Review: Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy

15798792Punk Rock Jesus — Sean Murphy
Released: April 9th, 2013 by Vertigo
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon, Book Depository

A reality TV show starring a clone of Jesus Christ causes chaos across the U.S. of the near future in PUNK ROCK JESUS, a new graphic novel written and drawn by Sean Murphy, the acclaimed illustrator of JOE THE BARBARIAN and AMERICAN VAMPIRE.

J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God.

Thomas McKael is the clones’s bodyguard and former IRA operative, who despite his turbulent past is hired to protect the new Jesus—a baby who captivates the world, but grows up to become an angry teenager.

When falling ratings force the network to cut Jesus’s mother from the series the young star runs away, renounces his religious heritage and forms a punk rock band. And what starts off as babysitting for Thomas becomes an epic battle, as Jesus goes to war against the corporate media complex that created him.

I want to start off this review with a couple of disclaimers.  The most important of which probably being that if you do not like reading graphic novels or other mediums that depict religiously controversial content, then this is not for you.  I’m sure you may have realized that from the title and synopsis above, but I figured it might be good to mention such a thing.  Additionally, I will admit to being sympathetic towards a lot of the views perpetuated on the side opposite of religion in this graphic novel; however, as you may be able to extrapolate from my rating, this does not make me automatically start raving about the amazingness of this comic.  So I’m a little less biased than you might think. ;D  Finally, while the art is absolutely fan-flipping-tastic, I am mostly critiquing this on the writing and story content as I feel that I’m not quite qualified to be an art critic.

So this graphic novel essentially has two halves: exposition/buildup and the actual punk rock portion that we are anticipating from the beginning.  And yes, while the buildup does make the latter portion all the more satisfying and understandable, I felt like more time was spent building up the scenario than the actual execution.  When we finally get to see Chris, the clone of Jesus, rocking it up, it feels so much more rushed than the rest of the comic that it is ultimately disappointing, with the ending feeling like it was quickly slapped on.  Which is quite sad, too, when the premise held a lot of potential to be ungodly fun.  That isn’t to say it completely fails in this regard though.  I mean, I can’t help but love that Sean Murphy drew a badass looking picture of Carl Sagan, among various gunfights and other action-packed scenes.  Also, I think I have a new love for genetically engineered polar bears to cuddle with.

The plot does give a somewhat heavy-handed examination of the role of religion within our society versus scientific advancement, with some unfortunately stereotypical fundamentalists being a consistent backdrop throughout.  In fact, a good chunk of the characters I felt did not get time to be filled out well enough to where I had trouble emotionally connecting.  I did like, though, that we get quite a spectrum of belief within the cast of characters, from the militantly atheist to the staunch Catholic seeking redemption, with skeptical scientists and others filling things out.  While not kind in its treatment of religion, the graphic novel manages to at least give multiple points of view, with the Catholic Thomas McKael easily being the best written character.  McKael’s backstory is heartbreaking, so be prepared with perhaps a tissue or two.  Just warning you.

We also touch on some other issues that were for me personally hard to read.  Gwen, Chris’s mother, deals with a lot of predictable issues for being locked up on an island taking care of a child while constantly in front of cameras on live television.  Post-partum depression being among those.  Murphy handles these issues well, I think, especially on the psychological front; I felt like he did do his research before writing and it shows on multiple fronts.  I mean, he showed the psychological effects of isolation quite well and I have no complaints.  Of course, reality television gets a heavy-handed treatment with this story, but that’s not all that entirely surprising.

Overall, I felt like this comic does succeed at making one think critically about their beliefs, even if I felt that the storytelling was flawed.  Read this one with an open mind, especially if you hold strong religious beliefs.

