Just Giblets

We de-liver

14th August 2016
by Michael

Kate Bush’s singles from Worst to Best

Kate BushRecently The Daily Telegraph ranked Kate Bush’s 31 singles from worst to best. I was struck how low some of my personal favorite were, and how well some of the ones I was more indifferent to were ranked. Perhaps it’s a function of being here in the States, where Kate never really broke out, as opposed to England where she did quite well. I thought I would offer up my own ranking, and will include The Daily Telegraph’s ranking and how high the song reached on the British charts as well.

#31 – Deeper Understanding (2011)

from Director’s Cut; ranked #21 by The Daily Telegraph; #87 on the British charts
This track utilized the Trio Bulgarka a Bulgarian vocal ensemble to great effect in its original version lifted from The Sensual World, and it was still a bit cheesy. When Kate re-recorded it for her Director’s Cut album, substituting her son Bertie as the voice of the computer it just didn’t work at all.

#30 – And So Is Love (1994)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #25 by The Daily Telegraph; #26 on the British charts
Kate gets bluesy with a little help from Eric Clapton on this album cut from The Red Shoes. I always used to skip over this song when I listed to the album. Not really my cup of tea.

#29 – The Man I Love (1994)

from The Glory of Gershwin compilation; ranked #14 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #27 on the British charts
This fairly straightforward reading of a Gershwin classic was one Kate Bush song I hadn’t heard until I found this Daily Telegraph list! Kate does a nice job with this song, but alas, it’s not a Kate bush song…

#28 – Wow (1979)

from Lionheart; ranked #8 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #14 on the British charts
This was the first single off the much-anticipated follow-up to Kate’s groundbreaking debut, The Kick Inside. It’s a daring little confection about trying to keep theatrical performances fresh while performing them day-in and day-out, week-in, week-out, with references to bitchy queens and vaseline, but it’s over-dramatic (appropriately so) howling chorus does wear on me after awhlie.

#27 – Lyra (2007)

from The Golden Compass (soundtrack); ranked #13 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #187 on the British charts
Lovely, sweeping vocals play over the closing credits of the sadly disappointing film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantastic teen novel, The Golden Compass. It hit the British charts on the strength of its Digital Downloads alone. A bit of a throwaway, but a nice song. (I wish they’d included Be Kind to My Mistakes, Kate’s offering from the 80’s film Castaway, wasted as a B-side. That would have possibly cracked my top 10!)

#26 – Wild Man (2011)

from 50 Words for Snow; ranked #12 by the Daily Telegraph; reached #73 on the British charts
The lead, and only single from Kate’s last album, Wild Man is reminiscent of her previous single, King of the Mountain — interesting and heralding something new from a notoriously slow to produce artist, but in context, rather straightforward although this one has a rather intriguing chorus with some funky vocals.

#25 – Rocket Man (1991)

from Two Rooms; ranked #28 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #12 on the British charts
Offering her own version of one of Elton John’s beautiful classics, Kate puts her own reggae spin on Rocket Man taken from an early 90’s tribute album. Nice to see Kate having a little fun in the video.

#24 – King of the Mountain (2005)

from Aerial; ranked #22 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #4 on the British charts
Twelve years or so in the making, King of the Mountain heralded a triumphant return as the lead single of a double album masterpiece. It’s one of Kate’s highest charting single, but strangely enough, I never really appreciated it until I saw it performed live with the majesty and menace that lay hidden within.

#23 – Don’t Give Up (1986)

from So; ranked #16 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #9 on the British charts
This duet with Peter Gabriel off his masterpiece album, So, features Kate as the solitary ray of hope trying to reach a defeated man. A review in Rolling Stone magazine said this about Kate: “Don’t give up,” she breathes with the voice of life itself…” That’s Kate. The voice of life itself.

#22 Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) (1985)

from Hounds of Live; ranked #11 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #3 on the British charts (#37 on the U.S. charts!)
Kate’s only Top 40 U.S. single, also cracked the top 5 in Britain, this propulsive, rumination on seeing the world through your partner’s eyes has a lot of mileage for a deceptively simple song… although Kate’s simplest songs are more complicated that most pop singers can even imagine. I was surprised that this didn’t make the Telegraph’s Top 10. One of her best videos though…

#21 – Them Heavy People (Live) (1979)

from Live at the Hammersmith Odeon EP; ranked #26 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #10 on the British charts
American audiences weren’t ready when Kate appeared on Saturday Night Live singing about Gurdjieff and Jesu. This live track taken from her first concert tour captured her musical talent, her dancing daring, and her wackiness perfectly.

