Space and Ships

Today I went off in a very different direction from my recent reading.  I decided it was time and past to get to Anne McCaffrey’s The Coelura.  It had sat on my dad’s shelves for years without attracting my attention (probably because I never actually looked at the cover) or interest.  When glancing through McCaffrey’s page on the isfdb.org, I noticed it was classed with the Crystal Singer books, so I determined that I had to have it.

Frankly, aside from the fact that it’s an FSP book (Federated Sentient Planets) there’s nothing to connect it to those.  The Coelura is a surprisingly short book from 1983 taking place on the planet Demeathorn.  Lady Caissa is the protagnoist, a young woman from the upper echelons of FSP society, living in Blue City.  There’s also a Red City and the continent is vaguely triangular, eventually leading her to guess at the existince of a Yellow City.

Much of the book is Caissa solving the mystery of what is so valuable that everyone on and off of Demeathorn wants it, and clearly it’s located in or near the Yellow City. Also just as obviously people, her father in particular, would rather she didn’t know. The answer is, of course, the coelura, though it takes some time to figure out just what that means.

The Coelura introduces readers to the highest levels of society, where the wealthy descendents of first colonists see to it that their legacy is passed on to a single body-heir, perfect of form, conceived & birthed naturally, etc.  The body-heir is denoted by a unique tattoo around their neck, covered by an identical necklace when they reach their minor-majority at fourteen.  These people do not necessarily rule…but it’s not uncommon to find them in positions of great power.

I mentioned that this book is short, running just over a hundred fifty pages.  However, the story is shorter even than that because of the illustrations.  How long has it been since I read a book for adults with illustrations?  I suppose the last would have been Dragons of Darkness, though that generally featured a single image for each story.  The Coelura contains sixty-three pages of illustration, eight of which are devoted to full spread images.  Which means the story itself is less than a hundred pages long.  Hence I knew I would easily finish it before my lunch hour was over.

The images themselves are lovely and while I wish I could see them rendered in full color, I’m also reminded of all the times I’ve seen hardcover or oversized copies of The Coelura on used bookstore shelves.  I’d imagine the illustrations can be appreciated far more when they are printed larger than mass market paperbacks allow for.  I can’t say that they truly added anything to the experience of reading, but they were a lovely feature.  I know when I mentioned my intention to read this book to a friend, her first question was whether or not my copy had images.  I had no idea what she was talking about then, but promised I’d tell her once I got around to it.

The reason why I kept putting off reading The Coelura after that conversation wasn’t because of length or even disinterest, but rather because there was one other book isfdb.org said was classed with the Crystal Singer set, and I spent months trying to find a copy of Nimisha’s Ship.  My first reaction when I opened this at lunch was pleasure at having just finished The Coelura, for Nimisha is also a member of that highest level of society, a First Families body-heir.

With more than three hundred fifty pages to this book, I was forcibly reminded that Anne McCaffrey liked to take her time.  We spend a good chunk of the book watching Nimisha grow and learn, her continual interest in all things mechanical, her father’s pleasure and fosterage of knowledge, her mother’s love and indulgence, etc.  We see her attain her majority and dreams of designing ships.  Or rather, the dream of designing the ship.  It takes years and five different builds, but finally Nimisha is able to test her ship.  Unfortunately, something unexpected happens, and that’s when the second half of the story starts.

Full of drama, intrigue, and human nature, Nimisha’s Ship is a fabulous example of what made Anne McCaffrey such a great author.  Even without it being a part of her FSP universe, even without a direct reference to The Coelura, this book would have stood happily on its own.  True, it lacks images, but that’s never been a prerequisite for me.  Nimisha herself is an engaging character who drags the reader with her on this grand adventure.

I should mention, there was a point earlier today.  I had just punched in from lunch and was sixty-eight pages into Nimisha’s Ship.  I looked to see that the story ended on page 361 and thought to myself “do I want to finish this tonight?”  Then I had to stop and laugh at what had just run through my brain.  It sometimes amazes me to think that there was never a question of if I could read three hundred pages between getting home and going to bed, only a question of whether or not I wanted to spend most of my evening with a book.  Because, I’ll have you know, that’s not usually the case.  Oh sure, I usually rack up a good hour or so all told each night, but I do other things.  Surf the internet.  Watch videos.  Play games.  You know.  So getting through three hundred pages means next to none of that other stuff happens.  But…it’s still eminently possible for me.  After all, here I am, wrapping up a blog post for two novels in one day.

I really do prefer older science fiction like this.  Yes, human nature can screw the pooch so easily, but the future is still incredibly bright for us all.  It doesn’t matter that there are a very few First Families scions out there who employ much of the rest of humanity, many of them understand the need to treat their employees as human beings.  They see to it that their employees have all they need and could want and are rewarded with loyal service.  Obviously not everyone thinks that way, but our heroes do and it’s enough.

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Freebies

I guess Saturday was Batman Day for some reason, so there were comic shop sales going on.  Also the day that DC launched their new Black Label, or so I’ve heard.  But I checked out after reading about sales.  Anyway, I went to my local shop and managed to find my own copy of Emerald Warriors and get it for under $10 with tax, so that was good.  And, as per usual, I got a number of freebies thrown in.  A new issue of Comic Shop News, an issue of DC Nation, a booklet about banned comic books (spoilers, WatchmenSandman, and Maus are all on the list) and a flyer for Mirror Falcon were most of the bulk.  Nothing outstanding there, though it is interesting that DC puts together an actual magazine to advertise their products.  Not only did it give a blurb for a month or two worth of releases, but it contained several interviews and a tutorial about color use in comics.  Overall, everything you would want in a magazine produced on the side by one of the two biggest comic publishers.

There was also, as per usual at this store, a coverless comic thrown in.  This one is an issue of Hit-Girl, which I could easily figure out because the masked kid is clearly the main character and she says her name aloud.  Sure, there’s also an ad for another book of hers at the back, but I’m a mistrustful sort who won’t assume that the ad is the same series I just read an issue of.  Here, Hit-Girl is somewhere in the emptiness of Canada, opening the book with her foot stuck in a bear trap and trying to fend off an ursine investigator with a knife.  An old woodsman comes to her aid despite her repeated efforts to shoulder the burden alone.  Also someone’s hunting her.  I really have no idea what’s going on, but I’m definitely not interested in a kid who can’t take good help when it’s offered.  Also, can she see ghosts or something?  I think she can see ghosts based on what was in this issue.

