There’s quite a number of things in my Pile, but it has been some time since I pulled out any comic books. I had considered going to my local shop on Sunday (after the gaming) to take advantage of another sale, but I was far too exhausted, mentally and physically. And I think we all know there’s no way in hell that the store will be open today. I’m not even going to get mail delivered and that’s fine by me (although package tracking insists I’ll get boxes today). As I type it’s currently -23°F and feels like -50°F with windchill. That means any exposed skin can develop frostbite in no more than five minutes. I like getting boxes, but I would never, ever want my boxes at the risk of someone else’s health and safety. Tomorrow, after the windchill advisory ends, is soon enough.
But back to reading. When my friend and I were out in the city to see The Lightning Thief, we hung out in Block Thirty-Seven for a while. It’s a shopping mall on Mag Mile, an entire city block. And the Oriental Theater happens to be right across the street. Given that the Red and Blue lines have stops in the pedway below, it was an obvious destination for dinner and time-wasting. Especially because of the used bookstore.
The bookstore used to be in the basement by the pedway, but things being what they are, that location is now a Starbucks and the store is only accessible from the street outside as opposed to being part of the interior mall. Their selection has never been as good as the first time I stumbled onto it, but I can’t refuse to at least glance through.
I didn’t know that they had any comics at all, for example. So of course I had to look through them. And I found something. A bit overpriced at a dollar apiece, but I suppose I can’t argue too much given that these issues retailed for $3.99. So I got Iron Man Noir #1-4 for the cost of a single issue retail. That’s an even bigger savings when I discovered (through actually reading the comics) that this is a complete miniseries, only four issues long.
The year is 1939 and Tony Stark is your typical serial pulp adventure hero. Quite literally, as one of the people on his jungle quest to a Mayan temple is the chronicler for Marvels: A Magazine of Men’s Adventure (owned and published by Stark). The four issues contain three of Stark’s adventures, numerous characters and cameos, a twist that left me speechless, and a lot of good, old-fashioned steampunk elements. Also Nazis. Because no one makes better enemies. It’s as if Tony Stark was Indiana Jones, and that’s no bad thing.
It’s a period piece as created by modern writers for modern audiences, and so I’m sure there’s elements that aren’t quite right, but since we’re using silly science anyway (because Tony Stark) it can be overlooked. This isn’t something I’m going to reread often, and it’s not going to compel me to see out other Noir prints from 2009-2010, but I’m glad I found it and for a good price.
Now, I did get to my local comic shop earlier this month, which means I came home with another coverless comic that I’ve determined to be Blackbird #2. I haven’t read much from Image Comics thus far, but I can’t argue with free. It’s very clearly a second issue. The page opens with some strange lionish monster with Chinese whiskers and horns coming for Marisa, the protagonist’s older sister. Our main character is Nina, who just last issue discovered that the world is a very different place. Magic is real and there are wizardly people called paragons. Also her cat Sharpie now talks. He’s a Lying Gargoyle type. Nina is trying desperately to dig up leads on her sister, but she really has no idea what she’s getting into. Oh, and their family is somewhat broken.
I can see that the series could be engaging, but I’d really need a larger sample to judge better, like the first graphic novel volume. Not that that’ll happen, since it’s due out later this year says Amazon. As it stands, Blackbird hasn’t shown me anything that I haven’t seen before in multiple contexts, so I see no reason to spend money on it or seek out more information. The art’s pretty good though, which is a plus.
The last time I did make it to the comic shop I opted to actually pick up one of the recent events, as many issues as I could find. After all, the events of it have influenced The Superior Spider-Man #1 which I read (and I’m getting the next couple issues because I’m not quite sure if I’m adding it to my current list or not) and I thought knowing some backstory might be useful. So I bought Spider-Geddon #1-4, which is not even the entire event. There’s an issue 0, and an issue 5 as well.
Okay so, there was a previous event that required a cross-dimensional spider team-up against the Inheritors. These people are vampires who live off of…spider essence? Whatever, they want Spider-men to eat. And only actual Spider-men. Ock, who at this time is the Superior Octopus, is not on the menu because he doesn’t have actual spider abilities, just tech and a suit. Anyway, because Ock was an overconfident supervillain using Inheritor tech, they managed to subvert his stuff to return as a new threat, which warrants reassembling the team.
And if you thought the Spiderverse movie was nuts, this is even moreso. I mean, my copy of issue 1 is a variant featuring Spider Punk because he’s stupidly awesome. Like, I’ve never heard of him before, but he’s just so beautifully nineties it’s hilarious.
But yeah, we’re talking numerous Peters, multiple Mary Janes, at least one Ben Parker, Spider-Gwen of course, Miles, and more. There’s Spiders-Man – a bunch of spiders that collectively think themselves to be Peter Parker – and he’s only one of the weirder ones, not the weirdest by far.