#20 – Babooshka (1980)

from Never for Ever; ranked #9 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #5 on the British charts
Bush’s third album saw her reaching toward the gorgeous madness that culminated in what many feel is her masterpiece fourth album, The Dreaming. Yet somehow, even as the edges of her music frayed with brilliance, she retained a strong pop sensibility while howling out, “I’m all yours, Babooshka!” This is a fun song, but not deserving of the Top 10 spot that The Daily Telegraph bestowed upon it.

#19 – This Woman’s Work (1989)

from The Sensual World; ranked #5 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #25 on the British charts
Kate wrote this song for the John Hughes film, She’s Having a Baby, and it’s an interesting take on the power of childbirth from the man’s point of view. It’s a gorgeous ballad, with Kate’s voice at it’s most emotional, starting of tremulously, then building with a grand crescendo that will chill you. Still, I rank it far lower than The Telegraph, which has this song at #5!

#18 – Hammer Horror (1979)

from Lionheart; ranked #20 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #44 on the British charts
Kate mines her love of horror films, particularly the classics produced by this movie studio, to spin a tale of a dead colleague who can’t let go of life. It features her trademark swooping vocals that soar into the stratosphere before plunging deep into the ocean. And a great little video too.

#17 – Breathing (1980)

from Never for Ever; ranked #17 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #16 on the British charts
Here is the moment when Kate began to take control of her musical career, and it’s fitting that it’s where The Daily Telegraph and I agree. Tackling a powerful subject, a song sung from the point of view of an unborn child who doesn’t want to be born into a post-apocalyptic world, Kate starts to move away from the child-like vocals and introduce a darker element to her music. It’s a chilling song, and the video is a mini-masterpiece, complete with cheesy 70’s special effects!

#16 – Experiment IV (1986)

from The Whole Story; ranked #19 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #23 on the British charts
When Kate released her greatest hits collection to introduce her music to America, she included one new track, the haunting, dystopian Experiment IV. Kate likes to imagine a dark future, and in this track, she imagines a world where scientists have created a sound that can kill from a distance. In the dark vision of Ms. Bush, this takes the form of a demonic entity played by the musician herself. The video features appearances by Dawn French, Hugh Laurie and Gary Oldman.  I thought as a follow-up to Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) Kate might have another Top 40 hit in America. Shows you what I know.

#15 – December Will be Magic Again (1980)

stand-alone Christmas single; ranked #10 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #29 on the British charts
Only Kate could release a Christmas single that’s also a love letter to England. With her trademark vocal swoops and dives evident in full force, this is an easy song for non-believers to make fun of, but it’s just beautiful, and it captures the magic of Christmas and England beautifully.

#14 – The Dreaming (1982)

from The Dreaming; ranked #31 by the Daily Telegraph; reached #42 on the British charts
While it lacks the polish of Hounds of Love, The Dreaming may actually be my favorite Kate Bush album. It was a commercial flop, but  it is so audacious; so insane, that it pushes the boundaries of pop music. For the title track, Kate tackles the plight of the aboriginal in Australia, and the mystic place between life and death called the Dreamtime. This was The Daily Telegraph’s lowest ranked single, but for me it’s sheer boldness merits a place in the Top 20 — and it’s multi-layered sound is rather amazing.

#13 – Love & Anger (1989)

from The Sensual World; ranked #29 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #38 on the British charts (and #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rocks chart!)
To kick off The Sensual World, Kate chose a logical follow-up to her triumph of Hounds of Love. Lots of drums, guitar by David Gilmour, and a cool video kept Kate in the American consciousness. Kind of the grown-up version of the fuck-you/adolescent cockiness of Sat In Your Lap. It’s a solid Bush song.

#12 – The Red Shoes (1994)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #30 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #21 on the British charts
Kate’s 1994 album, The Red Shoes was pretty hit and miss with me, but the title track was a explosive, manic dance number driven by Irish melodies, pipes and strings, and Kate’s intense vocal delivery. It was the high point in a bold, yet nearly conventional album that left Bush with an eleven-year gap between albums. Here, and with the previous Love & Anger is where The Daily Telegraph and I really differ.