The other freebie book I got was an actual legitimate freebie book: Batman: White Knight from Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth.  And…I have to say I am impressed.  I’d heard about Batman: Damned, which is I think supposed to be the Black Label’s big premier book?  Joker’s dead in that and Batman’s lost his memory of that fight?  Night?  Whatever.  He was there but doesn’t actually know who did it.  And his backup is…John Constantine.  It’s a concept and combo that has me facepalming.  I’m sure it’ll be good, I’m just…not up for two assholes that are theoretically good guys.  So let’s get back to what I actually read.

The opening page of White Knight is nothing too out there.  The Batmobile driving up to Arkham Asylum.  A man exits the car and is guided inside, though he tells the police or security that he knows his way around.  A key turns in a lock revealing…Batman.  And then we see that the figure was the Joker.  Or rather, Jack Napier, as he’s known without the makeup.  And he’s asking Batman for help.  That’s the end of page 3 in a 24 page freebie.  The next panel cuts to “ONE YEAR AGO” and begins to explain how this stunning reversal came about.

I have to admit, I was hooked by that point.  Of all the superheroes I have familiarity with, Batman is the biggest name who spends the most time toeing the line between hero and villain.  In many cases (and many stories) he’s only the hero because he’s Batman and decades of comic books have told us that he is a hero.  Because Batman is so often represented as a lone wolf who doesn’t trust anyone else completely, it’s entirely logical for him to turn wholly inwards, trapping himself deeper and deeper in a mental state where nothing and no one matters save his personal mission.  Although I’m no longer certain what that mission has warped into for the Batman of this particular story.

It’s telling, I think, that Dick Grayson (Nightwing at this time) refers to him as Batman even when the mask is off.  Barbara Gordon, on the other hand, insists on calling him “Bruce” even as he’s ignoring her in the Batmobile’s passenger seat.  For comparison, Nightwing calls Batgirl “Babs” while the trio are in pursuit of the Joker.  Not sure that’s a great idea from the standpoint of keeping identities secret, but it does make clear the separation in Dick’s mind.

I’m quite certain that White Knight is, at least in part, an exploration of Batman’s psychoses and how he’s cut himself off from the world to the point where maybe the Joker is the only person who can possibly draw him out again.  I definitely want to see more of the book’s present where the roles are reversed, but I’m not opposed to seeing the breakdown of the status quo in the flashback.  According to the ad ending the story, this graphic novel is coming out next month, so the story’s already finished.  Which is good for my curiosity, though I still have to wait a bit.

At this point in time I don’t think I’ll want to spend my own money on this, although part of that is because I’ve never once bought a Batman book.  You may recall my weird mental hiccup about popular things?  How the more popular something is, the less interested I am in it?  That’s almost certainly part of why I haven’t read many Batman or Superman comics and don’t own any either.  Well, no trades.  I have a copy of Batman: Endgame #1 that came out of a LootCrate a few years back, but that’s it.  Until now, because I am definitely keeping this issue of Batman: White Knight.  After all, just because I’ve not read a great deal of Batman’s books doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with the character, his backstory (increasingly hard to escape at this point), and several key points of his life.  I may not be a huge fan, but I can definitely appreciate White Knight turning the establishment upside down.  I’m very glad that the shop owner still had a few copies left and was able to toss this one in my bag.

The World is Green

You know, I had pulled an actual novel off my shelves this morning…but then the comic shops were having sales and such.  And the furthest one I frequent has its standard “buy two, get one free”…if I can find three I want.  Which I didn’t think would be too difficult since what I want is to dig up more of what Guy Gardner was up to while Geoff Johns was writing Green Lantern.  I managed to find it too.

Today’s books are three volumes of Green Lantern CorpsFearsomeAlpha War, and Willpower.  All are from the New 52, meaning they take place after Brightest Day, as well as before and concurrently with The Third Army and Wrath of the First Lantern. Actually, having found Willpower I am no longer certain I need a copy of Wrath of the First Lantern since this contains all the issues that were missing from volume 3 of the omnibus, plus the start of the whole mess, which I hadn’t read before.

I still haven’t found the story of the first time Guy wore a red ring, but I’m confident it’ll cross my path in time.  As it is, these three volumes are exactly what I had hoped for beside that, telling the stories of both Guy Gardner and John Stewart during the last portion of Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern.  For the record, these books are from the team of Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, and Scott Hanna.  Obviously Johns also contributed to Willpower because a number of the issues contained therein are the same as what was in the omnibus, but that’s not a bad thing.  Like I said, I truly feel that I’ve finally read enough of Wrath of the First Lantern to fully appreciate it.  As with Blackest Night I wouldn’t be surprised to find there’s more viewpoints available in other books, but aside from my personal interst, those missing aspects aren’t vital to understanding and appreciating the main story.

I think it’s quite interesting how much variance I’ve noticed when it comes to these collections.  I never previously suspected that so much might be left out of the trades I’d read before.  I suppose in part it’s a marketing scheme – to make you spend as much money as possible in order to acquire all of the conent being produced.  But there’s other factors.  The Geoff Johns omnibi are meant to contain only what he wrote.  But Johns was writing Hal Jordan’s story, not Guy Gardner, John Stewart, or Kyle Rayner.  The other Earth lanterns appeared throughout the books, but as side characters.  Everyone’s the hero of their own story, after all.

For the trades that collect the issues telling a particular story, such as the about the Third Army or First Lantern, that I have less explanation for.  It’s possible that it’s partly a cost-saving measure: fewer issues means fewer full-color pages means the book is overall cheaper.  None of today’s books were more than $18 (before tax), while I know a number of my other graphic novels were $25.  Or I could just fall back on the explanation that here’s a way to convince people to buy all of the comics.  Given consumer culture, it’s entirely feasible.

These books aren’t bad.  You won’t see me rereading them obsessively, but they fill in a lot of the holes left by the other collections I’ve read previously and I do appreciate that.  And it’s not in a “same scene from multiple viewpoints” way, since I can see the same exact issues reprinted in more than one trade collection.  It’s a “here’s what happened offscreen” set of books, that really help everything make so much more sense.  But again, in these books John and Guy are the main characters versus the others which were mostly Hal Jordan.  Or the collections I’d read which are trying to collect only the issues most pertinent to the main story.

Overall, I’m pleased with today’s reading.  I’m not done tracking down Guy Gardner’s experiences, but I think the only other New 52 volumes I might need are the rest of the Red Lantern books.  I still haven’t read volume 3 since the library only has 1-2 and I was focused on acquiring the books with Guy in them.  I could’ve gotten it today, but figured I’d appreciate it more to read a complete story arc today instead of two partial ones.

As for tomorrow, there’s still that novel I picked out.  Or I might try for another comic shop sale.  We’ll see how things go.

Shadows and Song

I was going to go right into Song of the Dark Crystal, but when I opened the book I realized I didn’t have a very clear image of what had happened in the previous volume, Jim Henson’s Shadows of the Dark Crystal.  So I went and pulled J.M. Lee’s first entry off the shelf.  Considering how short these books are, even for modern young adult, it would be easy to breeze through the first.

