Monday, August 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1892- Nnedi Okorafor: Mother of Invention

I've been slowly trying to find read short stories set in each country around the world and while I've been having some luck with African countries, most of those I've found have been on the traditional, folklore side of things. So, it was an unexpected treat to find a futuristic sci-fi story set in Nigeria; less expected was that it was penned by Nnedi Okorafor, author of Black Panther: Long Live the King.

"Mother of Invention" involves a pregnant woman named Anwuli holed up in a "smart house" known as Obi 3. If the idea of a AI house makes you think of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I hope it doesn't give too much away to say that Okorafor subverts that expectation.

But more than just a technological future, she also depicts a genetically altered biological future and some fascinating ramifications of that. It's almost shocking, this developed and believable Nigerian future of Okorafor's imagination.

And finally, the best setting in the world isn't much without a story and thankfully she delivers on that front too, with the complexly proud Anwuli and the coming of a life-threatening storm.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1891- Takashi Hashiguchi: Yakitate!! Japan 1

Despite having the good fortune to visit Japan a few years back, I had no idea about Japanese baking. My first exposure was a mere year ago (and now, many butter rolls ago) when a Japanese bakery, Ja-Pain, opened here in Yellowknife.

Imagine my surprise then when I came across a manga series entirely devoted to Japanese bread. In Yakitate!! Japan, sixteen year old Kazuma Azuma knows that Japan isn't exactly known for its baked goods, not even among Japanese people, and he sets out to change that. It helps that he's been gifted with "hands of the sun," hands of the perfect temperature to cultivate yeast.

It may not seem like the most compelling of books, unless perhaps you're a hardcore foodie, but it's surprisingly entertaining. It helps that in this particular volume, the story revolves around a baking competition where the prize is a job at a prestigious bakery. Kazuma is immensely likeable if not a little naive and he befriends another competitor named Kawachi who is secretly trying to sabotage him. Will Kazuma catch on and feel betrayed? Will Kawachi be won over by Kazuma's charms? And are Kazuma's enthusiasm and miracle hands enough to take him all the way?

These answers don't come in the first volume but it definitely provides enough incentive to continue.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1890- Keith Harris: The Bicycle

Keith Harris's "The Bicycle" is a quirky little short story that I'm not sure fits what I usually think of when I hear the term "quirky."

It's told rather traditionally and with a pretty average sort of protagonist who happens to really love bicycles and biking, but not in a way I'd consider over-the-top obsession. Still the ending is kind of unpredictable and strange and I'm left pondering what it means. Is there a lesson here about hobbies sometimes paying off? I'm unsure.

In any case, I enjoyed the voice and the setting and even if I get nowhere with my final conclusion, I'll at least have enjoyed mulling it over.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1889- Rodney Barnes (writer), Joshua Cassara (artist): Falcon Take Flight

I have mixed feelings about Rodney Barnes' Falcon: Take Flight. I found myself enjoying it at times, not so much at others.

I was excited to read a solo Falcon story for sure and in that regard, I did get a better sense of him as a character. I don't think it would necessarily be a good jumping on point for a newbie to Marvel comics however as there are a lot of references to past story lines (the Secret Empire comics in particular). Fortunately, I was able to keep up with those and as an added bonus, I got to see a few other characters in action that I was curious about. There's Mephisto, whom I knew before but not greatly aware of, and brand new to me, his son Blackheart. There's Patriot, a teenage superhero also previously unfamiliar to me. (I enjoyed the mentor/mentee relationship between Falcon and he, though I did find Patriot himself somewhat annoying with his overuse of pop-culture references-- way too "Marvel"). I appreciated the appearance of Misty Knight and the blossoming romance. And I've long wanted to see Blade pop up in a new comic again, so that was pretty great.

The stories themselves didn't do a lot for me though. I couldn't buy into the stakes that were supposedly set-up and I couldn't get a good feel where Falcon was going as a character. I also wasn't overly appreciative of the art. I found the overly dark, smudgy colouring in particular inconsistent with the story; gritty but the story and characters did not seem necessarily committed to going in a gritty direction.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1888- Michelle Knudsen: Evil Librarian

I'll admit choosing this one simply because it had "Librarian" in the title. Unfortunately, while the titular character may have in fact been evil (he's a demon), the fact that he's a high school librarian is next to irrelevant. Simply put: not enough librarianing.

Perhaps that was the nail in the coffin because nothing else in the book worked for me after that. I know I'm not the demographic Knudsen likely intended (that being young adults), but I've enjoyed plenty of books not meant for me before.

I didn't find myself laughing at the parts meant to be funny, didn't find myself scared at parts meant to be scared. I didn't come to care or believe in the characters and the plot felt too convenient. I'll take some blame that I may have overthought things and perhaps it's a book best read as a fast diversion. I at least appreciated the pacing and the voice of the main character.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1887- Various writers and artists: Milk Wars

At first I wasn't sure what to think of Milk Wars, a recent comic arc from DC's new "out there" Young Animal line.

I couldn't get a grasp on what the hell was happening. There was some nefarious Retcon group rewriting actual lives of superheroes in order to sell their world. It involved a bunch of characters I'd never heard of before or just had a passing familiarity with. There was someone called Milkman Man. People were being forced/ brainwashed into drinking milk. The art was like more like something you'd see from Marvel's LSD-inspired past.

It was all well and good to be creative, but some accessibility would have been nice. Fortunately I did start to get a grasp on things. If anything it seemed like a warning to the main DC line of superheroes and their creators. Essentially it's a creator's manifesto to not let commercialism let things become predictable and bland, to avoid safe topics and conservative propaganda. Creators should be allowed to take risks, even with established characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

All that and a quirky sense of humour, a wide swath of styles, made Milk Wars a fascinating collection.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1886- Mi-Kyung Yun, translated by Heejeong Haas: Bride of the Water God 1

Third time's a charm: finally, a manhwa that I enjoyed.

Mi-Kyung Yun's Bride of the Water God 1, a story of a human girl who was betrothed to a god in order to stop a drought, has the feel of classic mythology. I cannot find evidence that it is based on Korean mythology, but it certainly reminded me of old Greek and Roman tales. Perhaps some indigenous North American stories as well, but no-thanks to my Canadian schooling I'm less familiar with those.

An interesting twist to this story is that the water god appears as a child during the day, and adult at night. Soah, the bride, believes she is married to the child form and that the adult is an entirely different individual.

The character line work is crisp and eyes are drawn particularly clear and expressive, but I did wish there was more detail in the backgrounds.