#11 – The Man with the Child in His Eyes (1978)

from The Kick Inside; ranked #7 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #6 on the British charts
She wrote this song when she was 13. That’s all you really need to know about this exquisite ballad that rivals those written by musicians years her senior. Simple, understated, and beautiful. It just misses my top 10.

#10 – Army Dreamers (1980)

from Never for Ever; ranked #24 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #16 on the British charts
As Bush started to spread her wings lyrically and musically on her third album, she tackles one of her most devastating ditties, about young men going off to war and coming back in coffins. Sung as a lilting waltz, she marries a light musical touch with serious lyrical overtones. I’ve always loved this song, and its accompanying video. It’s a strong anchor for my Top 10.

#9 – Wuthering Heights (1978)

from The Kick Inside; ranked #4 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #1 on the British charts
Here’s the song that started it all. The precocious Kate Bush released a debut single not about falling in love, or getting your heart broken (although really, it’s about both of those things) but about Heathcliff and Cathy, the characters from Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights. More specifically, about Cathy’s ghost haunting Heathcliff forevermore on the moors. It was like nothing heard before on pop radio and it kicked off a career that is unparalleled still today.

#8 – Moments of Pleasure (1993)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #1 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #26 on the British charts
In what is most likely Bush’s most personal song, this beautiful, emotional ballad is clearly inspired by the death of her mother as she fondly remembers loved ones who have been part of her world. Although slightly overblown production-wise, you can’t deny the power of Bush’s delivery and turn of melody. And when she sings, “Hey there, Michael, do you really love me?” The answer is a resounding yet.

#7 – Cloudbusting (1985)

from Hounds of Love; ranked #3 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #20 on the British charts
Despite the mainstream success of Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) it was the other three singles from Hounds of Love that were the triumvirate of pop genius. Cloudbusting, coming it at #7 on my list, and #3 on The Daily Telegraph’s ranking, is epic in scope, complete with a 7-minute movie/video starring Donald Sutherland to accompany it. As the closing encore to her Before the Dawn concert in 2014, it left the audiences gloriously uplifted.

#6 – There Goes a Tenner (1982)

from The Dreaming; ranked #18 by The Daily Telegraph; did not make the British charts
The only Kate Bush single to miss the British charts completely, I attribute that to the backlash against The Dreaming album, which for me is sheer genius, and evident by the #6 ranking of this delightfully quirky, and hilarious ditty about a bank robbery gone wrong. I loved the videos from The Dreaming ear as well, and this, another mini-epic, is delightful. (In fact, my favorite non-single by Bush is arguably from this album, Suspended in Gaffa.)

#5 – Rubberband Girl (1993)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #23 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #12 on the British charts
I’m not sure why I love this song so much. Maybe because it’s such a mainstream, pop ditty from Kate Bush. It’s basically one chord with some funky instrumentation and trademark swooping Bush vocals. Why on earth EMI elected to release the far more mundane and less interesting Eat the Music for the American single is beyond me. This is a far better choice. I’ve included both the UK version (from The Red Shoes film) and the US version of the videos because they’re fun.

#4 – Sat in Your Lap (1982)

from The Dreaming; ranked #6 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #11 on the British charts
This was the single that heralded a new day for Kate. It was the lead single from The Dreaming, and I’m sure some people thought she’d lost her mind. Especially when they say this whack-a-doodle video (one of my favorites). I just love this song about the challenge of staying motivated to improve creatively. Something Bush clearly knew a lot about with this change in musical direction. It never stopped after The Dreaming. Nice to see the high ranking on the Telegraph as well… and that the British public responded pretty well too – almost getting her back into the Top 10. And come on, isn’t this the best video?

#3 – The Sensual World (1989)

from The Sensual World; ranked #2 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #12 on the British charts
There is no song out there that better embodies the sensual, the sumptuousness of lush, sexual beauty, than Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. And to add to that this song is actually the soliloquy Ms. Bush interprets for James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, plucked out of the novel Ulysses and set free to feel and experience that real, sensual world, as opposed to the literary world of words. And surely one of the most gorgeous videos ever made as Kate/Molly dances through the woods as the seasons change, in a gorgeous, form-fitting, velvet dress. The breathy vocals, and that last look into the camera as the song comes to a close. Wow.  Look how close The Daily Telegraph and I are on this one. There’s no denying it. You just need to experience it.