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Review: Damselfly by Jennie Bates Bozic

18216396Damselfly — Jennie Bates Bozic
Released: November 11th, 2013 (self-pub)
Series: Damselfly #1
Source: eARC via Netgalley
Rating: ★★★½
Links: Amazon, Smashwords

In 2065, the Lilliput Project created Lina – the first six-inch-tall winged girl – as the solution to a worldwide energy and food crisis. Isolated in a compound amidst the forests of Denmark, Lina has grown up aware of only one purpose: learn how to survive in a world filled with hawks, bumblebees, and loneliness. However, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she discovers that she’s not the only teenager her size. Six ‘Toms’ were created shortly after Lina, and now her creators need to prove to the world that tiny people are the next logical step in human evolution. In other words, they need to prove that reproduction is possible.

Um. No thanks. Lina’s already fallen in love with a boy she met online named Jack. Only he has no idea that thumbelina1847 could literally fit inside his heart.

When her creators threaten to hurt Jack unless she chooses a husband from among the ‘Toms’, Lina agrees to star in a reality TV series. Once the episodes begin to air, the secret of her size is out. Cut off from any contact with the outside world, Lina assumes Jack is no longer interested. After all, what guy would want to date a girl he can’t even kiss?

Slowly, very slowly, she befriends the six young men who see her as their only ticket to happiness. Perhaps she can make just one guy’s dream of love and companionship come true. But her creators have a few more twists in store for her that she never thought possible.

She’s not the only one playing to the cameras.

When I originally read the premise of this book, I was a bit nervous.  While it intrigued me, I wasn’t sure whether this Thumbelina retelling with a Bachelorette component would actually work.  Unique, but maybe almost too much crazy for one book.  Somehow, though, I was proven wrong — it was crazy enough that it actually turned out quite well.  The book was definitely better than I originally expected, and it was a fun, albeit a bit short, ride.

We’ve got Lina, our pocket-sized protagonist, who has spent her entire life inside the Lilliput Project’s compound with only one person there that is even close to a companion, George in charge of the aviary.  The rest of the employees, and especially Dr. Christiansen, the program’s director, see her as little more than a scientific novelty and experiment.  Being isolated like this, it’s not all that surprising she develops a rebellious streak.  Unbeknownst to the director (and this part still confuses me — wouldn’t they notice her suspiciously being gone for hours at a time?) she has obtained a computer and has found an online boyfriend.  It was nice seeing how virtual reality technology was implemented here.  We get segments of the book detailing the dates she goes on with Jack and how their relationship develops, and even though logistically the relationship seems impossible, I was still rooting for this pairing the entire time.  Even when the reality show is forced upon Lina and she has six choices that are a logical choice size-wise.

But there’s no stopping love, is there?  Once that attachment is formed, it’s hard to forget.  Especially when Jack is one of the only people that has ever expressed true worry and care for Lina.  I definitely sympathized with her fierce loyalty to that love throughout much of the show she’s forced to take part of.  How can you blame her?

Still, the Toms are interesting characters in their own right.  While a few of them I didn’t get to see as much of as I would have liked to — Shrike and especially Blue come to mind — Row, Tom #2, was a well-developed character and stood out for his cheerfulness even in such a hopeless situation.  Though I found myself liking him as the book progressed, as Lina found trouble letting go of her feelings for Jack, I had trouble wanting her and one of the Toms to get together.  The forced situation was too troubling to me.

Yet, throughout the show, they begin uncovering secrets behind the project and why they’re being broadcasted to the entire world instead of keeping the entire thing behind closed doors.  There’s quite a number of interesting revelations I didn’t see coming, and Bozic threw in twists that actually had me stunned.  As in, screaming at my kindle “WHAAAAT” stunned.

My main issues with the book, though, were the sparse world-building and the reasoning behind creating Lilliputian-sized people.  It’s hinted at that the world’s been in upheaval and multiple wars and civil wars have taken place, but as to why it’s never told.  I won’t excuse Lina being stuck in the compound her entire life as the reason for the lack of information as she had access to the internet and could have researched this on her own.  This and the proliferation of virtual reality is about all we learn of the state of the Earth well over half a century from now.  Additionally, why would you create people six inches tall to solve world hunger and energy issues instead of more viable solutions like creating off-world colonies or researching alternative sources of fuel?  With small people comes huge problems, such as how humans would drop down the food chain tremendously and would have to worry about a huge host of predators and survival instead of reviving civilization to its height.  It just doesn’t come off as a logical solution.

