Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

First Wednesday of the month means book club meeting time! For our September meet, so we read this through August, we covered the second of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series, A Clash of Kings.

I’m going to start by saying that I enjoyed this one more than the first book in the series, I think I read the first book quicker, but then that one didn’t have the school summer holidays getting in the way of my reading. A Game of Thrones was, for me anyway, more about setting the world within the tale takes place, establishing its cast of characters and driving home their motivations and methods of achieving those. A Clash of Kings is, I think, where things really start moving.

Another reason I preferred it was because its not half as pervy as A Game of Thrones. This is what I had to say about this particular topic back in July

“Let’s get this out of the way early, its a bit pervy. I know that things were very different in the kind of era that this was set, but this is a fantasy piece of work, its not set in any kind of reality, so the attention to detail regarding the physical developments and sexual treatments of some of the female characters were really uncomfortable to read. Also, it doesnt even really feel like Martin was writing this stuff because “thats how it would have been”, the writing comes across like he’s enjoying writing about these young girls, Daenerys in particular. The strong focus on how Daenerys ‘ relationship with Khal Drogo develops (somehow) from him raping her (because lets not beat around the bush, thats what it was) to her consenting and falling in love with him feels voyeuristic and I dreaded Daenerys ‘ chapters for that reason.”

In comparison to that first book there was very little sex, I think there’s only really Tyrion with Shae, also some of Theon’s chapters where sex is written about and its done in a much more adult and less voyeuristic manner. Danaerys still has moments of being partially undressed and there’s alot of discussion about Cercei’s incestuous relationships, but it all feels like consenting and natural within the world Martin has created. There’s an obvious focus on Sansa Stark reaching womanhood and what that would mean for her, but again, it doesn’t feel wrong when she is having those thoughts and the subsequent conversations about Joffrey that she has with Cersei, in fact Martin does an excellent job of portraying the dread that Sansa feels.

On the subject of Sansa, I really didn’t like her in A Game of Thrones, but she grew on me a little in A Clash of Kings. She was still a little naive, but she’d also begun to wake up to the world that she was living in and how everything wasn’t all songs, flowers and noble Knights, I think that throughout the book she’s the one character that showed the most growth and I began to really feel for her plight and the relief she felt when Joffrey accepted the offer of marrying Margaery Tyrell, even if, as it turns out, that doesn’t mean that Joffrey is done with her just yet.

In comparison, I felt like a lot of Catelyn Stark’s chapters dragged the pace of the story down. Maybe this was on purpose, after all she’s the only one that has any sort of travel in her chapters, Danaerys goes to a couple of different locations, and Davos’ chapters mention that he has travelled to different places too, but we don’t learn of the journey between them other than in passing. Catelyn on the other hand, spends a lot of time on the road but its only really the time she spends with either of the Baratheon’s where the story grabs the reader. I think this was a decision that Martin made on purpose, elsewhere things seemed to move at a break neck speed, with the characters all having differing information on what was going on in Westeros, Catelyn seemed to be the glue that stuck it all together, not to mention her and Brienne were the only ones to witness Renlys death, but we’re witnessing a woman who is struck with grief over the family she has lost, whilst everybody else is busy making war with each other.

Lastly, we finally get to witness a proper battle. Martin seemed to skirt around these events in A Game of Thrones, giving us reports from characters that weren’t on the front lines. By the time we reach the final third of this book we’ve seen Jon involved in a couple of skirmishes and the Baratheon’s be on the verge of battle, though that is waved away by Melisandre’s actions, but we get to the Battle of Blackwater Bay and get to witness not only Tyrion (who was the only character to see action in A Game of Thrones) but Davos take up arms and get into the fighting which is told with an excellent amount of intensity and brutality that allows you really picture the battle at hand and the confusing nature of such a fight.

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Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Yay, its book club meeting time.

July’s book was William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, I book that I’d heard was a big part of the initial cyberpunk movement, a genre that I’ve not read any fiction from but am a huge fan of films such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Alot of distopian literature released since its original publication can be linked back to it too I suppose.