As far as dimension-hopping team-up stories go, I think this one’s pretty typical. You’ve got a few key players who are making all the big decisions, you’ve got the thread and the goal to take out the threat (though some groups think the Inheritors need to die the final death and others are more in favor of mercy and morality), and you’ve got your typical attack-defeat, attack-victory, attack-defeat, etc. There’s a moment for brains to shine, a moment for heart to shine…I think you get the idea. The story’s been done before, even if the details differ. But I’m not bored. I do think that Ock really needs to stop saying “The die is cast!” because that is such an overused and cliche one-liner. Not to mention villainous, which he’s trying not to be.
There’s a great exchange in issue 2 between Ock and Gwen where she says that because he’s a supervillain, he’s got to have a self-destruct button for his lair. Ock retorts that he’s a hero and better than everyone else. Gwen insists he just answer the question and of course the answer is yes, he does have a self-destruct button. Then Peter Porker (Spider Ham) comments on how cartoony it is to program your self-destruct with a countdown voice.
It’s moments like that which really make a team-up work. Because when fans demand to see their favorites meet, it’s so we can see the different personality quirks rub up against each other. We want to see them being themselves but interacting with our other favorites.
I’ll have to find the final issue for sure, though I’m less certain about #0. And yes, there’s a whole bunch of supplemental Spider-Geddon material (I remember flipping through page after page in the Marvel solicitations months ago), but I do not need any of it. Just what intrigues me at the moment is all I need.
There are a couple more comics sitting in my Pile, but they’ll remain there today. Both are Power Rangers and I suspect I’ll have at least one new issue the next time I get over to the comic shop. So, might as well wait and read them all in one fell swoop.
I do still have other options available for the rest of the day.
I even decided to go with something that takes up a bit of space and has been sitting for a couple months. You may recall I do have a Book of the Month subscription and periodically order books that intrigue me. The ones that I’m not eagerly awaiting can sit in the Pile for quite some time – there’s one that is over a year old and I haven’t decided if I’m giving up on reading it yet or not.
Today’s book is only from my December box and it’s, like most of the selections offered through the service, general fiction. The Far Field is Madhuri Vijay’s debut novel and it’s definitely been an interesting read. Not an especially long read for me at a bit over four hundred pages, and especially not considering that I’ve pretty much finished it in one sitting. Maybe four hours all told.
Shalini tells her story in first person, six years after the main events of the tale. There’s also flashbacks to her childhood and formative incidents. You see, when she was twenty-four she took off on her own from her hometown of Bangalore, in the south of India, for the northern region of Kashmir, the village Kishtwar, and another village so small she never learns its name. She was chasing a dream, in the way only a rich young woman can, trying to find a random man she remembered from happier days with her mother. And, as you can guess with a book like this, she seems to have messed up and poisoned everything she touched.
It’s not the most satisfying conclusion to read, but it fits for this book. I was certainly engaged the entire time, rooting Shalini on, wanting to cover my eyes at appropriate moments, etc. But this is not a comfortable book to read. Nor is it meant to be. There’s a distinct feeling that I, as a privileged young white person, am being told to mind my own business and not insert myself into someone else’s situation that I know nothing about. Which makes me feel uncomfortable and uncertain that I want to keep this book. I certainly can’t argue the point because I don’t know much about India. I do remote work with a team in India and it’s not easy, but I don’t pretend to think I understand what their lives are like. I remember getting an email one day saying that they were closed because a provincial governor was killed. And I know I have no concept of what it might be like living in a country where your very life could be at risk just because a high level regional politician died.
I don’t regret reading this book. I’m not even sure I regret the fact that I do pay for the subscription and the money went to this book. The Far Field is not at all the worst book I’ve chosen and I knew it wasn’t quite in my wheelhouse even when I did pick it. Hell, I got the book because one of my book credits was about to expire so I figured I should do something with it instead of just letting it dissolve into the ether. But I know that the vast majority of offerings aren’t to my taste – this is why I get very excited to see choices like The City of Brass or Spinning Silver – books I know I’ll love before I even read the synopsis.
To be completely honest, I read The Far Field today because there’s a different book I couldn’t read. My copy’s been lent out to a friend for the past…three years? four?…and he still hasn’t read this relatively short, quick, young adult read. It’s not Indian in theme though, more Arabic, but the feel I have from it was similar to the feel The Far Field evoked when I chose it last month. (I’ve since informed my friend that the next time I see him I am getting my book back. Enough is enough and I want to reread it.)
So, The Far Field. Interesting, engaging, and uncomfortable. Something that I’ll be offering to a used bookstore in the future. At least I don’t regret reading it.
