Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

Mike Carey’s the Stranded and Faker (2007 – 2008)

The Stranded

a limited series of five issues (2007 – 2008)

Like 2005’s Spellbinders: Signs and Wondersthe Stranded is another of Carey’s paycheck stories. The Stranded is a five-issue adaptation of a script for a TV show pilot Carey worked on with Syfy back when it was the Sci-Fi Channel. The only front-cover quote states “…just might become the next great TV hit!” Nothing ever came of the show.

None of this really bodes well for expectations going in — and, not surprisingly, it mostly meets ’em at that low level.

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Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, YA

Mike Carey’s Spellbinders: Signs and Wonders (2005)

Mike Carey is an excellent writer — easily one of the most talented names in the comics industry. He’s most lauded for his dense, philosophical work in the Lucifer series (a spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s the Sandman that’s woefully underappreciated next to its source material) and the more recent the Unwritten, both of which deal heavily with the nature / meaning / impact of storytelling (and arguably put his peers-in-reputation to shame).

Unfortunately, he’s also not afraid to knowingly write dreck for a paycheck. His the Sandman Presents: Petrefax miniseries — another Sandman spin-off — , Faker, his early superhero work: There’s little room in-between. He’s either at the top of his form, or writing lifeless cliches, where every word just follows a checklist of bad writing tropes.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction

Alan Weisman’s the World Without Us (2007)

I’m judging Weisman’s work a little more harshly than most because I feel it’s too slim and simple on presenting its ideas. Everything from this book can be found in the readings for a single introductory college course on environmental ethics or resource management — all it adds, I feel, is the context suggested by the book’s gimmicky title.

That’s not to say simple can’t be excellent, but with how the World Without Us presents its info, it feels like Weisman did the bare minimum amount of research — as if his only source was a single introductory class or textbook filtered through a writer’s whimsy. E.g., he shies away from referencing original research, and instead cites news headlines inaccurately covering original research as his sources. E.g., he references a number of outdated terms or ideas, such as continental drift or, positively, “The cure for pollution is dilution.” (Ouch….)

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Book Reviews, Novels

Paul Bowles’ the Sheltering Sky (1949)

Three American travelers, wealthy beyond description, drift into the Saharan desert, suffering constant discomfort, loneliness, illness. Their station as travelers is key: They are not the foul-brained tourist gawkers they miserably judge, gathering immediate snapshots to largely leave behind, but Travelers with a T, ingrained in the cultures they move between, accepting the differences or rejecting them — they at least pretend to understand the foreign cultures they inhabit.

Travelers Kit, Port and Tunner live this philosophical post-war outlook from bedrooms and buses, boxcars and hashish-hazed cafes, the culture on the outskirts only there to suffer the Americans’ wealthy dissatisfaction. Rejecting, then rejecting, they move further inland, further into a bored American’s Heart of Darkness, attitude and identity similarly removing themselves from the malaise’d bodies with every mile, every dune crossed into the oppression of that finalizing sheltering sky.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Ronald Sukenick’s UP (1968)

Ronald Sukenick was one of the founders and vocal leaders of the Fiction Collective back in ’68, a club of (largely) New York innovators taking advantage of the postmodern, self-reflective revolution they were simultaneously witnessing and instigating in literature. They — including authors like Steve Katz and Jonathan Baumbach — argued for an embracing of verbal tricks, of cut-and-paste visual collages in place of story progression, accompanied by a self-awareness of their own limits and possible stylistic pretensions in order to combat the novel’s stagnation. Does it add to literature? Does such a question matter, when the novel itself is the author unloading his soul and dumping all his relationship issues out on the reader in as humorous and creative a way he can cough up, no boundaries considered?

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Book Reviews, Novels

Stanley Elkin’s the Franchiser (1976)

A few lines are spoken deep in the Franchiser where the course of events suddenly shift, the novel’s focus jolts away towards being more than just a self-conscious, slightly corny satire of the golden-arch homogenization of small-town-big-city America. Ben Flesh, Elkin’s hero and franchisee, is suddenly faced with an impending multiply-sclerotic powerlessness that bounds back and forth, grows and subsides through the rest of the novel — the scope of the novel no longer space wasted on been-there-done-that social commentary but deliriously depressing and impacting tragicomedy, well worth its place on McCaffery’s 20th-century best-of.

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