So Neuromancer, for those that haven’t read it, is all about a hacker named Chase, who has turned to a life of hustling in Chiba City, Japan, in order to make enough money to eat and spend the night in a “coffin hotel” which, to me, sound alot like the capsule/pod hotel’s that you can find in Japan, but with a few more bells and whistles like magnetic locks and some sort of computer terminal. Chase isn’t able to access the Global Computer Network due to a microtoxyn that he was implanted with after a job went bad, so is now unable to hack. However, he is approached to do a job, with the reward being that he’ll have the microtoxyn removed (thus allowing him to do the job in the first place). A woman called Molly is also employed to do certain aspects of the job, those being more physical oriented in contrast to Chase’s work in Cyberspace, and their employer is a man called Armitage. However, Chase and Molly don’t really know what Armitage is up to, but they begin to suspect something, and as such the book becomes not just a tale of this heist like job they’ve been employed to do, but also their investigation into who Armitage is and what he really wants.

Now, all that there, sounds excellent, but if I’m honest, I really struggled with Neuromancer. I found its language difficult to penetrate and there was so many different terms, characters and locations and everything moves at such a break neck pace that I found myself scrabbling to remember what had happened, to whom and where, and its not really until the final chapters that I felt the whole picture began to click. It was also difficult to escape the influences its had elsewhere, there’s the obvious names such when they discuss Cyberspace or The Matrix, which are both terms that have been adopted elsewhere in our culture, but also with how events pan out it felt like I was watching a few different films all at once, with drug references, computer terminology and military speak all being thrown around, it came as a surprise, but also a relief that when Chase and Molly team up with a Rastafarian pilot, that I began to understand things a little better, and I think as whole the story would have been easier to follow if the central character wasn’t so deeply entangled within the world of being a “Console Cowboy” and being a part of that underworld as the language being used was so far away from what most people used it, as I’ve said, often got confusing.

Thats not to say I didn’t enjoy Neuromancer, I absolutely loved it, and I can actually see me reading through it again at some point in the future (which I rarely manage to do with books) with a better understanding of what the cast are talking about. I think if I did do that I may pick up on some of its more deeper themes.

What did stand out strongly though is the American view of Japan. Now, I’m writing this after reading the first of four volumes of Shigeru Mizuki’s “Showa” which details Japan’s history from the early 20th Century and eventually finishes in the late 1980s, though the volume I’ve finishes reading finishes just before the Second World War. Anyway, theres this view that Japan went from being the nation who was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, who it was felt were still in a feudal period, to suddenly, in the 1980s being this tech supergiant, suddenly everything worth having was coming from an Japanese electronics company and that seems to have skewed the American view of Japan somewhat, so when you read through Neuromancer, its difficult not to read the names and places being used, but see a more grimey, American style setting too, much like that we see in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

There’s a very modern, multi-cultural feel to Neuromancer too, which isn’t just brought about by the racial differences in the characters but by the products they use. Items aren’t really referred to by their object name, instead Gibson prefers to use their brand name, much like we do now, so rather than describing a car, we’re told the characters are in a Citroen or a Mercedes, which are obviously devices that will generate specific types of cars in the readers mind, likewise cigarettes are named by their brand, I think one of the brands mentioned is Gauloises, I may be wrong, but it shows the capitalist world the characters inhabit and ties in to the belief from the 20th Century that you could tell a man by what he drank or smoked.

This sort of thing carries on throughout, and its difficult at times to know what was a real world brand and what wasn’t, especially roughly 35 years on from its original publication.

So, to close, I adored my time with Neuromancer, it felt like work at times, but that not necessarily a bad thing, some times a book requires some effort on the readers part for it to really get under the readers skin, and it gave me a hankering to watch Akira, Ghost in the Shell, both Blade Runner movies and The Matrix again

Books

Sea of Stars #1 – Jason Aaron, Dennis Hallum, Stephen Green, Rico Renzi, Jared K. Fletcher

Sea of Stars immediately catches the attention with its heavy use of the colour purple, and that striking appearance continues throughout the pages of this first issue, albeit other sharp colours come in to play. It paints space as this wonderfully colourful expanse that is wonderful to look at, not that you would believe it based upon the comments of Kadyn, the son of a space trucker who is aboard his fathers ship for his latest job and is apparently bored with a capital “Boo”.

His father tries to explain that he had no choice to bring him along with him, the job he’s doing required him to be away from home for too long for him to leave his “almost nine” year old son behind with one of the neighbours. Kadyn is of the belief he could have “baby-sitted” himself. Then heads off into the hold to look at the museum exhibits his father was tasked with couriering back to Earth after the museum they were being held in was damaged in a meteor shower. Kadyn just wants excitement, whether its seeing a black hole, exploding stars or “Quarksharks” and uses his absent mother (presumed deceased) as a crux to try and manipulate his father “Momma would let me.”.