Regardless of these particular problems, the plot and my enjoyment of the characters and romance still had me glued to Damselfly throughout its entirety.  If you’re looking for something different and don’t mind crazy reality show antics, then you should definitely pick this one up.  It’s a whole lot of fun!

Short Story Friday: “Poison Dance” by Livia Blackburne

18369168“Poison Dance”Livia Blackburne
Published: September 12, 2013 by Lion’s Quill Press
Series: Midnight Thief 0.5
Source: From Author for Review
Rating: ★★★★☆
Link: Amazon

James is skilled, efficient, and deadly, a hired blade navigating the shifting alliances of a deteriorating Assassin’s Guild. Then he meets Thalia, an alluring but troubled dancing girl who offers him a way out—if he’ll help her kill a powerful nobleman. With the Guild falling apart, it just might be worth the risk. But when you live, breathe, and love in a world that’s forever flirting with death, the slightest misstep can be poison.

…I know it’s not Friday.  For some of you it’s even Sunday!  Just pretend you’re a Time Lord and the discrepancy shouldn’t bother you, right?  Right??

First of all, I would like to thank Livia Blackburne for giving me a chance to read this novella and get a taste of the excitement to come in Midnight Thief next summer.  If your interest has been perked by reading that book’s synopsis, I definitely recommend diving into the prequel “Poison Dance” so you can get a taste of the world she has created.

An interesting world it is too, for certain.  We’ve got traveling caravans, illegal substances being smuggled into the city due to a corrupt economic system, a city guard to fear called the Red Shields, and most notably nobles so fittingly called “wallhuggers” as they live close to the Palace wall.  The Assassin’s Guild is shown to be a shadow of its former glory, with funds tight, infighting rampant, and respect (or perhaps fear) from the general public dwindling.  Enough to keep the story from falling too deeply into the folds of stereotypical medieval type setting used in stories like this, I think.  Though we get such a limited time with this world, the scaffolding for city politics and workings is already strong, which probably caught my attention the most.    I’m a sucker for well-written politics and social problems.

James is to be one of the more central characters to the plot of Midnight Thief, our badass assassin who agrees to teach Thalia the best way to kill a certain nobleman.  He’s cool and edgy without being annoyingly so, a badass I can get behind.  Hell, in general our two main leads here are strong and well developed, with a connection that slowly grows over time in a realistic fashion.  It was nice to see the beginnings of romance blossom without having to suspend disbelief due to shoddily written insta-love.

DID YOU HEAR THAT GUYS?  NO INSTA-LOVE.  ACTUALLY REALISTIC THINGS.  Is nice, you know.

Unfortunately getting deeper into the plot than that would give too many spoilers, so I apologize.  Though I found several points kind of predictable, it was still definitely entertaining.  And the way the ending is written, while maybe not as satisfying for some people, befit the atmosphere of an assassin story.

By the way, favorite quote of the whole novella:

Risk is everywhere.  Only the nobles have the luxury of a long easy life.  Justice, vengeance, the ability to carve out your own fate instead of being herded like an animal.  Sometimes it’s worth dying for.”

Can Midnight Thief be released yet?  I’m going to be incredibly impatient for about half a year.  Forgive any whining as I try and wait.

Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

lolita_nabokov_lolita_lips_cover

Lolita —  Vladimir Nabokov
Released: 1955 (France), 1958 (NYC)
Source: Purchased (Audiobook + eBook)
Rating: ★★★★½
LinksAmazonBook Depository

Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin, my soul,” Humbert Humbert begins as he relates his memoirs.  Those lines will forever be burned into my memory.  The sickness, the debauchery, and yet… How can I find him even remotely likeable?  Yet I did and do, to some extent.

