond to this with fear and loathing. And so it goes for a couple of hundred pages. Every prejudice, every human failing is displayed in Lagos, from a Christian minister who only seeks his own satisfaction through his position as demagogue, to a no-hoper boyfriend, a gullible husband, the military man who thinks might means right and on. There's nothing in the way of humour to leaven the effect, though some miracles are performed by the alien, who states she has come to change society and therefore draws an angry mob, who threaten her and her charges. As a result I was unsure if I was enjoying the book. I was certainly turning the pages, but the idea that didacticism was overtaking any drama in the story was sapping any sense of enjoyment and I think I just wanted to see if it would turn out exactly as I expected.

And then a few twists kicked in. The nature of Lagos is entwined very tightly around the narrative, particularly its corruption, but then some folklore elements muscle into the plot and suggest something more is going on in the story than some retread of the Day the Earth Stood Still or the Man Who Fell to Earth set in Nigeria. The three chosen ones have been chosen for a specific reason. Ultimately though, the story ends the way the formula dictates, which is disappointing.

What I find interesting is that in the afterword (and in interviews) Okorafor has mentioned that the novel was born from her anger at the way Nigerians are portrayed in District 9 but that the portrayal of Lagos is so unremittingly grim that it doesn't really counterbalance that. Again, it leaves me unsure how I ultimately feel about the book.

The book includes a glossary of the local dialect used in the book. I didn't see this until the end, but it's probably worth looking at before you go in. There's also a "deleted scene", the only part of the book that takes place outside Lagos, which acts as a nice epilogue and meta-commentary on the story.

In summation, I felt an urge to complete the book and there are many intriguing ideas in it. Whether it is a satisfying read, though, is something that I'm still debating. It lacks complex characters and the plot is like a bulldozer, rather than a symphony.


Stormwatch Volume 2 HC
Stormwatch Volume 2 HC
by Various
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.07

5.0 out of 5 stars A finer world, 17 April 2014
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This review is from: Stormwatch Volume 2 HC (Hardcover)
This completes (almost) Warren Ellis' run on Stormwatch and it's very interesting in that it is bookended by slightly weaker art than you get in the middle. The book starts with Change or Die. This was Warren's first big widescreen superhero story, complete with a mixture of golden age superhero and pulp adventurer analogues come back to save the world but also gone a little bit mad. It saw out the end of the initial volume of Stormwatch, and was Warren's chance to sweep out the last vestiges of what he'd inherited on the book. He then restarted the title. Change or Die is by Tom Raney. I love Tom, his art is slightly unkempt which I find charming, but there's no doubt that it feels a bit inconsistent at times. The first few issues of the second volume of Stormwatch is by Oscar Giminez. It's more Stormwatch Black, two of whom were Warren's babies and all of whom would be part of the Authority, in a politically intriguing little story. Oscar is far more consistent and produces a nice, doughy art that edges towards being a Jim Lee/Kevin Maguire crossbreed. The story is good but it's the A Finer World arc where things kick off. In comes Bryan Hitch, transitioning out of his Alan Davis phase and into the era when he becomes his own man and a big thing. In comes Midnighter and Apollo, Warren's Batman and Superman for the end of the 20th C, and the bell starts to toll for Stormwatch as a concept.
What follows is an interesting moral conundrum story where a parallel universe version of Stormwatch led by Jack Hawksmoor faces alien first contact. Should our Stormwatch help another world? Politics intervene again. The art is a mixture of Hitch and Michael Ryan. The two have massively contrasting styles, not helped by the differences in the inking. I like Ryan again, but his line work is too tight and too obviously a drawing to sit alongside the pseudo-naturalism of Hitch. It works better when they aren't rubbing against each other.
Then comes the end in a highly unexplained fashion in this volume. Previous collections have included WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, which shows the Stormwatch team encountering the xenomorphs from the Alien series, but DC seem to have decided to not secure the rights to republish, living a gap where the explanation of how Stormwatch ends is meant to be. We see the aftermath with very little mention of details.
What then of Warren's scripts? Snarky and zingy as ever, laced with technobabble, he imbues the characters with character, develops some nice relationships and a sense of what life is like at Skywatch, before ending it violently with some body horror down the way. Much of what is done here shaped the way comics would portray superheroes from that point on and it's a surprise to me that the importance of these books are not trumpeted more.
After this? Authority.