To be completely honest, if it wasn’t set in the world of The Dark Crystal I probably wouldn’t have had to reread the book.  But because I’ve seen and read so very much in this world, and only gone through Shadows of the Dark Crystal once before, many months ago, it was difficult to separate out in my mind what specifically was from this book.

Our protagonist is Naia, a young Drenchen Gelfling from the Swamp of Sog.  She’s the maudra‘s eldest daughter and so will inherit the title one day.  The maudra are Gelfling leadership, keepers of mystic traditions and abilities, the mothers of their villages.  Naia’s young, without the wings which mark adulthood in female Gelfling, and has never been out of her swamp before.  So when Tavra, a soldier, is sent by the All-Maudra, it’s the beginning of Naia’s adventures as she journeys out into the world and adulthood.

Naia’s twin brother Gurjin, along with a second Gelfling assigned to the Castle of the Crystal, has been accused of treason.  As his closest relative, she’s been summoned to speak on his behalf since neither of the two can be found.

On her journey, Naia discovers that there are crystal veins connected to the Heart of Thra (the Dark Crystal) buried beneath the land.  These veins have become dark and tainted, and those creatures which innocently peer into them can be transformed into monstrous versions of themselves.  Naia’s goal becomes the Castle of the Crystal, to safeguard the Heart.

However, as someone who’s read the Dark Crystal Creation Myths, I picked up very quickly on the fact that the Castle is inhabited by the Skeksis Lords.  Which…makes the underlying nature of what’s going on very obvious to me as a reader, though of course Naia can’t be expected to know that ahead of time.  She is an innocent, and while her journey will see her grow into adulthood, it will also see that naiveté left in the dust.

Like I said last time, this book is clearly geared towards readers younger than myself.  But that doesn’t make it less good in any way.  It doesn’t really shy away from the darker aspects too much, just to the point where you’re not going to…say…see a child die front and center.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But we still get to see prejudice, we still have to deal with injury and death, and the philosophy that might be a little too deep for some of the youngest readers who’d pick up this book.

Having thus refreshed my memory, I went onto Jim Henson’s Song of the Dark Crystal, J.M. Lee’s second book in the series.  As one might guess from the title and the image on the front, the protagonist here is Naia’s stalwart Spriton friend, Kylan.  As Naia is Drenchen, Kylan is a Spriton Gelfling.  The story opens with the pair having made it safely to Stone-in-the-Wood, the home of Rian.  Rian was the other Gelfling accused and being sought alongside Gurjin.  From there, they go to Aughra’s orrery, which is every bit as mysterious and frustrating as Jen finds in the movie.

And then things get dark.  Both literally and figuratively.  Aughra gives Kylan a book which helps the group determine their next destination: the Caves of Grot.  A relic might be hidden there which can help them spread their message to all Gelfling everywhere…if it exists.  If the Grottan Gelfling exist.

At this point I should probably mention that there are seven tribes or clans of Gelfling, supposedly spawned by the Six Sisters.  The group at this point includes Drenchen Naia, Spriton Kylan, and Vapra Tavra.  If you include Rian, going his own way to Ha’rar, home of the All-Maudra, you’ve got the Stonewood too.  Add in the Grottan they’re shortly to encounter, and that’s five of the seven groups.  I’m certain that the next book will add the Dousan and Sifan we’ve not yet encountered.

In case you haven’t begun to realize, these books tell the story of the Gelfling waking to the realization that the Skeksis have betrayed their trust.  It’s unclear how long the creatures have been feasting on their essence, but does that really matter?  In the first book it’s a conspiracy theory, and here in the second I can hear the opening drumbeats of war.  I believe this will be a trilogy, with the next book bringing the climax of this tale…but also probably the great fall.  What exactly happened is a mystery, but if Jen and Kira are the only two Gelfling left, something drastic must be coming.

But back to Kylan.  This is the book where we see him grow and mature, coming into his own power as a dream-etcher and storyteller.  On the cover we see him holding a fyrca, the twin-tubed flute that Jen plays in the movie.  It’s a common musical instrument amongst Gelfling, but like everything in this world, it can be so much more.

You know, I think I understand why Gelfling essence is so prized by the Skeksis, as compared to Podling essence or other creatures.  Gelfling are essentially creatures of magic.  With a touch, any and all of them can dreamfast with each other, sharing memories and experiences at the speed of thought.  In addition, it’s not uncommon for Gelfling to have special abilities, such as healing, dream-etching, and more.  It’s likely that spark of magic, or vliyaya that the Skeksis so crave to keep themselves young.

Back to my disordered mind, I suppose the gap of time between J.M. Lee’s story and the opening of the movie must be rather less than I had thought.  Obviously Jen and Kira had to have Gelfling parents…but the ruins they find on their journey seem to have been abandoned for years.  I guess my reading always makes me guess at centuries rather than decades because on reflection, ruins from centuries ago would likely be much less distinct, more covered in earth and grass than what they explored.  I do have a hunch, based on the map included in Song of the Dark Crystal, that it’s the ruins of Stone-in-the-Wood they find.  After all, the various Gelfling tribes live somewhat far apart and Stone-in-the-Wood is the one squarely between Aughra’s home and the Castle of the Crystal.

I’m pretty pleased with Song of the Dark Crystal.  I thought much less about the target audience as I was reading, likely because of how much darker it got.  There’s a lot of set up for the movie in here, as well as the experiences of our characters.  But, knowing how this has to end for the Gelfling race, it’s always darkest just before the dawn.

These books are excellent prequels, capturing the spirit and feel of the movie.  Because yes, The Dark Crystal is a children’s movie, but it’s dark and disturbing in a way that I don’t think they do with kids movies of today.  Certainly I don’t think Hotel Transylvania (or its increasingly crappy sequels) is anywhere near as terrifying as The Secret of NIMH.  But this is a blog about books I’ve read, not movies I’ve seen.

I haven’t made any decisions about tomorrow’s reading, and will likely leave that for the morn.  After all, it’s not uncommon to want one thing before bed and a different thing after rising, especially since there’s nothing I’ve got a real hankering for at this time.  (That was earlier this week.)  So I’m off to shelve Song of the Dark Crystal for the first time, and rearrange things as necessary to make it fit, and I’ll be back here again soon.

Brickish Musings

This has been such a weird and fascinating experience.  I don’t think I’ve reacted to any of the books the way I expected – which is kind of awesome.  Today I finished the last brick, Green Lantern by Geoff Johns Omnibus: Volume 3.  It picks up right where volume 2 left off, of course, with the events of Brightest Day.  Unlike Blackest Night, these collected issues are identical to what I remember reading in the library’s three volumes.  Which is not a bad thing.  It just means I had more appreciation for random one-shots like a Christmas special starring Larfleeze, the greedy Orange Lantern.  (Seriously, hilarious.)

