Sunday, 24 May 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Down by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Down written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Dexter Soy and Filipe Andrade is the direct sequel to In Pursuit of Flight which I have previously reviewed. This volume collects the comic issues #7-12.

Marvel NOW! Captain Marvel goes head to head with...Captain Marvel? Former Captain Monica Rambeau returns, but what's her problem with Earth's new Mightiest Hero? What threat is lurking below the ocean's surface? And can both Captain Marvels stop it before they get ship wrecked? Then: Carol finally returns home, but is changed. What is weakening Captain Marvel's powers? How will the lifelong high-flyer react when she discovers that she can no longer fly?

This volume starts with an entertaining two-issue arc featuring Carol teaming up with Monica Rambeau to find missing ships and then fight a monster. I've never heard of Monica Rambeau before but after having read this arc I want to know more about her. As far as I can tell she's never had a stand-alone title, just been in a bunch of Avengers comics, which is disappointing (but do correct me if I'm wrong). The only thing I didn't enjoy in this issue was the stock standard description of Monica's powers, which includes the mistaken belief that neutrinos and electricity are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sigh. I suspect comics aren't the place to be worrying about physics, but I can't help myself. There's also the issue of Carol needing oxygen in this run, where she didn't in the later run, but I'm holding out hope for that issue to be resolved in the final volume of this run. (Haha, well it might be.)

After that we have a much heavier arc, set entirely in New York. Carol acquires a grad student minion, we see her cat for the first time in this run and Carol has to deal with some serious issues. Also, obviously, fight some bad guys and save some days. But really, compared with the general upbeat nature of superheroes saving the day, this was definitely less cheery. Which isn't a bad thing, it was just a bit unexpected, although maybe it shouldn't have been since the previous volume wasn't exactly a laugh-riot.

But the worst thing is, it ended on a cliff-hanger! And the next volume, which I have ordered, is out of print and won't be in stock for at least two weeks! What am I supposed to do?! Sadface.

Anyway, I definitely recommend Down to any fans of Captain Marvel, because, duh, Captain Marvel. For new readers, it's probably better to start with the previous volume, In Pursuit of Flight, but there shouldn't be too much confusion starting with this one if it happens to cross your path first. I will now desperately await the next volume, which is called Avengers: The Enemy Within (but is really Captain Marvel Vol 3, because why should comics chronology make any sense?).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Marvel
Series: Captain Marvel volume 2 of 3 in that sequence. Collects issues #7-12
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: All-star Comics in Melbourne

Friday, 22 May 2015

Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely is an anthology of stories about historical women who were not content to leave the status quo be. The stories cover pirates, queens, nuns and warriors and come from a variety of authors, many of whom I've reviewed here before.

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens...

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

This was a fascinating collection of women, many of whom I hadn't heard of before, or didn't know much about before reading. The collection is framed by two stories of the women and children of Henry VIII, about whom I probably knew most before reading, which give a pleasant effect of tying the collection together.

My favourite stories were "Bright Moon" by Foz Meadows,  "Neter Nefer" by Amanda Pillar and "Due Care And Attention" by Sylvia Kelso, all very different tales — especially the latter — which are a good example of the breadth of the collection.

The only thing negative from which the collection suffered was a tendency for some of the stories to fall into a pattern of recounting their subject's life events. Sometimes this was done to fill in gaps, sometimes not, but it resulted in more telling rather than showing and came across as a bit dry at times. On the other hand, this was made up for by the stories which threw us into key events in a more active way.

Overall, interesting and fascinating are the two words that best describe this collection. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to dip into the lives of a variety of historical women. Although it's not technically a speculative fiction anthology, I strongly feel it will appeal to readers of spec fic as well as readers of main stream and historical fiction. As always, some notes on individual stories follow.


Queenside by Liz Barr — A scene among Henry VIII's women.

The Company Of Women by Garth Nix — Bees and Lady Godiva and unpleasant magic.

Mary, Mary by Kirstyn McDermott — A tale about Mary Wollstonecraft's life, especially her darker moments. While interesting, I found it a bit too depressing to really enjoy.

A Song For Sacagawea by Jane Yolen
— a poem or, I suppose as the title says, a song.

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti — An account of the end of Countess Erzébet of Báthory, the most prolific known female serial killer. Interesting and dark.

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows — My favourite story so far. About the Mongolian princess who refused to marry any man who couldn't beat her in wrestling.