#2 – The Big Sky (1986)

from Hounds of Love; ranked #27 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #37 on the British charts
For the longest time, The Big Sky was my stock answer when asked what my favorite Kate Bush single was. As you can see, that has changed, but it’s still pretty close. I love the joy Kate expresses in this song… it’s so exultant and fun — a celebration of the sky, but at the same time a bit of a diss to the press, and a song about putting things into perspective. Such a gloriously fun video too. The audience is filled with members of the Kate Bush Club, and I remember thinking the first time I saw it, if I had been in the audience when Kate ran down the catwalk blowing kisses into the crowd, I would have swooned. I don’t know what The Daily Telegraph is thinking by ranking this single to low. They’re just wrong in this case.

#1 – Hounds of Love (1985)

from Hounds of Love; ranked #15 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #15 on the British charts
Over the past 10 – 12 years, Hounds of Love has emerged to be my favorite Kate Bush song. It’s a perfect song for me. From the spoken intro, “It’s in the trees, it’s coming” and the tribal pounding of the drums, you know something amazing is about to start. The rhythmic driving of the strings provide the perfect combination of propulsion and menace beneath Kat’s frantic vocal that is both filled with fear, and filled with longing. The song is a perfect allegory, the fear of love and commitment being likened to a fox fleeing the hunt… it’s the hounds of love are hunting… and Kate captures the range of emotions beautifully. The title track off her seminal album, this song just lifts me up to glorious heights until Kate’s final exultant cry, “I need love, love, love, love, love, love, yeah,” puts the transcendent cap on the this perfect pop song.

And there it is, Kate’s 31 British singles ranked from least favorite to most favorite according to me. I definitely skew to mid-career — The Dreaming and Hounds of Love being her pinnacle for me. Although I always thought How to Be Invisible from Aerial should have been a single, and it would have ranked very high on this list. I will leave you with one of my favorite non-singles from Kate that she also happens to have made a video for. Suspended in Gaffa was taken from The Dreaming, and I’m not sure why she made the video since it wasn’t released as a single, but I’m sure glad she did.

 

 

 

 

 

posted in Kate Bush, Lists, Music | at 11:35 am | 0 Comments
29th June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 1 – 5

Here they are, my top 5 titles from Marvel that are currently being published. Five solo titles… unprecendeted. Four female-led titles… shocking. Four of these titles are brand new, having started publication within the past year. They are titles that I never thought would be published. The fifth has been around for a long time, but has radically changed beyond all my wildest expectations and is more fun than I’ve had with a comic for a long time. Two years ago I never would have predicted any of these titles to be in my Top 5.

Vision#5 – Vision
Tom King, writer
Gabriel Hernandez Walta, artist

As a kid, I loved the Vision. He was cool looking, had original powers, and his romance with the Scarlet Witch was legendary and dramatic. Of course, like most comics, and many written by John Byrne, the Vision (and the Scarlet Witch) were put through the ringer in the 90’s and in my opinion, came out the other end a lot worse for wear. I lost a lot of my interest in the Vision, and few writers have really used him all that effectively since then.

Then along comes Tom King, with an entirely new look at the android Avenger, penning a domestic, suburban, horror story that’s part Frankenstein, part Stepford Wives, and can only lead to misery and heartbreak. Vision want a family; so he creates one. A loving wife, and a pair of teenage siblings; all with the same abilities as his. Their behavior is modeled on a traditional loving, suburban family, but while the Vision has had years to perfect his humanity, the rest of his family is quite new to it, and must rely solely on the programming Vision has provided. Add to that, the very humanity Vision seeks to own, and provide for his family, sometimes results in decisions made form the heart rather than the head. King explores the rich history of the Vision’s past to create a disturbing and powerful examination on the desire to belong. Gabriel Hernandez provides beautiful artwork that conveys both the emotional needs and the horror of the Vision family’s situation.

Hellcat.jpg#4 – Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat
Kate Leth, writer
Brittney Williams, artist

If any character needed to capitalize on the movement Ms. Marvel started at fun comics aimed at teen girls, it’s Patsy Walker. Rich in Marvel history, but with origins in romance comics, Patsy became a superheroine in her own right in the 80’s adopting the costume worn by the feminist heroine, The Cat, to become Hellcat. She’s had a bumpy road to 2016, marrying the Son of Satan, committing suicide, and being rescued from hell, but now she returns to her roots, with a 2016 twist. Patsy, the comic book character, is embracing her past as a romance comic star, although it’s definitely something she’s embarrassed about. She’s also making some new friends to go along with her old friends that give the fun-loving Patsy lots of fun people to interact with.

