Friday, August 31, 2018

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente

You see lots of strange things at Comic-Con, and typically all the blood and gore are stagecraft. When a publishing exec dies dramatically in a bloody slide down the front staircase, however, the San Diego con kicks off like no other.

Our hero, fading comics artist Mike M, is a suspect (although he's innocent) and it looks like if he doesn't try to solve this, he may get railroaded. But he's also interested in networking (drinking) and drawing (making money) while he's in town. There's a lot to do, while avoiding trouble at every turn.

The con's like a circus come to town, and it both amplifies and exacerbates the drama of the story: When everyone's a monster or a hero, who can you trust?

I enjoyed this book - it's a fluffy bit of pop culture with a decent mystery element. There's a fun mix of real and fake comics, and true fans will have fun sorting out which is which.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Two outlaw brothers set off to gold-rush California in search of a man they're contracted to kill. But nothing's ever as easy as it seems.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are "brand-name" famous for their work; all they have to do is introduce themselves, and people blanch. But Eli has had enough, and is considering what his next life could look like: husband, shopkeep?

In the meantime, they're hunting down a man with a chemical formula that makes panning streams for gold child's play.

This is a dark comedy, that contrasts with flashes of shocking, stark violence. It's a remarkable, unforgettable novel and one of the best I've read in quite a while.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

There There by Tommy Orange

As the Big Oakland Powwow approaches, Native Americans of all kinds begin journeys to the event. Some travel only a few blocks, some come from across the country - and many have distances to cover that can't be measured in miles.

The multiple characters of this novel have their own stories (in separate chapters) but the closer we move toward the powwow's start, the more we see the lives are blended, woven, and interconnected: the local center's janitor, the event's emcee, a kid nervous for his first participation, an alcoholic on her way back home, local thugs with a plan.

From so many character's perspectives, the book gives an interesting look at what "being native" means in the 21st Century: some feel strongly about history and culture, and others are disconnected either purposely or through no fault of their own. There are rez Indians and urban Indians, some who immerse themselves in their ancestry, and some who can't identify with it at all. And while there are many familiar characters here, none feels cliched.

The story draws you right in, but it's not a light read; there's a melancholy and an impending doom to the whole thing. It's a fantastic, gripping read.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell

We're used to dark, sinister, slightly twisted fairy tales from Neil Gaiman. And the man never fails to delight.

This one's got a sleeping beauty sheltered by homicidal foliage, dwarves, crones, and a warrior queen along with amazing illustrations by Chris Riddell ... and a hell of a twist. It's short - at less than 75 pages - and wonderfully compact. Perfection.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

What if the fate of humankind rested on the skinny shoulders of a washed-up pop star?

When the rest of the galaxy discovers that Earth exists, we're forced to defend our sentience: Are we people, or are we meat? Based on a horrific past war and its time-tested truce agreement, the pre-ordained litmus test is, of course, an intergalactic singing-and-entertainment contest. Like Eurovision, but weirder.

This book a hilarious pop culture fest in the best kind of way.

It's also written in elaborate similes and Vegas-showgirl feathered headdress adjectives and expressively convoluted sentences that take lux vacations to exotic locales for up to half a page at a time and twist themselves inside out and backwards in a primitive mating ritual before they bleed out fuschia glitter and then expire. You'll either like that or hate it.