Monday, November 15, 2010

Review Ragout Meets Frankenstein

It's been several weeks since I've inflicted some reviews of my 2010 reading list on you all. So let's catch up some, shall we? The reading has been quite good lately...

--Scott Pilgrim, Vols. 5 & 6, by Bryan Lee O'Malley - We begin with a quick mention that I finished off the Scott Pilgrim series with volumes 5 and 6 -- Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (2009) and Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (2010). I don't have much to add about the series beyond what I wrote in the August roundup but the final two books were both great fun and lived up to the earlier volumes. I highly recommend the series, and I'm really looking forward to catching the movie when it finally hits Netflix.

If you do want to read the Scott Pilgrim books, you should definitely start with Volume 1, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. The whole thing'll make a lot more sense that way. At least, it'll make about as much sense as it's going to make.

Next up: two Nero Wolfe novels:

--Prisoner's Base (1952) by Rex Stout
--If Death Ever Slept (1957) by Rex Stout

This was simply further continuation of my habitual re-reading of the adventures of my favorite fat detective. These two novels come from the peak of the series in the 1950s. There's really no need for me to recount the plots here. Both are great reads and strong entries, but if you've never read a Nero Wolfe novel, and would like to try one, I'd say that Prisoner's Base might be a slightly better bet. It's really one of the best of the entire series.

--The Windup Girl (2009) by Paolo Bacigalupi

Well, whaddya know? I bought the novel that would go on to win the 2010 Hugo six months before it won the Hugo this year. Alas, I didn't get around to reading it until now. (Okay, technically it co-won the Best Novel Hugo with China Mieville's The City & the City after a rare tie. It's still a winner)

I'm glad I finally did pick this back up off my pile, since it's well worth the read. Bacigalupi creates a truly amazing and complex post-peak-oil world in the brutal Bangkok of a hundred years or more from now: an environmental-police state of carbon limits and vast swaths of genetically engineered plagues and foods from the calorie companies that rule the world. The "Windup Girl" herself is Emiko, a beautiful genetically engineered servant/sex toy left behind to fend for herself in a city in which genetically engineered "New People" are illegal.

The last hundred or so pages of this book thunder down the tracks with great speed, plot turns, and revelations. Unfortunately, the first 250 or so pages of set-up are hampered by slow pacing, a lack of sympathetic characters, and a couple of truly brutal scenes. If you pick it up, my advice is to enjoy the scenery as Bacigalupi builds his world in the first 2/3 of the book. Rest assured, it's all going somewhere.

--The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It'd been a couple of decades since I last read Gatsby, and I was curious to see what I'd think about it with the benefit of a couple of decades of perspective -- especially the experience of having lived through our own Gilded Age when I was in Silicon Valley during the boom.

Yup, it's still a great book, and it just gets better with age. Most people read Gatsby while they're in high school or college, but so much of the book is about regrets for choices made early in life that I found that reading it at a later stage in my own life really deepened it for me. If you haven't read it in a couple of decades or more, you might want to give it another whirl.

I could type on and on about Gatsby at this point (as I did in many an English class in college ... really, by the time I finally graduated I could crank out a 12-page Gatsby paper before most students finished Chapter 1) but instead of going on for pages about Gatsby, I'd rather mention something to you that hasn't had millions of pages already written about it and that could use the plug:

--Knights of the Dinner Table: The Bag Wars Saga by Jolly R. Blackburn, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansson, and David S. Kenzer.

This graphic novel collects up a long-running thread in strips from the Knights of the Dinner Table (KODT) comic book over the last 15 years, The Bag Wars Saga. However, it's not a strict reprint. It instead collects up all of the old Bag Wars material, adds 35 pages of new material to it, and gives new artwork to all of it. The result makes a great graphic novel: complex, readable, fun, and very funny.

For those who have never read Knights of the Dinner Table, the comic tracks a batch of friends as they play Hackmaster -- their version of Dungeons & Dragons -- over the years. (Here's a link to an overall KODT review that I wrote last year.) One of the most noteworthy things about this comic is that while the artwork of most D&D-based comics are chock full of dwarves, dragons, and demons, KODT mostly just shows four or five people sitting around a table talking and rolling dice.

The real action takes place in their heads, and by extension in our heads as well, and this mechanism somehow perfectly captures that role-playing game spirit.

Part of what makes The Bag Wars Saga so extraordinary is that it starts out with a small side-joke in the game when the players stash a platoon of soldiers in their "Bag of Hefty Capacity," then forget about them for several years. Needless to say, Sergeant Barringer and his men are not amused.

Hilarity ensues, as worlds within bags within worlds within games collide.

If you've never read KODT, this makes a great jumping-on volume. Give it a try!

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done. Man, you do read a lot, my dear, and quickly. Thanks for the pointers.