From there it goes into the War of the Green Lanterns which is, again, as I recall, complete with that shocking cliff-hanger ending.  I guess I should’ve checked out the library’s copy of Green Lantern: Sinestro if I wanted to find out what happened next.  It’s the tale of how Sinestro, once more wielding a green ring, is trying to come to terms with the abrupt reversal in his life.  In addition to his other problems, such as being given the side-eye by the Corps and Guardians alike, it seems his self-named Sinestro Corps has enslaved his homeworld of Korugar instead of protecting it as he instructed.  And in all this mess, the only person he can rely on is the one he finds most insufferable: Hal Jordan.

While the two of them have some crazy and bizarre adventures, the Guardians of the Universe hatch a new plan.  Their first army of manhunters failed and massacred the inhabitants of sector 666.  Their second army of the Green Lantern Corps is now also seen as a failure, especially with the rest of the emotional spectrum running rampant through the universe.  Now they are determined to create a Third Army which will wipe out free will entirely.  However, they themselves do not have the power necessary to fuel this creation.  Thus they visit their deepest dungeon to retrieve the First Lantern.

In the midst of all this, Hal and Sinestro end up finding the homeworld of the mysterious Indigo Tribe…and learning far more about the wielders of the light of compassion than they ever dreamed existed.  We’ve had hints up until now that not all was as it seemed, most notably when Sinestro was “exploring” while trapped in the Book of the Black.  It also raises the question of how much Abin Sur really knew about the future from the prophecies he was told by Atrocitus and the rest of the Inversions.

After all this messing around and backstory, we finally get into the Wrath of the First Lantern.  And this time around I got to see how Simon Baz became Earth’s newest Green Lantern and ended up outside the Templar Guardians’ prison with Black Hand.  However, rereading this story was not nearly as satisfying as the first time.  Not because I don’t like happy endings – far from it – but because this was a far less complete rendition.  In the trade, we get to see the First Lantern running around mucking with the lives of numerous people, including Guy Gardner and John Stewart.  In the omnibus, those chapters and others are missing.  So where I don’t think I’d ever reread the trades for Blackest Night or Blackest Night: Green Lantern now that I have a better, more complete version of the story, I think I will always prefer Wrath of the First Lantern in trade form.  I will probably look into acquiring a copy at some point.  Not that the library’s book won’t suffice for now, but if I’m going to have it, I might as well have the most complete rendition.  I mean, I’m sure there are other tie-in comic issues out there, but I don’t see myself collecting them or random other trades just for a chapter or two.

Speaking of other issues not present, I never did see Guy Gardner’s first encounter with a red ring.  Or a lot of what he’s set up with Atrocitus on the side.  Which I would still like to know about, so I guess I’ll have to keep an eye out for possible enlightenment.  It seems my local comic book convention isn’t happening this year, so I won’t be able to go with actual intent to search for once.  So disappointing.

Overall, I love my bricks.  They may weigh a terrifying twenty pounds altogether, necessitate special care in the reading and transport, and overall be large and unwieldly, but the story is engaging, the art is (usually) gorgeous, and I’ve had a great time experiencing them.  I don’t know that I’d be interested in picking up much Green Lantern material outside of the timeframe covered except as it ties in to my interests (yes, I will need to find books with Guy Gardner’s stories, I am such a convert), but I’m glad I’ve read this.

I should also mention one very notable aspect of Simon Baz that I had not realized before.  He and his family are Muslims, originally from somewhere in the Middle East I would guess.  And part of his story is the effect of September 11th on how they’re viewed and how they experience life in the United States afterwards.  I honestly had no idea this was in here, so the fact that I read it this particular week is…a little scary.  I’m old enough to remember that day…so very clearly.  I wasn’t in high school, so they didn’t just stop everything and turn on the news.  But as the day went on, you could see the teachers becoming more and more distracted, and what you did hear got worse and worse until they finally told us just before we left for the day.  I remember getting home and being so happy to see my dad – even though he normally wouldn’t be back for a few more hours – because he worked in downtown Chicago.  My younger sister, on the other hand, wasn’t told anything and had no idea what was going on until she got home and mom told her what was on the news.

It’s weird to think that the kids graduating high school next year might not have even been born yet, when the World Trade Center was destroyed.  It’s weird to think that the kids graduating college this year probably have no clear memories of that day.  To them, it’s just a fact of history, that this thing happened.  It’s such a strange feeling, to see significant parts of your life become relegated to “history”, to see them seemingly set in stone and no longer an active part of the world.  Oh sure, the repercussions will always be felt, but it’s in the same way that the Union won the Civil War, or the United States successfully breaking away from England.  Things that happened long enough ago that they’re straight up fact and taught as such.

September 11th is not the kind of day I plan reading around, not the way I try to read certain books around Hannukah or Passover or other events in my life.  And if I were to plan something, it wouldn’t be Green Lantern.  I think I’d want something more colorblind.  Because for all Green Lantern and the last two omnibi in particular are about the spectrum of light and emotion coming together to preserve life and the universe, almost all of the human characters are white.  To my mind, a good September 11th book would be one with a varied ethnic cast, coming together to realize we’re all human all the same.  The sort of thing Rick Riordan’s been increasingly inserting into his books, especially the Magnus Chase ones.

It’s an issue that’s been brought up repeatedly when it comes to comic books – how so very many of the characters are white and mostly male.  There’s been a push in recent years for more women, more ethnicities, etc.  Which leads in to the debate on changing characters versus making new ones.  Is it more important to make Peter Parker a different ethnicity, or is it better to just make a new Spiderman who happens to not be white?  I saw a post on facebook the other day about a Navajo superhero someone was writing and I thought it was a great idea, particularly since the author was also Navajo.  That is one of the other touchy bits – who can write these other viewpoints?  Obviously someone who’s lived them is going to be best…but if we can’t learn to write from other perspectives, we suck as authors.

There’s no easy answers, but that’s because these are problems of real people in the real world.  Only in stories is it as easy as black and white.  The real world isn’t perfect, but it’s our job to try and make it a little better than we found it.

Back to Bricks

And now for something completely different.

Although, given trends in my reading this summer, it was inevitable.  Today was Green Lantern by Geoff Johns Omnibus: Volume 2.  Yes, another brick.  The one that caused me to look up last night at quarter after nine, see that I was on page 675 of 1040, and say “oops.”  Because I really hadn’t thought I’d get quite that far before bed.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I was totally enthralled.