Once in the hold and looking (and touching, despite instructions not to) at the exhibits, his father notices a large ship coming into range on the scanner and tries to open comms with them “This is Gil Starx The Star Ducking sailing the Porkchop Comet for the Intergalactic Parcel Service. I see you out there, Big Rigger. What’s your handle, come on back?” It’s this wonderful American Trucker language that really grounds Gil as a character, we now know he’s a single father, possibly a widower, and that hes been space-trucking for some time.

However there is no response and as the ship soon gets closer, its revealed its not a ship but a huge creature that decimates the ship and splitting father and son up, casting them off into space. Kadyn awakes to be confronted with two more strange creatures, who plan to eat him as they presume he is dead due to the condition of his “breathing suit”. To the surprise of all, it seems he can breath in space without his suit and he can also communicate with these creatures. One of whom still wants to eat him but the other states they can’t as their witnessing a miracle.

We then cut to Gil and his promise to find his son, somewhere in the vastness of space.

Sea of Stars essentially then, throws the reader straight into the action in this first issue, and along the way we are treated to some excellent visual design, the (now destroyed) Porkchop Comet is a wonderful looking craft with solar sails, who’s overall appearance is reminiscent of Chinese Junk ships, inside there’s blue neon screens with readouts dotted around with open views of the beautiful purple space outside, all this is offset by the bright orange garb the characters wear that allow them to stand out against the backgrounds, but its the page with what I’m going to call the Space Whale that really pop off the page, and its not until all the alerts are going off and the Porkchop is being pulled apart that the hues all change to dangerous reds and blacks and then ultimately the characters being cast off into space/eaten.

As the issue ends, theres the hint of something more, we’re going to learn more about why Kadyn can do stuff humans shouldnt be able to do and there’s definetly danger ahead for Gil. I can’t wait for issue 2 of this five part series..

Books

A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin

I was apprehensive about starting A Game of Thrones, I’ve never really gotten on with any Fantasy stories I’ve tried and whilst I’ve seen the show and enjoyed that, the books sitting there on the shelf were really rather intimidating and the show hadnt really inspired me to pick them up before and start reading. I was expecting that I’d be counting down the pages hoping that I’d finish in time for our meet up to discuss it, but I actually finished a few days shy of a week early (although admitedly I did start a week prior to the last meeting as I’d gotten ahead of myself) and quite enjoyed it, I’m actually looking forward to reading the next book through August, although I’m glad for the break between! I certainly couldn’t mainline them like my other half has the audiobooks, shes on the last one of the main series thats been written and has got to that stage in the same time its taken me to read just the one book!

My initial impressions are that the show sticks fairly closely to this first book, or at least what I remember of the key events in the first season stick fairly close to the events of the book, although I haven’t watched the first season through for a couple of years now so I could be wrong on that.

Let’s get this out of the way early, its a bit pervy. I know that things were very different in the kind of era that this was set, but this is a fantasy piece of work, its not set in any kind of reality, so the attention to detail regarding the physical developments and sexual treatments of some of the female characters were really uncomfortable to read. Also, it doesnt even really feel like Martin was writing this stuff because “thats how it would have been”, the writing comes across like he’s enjoying writing about these young girls, Daenerys in particular. The strong focus on how Daenerys ‘ relationship with Khal Drogo develops (somehow) from him raping her (because lets not beat around the bush, thats what it was) to her consenting and falling in love with him feels voyeuristic and I dreaded Daenerys ‘ chapters for that reason.

Another character I couldn’t get on with, but for very different reasons (and Danaerys’ weren’t strictly her fault) was Sansa. I know she’s been brought up with the equivalent of fairy tales in her head and been raised to be a lady, but shes a lady of the North and thus shouldn’t be so absolutely fucking naive all the god damned fucking time. Pretty much everything that goes wrong throughout the entire book (with maybe the exception of what started it all: Bran being pushed by Jaime) has Sansa’s naivety at its origins. Every time the girl opens her mouth I wanted her to shut up as she was always getting somebody, or to be more accurate, her family, into trouble. Losing Lady was unfair, I’ll agree to that but any body else would have seen Joffrey for who he was when faced with the situation with Arya and the baker boy. But time and again she fell foul of Cersey’s ability to scheme and turn things to her advantage, but then I can hardly blame her. Idiocy seems to be in the blood of the Starks.