Squarely aimed at younger girls, in both storylines and artwork, Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat really launches forward from where Ms. Marvel set things up. Friendships are paramount, whether it’s She-Hulk or her former Defender teammate, Valkyrie, or her new friends and roommates. Gay themes are front and center, reflecting a much more modern social society that lots of younger adults are comfortable with. Patsy has always deserved a fun book, and with her “cheese & crackers” personality, it makes total sense to aim this thoroughly at teens. I don’t know how long this book will last, but I’m hoping for a nice long run.

Scarlet Witch#3 – Scarlet Witch
James Robinson, writer
Various Artists

The Scarlet Witch was always one of my favorite characters through the 70’s and 80’s. Passionate and feisty, with interesting powers, she was a mutant that wasn’t associated with the X-Men. She was a good team player, and her romance with Vision was unique and well played-out. Then Byrne kind of ruined her, Kurt Busiek tried to rehabilitate her in a way I didn’t like, and Bendis utterly destroyed her character. It has taken years for Wanda to recover and become a viable character in the Marvel Universe again, so I was interested to see what James Robinson would be able to do with her character. Especially as the lead in a solo title, which she has never successfully accomplished before.

The result has been weirdly interesting and utterly enjoyable for me. Robinson explores her use of chaos magic, given Wanda a centered, assured demeanor, and sent her on an exotic journey throughout the globe. While using a different artist for each issue is an intriguing idea, it does make the look for the book less cohesive, but the overall design of the book is fairly consistent, thanks to David Aja’s gorgeous covers. For however long Wanda is able to maintain her title, Robinson has created a new, intriguing chapter in her life, one that gives further definition to a long-standing character, and gives her a platform from which to grow. Wanda should have a prominent place in the Marvel Universe, and I’m thrilled to see that coming to pass.

Mockingbird#2 – Mockingbird
Chelsea Cain, writer
Kate Niemczyk, artist

Perhaps it’s too soon for Mockingbird to appear so high on a favorite comics list, but never has a title so quickly provided me with so much enjoyment. After only three issues and a special one-shot, best-selling author Chelsea Cain has given Bobbi Morse a strong, three-dimensional personality, a fascinating story, and a book that’s fun, sexy, and exciting. Delving into her origins as a scientist and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and riffing on her period on the television show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while deftly acknowledging, but not dwelling on her most definitive history as Hawkeye’s wife and an Avenger, Cain allows Bobbi to soar.

What it comes down to is that Cain has made Bobbi cool. Maybe not as cool as Black widow (yet) but certainly more fun, and just as competent as the Russian super-spy. I’m sure the book will eventually delve further into Bobbi’s past, and I’m looking forward to Cain’s view of her time as a more traditional superhero. The book is smartly written, with gorgeous art by newcomer Kate Niemczyk enhancing the experience. If Mockingbird comes in at #2 this early in its life, I can only hope the quality continues, and possibly even top this list in the months to come.

The Mighty Thor#1 – The Mighty Thor
Jason Aaron, writer
Russell Dauterman, artist

Marvel’s Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder, has been around for a long time. While Thor himself was never a favorite (although I liked him okay), I’ve always had a soft spot for the Asgardians. A few years ago when Sif headlined Journey Into Mystery, it was my favorite title, and remains, to this day, one of my favorite comic runs. Never would I have predicted that The Mighty Thor would top a list of favorite comics. Even when Marvel unexpectedly removed the usual guy wielding Mjolnir and replaced him with a mystery woman, did I expect to love it so much. The fact of the matter is, Jason Aaron has breathed now, vibrant life into Thor and reimagined the character as a kick-ass superheroine to boot!

I was already enjoying the Thor comic before the gender swap occurred. Things Asgardian have been well-handled in recent years, from the afore-mentioned Sif, to the outstanding books involving Loki. I was enjoying the Thor title before Odinson became unworthy and lost the hammer to the new Thor. The stories were interesting and fun; the lead character and supporting cast were entertaining. When the new Thor took hold of the hammer, her interaction with the Odinson was priceless, and her evolving relationship with Thor’s former family and colleagues has been so much fun to watch. Aaron has spent a great deal of time defining and exploring the new Thor, all while keeping the threads from the Odinson’s title percolating in the background, and ready to explode in coming issues. He’s also given us a great mystery and sense of drama with the new Thor’s identity and condition when not wielding Mjolnir. All of this adds up to one fantastic book that leads the charge of what is surely a Marvel renaissance for this particular reader.

