The Fold: Inter-Dimensional Holmes

The Fold by Peter ClinesThe Fold by Peter Clines

Published: June 2nd, 2015
Publisher: Crown
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Horror
Format: eBook
Length: 384 pages

My first exposure to Peter Clines’ work was thanks to Audible, which recommended his earlier novel, 14. I rarely buy books without existing knowledge or recommendations to go on, but the summary sounded really interesting – a man moves into a Los Angeles apartment building and starts experiencing mysterious and possibly supernatural events – and the narrator, Ray Porter, was excellent. I ended up really enjoying that book, and added Clines to the short list of authors I plan on reading as thoroughly as possible. Accordingly, when I saw that he had a new novel coming out this year, I immediately wanted to get my hands on it.

In The Fold, teleportation is a reality… but it’s not quite ready for public consumption. Enter Mike Erikson, a man with an eidetic memory hired to find out why the scientists involved refuse to share their invention with the world. Thanks to his observational skills and analytical mind, he soon discovers that things are not what they seem and that “the fold” is far more dangerous than anyone imagined.

The Fold’s strongest points are its plotting and sheer readability. I tore through the book in a matter of days, and I was definitely hooked throughout, forgoing sleep and important chores so that I could continue reading. Clines is skilled at subtly injecting creeping horror into his stories, and I loved that feeling of being slowly drawn into something horribly doomed. Clines also injects timely pop culture references throughout, which makes the book feel grounded in the here and now

Anyone who has read Clines’ previous work knows that he has a fondness for a certain brand of cosmic horror. When hints of a connection to the world of 14 started cropping up in The Fold, I immediately had a guess where the story might be going. Although this did make the book slightly more predictable for me, I was also excited to know that Clines was continue to play in a setting that I throughly enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the characterization in The Fold isn’t quite up to snuff. Mike isn’t given much depth other than his stated discomfort with using his intellectual abilities, and we are only provided the barest glimpse into his life before this story begins. Most of the time it felt like his function in the plot was more important than who he was as a person, and ultimately he became a kind of Holmes pastiche without the humanizing flaws or down-to-earth partner.

The other characters don’t fare better. The supporting cast is a bit one-note, and Jamie, the love interest, reads like such a wish-fulfillment cliché that Clines hangs a lantern on it:

She sighed. “All that brain power and it never occurred to you why a cheerleader turned into a computer geek?”

“I just figured you were some Internet male fantasy come to life.”

I was also disappointed that the novel raises existential issues like whether you’re still the same person after you teleport and then quickly discards them in favor of resolving the story with a series of bloody fights. In fact, the climactic scenes don’t really have anything to do with the side effects of teleportation. Instead, they turn The Fold into the kind of story you could tell about any door into a hostile place, and felt like a bit of a re-tread of 14 in some ways.

Although I did enjoy reading The Fold, I definitely wish the characterization had been stronger. I think there might be a more interesting version of this book, perhaps in an alternate universe, where Clines draws his primary influences from Philip K. Dick’s worries about reality and selfhood. I do still recommend checking out his work, however, and I’m hoping there will be further books in this world.

LIKED IT

LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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The Wicked + The Divine: Exploding Beauty

The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 1The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 1: The Faust Act

Written by: Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by: Jamie McKelvie
Colored by: Matt Wilson

Published: November 12th 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Format: Paperback
Length: 144 pages

The Wicked + The Divine takes celebrity worship to an extreme and imagines a world where the gods reincarnate in human form once every ninety years, oftentimes as the biggest stars of their generation. They are always young, beautiful, famous (or infamous) and dead within two years. Our window into the lives of the “pantheon” is Laura, a seventeen-year-old Londoner with a fan-girl crush on nearly every member.

When Laura faints at a concert performance given by a god named Amaterasu, Lucifer – incarnated here as a blonde girl with an androgynous Bowie look – takes her backstage and irrevocably tangles her life with the affairs of the gods. Laura’s time backstage ends quickly thanks to an assassination attempt on the gods, which Lucifer foils by snapping her fingers and exploding some heads. This results in Lucifer’s arrest and trial, and Laura decides that she has to do everything she can to help her idol, no matter the danger.