The problem here is, I know alot of what happens to some of these characters. I know theres differences between the books and the show and that some characters and events are omitted from the latter for a variety of reasons so I’m really looking forward to seeing how things develop. I have to say, and I know this is heresy, but I was never a fan of Daenerys . In the show she has acts holier than thou even though, in my opinion, her decisions dont reflect how she see’s herself nor how others treat her. I’m wondering if alot of the love she receives from fans is down to who she is within the story, but we’ll have to wait and see for now.

Books

Sandman Overture – Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart

I’ve said already that I’ve been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman binge this year. The first thing I read by him was American Gods, which I read back in 2017 but more recently, as part of my book club, I’ve read through Norse Mythology and Neverwhere, both of which I’ve really enjoyed. Sandman Overture is my first Gaiman comic, and as a prequel to this work it seemed like an excellent place to start.

It’s also an excellent place to finish if you aren’t new to Sandman. The plot, or how I’ve interpreted it, is about the end and the beginning of creation, the universe and all thats in it both burns out and is created anew, and its not until the final issue that all the strands and characters ramblings begin to make sense.

I’ll state now that its not the easiest of graphic novels to read, possibly due to needing to know who some of the characters are beyond how they present here and some of the relationships between Morpheus and his “family”, although the feeling is that knowing these things would be beneficial in only understanding the reasons for the actions of those who Morpheus interacts with and how they feel about the central figure of the book. Another reason its difficult to read is that its creators have decided to play with the medium available to them, there are foldouts in a few places, completely blank pages and even a double spread where you have to turn the book through 180 degrees in order to follow what happens.

All of which can be a bit overwhelming, add in the sheer amount of artwork available on (almost) every page and the detail within those pages and you’d be forgiven for taking the book in in smaller chunks in order to appreciate the work that has gone into it fully. It really is an utterly beautiful piece of work, J.H. Williams III’s art and Dave Stewarts’ colours really pop off the page and the way in which each character has their own style of speech bubble, complete with unique coloured background/text. I realise none of this is unique to this particular piece of work or the creators here but the combination of all of the above makes Sandman Overture one of the most visually striking comic books I’ve ever read.

As a concept its definetly gotten me interested in exploring the character further so its yet another series I’ve now started that I feel compelled to complete (with two of Alan Moore’s works, Swamp Thing and Promethea, also being among that list) and I look forward to reading obtaining Sandman Vol.1 at some point in the future (although its not like I have a lack of books to read!)

Books

Tales from the Border – Andrew Sztehlo

Andrew Sztehlo’s “Tales from the Border” is unlike any comic I’ve ever read before. Admittedly that’s not saying a whole lot as my comic book knowledge isn’t the most in depth and its such a huge medium anyway that most of us have barely scratched the surface of whats out there. The book harkens back to an era where authors would write short or serialised stories for genre based publications like Science Fiction Quarterly or Tales from the Crypt. However whilst publications such as those would collect together works from different creators, “Tales from the Border” is predominantly the work of Sztehlo, although he does borrow here and there.

Sztehlo borrows from Emily Bronte and Oscar Wilde at times to put words to his monochrome illustrations, however its not the text that push the majority of these stories along but his monochrome work really drives home the tales he is trying to tell. The form of the book, which is larger than a standard comic book, and the often full page images make you study every single line and shadow, and every crack and wrinkle of his characters faces. There’s been an effort here not to tale the tales of people, but of the worlds that they live in, which Sztehlo acknowledges in his closing comments.

He’s also not afraid to bring in his own experiences, there’s a lovely tale of the love he shares with his father for Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s and how his appreciation for Cave’s work has evolved over time alongside his understanding of the music and lyrics. Music plays a key part in this first issue of Tales from the Border, as not only are we treated to the above personalised story, but Sztehlo also lists the songs that helped him create this issue and not only does Nick Cave make an appearance there too but we also are introduced to legendary Blues performer Robert Johnson, firstly by the track “Love in Vain” appearing in said track list but also by the inclusion of a story from a moment in ?Johnson’s life that gives an insight into the particular song listed in the opening pages but also the mind of a man who has loved and lost and has to battle his inner demons, it certainly makes a chance from yet another retelling of Johnson visiting the crossroads to sell his soul to the devil and gives the man a little more humanity, albeit that of a tortured soul.