Charmed Life by Joyce Chng
— About the empress who discovered silk to make women's lives easier.

A Beautiful Stream by Nisi Shawl — I think this story could've been tighter. Although I got the drift — a wartime spy fearing those around her might be used as leverage — I found it difficult to follow.

Neter Nefer by Amanda Pillar — the story of Hatshepsut taking the throne, told front eh pint of view of her daughter. An enjoyable story and one of my favourites.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai — Chinese pirate lady who commands a large fleet. She tries to stop opium taking over China but fails obviously. I liked this one.

Due Care And Attention by Sylvia Kelso — A lady doctor and much angst about speeding at the turn of the century. A very fun story. (Alarming how recently the benefit of putting cold water on a burn was discovered.)

Theodora by Barbara Robson — The story of a Roman empress, framed by a historian's scathing commentary of how she was bringing down the Roman Empire (by, y'know, being nice to women and stuff). An enjoyable read.

For So Great A Misdeed by Lisa L. Hannett — a rather long story about an island of woman who had several husbands, all of whom died. Although the length was necessary to cover all the key events in her life, it felt a little drawn out.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat — A girl is abandoned by her father for being born a girl but secretly rescued by her aunt. She grows up to be a kick-arse knight.

Granuaile by Dirk Flinthart — Irish pirate queen who has a run in with Poseidon.

Little Battles by L.M. Myles — A story about Queen Eleanor at age 70, who was still kicking are. A nice tale about a lady who knew what was what.

Another Week In The Future, An Excerpt by Kaaron Warren — Written in the style of Catherine Helen Spence who wrote a book about time travel into the future (1988), this considers the same character going another 100 years forward. The foreword explains that it is written as though the author wrote it in the final years of her life when she was feeling less hopeful about the world. It’s a very engaging and interesting read. I liked it more than I expected to from the description.

The Lioness by Laura Lam — story about a French pirate queen and a young man that crosses her path.

Cora Crane And The Trouble With Me by Sandra McDonald — told from the point of view of Cora's diary, languishing forgotten in some archive. Quite a clever way of telling. I enjoyed it.

Vintana by Thoraiya Dyer — A queen of Madagascar who olives both her husband the king and her lover. Set at a time when French Christians were insinuating their way into the king's graces and the traditional ways were under threat. A good read.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier — A having reached old age reflects upon her life and upon new hardships she and her sisters face. A very enjoyable story.

Glorious by Faith Mudge — A story about princess Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, and her life in the confusing English court (and out of it) of the time. An enjoyable read. 

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, FableCroft Publishing
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: I received an eARC but I ended up reading the nicer-formatted backer epub edition which I received for backing the Pozible campaign of this project last year
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Dexter Soy and Emma Rios is the origin story of Carol Danvers taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel. Chronologically, it comes before the other trades of Captain Marvel that I've reviewed, which were volumes 1 and 2 of a series reboot, the purpose of which is beyond me. But this is the place to start if you want to read about Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (formerly she was Ms Marvel, but that role has been taken up by Kamala Khan).

The "Mightiest" of Earth's Mightiest Heroes is back! Ace pilot. Legendary Avenger. One hundred percent pure bad-^&*. Carol Danvers has a new name, a new mission - and all the power she needs to make her own life a living hell. As the new Captain Marvel, Carol is forging from a challenge from her past! It's a firefight in the sky as the Banshee Squadron debut - but who are the Prowlers, and where has Carol seen them before? And how does secret NASA training program Mercury 13 fit in? Witness Captain Marvel in blazing battlefield action that just may change the course of history! Avengers Time Travel Protocols: engage!

This is not your standard origin story because Carol Danvers was already a superhero before she became known as Captain Marvel. In fact, the story starts with Carol and Captain America fighting some monster before she's actually made a decision on the name. (Captain America in fact suggests using the moniker of Captain Marvel.) After a bit of existential angst, she makes the decision and the story continues.

The main plot involves time travel and revisiting people and situations of the past (World War II and the 60s). It's all a rather clever way of filling new readers in on Carol's backstory while also providing a new story. Also, I feel sorry for the new comic creators who have to stick to decades old cannon that can be incredibly cheesy.

On a different note, I really didn't like the art of the first four issues, especially in issue #1, I think it toned down a bit as it went along. It was just not to my taste with the style of detail and shading and actively put me off. Good thing the story was interesting enough to keep me reading.