Before I get into the writing, I think I should state for the record that I absolutely love Jamie McKelvie’s art, which the best part of this book by far. The lines are bold and strong, and his style is so distinctive that I can identify it immediately when I come across his work. Combine McKelvie’s lines with Matt Wilson’s vibrant coloring and you’ve got a book that is absolutely gorgeous to behold. That said, The Wicked + The Divine isn’t just a pretty face; it’s also exceedingly British and peppered with Kieron Gillen’s wicked sense of humor throughout. The problem is that the story is a bit muddled and the plotting occasionally feels rushed.

Laura’s introduction to the world of the gods feels a bit arbitrary; Lucifer picks her out of a pile of fainted teenagers and then she’s neck-deep in weirdness and danger. I never quite bought into the idea that a seventeen year-old super-fan could do anything significant to help a group of supposedly all-powerful gods or that any one of them would ever rely on her for help. Lucifer reads more as a teenager play-acting the part of a butch bad girl and not the Lord of Darkness, but it still rings a bit false when Laura keeps insisting that The Devil Herself desperately needs her help.

Despite these hiccups, I did enjoy reading the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine, and I do think I’ll check out more volumes in the future. I just hope that the story gets a little tighter as the series continues and that Laura has a more active, crucial part in events as they unfold.

REALLY LIKED IT

REALLY LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | Indiebound | Comixology

The Bunker: Apocalyptic Wish Fulfillment

The Bunker, Volume 1The Bunker, Volume 1

Written by: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Illustrations by: Joe Infurnari
Published: August 19th 2014
Publisher: Oni Press
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Graphic Novel
Format: Paperback
Length: 128 pages

In The Bunker, five friends decide to bury a time capsule in the woods, only to find the titular bunker when they start digging. Once inside the bunker, they discover letters from their future selves, who somehow sent a bunker full of evidence back in time to warn their younger selves about the impending apocalypse they will have a part in causing. It turns out this innocuous-looking group of young people includes a future president, a soon-to-be brilliant scientist and several other eventual movers-and-shakers. Heavy stuff for a bunch of recent college grads, no?

When I started reading The Bunker, it occurred to me to wonder whether I’d ever read a graphic novel with art I hated despite enjoying the story. I’m honestly not sure I ever have. Probably the only situation where I continued enjoying a book in spite of the art is when the artist changed for an issue of a comic I was already invested in reading. In any case, I really did not like the art in The Bunker, and the story didn’t do anything to win me over.

My biggest problem with this book is a serious lack of characterization thanks to an indistinct art style and some fairly underdeveloped writing. The art is so stylized that it becomes very hard to tell the difference between the extremely generic characters. The main visual distinction is that some of the characters wear glasses and some don’t, and one guy is bigger than the others. We get a bit of back-story here and there, but the author spends the most time on one of the girls, who remembers being raped by her uncle when she was young – i.e. the most cliché, heavy-handed way to make a story about a woman feel Serious and Real.

As for the dialogue, it’s oftentimes the case that every other word the characters say is “fuck”, and everyone speaks with essentially the same voice. One character does make a few unfunny and off-color jokes in the first issue… but then things get all serious and he stops behaving that way. After the bunker and its predictions come into play, this turns into a fairly serious-minded tale of doom-and-gloom.

Ultimately, The Bunker just felt like a weird kind of wish-fulfillment. Instead of discovering a more personal and believable secret from their future selves, the characters find out that each of them is an incredibly important world-destroyer and of course that they were able to figure out how to send a huge bunker back in time. I think it’s possible to tell an interesting story about receiving notes from your future self, but this doesn’t feel like the way to do it, especially because the details strain credibility in so many ways.

The worst part? This first volume is almost all setup and very little plot. Not much of substance happens after the characters find the bunker – they freak out and fight with each other and then eventually get around to dealing with one of their predicted catastrophes. Definitely a disappointment.

HATED IT

HATED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Sex Criminals: This Raunchy Joke Goes Deep

Sex Criminals, Volume OneSex Criminals, Volume One: One Weird Trick

Written By: Matt Fraction
Art By: Chip Zdarsky
Published: April 29th 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Comedy, Surrealism, Sex, Romance
Format: Paperback
Length: 128 pages

Sex Criminals is a bit of a phenomenon. It’s one of those books that I heard a lot about before I ever got around to reading it – the reprint covers in particular were everywhere on Tumblr, so I saw every variation a good million times. Luckily, the hype is actually justified in this case, probably because the story is far deeper and more nuanced than the raunchy joke it seems to be.