Whilst reading this issue of Tales from the Border I couldn’t help thinking that my reading environment wasn’t a suitable setting for these stories. Instead of a room lit by daylight, albeit a rather grey and wet day, slouched on my sofa with a mug of coffee to hand, the tales being told here somehow feel better suited to a high-backed chair in a dark room lit only by a roaring fire, the night time wind and rain battering the windows whilst the reader nurses a double whisky and I think that should tell you everything you need to know about Andrew Sztehlo’s “Tales from the Border”.

To see more of Andrew Sztehlo’s work you can find his blog at Tales from the Border and you can buy a copy of Tales from the Border #1 from his Etsy page.

Books, Gaming

OPM

No not the LA one-hit wonders who shat out Heaven is a Half-Pipe, I’m talking Official PlayStation Magazine UK. Back in the mid to late Nineties gamers were spoilt for choice when it came to magazines. Not only was it our only way of consistently getting news and reviews to feed our appetites for gaming, but the official magazine for Sony’s console came with a demo disc glued to the front/in its bag, something that home computer/PC gamers had been getting for years.

As a young teen with very little in the way of pocket money, (I’d get £1 a week from my Dad which I’d normally spend on sweets) I relied on my mum buying me magazines when I’d visit her and there were a few I’d pick up, C&VG was one, PlayStation World (PSW) was another (mostly as it was huge and they kept lists in the back pages of top ten games in different genres) and Official PlayStation Magazine, which was the priciest at a fiver, was the last. This was how I’d keep up with what games I knew I’d have to plead for when she took us into town once a month or I’d get for birthdays and Christmases.

They were always a great talking point with the small selection of friends I’ve regularly alluded to, but it was after reading this article that I decided to write about the magazine in more depth.

See, now I get that it was nothing more than an expensive advert for all things PlayStation and that scores were given to certain games that they didn’t always deserve. But back then? I wouldn’t even have considered it, it felt too grown up for that, that was something that I’d expect of trash like GamesMaster. which regardless of how much UK gamers had loved the TV show, the magazine by this point in time had become trash aimed at kids, and as a 13/14/15 year old I definitely wasn’t a kid! So PTSE lessons were mostly myself and my only gamer friend in my tutor group scanning through the magazine, checking out the screenshots and me making a mental note of what game I wanted to pick up next, I knew I’d have to wait a few months to get the absolute latest releases as I’d always pick them up second hand from GameStation, but that was fine. Lunch breaks were a mixture of football, usually one man knockout, which I’d normally be eliminated from within a few rounds so I’d sit by the goal (which in hindsight wasn’t the most sensible thing to do) and scan through the magazine some more, all the while waiting to for the end of the day when I could go round a friends house to play on their PlayStation or on the days I’d go to my Mums (every Tuesday and weekend) to play on the PlayStation I had there. It wasn’t until I was 15 I had one of my own at home!

I remember taking the Resident Evil 2 cover disc round to my older brothers place and us taking it in turns to get as far as we could within the demo’s time limit. Seeing the Licker for the first time was reminiscent to rounding the corner prior to seeing your first zombie in the original game. I’ve never really gotten on with the series as a whole, only ever finishing Resident Evil 4 (PS2 version) but both that zombie from Resident Evil and the Licker in the Resident Evil 2 demo have always stuck with me. I’ve already spoken of how obsessive I was of the Metal Gear Solid demo prior to playing the full game, but another demo I played to death was Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2.

Like the GamesIndustry.biz article talks about the Dave Mirra demo, the THPS2 demo was a major awakening for me. I could probably name three games that shaped my early footsteps when finding my own taste in music and they’d be Gran Turismo, Crazy Taxi and Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2. On the latter it was initially via a demo, but I played it so much I just had to have it as soon as possible. The demo featured the Marseille skate park and I think allowed you to play a Tony Hawk or Chad Muska, I always chose chad and absolutely rinsed that demo, often getting into pass the pad score attacks with a friends younger brother.

