Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (Paper Girls, #1)Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the writer of the brilliant Saga graphic series comes a new series that upon first introduction seems the lovechild of a feminist Stand By Me and Lovecraft. Four 12-y.o. girls newly break into the “Boys Only” club of newspaper delivery. One has also become the first local female altar “boy.” Tough as these preteens may be, they’re still suburban Cleveland 12 y.o. females armed only with their newspapers and bicycles. For safety’s sake, they pair up to avoid harassment and worse to get through Halloween pre-dawn as roving teen boys are still out pranking.

Set in 1988, the nostalgia factor is high for me from music and movie references to the levels of technology and video games. [My brother turned 13 within a week of this story setting.] It’s also accompanied by 1980s homophobia and AIDS-phobia, but not without getting called out by a couple more enlightened characters. This is no mere nostalgia ride, it’s divergent history and urban fantasy with most people seemingly disappeared or raptured away while the girls are on their routes. Also, massive pterodactyl-like beasts fill the air with riders no less, and alien-speaking mutant or mutilated teen boys lurk in the shadows. It’s almost Lovecraftian in its WTF-is-going-on approach, but then information starts to roll. Multi-dimensional time and space jumping pawns in a future[?] battle between teens and old-timers–this is metaphor in the extreme.

Artist Cliff Chiang makes good use of his material. The story sits in the “High Potential” box for this volume with the expectation that more answers and greater world-building will play out soon in subsequent volumes.

I’ve previously read Vaughan’s:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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Novella[s] Review: The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.

The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice TalesThe Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two beloved Victorian Christmas stories get reworked into the same world in this collection of 2 novellas. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King opens the series in a barely re-imagined format. The novella more than just liberally borrows from the original, it offers almost nothing new which is disappointing. Mostly, it seems to be pure set up for Hoffmann’s tinkerer character [Drosselmeyer] to be the main manipulator in other tales now set in his trippy world, one foot in the land of Fae.

The second novella slightly tweaks Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but imagines that the 3 ghosts are Drosselmeier’s doing. More promising is the shift in POV to that of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner that opens the Dickens’ version as the haunt coming before the 3-act spiritual crash course in being a decent human being. The promise lies in the queer re-telling with Marley admitting his forbidden love for Scrooge and taking responsibility for how Scrooge turned out.

Unfortunately, the promise doesn’t pay off with new content, it merely acts as a queer filter as the original novel plays out around it. A veneer of 21st century queer acceptance and psychology is provided by Drosselmeier and friends to the ghost Marley in and around their torment of Scrooge.

Many classical tales have received successful reworks, such as The Wizard of Oz inspiring Wicked. The success comes in the new scenes that shape the original tale anew. It’s all about the new content that applies the new slant. And that’s what’s missing here, new content. It’s scene for scene, the original tale without the original author’s name on it.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Ten Thousand Miles” by Connie Wilkins

4 of 5 stars.

The horrors of war get a fresh treatment in this tale set in a Union hospital encampment at the edge of the Louisiana swamp. A virtual limbo, the miasma-filled camp is staged for confusion as first Rebels overtake the camp and then a Union gunship takes aim amid the roiling mists and smoke.

The camp is largely manned by “African-descent” former slaves fighting for freedom. Two main characters hold down the hospital tent. Gem is an elderly African-American woman disguised as a man to help the freedom effort. It reads more queer/trans in the narrator’s use of male pronouns for male-guised Gem. Gem’s also attuned to the restless spirits awaiting reunion with the still battling living.

The narrating surgeon is a widowed white Quaker son and grandson of Quaker abolitionists that were at the forefront of the Indiana portion of the Underground Railroad. He’s also haunted by spirits in the form of his deceased wife. The camp is filled with her beloved moths of every size and color, and they serve as a constant reminder of her.

This moving tale shifts from black to white, male to female, living to dead, substantial to spiritual all amidst the roiling mists and flocking moths . . . It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Less Than Zombie” by Douglas E. Winter

Less Than ZombieLess Than Zombie by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This tale responds to the Post-Modern classic, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel. Perhaps it makes this tale too narrowly aimed for the literary critic. Reading Ellis’ novel first isn’t necessary, but recognizing where it’s coming from helps.

Ellis’ novel incorporates all of the depraved and callous decadence of works like William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which depicts the sexually loose and drug infused world of the fringe beats drifting between Europe and North Africa in the 1960s and applies it to the 1980s teen culture of urban and suburban upper middle class America which saw heroin epidemics around Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Both novels offered POVs through the lens of shifting drug hazes, loose fluid graphic sex and sexuality, prostitution, rape, snuff films and dead bodies. Both were received incredulously by those who couldn’t fathom what could bring society to this lowered state.