Mad Archives Volume 1 HC: 1-6
Mad Archives Volume 1 HC: 1-6
by The Usual Gang of Idiots
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 36.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Superduperman et al., 17 April 2014
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I must admit I bought this for the Superduperman story in which he faces Captain Marbles, which Alan Moore credits as an influence on his superhero work (especially Miracleman and Watchmen). I wasn't sure how well the humour would have transitioned down the years, so felt like I was taking an expensive chance. But goldarnit if it wasn't worth it. The parodies within the sturdy hardcover are a mixture of genre (taking on science fiction and horror tropes) through to skewering particular targets like Superman and the Lone Ranger. The art is magnificent. Wally Wood is my favourite, but there isn't a page in the book where I think the art is sub-par. The jokes are slightly racier than I expected, very much like Looney Tunes and Tex Avery cartoons. All are reasonably short so no jokes are stretched beyond the capacity of the strip to carry. There are pop culture references that might be lost on readers not up on America in the 1950s but the sheer chutzpah carries it along. No Spy Versus Spy or Alfred E. Neumann as yet, but a very enjoyable very well-crafted set of strips that deserve much attention.


Danny's Inferno
Danny's Inferno
Price: 0.69

5.0 out of 5 stars The Fortean TV theme tune, 8 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Danny's Inferno (MP3 Download)
A rejigging of the Hall of the Mountain King, with a samba, jazz flavour to it. I have been looking for this because it is the version used for the Fortean TV programme of the nineties with Father Lionel Fanthorpe and I've loved it ever since.


Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy)
Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy)
by Jeff VanderMeer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.00

4.0 out of 5 stars If only you'd told me your name..., 8 Mar 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Towards the end of this novel, the first part of a trilogy, one of the characters, known as the Surveyor, insists that the relationship between her and the main character, the Biologist, would have been helped if the latter had shared her name. And this could be applied to the relationship with the reader, and as such I think I would have been more comfortable with giving the book 3.5 rather than 4 stars. Allow me to explain.

Jeff VanderMeer is an author I admire. I've read quite a few of his short stories, and the anthologies he and his wife Ann have been responsible for have been excellent purchases. One of the most recent was the Weird, which I heartily recommend, and this is a signpost to one of VanderMeer's obsessions and what forms the template for this novel. This novel is definitively weird fiction, much moreso than the speculative branch of science fiction, and as such as someone who has read Lovecraft and Howard and other proponents of weird fiction, the book holds little in the way of surprises. The structure is very familiar, as is the plot.

The narrative is one of impending doom, uncertainty and a little of the old "cosmic despair". There is no lightness in this, no happiness. In a time we assume is the future, Area X has arisen. No one knows what Area X is, but the Southern Cross organisation (of whom we learn little) has sent eleven expeditions there, most of which have ended in death. We follow the twelfth such expedition, whose members are known by their functions rather than a name, and as such are always at arm's length from us and the protagonist, never allowing us to feel we know or can trust anyone. We cannot even trust the narrator, the Biologist, though she at least gives us glimpses of her past (whilst offering us a sense we can't be sure that past is true. The Biologist is a solipsist, whose existence is so ruthlessly separate to others, even her husband, who gives us the closest we have to a name for her, Ghost Bird, and while we are being told the story in the past tense, with portents of disaster, we cannot be sure what the biologist will be by the end of the story.

The book is about atmosphere. And there is a distinct sense of something going on in the narrative. The members of the expedition represent some elements of the human experience: the linguist who never appears but would represent the ability to communicate (and therefore would get in the way of the story being told); the anthropologist who does not last long (and therefore removes the possibility of understanding other people); the psychologist who represents control and the superego; the surveyor who represents the external and is an agressor and the biologist representing the physical. From the plot point of view, things are very light. By the end of the story we are no closer to answers about Area X though we know it's incomprehensible, we have learned nothing about the members of the expedition apart from the Biologist and even then can't be sure what is true, and we know next to nothing of the Southern Reach.