Tony Hawks 2 must have been one of the first games I bought with my own hard-earned money as it came out in September 2000 and I definitely remembering owning it before I dropped out of art college and then moving in with my Mum which was early 2001 I believe (as I re-enrolled into college on a different course but dropped out due to poor mental health later that same year) and like the demo before it, I played the full game to death, taking it back and forth between my Dads house when I was living there and my Mums when I was visiting her and to friends’ houses, always taking my memory card with me and challenging them to games of HORSE. It was one of the few games I could consistently beat most challengers at so I tried to make sure we always got a session in when playing multiplayer games.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Leviathan Wakes – James S. A. Corey

May’s Close Encounters Books Without Pictures Book Club book was Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey which is the first volume in the The Expanse series that is also an Amazon Prime Video show. I’ve not watched anything of the show prior to starting the book and only watched half the first episode since (my other half had to take a phone call during it so we shelved it and haven’t gone back yet as we’ve gone on a true crime binge since). It’s the first proper sci-fi we’ve read since I joined the group, Day of the Triffids is sort of sci-fi but not SPACE SCI-FI! So I was genuinely looking forward to starting it and ended up blasting through it. I’m not a particularly fast reader but I finished Leviathan Wakes within a couple of weeks rather than having to cram read before we met again.

The Authors (as its a team of two writers (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) writing under a pseudonym) have jumped head on into bringing us a space opera story that not only fits well within the sci-fi genre but also borrows horror elements too. It was hard not to think of both Ridley Scott’s Alien, Visceral Games’ Dead Space, Paul W S. Anderson’s Event Horizon and a whole host of other space set movies and games, there was also a sprinkling of Red Dwarf in the back of my mind as I read it. Mostly because I kept picturing James Holden as Captain Hollister even though Abraham/Franck’s descriptions do not tally with the image in my mind, nor do the characters actions and, with all due respect to Mac McDonald, the rather attractive Steven Strait (who is a more believable depiction of Holden) was the furthest thing from my mind.

Unlike a lot of tales, I don’t think Abraham/Franck were trying to apply any sort of moralistic story to Leviathan Wakes, unlike the aforementioned Day of the Triffids which looked at survival, communities and how people would behave in the situation depicted in that book, Leviathan Wakes is most definetly a TV Space set action based drama in the vein of something like the earlier seasons of the Battlestar Galactica remake. Initially it all starts with a very horror-movie like feel, with a girl being trapped in a locker after her ship was boarded and not knowing whats happened to her crew mates and then it brings in some body horror moments with the crew being amalgamated into a bionic mass that has taken over (if I remember correctly) the ships drive room. After that we’re thrown into space battles and a pretty cool, almost Blade Runner-esque (more Ridley Scott then) detective drama as the action switches between Captain Holden and Detective Miller before bringing back the horror elements and finally switching to political drama and Star Wars style space combat (minus any Jedi shtick, which if it went down that route would have made the book swing heavily towards Ready Player One territory which wouldn’t have been a good thing).

Abraham/Franck have stated they wanted to go for a setting that sits somewhere between the normal sci-fi stories. Man isn’t on the verge of exploring the stars, nor has it colonized the galaxy, but it has managed to set up homes on Mars and amongst the asteroid belts in between, using water harvested from said asteroids for the inhabitants of Mars and the Belter colonoies to survive on. They try, and mostly succeed, to explore territorial, political and evolutional differences between the three distinct colonies and how relations between the three can easily break down due to one incident. The series has been likened to A Game of Thrones (which we’re reading for June and discussing at the start of July) for this reason (and also because Franck is George R R Martin’s assistant) but (and thus far I can only compare it to the TV adaption of GoT) it’s not quite as political as Martin’s works as the two characters it focuses on are very different and wield very little political power (although Holden has a few bargaining chips up his sleeve as the plot develops).

I had a feeling I would enjoy Leviathan Wakes, so I’m not surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and I fully intend on trying to read other books in the series (Caliban’s War is already on my To Read pile after I found it for 50p in a charity shop) and watching the show, the biggest thing I enjoyed about it was its attention to detail, I loved all the talk about gravity thrust and the quieter moments upon the Rocinante, which its revealed late on is named after Don Quixote’s horse, but I also discovered that Prog Rock band Rush wrote two song’s telling the story of a space pilot who had a ship with the same name who is dragged into a black hole thats worth a listen to (even if the two songs combined weigh in at 25 minutes), if you really want to hear them, I’ve posted them below.