Volume One of Sex Criminals tells the story of Suzie and Jon, who meet at a party and hook up, only to discover that both share the completely bizarre ability to freeze time when they orgasm. Naturally, they decide to use this ability to rob a bank. What that summary doesn’t tell you is that Suzie and Jon are both carefully drawn, believably human and full of heartbreaking flaws.

One of the first things Suzie reveals as she narrates her story is that her father is dead, murdered by a gunman. As far as her childhood goes, things don’t get better from there. Her mother quickly sinks into alcoholism and Suzie uses her ability to freeze time as an escape from the world.

As for Jon, he seems less troubled at first until it becomes clear that he uses his abilities to act out in anger against the world, oftentimes in petty or childish ways. Heavy stuff, all of it, and yet the book is still incredibly funny. In fact, I’d argue that one of the main reasons the comedy works so well is that leavening of darkness, which makes the characters seem that much more real.

Zdarsky and Fraction might have been content with telling a fractured romance story with a few sci-fi overtones, but they clearly felt like that wasn’t nearly enough. Instead, they include things like an extended sequence where the lyrics to Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” are hidden behind apologetic notes because they couldn’t actually get the rights. Additionally, the sci-fi elements ramp up over the course of this first arc and we are given hints that there is a larger world of sexual absurdity surrounding Jon and Suzie’s more personal connection.

The art is great throughout – unique without being overly stylized or distracting – and the writing is hilarious and affecting in equal measure. I can’t wait to read more of Sex Criminals; I’m just sad that I’ll catch up to the current issue very quickly, and then who knows how long I’ll have to wait to read more. This is, of course, the downside of creator-owned comic books nowadays: they can and do publish whenever they feel like it, even if that means months between issues.

REALLY LIKED IT

REALLY LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | Comixology | Image Comics

A Few of My Reading Statistics from 2014

Number of books I read last year: 53

2014 Reading Challenge2014 was the first year in a good long while where it felt like I might fall short of my reading goal. I’d originally challenged myself to read 75 books – I’ve easily read at least that many for the past few years – but it wasn’t long before I walked that back to 52.

Why the slowdown? I listened to a lot fewer audiobooks, for starters. I no longer have a job that is well-suited to audiobook listening, and I haven’t been going for walks like I used to. I also read during almost every lunch break at my old job, but I haven’t been doing that as consistently since getting my current job. All of these things combined to cut into the time I spent reading this year.

Number of graphic novels: 25

ComixologyI got back into graphic novels in a big way thanks to my regular use of the Comixology app on my iPad. It helped that comic books and graphic novels are usually quick reads and made it easier for me to work in some reading time without feeling like I was committing to yet another book I might not finish.

Number of audiobooks: 14

AudibleThis number is definitely low compared to previous years when my Audible membership was the primary way I did my reading. It didn’t help that two of the books I listened to took half the year to finish. Of course, they’re also the longest books I read all year.

Physical books vs. digital books: 16 to 37

4460748699_1eefa8dfb1_qGood thing I have so damn many unread physical books sitting on my shelves, right? A lot of the digital books I read were comics in Comixology, but the number also includes a few library books and all the review copies I received from Netgalley and finished during the year.

Books with female authors or artists: 13

LandlineSeveral of these include graphic novels written by a man but illustrated by a woman (Saga) or short story collections that include work by both men and women (Dangerous Women, Rip-Off!). I definitely need to do better on this count.

Longest books: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and Dangerous Women by various authors

The LuminariesThe Luminaries weighs in at a solid 848 pages in hardcover. I listened to the audiobook version, which lasts 29 hours and 14 minutes and took me from June to November to finish. Ultimately I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, but after a certain point I stuck with it out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

rp_51PmRdBcW-L-199x300.jpgDangerous Women is 784 pages in hardcover, but the audiobook version is 32 hours and 49 minutes long, possibly because the narrators read their stories at varying speeds. I listened to this collection from December 2013 through July 2014, and wrote a detailed review of my impressions once I finished.