As such, it's difficult to say this is a great book. It's a little too familiar, though well done. It's intriguing and I feel interested in what the next novel might do as that story is going to look a little more at the Southern Reach organisation and so might start to tread new ground.


Gatchaman Ova Collection [DVD] [1972] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Gatchaman Ova Collection [DVD] [1972] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Hisayuki Toriumi
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: 10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Always five, acting as one, 8 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There's some nice slick animation with this reboot of Gatchaman, which takes some of the stories from the original series (known to western audiences as Battle of the Planets) and gives them a bit more attitude. There are some slight re-designs of characters, mostly to differentiate Joe and Ken (Jason and Mark), who in the original looked like twins, and a bit of ill-placed CGI. It's hard-edged adventure in that inimitable anime style, where everyone is on the verge of hysteria all the time. But that's what I love about it. Stylistically it's fun adventure in the future when the Gatchaman Science Ninja Team battle evil alien force Galactor for the fate of the Earth. It takes itself seriously even if you don't.


The Echo
The Echo
by James Smythe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twinning and anomaly, 25 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Echo (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Following on from Smythe's earlier work The Explorer, and the second part of a projected quartet, The Echo is the tale of a spaceflight that travels to visit something called the Anomaly into which a spaceship called the Ishiguro had disappeared some twenty years beforehand. No one knows what the anomaly is and the idea is that the scientists aboard the second spaceship, the Lara, will probe the anomaly and search for an explanation.

The reviews on this book talk of how Smythe marries science fiction and literary fiction, and how this is like an episode of Star Trek written by J M Coetzee. And in some senses, yes, this is apt, though I'd argue with the first contention only because there are plenty of science fiction texts that marry a literary sensibility with a high concept and they have been doing so since at least Mary Shelley. But let's step away from that issue and talk about this book.

The lead character Mira is a twin, and this plays into the nature of the anomaly and the themes of the book. Mira constructs his own identity in relation to his twin, worrying constantly about how he appears in relation to Tomas. They are the architects of the flight, with only an accident of chance accounting for which one went into space (Mira) and which stayed on Earth (Tomas). However there are many other differences between the twins, though Mira, the epitome of an unreliable narrator, does not always acknowledge or understand the differences. In many ways Mira is emotionally illiterate, a scientist and rationalist who lacks imagination and has great difficulty reaching out to the others aboard the ship.

This becomes much starker when the ship encounters the Anomaly and people start to die. The nature of the Anomaly is not revealed in this book, which leaves great space for the reader to project their own understanding in terms of what it means. It is beyond science, unknowable, so becomes something more symbolic. And it is in this sense that Smythe earns that label of literary.

There is little humour in the book; it is quite intense, and mimicks Arthur C. Clarke and 2001: A space odyssey in being a very plausible form of speculative fiction. There are certain points where for the expediency of the narrative, technology is glibly described as being advanced enough to allow an effect without explanation of how that is achieved, but the book avoids bombast so that suspension of disbelief is easy.

The protagonist, Mira, I found difficult to like. He's very dysfunctional and lacks self-awareness, and this is why I can't give the book five stars, but this is part of his journey, and I enjoyed the book almost because of Smythe's unwillingness to bestow moments of heroism or charisma on him. The book is about identity as so much of the best science fiction is. It also manages to move on the story of the anomaly to make sense of the desire to write a quartet and to make me desire to read the next part of the series.


Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by David C. Catling
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is there life on Mars?, 11 Jan 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Written by a professor from the University of Washington, this is a very good primer in the area of astrobiology (older readers may remember when this was called exobiology, and Catling takes some time to explain the history of the science and its name and focus changes). Catling does nothing less than explain the origins of life (taking time to weigh up competing theories) on Earth, going back to how the world was formed and explaining timescales, in order to frame what current expectations are for life developing on other planets. He then uses this criteria to assess the probabilities of life in the solar system and beyond, and to talk about the theories around extra-terrestrial life (such as the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Fermi paradox). In this sense it is an excellent explanation of how life is believed to have developed on the planet, and presents some useful texts for if you want to explore the field further. What it doesn't do is become too speculative. Catling is quick to dismiss the likelihood of silicon-based lifeforms existing using science to back this up and bases most of his suppositions on existing evidence, he doesn't posit what "weird life" (to use his term) would look like on the moons of Jupiter or beyond, so those looking for ideas about truly alien life won't find it here. Not that that matters, the book is highly readable, explaining scientific concepts succinctly and engagingly.


Angels: Messengers of the Gods (Art and Imagination)
Angels: Messengers of the Gods (Art and Imagination)
by Peter Lamborn Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book, beautiful words, 12 Dec 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You always expect a Thames and Newton book to be impeccably designed and Angels is very well laid out indeed, gathering together images of Angels (and similar winged entities) from different eras and different cultures for your perusal. The book itself is something of a holistic assembly of different comparable creatures that can be assigned the nature of Angels in the particular sense of being messengers of the Gods, thus not limiting the book to Christian, Muslim and Judaic imagery. It also reaches out to Greco-Roman mythology, Native American folklore and more, using the strands of what an Angel actually is to take off on tangents that look into the resonances and unexpected similarities between cultures. This said, this isn't the most scientifically rigorous manner of drawing anthropological strands together, so in some ways it's an entertaining dissertation, with many interesting elements to beguile us as readers, but one to be examined critically.

Personally I find its approach quite captivating and I'm considering buying the Alchemy text in the series as a result.


Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore
Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore
by Lance Parkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Moore the merrier, 9 Dec 2013
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This is a nice little package, the printing on the cover is oddly luminous, the pages have black edges and there are (as you might hope) plenty of illustrations to guide us through the worlds of Alan Moore. And as another reviewer has commented this is really a quite comprehensive analysis not just of Alan's work (I don't know why I think I can refer to him as Alan, but I do) but also his life. In fact it is the biographical details that make this book so special. Most of the information about his work is familiar stuff to me, but its' the story of his life that is more interesting. Seeing where Alan Moore comes from is a great key to figuring out why he does what he does, and in this book we see where he came from and where he ended up. (Short answer: Northampton.) It doesn't go into minute details about his personal life or his relationships with other people in a tabloid manner, though it has the odd nice domestic detail, like a nice gag towards the end about how Moore not having the internet means he's not likely to know what a hashtag is, unless it's the sticker on a biscuit tin he keeps half-hidden in his kitchen. It's also very up-to-date, with mention of current and upcoming works.

Parkin is also clever enough not to offer just one perspective on things and to challenge the general agreements on the man's works, like pointing out that Watchmen is a very clever, very witty joke or assessing the importance of Lost Girls in terms of what it represents to Moore's goals. And as the other reviewer mentions, Parkin doesn't shy away from shining a light on the fallings out with publishers and collaborators down the years. There is a definite "he said, she said" sense to those situations that the book doesn't get to the bottom of (and probably no one really could), whilst there are suggestions of what might have created the situations if you read closely enough. Certainly Moore is a complicated individual, a complicated artist and a complicated man, and it's good that Parkin doesn't take the tack some biographers do with other equally complicated individuals of trying to resolve that complexity with some simplistic glib assessment of the man.

Which is to say, this is a book I'd wholeheartedly recommend to anyone even slightly interested in Moore's work and/or the nature of the comics industry because there is a lot (again often uncompromising) of detail in the book about how the UK and US comic industries evolved.

If there are any failings to the book they are minor ones, a couple of noticeable typos, an odd decision not to number quotations for easy reference at the back of the book, no bibliography of works (and a noticeable gap in talking about Moore's time with Wildstorm when it was at Image). It would also have been interesting to see some more about the projects that never manifested.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2013 1:06 PM GMT


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