And there you have it. My favorite Marvel titles being published right now, and a couple that recently concluded. I may continue this with my favorite DC titles being published right now, but as they’re about to relaunch their entire line, I may take a different look at them. I sure hope Marvel can maintain the quality and diversity of their output. I never would have expected this to be possible ten years ago. Now all we need is the return of the Invisible Woman and someone to fall in love with and use Mantis a bit more, and I will be the happiest comic reader around.

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 8:39 am | 0 Comments
23rd June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 6 – 10

The final team book shows up to anchor the Top 10, and it’s something of a surprise! Then we’ve got a mix of two male solo titles, and two female solo titles. Also two characters who have been around for a very long time, and two more recent characters. And one of the titles is new characters in long-time roles.

All-New X-Men#10 – All-New X-Men
Dennis Hopeless, writer
Mark Bagley, artist

Despite my checkered past with Brian Michael Bendis, his re-imagination of the all-new X-Men, bringing the original five students from early in their careers into the future in the hopes of convincing the present day Cyclops the error of his ways, turned out to provide some really interesting stories that have evolved into this latest incarnation written by Dennis Hopeless. Now, with Jean Grey off with another faction of the team, and with the all-new Wolverine taking her place, as well as a handful of the other newer mutants in the X-Men stable, we’ve got some “old favorites” mixing it up with newer characters in something that breathes fresh life into a tired Marvel staple.

Some high points include Iceman’s revelation that he’s gay, Cyclops’ struggling not to become the slightly crazy, megalomaniac his older self has turned into, and the burgeoning romance between Angel and the all-new Wolverine. Mark Bagley’s sleek, clean artwork adds a lot to the appeal of the All-New X-Men, and I’m hopeful this title can maintain its high quality even while it gets sucked into some of the larger X-Men series crossovers.

Silver Surfer#9 – Silver Surfer
Dan Slott, writer
Michael Allred, artist

Dan Slott replaces his goofy humor with a sweet simplicity, perfectly matched by Michael Allred’s fun, cartoony art to reimagine the classic Silver Surfer into something fresh and new as seen through the eyes of the human, Dawn Greenwood. This terrific new series started out as a cosmic adventure where Silver Surfer takes Dawn into space to show her the wonders of the universe. Then after providing critical assistance to repairing the universe after it was merged with other multiverses during Secret Wars, Silver Surfer returned to earth with Dawn taking on a new role as earth’s protector after his former love, Shalla Bal, and the people of Zenn-la tried to reimagine Surfer’s adopted home in their image.

Slott usually approaches his titles with considerable humor, and some smart use of continuity. Silver Surfer is fun, and often funny, but there is an underlying sweetness as he and Dawn slowly develop a romantic relationship, all while revisiting past allies and foes on an epic journey through the universe, and then across the globe. Michael Allred, along with his wife, colorist, Laura Allred, create a wild, Ditko-esque tapestry against which the Surfer uses his considerable power to protect those less fortunate. I had difficulty imagining how Slott would maintain his creative storyline, but this title is consistently surprising in its fresh look at a long-time hero.

Ms.Marvel#8 – Ms. Marvel
G. Willow Wilson, writer
Takeshi Miyazawa, artist

G. Willow Wilson’s re-imagination of legacy heroine, Ms. Marvel as a teen, Muslim, Kamala Khan, took Marvel by storm, and opened the floodgates of the superhero comics to young women everywhere. A smash hit, it struck comparisons to Spider-Man and his early appearances, about a young hero trying to learn responsibility, fight crime, keep her identity secret, do well in school, and wrestle with young love all while trying to meet curfew. Ms. Marvel took the comic book world by storm, even becoming a member of the All-New Avengers, and fighting alongside her namesake, idol, Captain Marvel.

While Wilson’s Ms. Marvel retains its appeal, deftly balancing the young heroine’s many challenges, her larger acceptance, as member of the Avengers, has actually dampened my enthusiasm slightly for the title. While still in my Top 10, I think Ms. Marvel would have been higher in the list had I made it a year ago. Takeshi Mayazawa’s art is strong, giving Kamala her unique look, and cartoony appeal. Ms. Marvel has so much potential, and G. Willow Wilson has proven to be a writer that can handle a wide variety of stories. And as a trailblazer for blasting open the doors to mainstream comics to young women, I top my hat to her.