As has been established in other reviews, I love Captain Marvel and so it should not come as any surprise that I enjoyed this volume. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the others I've read, but at the same time I'm glad to have actually seen some backstory instead of having to infer it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel; it's a pretty sensible place to start. I will definitely be reading the sequel ASAP.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Marvel
Series: Yes. Start of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Volume 1 of 3 in that run. Contains issues #1-6
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Non-evil empire online bookshop

Monday, 18 May 2015

Veronica Mars: Mr Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars: Mr Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham is the second in a two-book deal of Veronica Mars books. I reviewed the first book here. Although the mysteries are technically self-contained, the books do follow sequentially from the TV show, movies and each other. I would not recommend reading Mr Kiss and Tell without having consumed the previous cannon. A central part of the story harks back to the season 2 episode "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" and the events that culminate in "Donut Run" (also season 2). I had the soundtrack of the former episode playing in my head for a disturbing amount of Mr Kiss and Tell.

The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that seem to follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove—or prove—the woman's story.

The case is a complicated mix of hard facts, mysterious occurrences, and uncooperative witnesses. The hotel refuses to turn over its reservation list and the victim won’t divulge who she was meeting that night. Add in the facts that the attack happened months ago, the victim’s memory is fuzzy, and there are holes in the hotel’s surveillance system, and Veronica has a convoluted mess on her hands. As she works to fill in the missing pieces, it becomes clear that someone is lying—but who? And why?

I had mostly stylistic objections to the first book, which you can read about here, and while they still apply to this second book, I think the prose became a bit smoother and less jarring. Of course, that could also be a combination of fewer characters needing to be introduced for the first time and my getting used to it, but I think there was actual improvement. The only writing thing that particularly bothered me was the prologue which was very tedious to read. It featured a random guy finding the unconscious victim and very strongly followed the trope of random by-standers finding a body that is so common at the start of crime shows. It was never a thing in the Veronica Mars TV show, though, so it bothers me a bit that it has become a thing in the books (the first book also had people discovering a crime had been committed, but since there was no body it felt less noticeably like a trope).

There are a few other differences to the first book. First, there are some chapters from Keith Mars's point of view, who is off on a side quest relating to the sheriff elections held at the end of the book (he's not running in them, though, so it's not quite a season 3 finale all over again). We also see more of Logan, who was physically absent for the whole first book but is now back on shore leave. Both of these — the focus on other events in Neptune and the stronger focus on other areas of Veronica's life — add to the emotional impact of Mr Kiss and Tell in a way that was absent in Thousand Dollar Tan Line. The nostalgia surrounding the victim (as in, the fact that her and Veronica's paths have crossed before) also helped with that. There were some great lines where said character tells Veronica what she was thinking when certain TV events took place, which we only ever saw from Veronica's point of view in the show.

The book ended in a way that really makes me want more Veronica. I don't particularly care in which medium that takes place. I'd settle for another book (right now there are no book deals on the horizon, as far as I can tell) or happily take another TV series or movie, so long as whatever it is follows on sequentially from Mr Kiss and Tell. Give us more Veronica!

In my review of Thousand Dollar Tan Line, I recommended the book to Veronica Mars fans and also non-fans who enjoy crime/mystery books. A similar recommendation stands for Mr Kiss and Tell, although I'd strengthen it a bit and say fans will probably enjoy it more. If you like Veronica Mars but were a bit turned off by the first book, definitely still give this one a go.

4 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, Allen & Unwin (Australian edition)
Series: Veronica Mars, book 2 of 2 books (and a move and 3 seasons of TV)
Format read: Paper!
Source: I think I bought it in Target because it was so cheap.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Rat Queens Vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rat Queens Vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic is the second collected volume of Rat Queens, containing issues #6-10. I previously reviewed the first volume here, and questioned whether I was sufficiently interested in the story to continue. Part of what convinced me to read on was the fact that the artist changed over part way through Volume 2.

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

This volume picks up right where the previous one left off, with the Rat Queens and friends waking up after their celebratory "we won a fight" orgy. They're sent on another, fairly easy mission, while trouble brews in the background. It isn't long before trouble catches up to them. And it's pretty apocalyptic trouble, on a city-scale at least.