Which brings me back to the eternal question of what to read next? I’ve plenty of options and plenty of time, given that the office is closed again tomorrow. That’s no surprise, given that the windchill advisory for temperatures as low as -50°F (once the wind is factored in) doesn’t expire until noon tomorrow. Which means you’re talking a half day at most for those who choose to come in. That’s what I’d do because it is brutal outside and I’m quite glad to be observing from the other side of windows I replaced just this summer. But who cares about windows when there’s books to be read?
After a day with so much new material, I craved something old and familiar. And something good, that I’ve loved from the moment I first found it in The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh. These were the first contents in that book and I fell so in love with them it took me another story or two to realize that, for my taste, Cherryh can’t write short fiction. She either needs to create a longer work or provide a larger world for the short fiction to live in. And that’s why Sunfall works so well.
Sunfall takes place on the Earth of the far future. Humans have sent out colonies which have grown, prospered, and grown strange to the homeworld. After all, despite the millions who’ve gone out, there are always those who remain behind as the sun grows old and red and as the moon falls in the sky. And as the world has aged, the cities which were once so connected have become isolated once more, each one more strange and unique than the last. Cherryh explores six different locations in poignant and riveting tales.
“The Only Death in the City” is probably the most memorable story in the lot, despite being the first and not the final tale. Paris has long since isolated itself from the world, a walled city with no doors and precious few windows to the outside. And its people…remember. Over the centuries, the people of Paris have grown to remember their former lives, living again and again in new bodies, often descended from previous ones. And the lives they lead are often dictated by the lives they’ve led. But every so often a new soul enters the City, someone who lacks that knowledge and experience. And, every so often, someone chooses to leave the city forever, by visiting the Death that lives deep down in the lower levels. It’s a compelling tale that I’ve loved from the start and my favorite in the entire book.
From Paris we move to its old competitor London in “The Haunted Tower”. And yes, the Tower in question is the Tower of London. A woman has been imprisoned there by her lover, the Mayor (and ruler) of the city. But the Tower’s a crowded piece of real estate and it seems there may be more going on than a lover’s spat. In the end, it’s Bettine’s choice what kind of life she wants to live.
The third story is the second-most memorable in the book, at least as far as I’m concerned. “Ice” is, suitably enough, the story of Moscow. Or Moskva, as the inhabitants call it. They live simply, isolated not only from the rest of the world but also from the stars. Even cities like London still have spaceports available. But Moskva is deep in the ice most of the year, and therein lies the risk. The Moskovians live such narrow lives in order to preserve themselves, lest the ice around them infest their souls. After all, there is little or no help coming.
“Nightgame” brings us to Rome, a city of ruins upon ruins upon ruins. The lords and ladies of the city have fallen into decadence, and their only entertainment comes in dreams. They are powerful creations and these people are so skilled that they can triumph over anyone and everyone else. But there’s money to be made from these dreams, if the Tyrant of Rome permits them to be recorded and resold on other planets. To that effect, an entrepreneur has brought a special gift that might change all the rules of the game. When trying to remember the stories in Sunfall, “Nightgame” is usually the last I can recall without additional aid, after the tales of Paris, Moscow, and London.
The story of New York City, “Highliner”, is the one I always forget about. Possibly because it’s the most convoluted with the least detail. The Big Apple is no longer a megalopolis but a spire, a massive tower that continues to grow ever upwards and outwards. The base is massive, joining with the bases of other spires from nearby cities that have not yet joined with the largest. And the heights…it’s nearly impossible to imagine. The highliners are the ones who travel around the outside of the tower, especially in regions slated for expansion construction, looking for flaws to report so that the Builders can take them into account. But that’s a basic, mundane view of the job. And the people who pay for the construction, the corporations, they’re always out to make money at any cost.
Last up is “The General” in and outside of the city of Peking. It’s an old story for that land, a horde of invaders coming in from the plains to besiege a very old, very civilized city. And yet, it’s so much more than that. It’s perhaps not the most striking or memorable tale, but I will remember it, as opposed to “Highliner”. It’s a story that we’ve seen played out so many times before, but that doesn’t mean its immutable. Even the oldest dog can learn a new trick.
I truly do love Sunfall. Even though you can see it as a depressing view of the far-flung future, I feel the hope that Cherryh has imbued her tales with. It’s human nature to seek out the brightness and hope in any situation, to not let deadly radiation or ruins upon ruins keep us from living our lives, no matter how large or small they may be. That’s why I love older science fiction – because it’s filled with hope for the future against all the odds.
Now, it’s more than time for bed. I’m still uncertain about tomorrow’s reading, but I’m sure there’ll be something, if only because I like reading over meals. But I won’t worry about it until breakfast.