Books

What “Solo” could have been

I quite liked last years “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. I genuinely thought it was a fun little story, however, and you’ll notice this is a bug bear of mine, I feel it bogs itself down in fan service too much. Do we need to know how he got his gun or see him winning the Falcon from Lando? And the Kessel Run being included was always going to be on the cards. I know it sounds like I’m complaining, again, about Star Wars and that I’m not a fan. I assure you I am, but I’ve just read Marvel’s “Han Solo” by Marjorie Liu and Mark Brooks and genuinely think it could have made for a great standalone movie for the character.

We’re re-introduced to Han and Chewbacca after the events of Star Wars, Han is trying to pay off Jabba but turning down job after job (much to Chewie’s concern) because “they dont feel right). He’s ultimately coaxed into a job for the Rebellion, mostly as he doesn’t want someone else to use the Falcon, which involves retrieving some informants, using an inter-planetary race as a disguise. Its the perfect setup for an excellent adventure featuring Han and Chewbacca, and whilst Leia appears at points throughout (plus gives Han the job anyway), it doesn’t feel the need to name drop characters from the movies at all (Luke gets mentioned once, Jedi aren’t mentioned at all).

So, instead of having a story that feels the need to nudge and wink at its audience on a regular basis, as we got with Solo, what we have is a race across space in the Falcon, with occassional planetary visits that help move the mission along. Han meets some characters from his and Chewie’s own past along the way, and like with our introduction to Lando in Empire, we’re given just enough information to understand the relationships between these characters. The Empire play a large part in proceedings, indeed, they pursue Han (and the other members of the race he is taking part in) throughout the journey and its only down to Hans wile and (typically) alot of luck (all part of the plan!) that Han achieves his mission unscathed with the closing panels giving us a nice pathway into Han and Leia’s relationship, plus Han’s further involvement in the Rebellion, at the beginning of Empire.

So, as good as the comic book is, and as fun as Solo: A Star Wars Story is, I think the two would have better served the franchise as a whole of their creation was switched. A chase movie featuring Han questioning his own morals and beliefs, new characters that don’t shrink the Universe plus some familiar sights (Stormtroopers, Twi’leks, a Dug) that all help tie its involvement into the Star Wars Universe beyond it being a story featuring Han Solo, plus the growth of the Rebellion and how hard its key leaders have had to work in secret, for me, would have made an incredibly compelling movie. Instead, I urge you to pick up Han Solo from your local comic store, it contains a second story but that one spends alot of time with Luke and Leia too.

Books

#FreeComicBookDay2019

Yesterday, May 4th (so also a belated Happy Star Wars Day, May The Fourth Be With You), was Free Comic Book Day, an annual event where comic stores offer a selection of comics that customers can take for free (some ask for a small donation) to help promote their business and promote the key titles from comics publishers for the next 12 months. Now, whilst these comics are all free to customers, the store has to buy them in, so if you plan on going next year, please, please purchase something too as most comics stores are independent businesses and are great for the struggling high street. My comics shop is Close Encounters in Bedford, they have other stores in Peterborough and Northampton and are a family run business who run events ranging from the book club I attend through to Pokemon TCG and Magic tournaments.

Now due to the popularity of the event, and that everyone likes free shit, alot of stores limit the number you of comics you can take,  my store put the limit at five per customer, these are my pics.

Under the Moon is a Catwoman origins story set during her high-school years prior to her becoming Catwoman, when she is just Selena Kyle. This FCBD release is part of a bigger graphic novel aimed at Young Adults thats coming later this month (and is part of a series of books that will also see Raven from Teen Titans get her own book, part of which appears at the back of this issue).

So, teenage Selena doesn’t have a very happy life, her Mum has a dickhead for a boyfriend who stamps his authority on the household. One day Selena finds a stray cat and takes it home, hides it in her closet and the pair make each other happy, which her Mums boyfriend begins to question until her discovers the cat which ultimately leads to the cat dying.