While I did find Rat Queens faintly amusing, I thought the volume started a little boringly and ended a bit confusingly (a monster causing hallucinations didn't help on that last point). We did learn more about the backgrounds of the main characters, which was my favourite part, but it didn't make up for my general meh feeling about the whole thing.

Overall, I didn't hate Rat Queens, but I also didn't love it. I felt more ambivalent about this second instalment than I did the first and I don't think I'll be continuing with it. It's just not for me. That said, I don't think there's anything actually bad about it, so I'm sure others will enjoy it, if the jokes and subgenre are more to their tastes.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2015, Image Comics
Series: Rat Queens Volume 2 (issues #6-10) of ongoing series.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 15 May 2015

Tsana's May Status

Has any month this year not been a weird month? I don't think so.

The end of April saw the Defying Doomsday Pozible campaign finish up. We successfully funded (WHOO!) a few days before the end and we are now accepting submissions featuring characters with disabilities, chronic illnesses and so forth surviving the apocalypse. If you missed the hubbub, here is the Defying Doomsday Round-up post which lists all the stops on our blog tour and some other stuff. Maybe there was something you missed.

On the reading side of things, I've gotten into comics a bit harder than I particularly planned to. Turns out they can be addictive. And they're easier to fit in around other things like slushing. For now my plan is to post comic reviews at most alternating with books, which I've mostly stuck to. If you don't like comics, well, suck it up. It's my blog and I will post what I want to.

What Have I Read?

A lot of comic books and a reasonable number of novels.

Currently Reading

I've just started reading Glenda Larke's The Dagger's Path, the sequel to The Lascar's Dagger, which was awesome and I feel a bit bad not having read the sequel as soon as it came out. I'm not very far in yet, but I'm sure I'll be posting the review soon enough.

I'm sure I'll end up reading some more comics. I have a few trades/collected volumes still waiting for me. Then at some point, possibly next month, it depends, I'm planning on getting a Marvel Unlimited subscription for a month or two and reading as many comics as I can in that time. We'll see what happens.

And of course I've also been reading slush.

New Booksies

More new books than I realised, but a lot of them were comics. (And turns out you can get comics for review too, a section of NetGalley I hadn't ventured into before.)
  • Young Avengers Vol 1 by Kieron Gillen, gift from a friend
  • The Wicked The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen, bought from All-Star Comics in Melbourne, recommended by same friend
  • Captain Marvel Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue Deconnick, as above but also influenced by my enjoyment of (the new) Ms Marvel. Already reviewed
  • Captain Marvel Volume 2: Stay Fly by Kelly Sue Deconnick, also as above, already reviewed
  • Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, bought because it was on sale at QBD
  • A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, as above
  • Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Down by Kelly Sue Deconnick, because Carol Danvers is awesome, bought from All-Star Comics in Melbourne
  • Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas, spotted it for cheapsies in either Target or Big W and it seemed like a good opportunity. I've already reviewed the first Veronica Mars book and the review for this one is coming tomorrow.
  • Rat Queens Volume 2 by Kurtis J. Wiebe, from publisher via NetGalley
  • Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue Deconnick, ordered online because it was sold out in All-Star
  • Pretty Deadly Volume 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick, as above
  • Wayward Volume 1: String Theory by Jim Zubkavich, from publisher via NetGalley, already reviewed.
  • Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, purchased digitally because it was like 40% off.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham is a direct sequel to the Veronica Mars movie, picking up the story about two months after the end of the movie. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've consumed something that continued the cannon in a completely different medium. (I know Whedon did that with comics after Buffy/Angel and Firefly/Serenity, but I haven't actually read those.) It was a strange experience, especially since many of the characters came with actors pre-visualised in my mind. Note that this review contains spoilers for the movie and minor spoilers for the TV show.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She's traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it's spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person's case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica's past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

It was a strange experience switching media, but even with that the characters and dialogue (including Veronica's inner monologue, though this was less distinct than in the show/movie) were spot on. And continuity-wise, everything was perfect — and I say this as someone who has practically memorised the TV series, I've watched it so many times.

