While I ramp up for writing more original fiction in 2008, I've been making an effort to read more books and watch more movies. Here's a brief look at some of the things I've come across recently that I think are worth your time and money.
This is Elizabeth Bear's first novel, and it kicks off the Jenny Casey trilogy that's continued in Scardown and concluded in Worldwired. It takes place in a dystopian world that was plausible enough to give me chills, and is the first book I've read that I'd admiringly call post-cyberpunk.
Jenny Casey is a cybernetically enhanced former soldier living in post-war Connecticut, dealing with the ghosts of her past. When those ghosts come back to life, they ensnare not only her, but some of her closest friends, as well.
It took me longer than usual to get into the narrative, because the story changes point of view a lot in the beginning, but once I got all the characters straight, I was on board and it was difficult to put down.
This was one of those books where the main character is compelling, but the supporting characters are magnificent. I just loved it, and as soon as I finish Atrocity Archives, I think I'm going to finish the trilogy.
Coraline lives in a boring house with uninteresting parents surrounded by strange people. But when she goes through a forbidden door and finds herself trapped on the other side with her Other Mother, her life suddenly becomes very interesting. It's not quite horror, it's not quite fantasy . . . I guess I'd call it a "dark fantasy," sort of the way Neverwhere was a dark fantasy. It's a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read.
I wish this had been written when my kids were still young enough for me to read to them. I have number 238 of the limited Subterranean printing.
I got this book from Daniel Davis when I spent the weekend next to his Steam Crow booth at Phoenix Comicon. It's a children's alphabet book about what the monsters do to make a living after Halloween. ("E is for Ealwatte, a mage of the dead / Now he crafts hats to adorn your bald head.") It's all rhyming, it's charming and funny, and the illustrations are ridiculously awesome. In a world where everything -- especially children's books and stories -- are so mindnumbingly banal and similar, After Halloween is unique and wonderful. It's another one that made me wish my kids were little enough to enjoy it.
Grant Morrison is with Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore on the list of authors I'll buy anything from without even reading the back cover, so it's weird that I just got around to reading WE3 now. (Actually, I started it when I was working on NUMB3RS, and just finished it on Friday. I got distracted, I guess.)
WE3 is about three domestic animals -- a dog, a cat, and a rabbit -- who are kidnapped by the military and turned into cyborgs to be used as weapons. When the project is going to be terminated and the animals destroyed, they're set free by a well-meaning researcher. Much of the story is about them trying to survive outside of the lab, while they're hunted by their former masters. I found it sad and touching. It's also a story that, I think, only works as a graphic novel, making it pretty unique.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs
A new take on the introduction of The Joker into the Batman universe, this is set right after Batman: Year One, and could be a companion to The Killing Joke. I loved the writing, the shift in narrative between Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne, and the artwork was perfectly unsettling, without being disturbing. I'm a lifelong Batman geek, so it takes a lot to impress me with a Batman story. This impressed the hell out of me.
Fell Volume One: Feral City
Richard Fell is a detective sent over the bridge from a city that feels like New York to a totally fucked up place called Snowtown. In Snowtown, everyone has something to hide . . . including him. It's classic detective stories, filtered through Warren's sublimely twisted lens. I liked it so much, Fell could be the fourth comic to make it onto my single-issue list.
A Scanner, Darkly
My expectations were really low for this movie, after talking to some friends about it, so I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the acting, music, and animation combined very effectively, and I thought they did a better than usual job of staying true to PKD's story. Admittedly, this isn't saying much, but it shouldn't be misconstrued as a back-handed compliment. I genuinely enjoyed this film.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
One of the most engrossing documentaries I've seen in years. On the surface, it's the story of two men trying to achieve the highest score on Donkey Kong, but the story ends up being about much, much more than the quest for a high score on a video game; it's about a group of petty sycophants doing everything they can to protect a cowardly tyrant whose tiny fiefdom is threatened by an honorable man. I lost a lot of respect for Twin Galaxies by the time the film was over. I also wanted to go spend a hundred dollars in an arcade.