Most favorite book: Lexicon by Max Barry

rp_51JJOXEz4-L-198x300.jpgI raved about Lexicon as soon as I finished it. I loved the premise and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audiobook version. It’s especially interesting that I loved this book so much, considering the fact that my only previous exposure to Max Barry was Jennifer Government, which I thought was pretty terrible when I read it back in the day.

Least favorite book: Pretty Deadly, Volume 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

rp_pretty_deadly-194x300.jpgPretty Deadly was doubly disappointing because DeConnick is an author who gets a lot of raves for her work on Captain Marvel. I also wrote about Pretty Deadly here.

Alex + Ada, Volume 1: Artificial Love Story #999

Alex + Ada, Volume 1Alex + Ada, Volume 1

Art: Jonathan Luna
Script: Sarah Vaughn

Published: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Romance
Format: Paperback
Length: 128 pages

Alex + Ada opens with its sad-sack main character, Alex, waking up to yet another mundane workday. Alex, we discover, is still pining after his most recent ex-girlfriend after seven long months, and his friends just want him to get out there and do something about it.

The only mildly different note in this parade of clichés occurs when Alex talks to his rich (and horny) grandmother on the phone and she secretly decides to order him a nearly life-like android companion. Complications ensue when the newly arrived Ada turns out to have the personality of an eager-to-please talking mannequin and Alex finds he can’t relate to her.

You can probably guess where the story goes next. The problem is that this first volume is all about getting there, and nothing about it stands out from the crowds of stories that have dealt with very similar material. Spike Jonze’s Her was a flawed movie at best, but it still had a far more original approach to relationships between human beings and artificial intelligences.

Ultimately, Alex + Ada treads familiar ground and doesn’t even try to change things up while doing it. The most interesting part of this story arc happens at the end of the book, but it still doesn’t feel like enough to make this series unique. Honestly, I’d rather read this story from the perspective of an AI instead of yet another lovelorn social misfit.

As for the art, it’s reasonably competent, but the clearly digital nature of the backgrounds is jarring enough to become distracting. Overall, however, I just found it uninteresting and ultimately forgettable.

DISLIKED IT

DISLIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | Indiebound | Comixology

Did Not Finish: California by Edan Lepucki

California by Edan LepuckiCalifornia

Author: Edan Lepucki
Published: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Genre(s): Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Format: Audiobook
Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins

I wouldn’t normally post about a book that I didn’t finish reading, but considering the fact that I received not one but two free copies of California by Edan Lepucki – one from NetGalley, and one thanks to the Ford Audiobook Club on Goodreads – I feel as though I need to at least give my impressions of the five chapters I did manage to read.

California got a lot of buzz when it first came out. The author appeared on The Colbert Report, and Colbert gave it a ringing endorsement. Bestseller status was a foregone conclusion. On top of all that, I tend to enjoy stories that play with the boundaries of genre storytelling, so I was definitely interested in picking up California when it came out.

The basic premise of California focuses on a young couple, Cal and Frida, as they do their best to get by in the California countryside after American society collapses. When Frida discovers that she might be pregnant, the possibility throws everything about their lives into question.

As soon as we got a copy of the audiobook, my girlfriend and I decided to listen to it during a weekend trip. We enjoyed it well enough, but after that trip I rarely found myself in the mood to keep listening. I eked out another hour or two over the next few months, but my interest in the book quickly waned and I finally decided to give up once I realized how long it had taken to read a measly five chapters.

What I will say about the book is that the author’s portrayal of a doomed fear-future Los Angeles hits close to home. It doesn’t seem that far out of the realm of possibility now that I’ve lived in LA for more than a year. I was also slightly drawn to the book’s flashback scenes, which show how life in Los Angeles changed before Cal and Frida left for good.

The problem with California is that it seemed like the most interesting story was happening in the past, and only by proxy. Most of the book’s present-day storyline focused on Cal and Frida worrying about the minutiae of getting by in the wilderness, which quickly wore out its welcome.

Although there were hints of a bit more forward motion coming soon, I just couldn’t work up enough interest to keep listening. Additionally, so much time had passed since I’d started the book that it felt like I was just trying to force it by continuing to read.

Maybe I’ll give California another shot some day, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve got several hundred other books in my queue, and they’re calling my name.

DID NOT FINISH

DID NOT FINISH

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley as well as a promotional copy from the Ford Audiobook Club on Goodreads.

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