The setting of Neptune is the darker, grittier setting we encountered in the movie, rather than the slightly less depressing setting of the TV show. But this also makes sense since we're thrown into Veronica's life only two months after the end of the movie. On the other hand, I found some of the descriptive passages a bit jarring and ended up semi-involuntarily skimming over them as I got into the book. For a start, describing characters I already know the appearance of from seeing them on TV was dissonant; while not inaccurate, they were generally not how I would have described the same characters, so it was off-putting. There was approximately the same amount of description for every character we meet, which was also a bit weird. I personally don't think appearances are terribly important in books in most circumstances. I tend to forget them as soon as I read them which, admittedly isn't relevant in this case. But generally, beyond knowing who Veronica is talking about when she spies dirty blond dreadlocks amid the crowd, I just don't think it's important. The fact that it was the same amount of description each time just felt so formulaic as well.

The only time I thought the description came close to being appropriate was when places were being described. Especially when it came to the kinds of settings that Veronica had to pay close attention to, such as the hotel room she was searching for clues. That said, there were still a few times when I thought the setting description also veered into too-much territory.

If this wasn't a Veronica Mars book, I definitely wouldn't be tempted to pick up the next one. The writing just wasn't up to stylistic scratch compared with what I normally read. However, it is a Veronica Mars book, which means it comes with built-in affinity for the characters and their stories. Also the snarky dialogue we've all come to know and love. So it's from that perspective that I will be reading the next book while the characters are still fresh in my head. If I hadn't bought the next book already and was forced to either wait or decide to fork out money right now, I also might not have bothered, but here we are. I recommend The Thousand Dollar Tan Line to fans of Veronica Mars and, separately, fans of crime/thriller books who aren't familiar with the show. For fans, reading the book without having seen the movie would be a risky prospect. For non-fans, there might be a few missed references, but as far as I noticed most references to past events were explained succinctly on the page.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Allen & Unwin (Australian edition, obviously)
Series: Veronica Mars, first book of two so far, sequel to the TV show (3 seasons) and movie. Sort of stands alone but definitely reads better if taken as a sequel.
Format read: Paper! *gasp*
Source: A physical bookshop

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Wayward Vol 1: String Theory by Jim Zub

Wayward Vol 1: String Theory written by Jim Zub and illustrated by Steven Cummings and John Rauch collects the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series. I previously posted a short review of Issue #1 and when I saw Volume 1 on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

Rori Lane is trying to start a new life when she reunites with her mother in Japan, but ancient creatures lurking in the shadows of Tokyo sense something hidden deep within her, threatening everything she holds dear. Can Rori unlock the secrets of her power before it's too late?

After a half-Irish, half-Japanese girl moves to Japan to live with her mother, she quickly crosses paths with weird supernatural happenings and discovers that she herself has some supernatural powers. In her quest to try to understand what's going on, she teams up with some other powered teens (or are they really teens? I'm not sure about one of them). On almost a whim they decide to seek out some weird supernatural happenings, not content to wait around.

I quite liked Rori and her friends. As well as Rori's ability to see some sort of magical strings (hence the title), there's a girl with an affinity to cats and anime hair, a schoolmate with powers, and the fourth member of the band who seems to be a random bystander/victim, but I'm assuming there's more to him than we've seen so far.

The story stars to deal with some heavier issues, like Rori's mum having to work long/strange hours to make ends meet and self-harm. Obviously, Rori's struggles to fit into a new school in a new country also come up, but those kind of take a back seat to the supernatural stuff going on. I've read elsewhere that the Japan presented in Wayward is en pointe, but having visited the country only once almost a decade ago, I can't really comment.

The story in this volume has a pretty definite arc with a significant climax and a bit of a cliffhanger ending. I'm definitely going to want to read the next volume in the series to find out what happens. It's tempting to just get the next few issues that are already out, but I will be strong and stick to my rule of reading comics in collected volume form only. I would definitely recommend Wayward to anyone interested in the setting and/or stories about teenagers with superpowers. I suspect that covers a reasonable portion of my readers.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2015, Image Comics
Series: Wayward Vol 1 of ongoing series, collecting issues #1-5
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer is the first book in a trilogy that tells a fairly self-contained story. Written as a sort of journal by a member of an expedition to a mysterious location, Annihilation is a surreal book.

For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences.

‘Annihilation’ is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.

It's quite a short novel but it was not exactly what I'd call a quick read. The prose is on the denser side, but never too heavy. It's the kind of book you have to pay attention to while reading, because if you zone out a bit you can get lost quickly. Hence, not a good book to read on a plane or while jet-lagged... which means I put it down a bit in the middle while I was travelling and recovering from same. It actually wasn't at all hard to get back into, though. Surreal but accessible, is what Vandermeer pulls of with Annhilation.