The first omnibus, as you may recall, ended after the Sinestro Corps War, having dropped hints about the other colors of the spectrum coming into play.  But before we can actually get into the War of Light, we need to have some time and space for character development.  Most notably this involves the creation of the Alpha Lanterns by the Guardians of the Universe as a means to police their green space cops…and the expansion of the Green Lanterns’ lethality.  The first new law in the Book of Oa allowed the Green Lanterns to kill members of the Sinestro Corps.  The second law allows them to kill anyone…but they must now use their judgement as to when lethal force is warranted.

It is the aftermath of this mess that brings in the Red Lanterns.  But before that, this is where Secret Origin fits in, rewriting Hal Jordan’s origin story to account for the upcoming Blackest Night while recapping it more thoroughly than Johns has in the past.  I had wondered about that, why I didn’t see those familiar pages in the first omnibus.  I still question the placement somewhat, but whatever.  It wasn’t my choice to make, I’m just the reader.

Then we get into the War of Light and, finally, the Blackest Night.  As you probably recall, I first read Blackest Night in college, and became a convert.  Earlier this summer I devoured all of the supplemental material my local library could offer and it resonated and increased my appreciation for what I had read.

Today?  Today it was as if I read Blackest Night for the first time all over again.  You see, the thing is that my trade paperback only collects certain issues, essentially just the story on Earth.  I knew that there had to be more happening just based on a few scenes and dialogue, but I didn’t give it much other thought because it wasn’t part of the material I had access to.  I assumed that, because Blackest Night was a major event affecting the whole DC universe, the other parts of the story were out there in other books.  Which is true.  I even have a book entitled Blackest Night: Green Lantern containing Hal Jordan’s adventures during that event.  However, having things separated out into two different volumes robs you of the true scope, especially because there’s still parts that were left out and the storylines are meant to be intertwined.

It’s the same concept for why I try to read (and reread) the Power Rangers event Shattered Grid in release order, instead of going straight through a single series.  The storylines have a tendency to overlap and influence each other, and if you read it out of order you’ll miss those bits.

Blackest Night is the last part of this specific brick, followed by stories seen in Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps.  They’re shorts about individuals in some of the other lantern groups, as well as “The Book of the Black” which contains Black Hand’s ramblings about the various spectrum colors and their respective emotions.  Also his preoccupation with and worship of death, but that kind of goes without saying for the character.

I knew, based on the cover art for volume 2, that this would contain the War of Light and Blackest Night, so I knew I would be familiar with most if not all of the content.  I never expected that this would be the first time I fully experienced Blackest Night, at least in terms of Green Lantern.  I am certain that there are tie-in issues for every other hero in the DC universe who had a series at that time, but I doubt I’ll take the time to look them up.  After all, I can’t say more than a sentence about most of them, and can’t even put a name to all of them without help.  So my interest in them is minimal.  Long story short, I didn’t expect to have as strong a reaction to the second brick as I did the first.  But I did, and I love the story even more for it.

Because I do have several of the trades, I am going to have to sit down at some point and think about which ones are worth keeping.  Before this, I would have said I had no problems keeping Blackest Night, but now I’m not so sure.  Knowing that the trades are abridged and keep me from appreciating the full scope…I think I really would rather reread this brick than the two far more portable books.

It’s like my Mercedes Lackey dilemma.  The woman has made herself a reputation, in my mind, for lifting her own work wholesale while expanding it into a full-length novel.  That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but because there are virtually no changes in the short story text as it becomes the book’s early chapters, I am uninterested in reading the original short story.  After all, if I’m going to allow myself to become invested, I might as well just go reread the book.  Since I have a tendency to finish books fairly quickly, it’s not a huge time commitment to satisfy the inevitable urge the short story would provoke.  So when I reread books like Fiddler Fair, I actually skip over the short story that would later become The Lark and the Wren.

Well, one thing is certain about this brick.  No matter which or how many trade paperbacks I choose to discard, they still won’t add up to the amount of space this thing needs on the shelf.  Which means I should probably get both stepstools out as I rearrange my library again.

More Machines

Next up, Bolos Book 2: The Unconquerable.  The second of the numbered Bolo anthologies.  Shorter than Honor of the Regiment, there are only seven stories here and about thirty less pages overall.  As before, the stories span a variety of worlds and enemies for human and Bolokind, by a variety of skilled authors.

Once again S.M. Stirling starts the book off with “Ancestral Voices”, sequel to “Lost Legion”.  With only 70-80 soldiers remaining, the American commandos are attempting to make their way back to Reality on foot.  Their main support is a Bolo Mark III, nicknamed Markee.  And Lieutenant Bethany Martins kind of hates it and the sex-droid voice poor old Vinatelli had programmed into it.  The Yanks are trying to find supplies as they go – fuel and food – but it’s not easy.  No one has a lot to spare and people tend not to be interested in sharing with foreigners.  That’s when they run into Aztecs.  Seriously, why is it always Aztecs?  Is it because they were far more bloody-minded than most of the cultures we’re familiar with?  I don’t know, but I know more about Aztec rituals than I really should at this point.  Regardless, this is the second of Stirling’s stories about this particular group and Markee.

The second story is the other sequel, which I had mentioned yesterday.  “Sir Kendrick’s Lady” by S.N. Lewitt follows “Camelot” some twenty or thirty years later.  However instead of our viewpoint coming from a retired soldier who wanted a peaceful life, now it’s a young woman who desperately wants to get off the farm as soon as she can.  It seems that her parents and their government are trying to bribe her and the other kids her age into staying with a tourney and a competition to be the Queen of Love and Beauty, but maybe there’s a little more going on.  Plus, if she goes, she’ll get to see the planet’s lone Bolo, a sight that’s rare indeed for Camelot.

“You’re It” by Shirley Meier brings us back to the front lines of war on the miserable rainy planet of New Newf.  There’s one Bolo left, hiding amongst massive planteaters who give off a similar radar signature to the tanks, so long as the latter are quiet on all electronic fronts.  The invaders are desperately trying to track her down and destroy her in order to complete their invasion, but what they don’t know is that she’s got a plan.  Or rather, Sven Todd has a plan.  He is the last Bolo Tech alive on the planet…and he’s got the crucial piece of equipment the LRS needs to kick enemy butt again.  It’s a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you try to  will Todd to get there, fix the Bolo, and win the day.

Then comes “Shared Experience” by Christopher Stasheff.  The enemy are nicknamed harpies, though they don’t have much in common with the mythological creatures, and we watch a series of Bolos destroyed as they stubbornly discharge their duties, all the while taking careful note of the harpies’ weaknesses.  Finally, only Titan is left to avenge his brothers and sisters.  Oh, and there’s a couple humans who were in a foxhole trying to shoot the harpies down.