He’s the classic example of the unreliable narrator in all his repulsive glory.  The character Nabokov has fooled many into sympathizing with for over fifty years.  How fascinating it was to read from his perspective, yet try to piece together what’s truly happening with Lolita and her mental state!  Even ignoring the beauty of Nabokov’s writing, just delving into the mind of our perverse main character, while an utterly sickening experience, is absolutely fascinating from a psychological perspective.  How he legitimizes his behavior, how he characterizes the people and places around him… It gives us so much insight into Humbert Humbert himself.  And while we all do realize that ultimately he is a disgusting pedophile who took advantage of his situation for his physical needs, we are pleaded with to try and understand him.  And so many of us fall for it.

In fact, I can’t seem to completely demonize him, and it makes my skin crawl realizing it.

Maybe it was Nabokov’s absolutely stunning writing that helps.  I highlighted so many passages just to be able to reread them later to truly appreciate his weaving of the English language.  And English isn’t even his native tongue!  It may have been, too, the childhood drawbacks to my own travels across the United States.  But ultimately, it had to be his twinges of remorse that come late in the novel, the realizations of the harm he inflicted.  From that, I can’t see him as a complete sociopath.

I suppose one can understand from my above statements that I felt the novel deserves its status in the TIME Top 100.  There are a few points on which forced me to dock half a star, however.

I realize I can interpret some of the meaning from context clues, but the interspersed French used throughout the novel began to frustrate me as someone who neither understands nor can even pronounce the language.  I wonder if it would have added anything at all to the story for me to be fluent?  Additionally, I felt Nabokov in some places went a little farther than I liked in describing the places they traveled to.  I recall one chapter early in the second part of the novel that lingered for what seemed like forever on many different travel destinations and the trivial events that occurred at each.  Wonderful prose can only sustain me so long in such affairs; I felt as if I had to trudge through a few parts that followed that sort of vein, which did bother me some.

A side note to end this review: I did follow along with an eBook while listening to the audiobook narrated by Jeremy Irons.  Irons does an absolutely FANTASTIC job with this narration.  I don’t think reading the book would have been nearly the same experience without his voice guiding the way.  (Nor would have taken me nearly as long, but I digress.)

Embassytown: “I don’t want to be a simile anymore,” I said. “I want to be a metaphor.”

embassytown-design

Embassytown —  China Miéville
Released: May 17th, 2011 by Del Ray
Source: Purchased (Digital)
Rating: ★★★★★

Links: AmazonBook Depository

I will admit I haven’t had much experience with science fiction in the literary sense.  I’ve been an avid viewer of various Sci-Fi television series and films in the past (note to self: finish watching Battlestar Galactica before the semester starts back up), but my experiences in an honors college seminar based on science fiction and fantasy literature this spring gave me the drive to begin delving into this genre of fiction.

I was introduced to China Miéville and his work through this class, though we only read his short story “Details”, which I highly recommend reading if you’re into “weird” fiction.  The PDF is available for free online with a simple Google search, but I digress.  This is about my first experience with a full length novel of one of the proprietors of The New Weird.  I’m glad to say that I will be going back for more , like a deprived addict.This is the science fiction novel linguistics lovers might be driven to ecstasy with.  Though I’m no linguistics major, so I may need to do some empirical — and hopefully ethical — testing on some of my college friends.

Far off into the future, where mankind has had, in what the book terms their diaspora, there’s this small colony on the edge of known space known as Embassytown.  The most interesting aspect of this colony are the host species, known as the Ariekei.  Their manner of Language is entirely unique to the novel’s universe.  They can only speak what is true, what exists or has existed, what has happened.  Rather than their language symbolizing anything, their Language IS what they’re speaking.  Lying, therefore, is an impossibility, unheard of until the arrival of humanity.  Even further complicating the matter, they speak in two voices and while humans can learn to understand them, only those specially trained and altered can speak to the Ariekei themselves.  The concept is a bit complicated for me to explain — there isn’t anything like it in our world.