Squirrel Girl#7 – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Ryan North, writer
Erica Henderson, artist

Now here’s an unexpected hit about a rather unexpected creation. Squirrel Girl was created as a joke in a back-up Iron Man story where she defeated Dr. Doom. After some notable appearances in the Great Lake Avengers, then as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ nanny in the New Avengers, she got her own title for the first time, where Ryan North and Erica Henderson capitalized on the runaway success of Ms. Marvel to create one of the most fun, funny, and original series ever. Taking full advantage of today’s technology (Squirrel Girl and her pals tweet incessantly) Squirrel Girl is a book for the youth of today and an inspiration for young girls everywhere. Optimistic, confident, and powerful, Squirrel Girl takes on all sorts of criminals, from common thugs to Galactus and Thanos, Squirrel Girl takes no prisoners.

North creates an adorable heroine for the ages, and infuses Squirrel Girl with lunatic humor, warmth and girl-power. With heroic friends like Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk you can’t help but smile as this plucky crime-fighter works with her sidekick Tippy-Toe to make the world a better place. Erica Henderson’s art is cartoony but accomplished, and Squirrel Girl is one of the few titles that my friends who don’t read comics seek out. This unlikely hit is so deserving, and while the convoluted time-travel, multi-issue arc wasn’t quite as fun as the previous issues of the series, I still look forward to this comic every month.

Doctor Strange#6 – Doctor Strange
Jason Aaron, writer
Chris Bachalo, artist

I’ve always enjoyed comic series revolving around magic, and I’ve usually enjoyed the various incarnations of Doctor Strange that Marvel has published. One of the big draws of Doctor Strange was always Clea, who has not appeared in this new series, but surprisingly, I’m still loving it. The good doctor is facing an otherworldly threat that is destroying all magic in the multiverse, and slaughtering those who use it. With various guest stars such as Scarlet Witch, Magik, Shaman and Talisman, Aaron is bringing in many of the magic users in the Marvel Universe, and creating a compelling, accessible story about the nature of magic. It’s fun, a bit irreverent, steeped in Marvel history, and modern all at the same time. Stephen Strange is updated and kind of cool but still recognizable as the character that has been around since the 60’s.

Then there’s the art… an important consideration for Doctor Strange given his origins and how Steve Ditko defined the Marvel magic universe. Chris Bachalo is more than up to the task. His unorthodox panels, cryptic, insane monsters, and inscrutable faces all work perfectly for Drocto Strange. If Aaron and Bachalo can maintain this quality and pace, Doctor Strange should have a good run leading up to his cinematic debut. And if they bring Clea in, even as a guest star, I’ll be just thrilled.

And we’re down to my Top 5. Anyone have any guesses as to what’s on the top of the list?

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 6:29 am | 0 Comments
22nd June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 11 – 15

For the next round, we have some insects, a ferocious animal, and a bunch of superheroines. We also start the parade of solo titles that I’ve been loving. Two are titles that I am genuinely surprised that I’m enjoying so much. Let’s get right down to it.

antman#15 – The Astonishing Ant-Man
Nick Spencer, writer
Ramon Rosanas, artist

I’ve always preferred Scott Lang to Hank Pym when it comes to Ant-Man, but I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Lang’s solo-outing nearly as much as I do. Lang’s Ant-Man is a bit of a screw-up in his first solo title. He has followed his ex-wife and daughter to Miami, started his own shaky security firm populated by ex-super villains, and found himself working for his ex-girlfriend Darla Deering, once a teammate on the Fantastic Four under the identity of Miss Thing. His daughter Cassie, formerly the Young Avengers known as Stature has come back from the dead, lost her powers and his very angry at her father for stalking her. Now she finds herself on the wrong side of the law with a new set of super-powers with her Dad trying to save her.