There are elements of this story I like, I like that it hints that Selena will have to learn to deal with her feelings and possibly grieve the loss of her cat and I like that its quite obviously aimed at somebody similar in age to my eldest daughter (and I think she may get a kick out of the book herself, although she’s at that stage where anything I recommend is regarded as being uncool so may have to leave this FCBD issue where she can read it and discover it for herself). I like the colour palette, which is full of pale blue tones and gives the story a kind of melancholy edge to it. However it does something that I find distracting in alot of media, particularly media within the geekdom, in that far too often writers tend to include characters and events that shrink that particular world. In this instance Selena goes to school with Bruce Wayne, they were once good friends but he “stopped speaking to her” but her finding this cat gives her the courage to speak to him again and he reveals how he has lost his parents. I’ve complained about fan service on here before and this feels very much the same and the reason I complain about it is due to me wanting certain characters, in this case Selena Kyle/Catwoman, to be able to stand on her own two (four?) feet for herself without having Batman there to prop up the story. Something else I’d have liked to have seen is taken from the short interview that Lauren Myracle (writer) and Isaac Goodman (illustrator) have conducted between themselves at the back of the book. In the interview Myracle talks about how books featuring high school kids often have moments where the cast are chatting to each other but that when it comes to comics each panel needs an “Action” because people just talking doesn’t work in a comic, I’d personally like to see someone try, because I think if the conversation is engaging then it would still work regardless of whether or not the scene is described using pictures or words.

Sticking with DC Comics, I also picked up Year of the Villain after hearing somebody else asking to have the tie-in books to be added to their pull list. Year of the Villain is DC’s event comic for this year and this FCBD is the one that kicks things off, which it does with some style, all the major players turn up for a few panels each, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow etc but the major event for this issue is Lex Luthor attacking the White House and then seemingly taking his own life.

There’s not alot else to say about it, as its one of those books thats essentially an advertorial for things to come without offering anything of note, a teaser trailer that gives little room to discuss things and anyone who is interested in the event will already be adding the relevant titles to their pull list (such as the guy above).

It’s at this point that I noticed I didn’t pick up any Marvel, that wasn’t’ a conscious decision. I went to the store with only two titles in mind that I really wanted to try, Under the Moon and Spawn (which I’ll come to later), the rest where titles I picked on a whim. First of which is Deadly Class: Killer Set.

I knew nothing of this book before going in, I wasn’t aware that it’s been running for a number of years already and that it has its own TV show, have I been living under a rock all this time? Evidently. So a quick read up suggests this is a one shot inclusion to the series, a standalone story but it also feels like the reader is expected to know the characters already, which is fair enough (and is a feature of the next book I picked up too). That being said, its piqued my interest in the series and I want to pick up the collected volumes as I really quite liked this one. I really enjoyed the artwork, which had a kind of punky edge to it which tied nicely into the setting of the second half of the book when the group go to see a rock band, not to mention its general location which appears to be an 80’s New York.

There’s an almost Edgar Wright quality to it too, with music being heavily used a backdrop and the action when Viktor is “completing” his homework assignment. On this evidence I may even check out the TV show.

So, you know how I said Deadly Class seems to require some knowledge of the characters? Well the biggest culprit of this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which to be fair almost everybody knows who Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael are as theres been a plethora of non-comic book media dedicated to them since the late 80s. I’ve never actually read any of the comics (and I know thats where they originate) so was excited to see this sat on the table so I could give it a try. The main story is entitled “Road to War” and the comic is being pushed as the Road to Issue #100.

With that you’re thrown straight into the action, the Toitles are in a race against time to get a friend to the hospital whilst being pursued by a variety of bad guys, and its at the point where Mikey and Dony have to turn the Turtle van around and head elsewhere that we leave the action and the book then takes us down a path to give us a short retelling of the Turtles’ history which is told well enough to leave someone who has missed all the action thus far and provides a good jumping in point for newer readers, which is something I feel these FCBD should embrace more (and possibly do).

The last of my five, Spawn. This one I’d heard of, and as mentioned near the top of the page, was one of my “to get”‘s. Image Comics decided to re-issue the first issue of Spawn for FCBD2019. My only experience of the series is watching the film when I was a teenager on VHS in the late 90s. I dont even remember what I thought of it, but that I’ve never re-watched it probably speaks volumes, I do know its not particularly well regarded though.

So onto the comic, its really very 90s, the artwork in particular screams early 90s, and it seems to want to revel in that.The talking head news reporters that bookend the comic remind me of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. What #1 of Spawn does do is it sets out alot of questions for the reader, and opens things up so that you will want to read further issues, but it doesn’t really give alot more than that. I’ve come away from it not knowing whether Spawn is a comic for me or not, which if I’d have paid for this, would probably have put me off buying more issues.