Onto a mystery in “The Murphosensor Bomb” by Karen Wehrstein.  The front is creeping ever closer to Benazir Ali and the Bolo Psych Ward for this sector.  Something is causing all combat units to malfunction during battles and humanity is unhappily retreating.  It’s Ali and her team’s job to figure out what’s going on before the Djann octopods finish breaking down the door.  She has only two weapons left – her brain, and that of a Bolo who was never commissioned.  Like any good mystery, all the elements and clues necessary are present, if you know what to look for.  I don’t read actual mystery novels anymore, but I can appreciate a story like this, especially when you add in the military sci-fi elements.

Todd Johnson’s “Legacy” comes next, with Erena and a pack of youngsters desperately trying to find shelter in the chaos around them.  They and their nanites have no idea what’s going on, and answers only come once they manage to wake up an ancient Bolo.  However, they have a difficult choice to make…save Erena or the Bolo?  It’s a touching tale even so.

Finally we have “Endings” by William R. Forstchen.  This is a story from the Melconian War, which features in a number of tales throughout the series.  Often derogatorily nicknamed “Puppies”, the Melconians are a canine-esque race who helped humanity prove what Mutually Assured Destruction is truly horrific.  This is the war that saw them blowing up and rendering uninhabitable the homeworlds and civilian populations of their enemies.  There’s a particularly notable story in the back of David Weber’s Bolo! that touches on the same themes as “Endings”, but obviously I’ve not read that book today.  Now that I think about it, I have to wonder if these two are vying with each other to be canon…but that’s idle maundering.  The point is that this story tells of how pointless war really is in the end.

As you may have noticed, I’ve got these older anthologies pretty well memorized by now.  They’ve been in my library for years and they’re short, easy reads to revisit whenever I feel the need.  I don’t read a huge amount of military fiction, but the Bolo series is definitely where I started.

Sentient Tanks

In my desire for something more satisfying, I went to something older.  Not as old as some of the things I’ve read since starting this blog, but something I’ve virtually memorized over the years, even if it’s only been a dozen or so.  This is Bolos: Book 1, Honor of the Regiment.  The Bolo concept, which I’ve talked about before (although not in a long time), is that of a sentient tank.  But not the tanks we know today – these tend to be absolutely massive, often weighing twenty tons if not more.  This is pure science fiction, often taking place on alien worlds with extraterrestrial enemies and I love it.

I first discovered Bolos through “Operation Desert Fox”, found within this volume, by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon.  I had encountered the story in Lackey’s collection Werehunter a few months before I first picked up this book (Honor of the Regiment was originally published in 1993, but my copy is from the third printing in 2006) and truly enjoyed it.  I may not know the famous Rommel quote it all leads up to, but I could appreciate a well-told story of military fiction.  It was easy enough for me to continue picking up Bolo books.

After all, some were already in the house, as my dad had read a good amount of Keith Laumer, who originated the concept.  He didn’t have everything, having focused more on the Retief books, but he had the original Bolo and Rogue Bolo.  But for me, I went and found more.  However, I’ve only finished the first anthology today, not any of the rest.  In all, there’s eight anthologies (Bolo is actually a collection of Laumer’s shorts and Bolo! is entirely by David Weber) plus seven full-length novels.  Although “anthology” is a bit of a misnomer in at least one case, where the book in question contains a short story or novella, followed by a longer story that could have stood entirely on its own.  The later anthologies are grouped by enemy, so all the stories in a book will feature only one alien threat to humanity.

Honor of the Regiment is much more varied though, with no two stories fighting the same opponent.  None of them are even on the same planet as any others, and Humanity’s forces, governments, and empires are known as different names throughout.  Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what the overall establishment is called because we’re so focused on a tiny sphere of influence on the edge of human space.  After all, Bolos serve on the front lines, so who cares what Command is doing back on the homeworld, or wherever they might be?  The stories are on the front lines as well.

What you should know about Bolos is that they’re incredibly difficult to destroy.  Even though they can be old and worn, they’re still fit for service and more than willing to fight to save human lives.  It’s a theme that recurs throughout the series, that old Bolos are reactivated to fight new threats, decades and centuries after they sank into slumber.

There’s only eight stories total in this book, which makes each a higher average page count than most anthologies, since there’s about three hundred pages in all.  And because I’ve had this book the longest, I really do know all of the stories thoroughly, if not by heart.

Opening the book is S.M. Stirling’s “Lost Legion” about American soldiers somewhere in South or Central America.  They’ve been stationed there for a good long time, and the world is steadily going to shit around them.  Not just their immediate surroundings, but the whole world, including the United States, which they fondly refer to as “Reality.”  This is one of three or four stories Stirling’s contributed to the series, following the tale of this particular group.  I like it, but as I was reading it yesterday I realized that maybe I should avoid this book for a while as I did have a hard time finishing it.

Next comes “Camelot” by S.N. Lewitt.  Humanity has expanded outwards from Earth and Camelot is a simple colony planet.  Well, a simple pastoral paradise that rigorously scrutinizes all potential immigrants.  But some of these immigrants are more than you might think, and when pirates land and demand their valuables, a few will do what they must to protect their homes.  This story also has a sequel in a later book, called “Sir Kendrick’s Lady”.

“The Legacy of Leonidas” by J. Andrew Keith is a story of honor, of loyalty, and sacrifice.  A religious and cultural conflict has sprung up between two human colonies on the edge of space.  A team of Bolos is sent to help the more palatable, so that the sector can be better fortified against alien invasions.  However, the allied commander wants nothing to do with these inhuman machines.  Nor have the people sent with said tanks particularly ingratiated themselves.  It’s a conflict that only the Bolo can resolve in the only way he knows how.

After that is “Ploughshare” by Todd Johnson, featuring a Bolo who may have some problems not seen in most of the machines, but in this traditional French-German conflict it’s his job to defeat the enemy in the most optimal manner…before his systems fail entirely.  For some reason, this is a story that gets me every time, sending tingles up and down my spine.

Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg contribute the shortest story in the book.  “Ghosts” is a mere ten pages long, which allows the other two hundred ninety to be divided by the rest of the collection.  It’s my least favorite tale because it’s more like a dream sequence than an actual story.  That doesn’t make it a bad story though, just not to my taste.

“The Ghost of Resartus”, though, by Christopher Stasheff, is a very different story.  It’s about a young starry-eyed boy who volunteers to live and work in a farming community that was once a battlefield two hundred years ago.  And the signs are everywhere, from the automatic rifles carried by all adults to the Bolos plowing the fields.  Believe it or not, the Bolos are the ones who suggested that one.  Still, any pastoral community in space has got to have some kind of snake underfoot, right?  And Arlan’s in just the right position to find out what it is.