The story is about a group of explorers, for lack of a better word, sent into a mysterious landscape where things aren't what they seem. Their job is to observe and report back. For the purposes of the expedition, supposedly to help them do their jobs, the members of the expedition have forsaken their names and are referred to only by their professions. We see everything from the point of view of the Biologist and don't know much about the other members other than their occupations and their gender (all female).

The book starts with not too much weirdness other than, well, the existence of Area X. The weirdest thing we learn in the beginning is that hypnotic suggestion was required just to cross the boarder. We also quickly learn how much influence the Psychologist can exert on the other members of the expedition. Especially when the weirder stuff starts happening and the Biologist find herself looking at some of the weirdness from the outside.

It's an interesting book and I found it a compelling read. It is ultimately self-contained although there are a lot of unanswered questions which I assume will be addressed in the sequels. I'm not actually sure if I'll read the sequels. It's not a matter of not wanting to so much as a matter of having too many books to read. It doesn't quite beat out the other books I have waiting.

That said, I would highly recommend Annihilation to anyone who is looking for a thoughtful, mysterious and weird read. If you don't usually enjoy weird or surreal reads, I'd still suggest giving it a try because it's quite easy to follow, even if not everything is ultimately explicable.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2015, Harper Collins (actually a source of much confusion for me since I could've sworn I saw it for sale at LonCon last August, but maybe those were advance copies?)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3, Southern Reach trilogy
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 8 May 2015

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Stay Fly by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel Vol 2: Stay Fly written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Marcio Takara, David López and others is the sequel to Higher, Further, Faster, More and contains issues #7-11. It picks up right where the previous volume left off with Carol and friends in space. I kind of think the blurb is a bit spoilery, but the fun is in the reading, not necessarily in the not knowing what to expect, right?

Captain Marvel’s space adventure with her pet cat, Chewie, continues! But when they have an unexpected alien visitor, Carol learns that Rocket Raccoon was right: There’s more to Chewie than meets the eye! Chewie is a Flerkin…and a mom to hundreds! Is this the end for Carol and her pet? Then, Carol has her hands full with a special guest-star from the X-Universe: rock and roll maven Lila Cheney! And Christmas comes to the Carol Corps as we celebrate 100 issues and nearly 50 years of Carol Danvers’ high-flying adventures!

But after tracking Captain Marvel and Tic for weeks, the Haffensye Consortium has finally caught up to them both! Carol was barely able to survive the last time she squared off against the Haffensye — will the astronomical Avenger be so lucky again?

Where the previous volume was all one story arc, this volume is contains three. There's a two-issue arc featuring Rocket Raccoon's shenanigans and a large number of cats — 118 to be precise — as the cover fairly accurately depicts, then there's a one-shot on a planet where everyone speaks in rhyme which is a bit weird, and finally another two-issue arc involving Carol's old enemies (about whom read anything else) and a Christmas special. The last arc in particular involves some characters I'm not familiar with and, as I said in my last review, I'm hoping reading the Carol as Captain Marvel origin story set of volumes will clear that up (c'mon mail, you can do it).

So obviously I liked the first story arc best because of all the cats, obviously. I'm still not a fan of the raccoon, but he was less annoying in this issue and had a better dynamic with Chewie, Carol's pet cat, after some initial terribleness. And there's a swarm of kittens so I really don't see what's not to like. Also tentacles and pocket dimensions, thrown in for good measure.

The middle issue is just weird. Carol and Tic follow Lila Cheney (who is a character in other Marvel comics, I think?) to a planet where everyone has to speak in rhyme. It was a super weird issue and reading it just before bed made my thoughts try to rhyme which was also a bit weird. The final arc was more fun, taking us back to what Carol's friends on Earth were up to via a letter she gets. We get to see Spider-Woman dealing with a plague of super-rats, which was entertaining and made me want to read Spider-Woman. The letter leads Carol to pay Earth a quick visit and the 100th issue (I assume that's 100 issues of Carol Danvers) was a Christmas issue with a kind of weird deus ex machina resolution.

I enjoyed this volume and will definitely be picking up more of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. I'm still waiting for the first of the earlier series to reach me, and I'm looking forward to Volume 3, whenever that comes out.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2015, Marvel
Series: Captain Marvel (2014) #7-11, (Volume 2 of ongoing)
Format read: Paper!
Source: All Star Comics in Melbourne