To help advance their Language and be able to express certain concepts more properly, the Ariekei make an effort to create similes.  And this is what our main character, Avice Benner Cho (ABCs, anyone?) is.  A living simile.  The girl who was hurt in the darkness and ate what was given to her.  She is an immerser, has traveled into the “Out” and has returned with her new linguist husband, Scile.  But as a new Ambassador arrives, a catastrophic event occurs that changes the dynamics between the Ariekei and the humans forever.

I think that about summarizes the main points of the plot without giving too much away.  It’s a complex novel, with Language being a central point to everything.  If you’re not familiar enough with the intricacies and jargon that comes with linguistics, you might have a bad time.  Though the Kindle dictionary function helped with that immensely, my intellectual pride dropped a considerable amount from how many times I actually had to use it.

But Language is not the only theme.  You get a bit of politics, war, interpersonal conflict… It’s certainly not a one dimensional book.  And if you’re like me, it will take some time to digest.  But I found that I learned a lot, especially about the nature of language, lies, and the psychology of people under crisis situations.  And the world building involved with this novel is absolutely stunning.  Learning about the concepts of the immer, which the best way I can describe it as is a sort of “ocean” in space, was probably my favorite part of this future world.

My utter enjoyment of all of  these topics mentioned ended in me rating the book as five stars.  However…. There were a couple of points that rather frustrated me.

I HATED Avice.  Absolutely loathed her.  She takes pride in “floaking”, which is described as “the life-technique of aggregated skill, luck, laziness and chutzpah”.  She is, at least to me, arrogant and seems to take advantage of her novelty of actually leaving the planet itself and being an “immerser”.  At one point in the novel, she seems to have a superiority complex regarding the other similes, not wanting to initially have any sort of contact with them.  This sort of attitude continuously grated on my nerves like that one annoying rich kid who gets by doing as little as possible and still ends up immensely successful.  Yet she still is intelligent enough to actually be of some use if she, you know, ACTUALLY APPLIES HERSELF.  She still does rate lower on my list of “Most Hated Central Character” than Raskolnikov.  Oh god, that man made it impossible for me to finish Crime and Punishment because how much I absolutely fucking hated him.  Literary PTSD……

The other characters didn’t get as much fleshing out as I would have liked to see in them.  In fact, one of the characters, her automaton friend than I can’t seem to recall the name of, was practically useless to the story line, other than showing the dynamics between human and machine.  But then again, this tale is less about the characters and more about the overall world and language.  Therefore, to me that is something I can overlook.

The last thing is, regardless of the descriptions Miéville gives on the host aliens, I had a really hard time visualizing them.  Maybe it’s a deficiency in my imagination, I have no clue.  They were utterly unlike any alien species I’ve ever encountered in television, movies, and the little bit of science fiction I have read.   I even took it upon myself to look up artist renditions after I finished the novel.  They’re absolutely fascinating creatures, I just wished I could have more fully recreated them in my mind at the time of reading.  Here’s the recreation I found online, though I cannot find the actual source of the image, so I apologize.

tumblr_lo5kcu9uHW1qzkdcfo1_500

Overall, I recommend this book if you’re looking into getting into a deep read with a complex, alien world and concepts that will take you quite a few pages to work out completely.  It’s an arduous journey, but to me, it was worth it in the end.  I am better for it.  And I can assure you I’ll be reading more Miéville in the future.  I have a physical copy of Perdido Street Station laying on my desk, actually…  Tempting.

Note: It was also, interestingly enough, my first full read on my new Kindle, which I enjoyed more than I thought I ever would, coming from one of those physical book only mindsets.  Though now I really want a physical copy for my bookshelf, but there’s that problem of “I’m a broke college student and need to buy textbooks and pay my apartment’s rent” issue.  First world problems at their finest.