“Operation Desert Fox” is the second-to-last entry in the book.  I’ve discussed it already in this post.  Needless to say, I still enjoy it.

The final entry is “As Our Strength Lessens” by David Drake and it’s probably my second-least-favorite story in this book.  It’s not as unsatisfying as “Ghosts,” but it also doesn’t have the same emotional impact as my favorites.  I guess you could call it a puzzle or mystery story, as Drake slowly gives us all the clues necessary to figure out what’s going on, as or before the Bolo does.

Overall, the book is pretty strong.  There’s more good stories than bad, more stories I like and none that I hate, just some that I don’t care for.  I think the Bolo series as a whole is one of the best shared worlds I’ve read, if only because there are so few limits on what you can do with the concept.  Some of the stories go pretty far out there, and some of those are the best of all.

I’ll be reading a bit more of this series for the time being.  There is, as usual, a box coming that I’ll want to read as soon as I get my hands on it.  I was told it was coming today, but I guess it’ll be delayed.  I honestly have no idea what goes on, but I’m a bit annoyed that my promised box won’t be here tonight.  Amazon, I’d be happier if you didn’t send me emails saying my box will arrive tomorrow and instead just sent me an email saying it’s shipped!  I will click your button to see when it’s due!

Sorry.  I’m just…very excited.  At least I like the Bolo books and I can’t be too disappointed by what I already know.

A Good Morning

I don’t know if it’s good timing or the amount I spent, but when I picked up my brick at my local comic shop the other week, a number of freebies were thrown in as well. I was given a few the last time too, on Free Comic Book Day – mostly random issues missing their covers.  That is not all of what I got this time.

Three of the freebies are previews and comic shop news.  One from Marvel is an amazingly thick book that is literally just images of upcoming issue covers with a few lines of blurb about the contents.  It makes me quite certain that if I’m to read any Marvel, I can wait for it to be collected in trade because there were so many comics, so many crossovers and events, that I’d have no idea where to start.  And I certainly don’t want to be buying ten or more issues monthly.  Though I do have to seriously question Black Panther as Ghost Rider.  I mean just…what?

Also I might want to poke my library about acquiring the other three volumes of The Mighty Thor with the goddess of thunder.  I would love to know how the story ends, I’m just not so into it that I want to spend money.

The other two are more what I would have expected: articles and blurbs about comic news, upcoming releases, etc.  One of them has a full page article about a new retelling of Miss Fury, a superheroine I’ve never heard of before.  And clearly I should look into her, considering that her first appearance predates Wonder Woman’s by six months and she was originally created and written by Ms. June Tarpé Mills.  It shouldn’t be surprising that there were female comic artists back in the golden age, but we so rarely hear about them.  I don’t know that I’d spend a lot of money to find out more about Fury, but I’d definitely consider it if I saw one of her books.

Also apparently there’s Star Trek vs Transformers upcoming.  That’s not a crossover I need to read, since my favorite Transformers series is Beast Wars, followed by Beast Machines.

There were also two coverless comics thrown in, which is kind of annoying because I really don’t know what series they are.  The first one seems to be the present or just a bit into the future in a world where some people have special abilities and are known as psiots.  Obviously the government wants them, but not all the psiots are willing to join up considering there’s recently been a massacre or something.  This issue reads to me as starting a new part of a story arc, with a character returning from spending a year off planet to find that his friend has taken out the electrical power for the whole US.  There’s a lot going on with different groups in various locations and frankly, reads as fairly standard rebellious schlock.  Not necessarily post-apocalyptic, but in a similar vein.  If I was going to read this (and that’s a very big “if”), I’d prefer it as a book just because it would take less time overall, especially considering that I’d get more story at once without having to wait each month.  And I wouldn’t be obligated to pick up more of the series unless if I found it that engaging.  I mean, we all know I can be something of a completionist, but I can dream, right?  Also maybe the series is Harbinger or Harbinger Wars based on the ads?  I don’t know, nor do I care enough.

My other coverless comic, however, is more interesting.  I’m pretty sure it’s Shadowman #2 based on the little information I have.  From what I see, we’ve got Jack and a girl friend named Alyssa.  Jack is our titular Shadowman and Alyssa is a voodoun…something.  I am not strong on all the terminology.  Their enemy is Baron Samedi, the dark face of voodoun, while near the end of the issue Alyssa calls upon Papa Legba, the light face.  Jack is Shadowman because he’s possessed by a loa, a voodoun spirit.  Also there’s some evil white men in suits who drain the life force from innocent people for their wheelchair-bound boss.  I don’t know anything more about this comic than what I’ve read, but I am definitely intrigued.  I know enough about voodoun to appreciate what I’m seeing, but not enough to really have any ideas where it’s going.  Plus I’m sure aspects such as the Deadside are either created for this story or something that I’ve not encountered before when reading about voodoun in other stories.  The story itself was engaging, Jack and Alyssa’s characterization was decently strong, and the artwork is solid.  As with Miss Fury I can’t guarantee that I’d spend money on this series, but if I saw it on shelf I’d definitely consider it.  As a coverless comic and issue 2 of a series, I don’t think I need to keep this particular copy though.  I like my personal collection to be in better condition than missing a cover.

Speaking of random issue #2’s, I found one in a dollar bin at the third used bookstore last weekend.  I do prefer to collect things in order…but in this case I felt safe enough given that it’s Static #2.  I’ve seen all of the Static Shock tv series from the early 2000s, so starting early on in a superhero’s run that I’m already familiar with wouldn’t be a problem.  Especially because this is the issue where he recounts his origin story.

I remember picking this up and thinking how very nineties it looks and, lo and behold, the issue is from July 1993.  Which makes a lot of sense when you consider Virgil’s story and how gangs figure into it.  Virgil Hawkins, for the record, is a good and very smart kid.  When he has the opportunity to shoot and kill, he turns it down.  But give him weird electric powers and he’s happy to step up and be the best hero he can be.

What I noticed most in this older version of his origin are the differences between the two media I’ve been exposed to.  In the TV series, Virgil’s mother is dead and his dad does the best he can not only for his own kids but those of the city.  Here, Virgil’s mom is clearly the mover in the family and his dad is implied to just roll over and not fight back against anyone.  (The dad doesn’t make an appearance in this issue so I only know what’s been said about him.)  It is interesting that Frida, Virgil’s love interest, does know his secret identity.

Like I said, this story’s as solid as I recall, even if the details are different.  If I saw more issues of this run I’d certainly pick them up, as long as they weren’t too expensive.  A dollar was probably more than I should have paid for a comic this old, but then again, used bookstores tend not to have a lot of floppies.  What I should do is see if I can find more at Count-i-con next month, it being a comic convention.  And hope that Static can be found in the 25¢ boxes.