An answer is provided in this short tale, in which the speaker and his social circle are beyond jaded one year into a zombie apocalypse. Written in the style of Ellis’ novel, scenes are lifted from the novel and overlaid with undead, albeit without the tongue-in-cheek of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies turn on Jane Austen’s more famous novel.

Does this take somehow lessen Ellis’ work? Yes and no. Yes, in that it provides a more palatable reason [zombies] for the decadence than the practically “no reason at all” in the original. The original is so shocking that it isn’t believed by many to be possible. But I vote, “No.” This doesn’t lessen Ellis’ work. It shows the door that would send much of society down this very route. Zombies as a genre have evolved from tales of ghouls without social implications into complex social commentaries showing the tenuous hold on civility that actually exists. One hurricane, one riot, and an entire social structure can crumble. Humanity has shown this repeatedly.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: 10:55 Flight to Chicago from Heathrow

A final look back at the boarding gate
               shows stand-bys milling, rushing
               among linen scarves, watches and fresh
               fruit booths from the Tube station escalator.
Trains networking out embrace fields, coasts,
               and leaping rivers, disturbing the contours
               to reach the valleyed cities.
Rains sweep down and stop miserably,
               as they had started, luring
               someone into the sea by warm sun
               and high waves industrially glossed.
The castle deteriorates upon the throbbing
               club pulsating with men-by-day
               experiencing Madonna with each breath
               of bottled poppers.
Separate out a quarter and smoke it, surfer.
Gather blossoms from the rhododendrons
               to sprinkle on the water ebbing further
               from shore draining this filthy bay
               marred by a fresh stream cutting
               through attracting gulls.
Come in, roll up, blow blue smoke
               out the windows from the lofty ledges
               used by bees that just want the jam packets
               to get drunk on like we get drunk on
               before dancing, dancing, and sleeping
               with the nice looking guy who tries
               to lure us back to his place before coming in ours.
Was it worth it?
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Novel Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This debut novel beautifully , and at times disgustingly, deconstructs social notions of gender and gender roles along with the idea of “the individual” and what it means to be human. With descriptive language ranging from the visceral and pungent to the passionate and poetic, folkloric monsters are brought to life on the page ultimately pushing the subject of what separates the “monsters” from the “humans.”

The creatures in question are shape-shifters incorporating the lores of the Norse kveldulf, the French loup-garou, the Greek lycanthrope, the Romanian vampire, the Middle Eastern djinn, and the Hindu rakshasa. All are one and the same filtered through centuries of culture and lore. And they’re real. They disguise themselves as human. Transform into monsters. And then devour humans. When they devour humans they take on all of the memories of their victims such that memories of the beast and the various victims become indistinguishable.

Through the accumulation of memories and the horrific acts the creatures enact upon their victims, one experiences the roles of both the raped and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer, the devoured and the cannibal, the child killing a parent and the parent being killed by the child.

The novel takes the reader places they may not wish to go. But it could not do so more beautifully:

The full moon watches through the clouds, eager for massacre. With a bark of exhaled air, the clatter of tusk and fang, we spring. The bauls’ song is loud, and beautiful in its imperfection. It is their last. I run with my pack. My tribe. The bauls are surrounded. They sing till the very last moment.

The first kill is silent as our running, a glistening whisper of crimson in the air. The last is louder than the baying of a wolf, and rings like the bauls’ mad song across the marshes of what is not yet Kolkata. I can hear the howl as I run with this human in my arms, into the darkness, away from the shadows of slaughter. The howl curdles into a roar, enveloping the scream of the last dying minstrel.

But she is alive, against me, shivering against my dew-dappled fur. She is alive.

This tale is recommended.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Prayer for Icarus

You’ve been caught,
     accused and condemned
in barely a breath. Bindings

ensnarl your chafed wrists
     wrenched back beyond
your failing flexibility.

The sweat-and-vinegar
      blindfold snuffs the sun,
but not heat, oppressively

still air, not murmurs
      of gathered people
four stories below,

not the whimper of your lover—
      beautiful man
that he is—likewise bound.

The sentence uttered
      is brief,
feather-light.

The man you once knew
      crumples, then
is hoisted aloft.

You pray, that like Icarus, he’ll find his wings and ride thermals
     between the sun’s heat and the shattered cinder blocks below.
He’ll fly to the Neverland where men like you marry,
     where they throw you parades and gift you rainbows.

The ruined noise echoes its report
      from cavernous buildings
and broken cement.

Bound and brought
      to a ledge, you
are freed of gravity—

desperate to fly like the doves
      tossed from the ark
looking for dry land.
 
 
 
 
 

[The original week of this posting in October 2015, ISIS released proof that they’d been executing gay men in multiple cities by throwing them off buildings.

Check out other original poems here.]