Having cleared up the miscellanous comics sitting in my Pile, it was time to get into the meat.  After all, it’s been a bit since I caught up on Power Rangers and the Shattered Grid event.  And oh boy…was there stuff to read.  Today I tore through Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #28-30Go Go Power Rangers #11-12, and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Shattered Grid #1.  For the record, issues 28 and 11 were rereads, just to make sure I wasn’t lost as I picked up the climax of the whole event.  And my goodness, does STUFF HAPPEN HERE.

The main series has been fighting Drakkon across too many fronts to count and trying to save as many rangers from his attentions as possible.  His goal, on the other hand, is to acquire one of every single morpher set if possible, to greatly increase his access to the morphing grid.  If he can actually enter the grid itself, it would essentially make him a god.  Earlier in the timeline is Go Go Power Rangers which sees Kim from Drakkon’s future trying desperately to right a wrong while not upsetting the best possible future.  And Zordon, Ninjor, and Commander Cruger head off to forge the strangest possible alliance against Drakkon…

This all comes to Shattered Grid #1 and the amazing climax of the whole event.  It’s got everything – favorites from every team and season, more rangers than you can easily count fighting together, new teamups, new potentials, zord combinations that could never have happened otherwise – everything.  A fan’s wet dream.  And yet…I have to wonder where they’ll go from here.  What exactly is going to happen after this story’s conclusion?  Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #31 will be out near the end of the month, so we’ll have to see what kind of answers it brings.  And Go Go Power Rangers #12 ended on a disquieting note, so there’s no telling where that will lead.

Really, this is the sort of thing I’ve been needing from my reading.  Given that the last two books I read were disappointing, I needed something to ease my little fangirl heart.  Actually, you could say the last three books, since I never had hopes for more than casual entertainment from CodeSpell, which is admittedly what I got but I haven’t stopped wanting more.  Still, I am a happy fangirl this morning, and that’s no small thing.

Passive Horror

Last Saturday I visited three used bookstores.  At the first store, I bought two books.  The first was Masters of Fantasy which didn’t impress me.  The second was White as Snow by Tanith Lee.  I’ve been trying to pick up more of Lee’s work, because I truly didn’t appreciate her when I was younger and seek to remedy that now.  For the most part it’s been a positive experience, although her writing style can see me take two and three times longer to read her books as compared to other novels of comparable length.

What did I see in the store?  A single book by Lee in the appropriate section of the shelf.  The title, White as Snow, implying that this would be a retelling of the fairy tale known as Snow White.  The font reminded me of the anthologies I have from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  I generally enjoy fairy tales, so I picked it up with one question in my mind: how would this compare to Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples”?  For me, it’s a fair question.  To my mind, both Gaiman and Lee tend towards darker tales, though in different ways.

As I picked up the book off my Pile yesterday, I was able to confirm that yes, this is one of the books Terri Windling pioneered – retold fairy tales, drawing from older traditions, by skilled authors of today.  I’ve Patricia C. Wrede’s Snow White, Rose Red from this series, and was pleased to have finally found another.  (It’s not an easy series to look for when most authors contribute only a single volume.)

I did not expect to find an introduction almost thirty pages long, discussing the origins and evolution of Snow White as a story.  I have read many stories in anthologies that were shorter than this introduction, and frankly, I think it was a poor note to start the book on.  I do read introductions and prefaces, but this time I feel I probably should have skipped it.

As for the story…it isn’t as twisted as something Gaiman would write, but it is still horrific.  Arpazia is a Princess because her father is a King and she is his legal daughter.  Her older half-sister leads her out of the besieged castle, letting the invaders in.  For this, the sister is raped, then later killed by the horde’s chieftain for the betrayal.  The chief then rapes Arpazia.

It is the daughter of Arpazia and the soon-to-be-King Draco who is the actual Snow White.  Arpazia is married out of Draco’s guilt, making her Queen and little Candacis (usually called Coira) a Princess.  Lee also draws on the Greek mythology of Persephone (also called Kore) and Hades.  I could go on listing the key plot points of the story, but I’m sure you can guess at a number of them already based on the two stories I’ve listed.

The true horror of this story is the sheer passivity of both Arpazia and Coira.  They seem to spend much of their time in trances where they have little to no agency in their lives and decisions.  They are like living dolls that others enact their wills upon and here I sit as reader, mentally shouting at them to DO SOMETHING and stop being stupid or lazy or whatever it is that makes them lie down and take it, whether “it” is their rape, their servitude, their silent acceptance of everything and nothing.  It’s a frustrating read.

If I compare the story to Disney’s retelling, I do find it earthier, with very realistic elements, such as viewing dwarves as subhumans.  It’s also more fantastic, what with the old worship of the pagan gods, and those people who are either so deluded or so faithful they view themselves as being said gods.  And yet there’s so little for me to grasp onto, and I can only watch the story go by as if I myself were one of the two main women, trapped in their strange trances which could persist for years at a time.

I am keeping the book, although I really cannot express what I feel about it.  I don’t think that I hate it, but I certainly can’t say I enjoyed it.  It didn’t outright piss me off, but I don’t know that I would ever reread it.  Am I glad I read it?  I really can’t answer that.

What I can say for certain is that this is not what I really wanted from my reading at this time…but then again, I couldn’t say that this is a book I’d probably ever want to read.  It’s like…hmmm.  There’s a movie called Downfall.  It’s a German language film about the final days of the Third Reich, from the point of view of Hitler’s secretary.  The movie’s very good and wholly fascinating, but it’s not the sort of thing I can put on very often, being a WWII movie and thoroughly depressing.  There’s one scene where one of the women goes around to her sleeping children, putting cyanide pills in their mouths and cracking them with the kids’ own jaws.  She does this out of love, to keep her children safe from the invading enemies, but damn, does it hit you like a blow.  But Downfall is, as I’ve implied, a movie I can and will watch again.  Just don’t ask when.

In contrast, there’s another movie called Grave of the Fireflies.  It’s also a WWII movie, though animated.  And this is a movie meant to grab its audience by the throat and shove the horrors of war and its aftermath at them.  I’ve only seen it once, and it made me bawl like a baby.  I will never, ever watch it again.  I foisted my copy off on a friend so I wouldn’t even be tempted.  I think White as Snow is comparable to Grave of the Fireflies in that it’s not a bad thing that I’ve read it, but I really don’t see any reason to subject myself to it ever again.

I fully intend to read something I’ll like more tomorrow.  What, I’m not sure.  But I am determined to find something, even if it means taking a break from new material and pulling an old beloved favorite off the shelves.