Nick Spencer hits a fun tone in Astonishing Ant-Man, mixing family drama with pratfall humor. Scott is such a mess that you can’t help root for him. He loves his daughter and tries so hard to be a hero that you just want to shake him every time he makes a questionable decision. Spencer makes Lang a lovable guy who tries really hard but can’t really catch many breaks. He does a great job with Lang’s supporting cast as well. From Cassie, to Darla, to his sad sack security team, to the Beetle, a new incarnation of the super-villain with whom he has slept with a couple times against his better judgement. Ramon Rosanas’ art is sleek and accessible, handle the size changing superheroes with dramatic flair.  Here’s hoping Lang’s bad luck doesn’t cross over into the sales for this title, which deserves a lengthy run.

spiderwoman#14 – Spider-Woman
Dennis Hopeless, writer
Javier Rodriguez, artist

How I loved Spider-Woman in the 70’s. And I do thank Brian Bendis for bringing her back… but didn’t really enjoy his take on her. But now Dennis Hopeless has reimagined Jessica Drew as a pragmatic heroine… who has a baby! What a fun and unexpected twist for our heroine, and one that brings a little mystery and a lot of humor into her life. It’s true, when Spider-Woman first appeared in the 70’s, humor wasn’t really part of her ouevre. Yet it suits her, especially with Hopeless’ quirky take on her, and keeping her large network of heroic (and sometimes villainous) friends. I also enjoy her mentor relationship with the two newest spider-ladies in the Marvel Universe (Spider-Gwen and Silk). It allows Jessica to grapple with her uncertainty around her heroic role, yet tap into the extensive experience she has amassed over the years.

Javier Rodriguez is a great artistic pairing for Jessica’s new style. Her costume has been reimagined, the book has bold, clean lines, and the colors fairly leap off the page. The first arc of Spider-Woman’s title by Hopeless focuses on her pregnancy and her unorthodox labor. I’m looking forward to see where her creative team takes her now that the baby is born, and perhaps the mystery of the father is brought to light. Welcome back, Jessica, it’s been way too long.

Black Widow#13 – Black Widow
Chris Samnee & Mark Waid, writers
Chris Samnee, artist

Natasha Romanoff, aka, The Black Widow, is finally getting the attend she deserves, thanks possibly in part, because of the high profile nature of her role in the Avengers films. Natasha has such a long, complicated history with so many appearances in so many team and solo books since her debut in the pages of Iron Man in the 60’s. Taking up the threads established by Marjorie Liu and Nathan Edmondson in her previous series, Black Widow’s solo adventures are much more of the spy variety than standard superheroics. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee just completed a very successful run on Daredevil, and their style suits the Widow nicely. They kick the series off with a full-throttle, suspenseful opener that never lets up the pace. They’ve put Natasha in a very dangerous situation, one that she overcomes in her own deadly style.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last two Widow series over the past few years. And I suspect this one will also be great. So far it hasn’t matched the outstanding work Edmondson had been delivering, thus it’s double digit appearance on this list. I’m hoping that once Waid and Samnee get deeper into their story, that this title might move up on my list.

A-Force#12 – A-Force
Kelly Thompson w/ G. Willow Wilson, writers
Jorge Malina, artist

After Cullen Bunn’s ambitious, yet failed attempt at an all-super-heroine team in Fearless Defenders, I was worried that A-Force, an all-super-heroine team of Avengers that got its debut as a miniseries during the Secret Wars arc, might fare the same. Yet, G. Willow Wilson hot off her work with Ms. Marvel, seems to have a success on her hands so far. Now in their own series, the kick-ass heroines of Earth 616 – She-Hulk, Medusa, Captain Marvel, Dazzler, Nico Minoru and Singlarity –  band together again for the very first time. What’s that you say? Together again for the first time? Well the characters in the A-Force limited series were plucked from various realities and weren’t the heroines that are getting together here, but when one of your members is a sentient pocket universe, these things are possible.

Even without one of my favorites, Medusa, prominently featured, it’s a no-brainer that I would be interested in a team of super-heroines, but A-Force shows promise regardless of my pre-disposition to love it. Thompson and Wilson are taking their time developing the group into a team and fleshing out the individual members. They plan to have a variety of characters guest star, which will be a lot of fun. The tension/dynamic between three strong leaders, Medusa, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk, is fun. Malina’s artwork is good, clean and attractive, but doesn’t wow me. I suppose this would be much closer to the top of the list if it didn’t feel a little rushed, or dig a little deeper. Hopefully once A-Force settles into its groove, that will happen.

All-New Wolverine#11 – All-New Wolverine
Tom Taylor, writer
David Lopez & David Navarrot, artists

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think a Wolverine comic would end up hovering around the bottom of my top 10 Marvel books being published. Even with Laura Kinney, the former X-23, now acting as the All-New Wolverine did I ever expect a Wolverine title to be so darn enjoyable! Tom Taylor has breathed new life into the tired Wolverine mythos by creating stories about a young, female clone of Wolverine, struggling with her humanity, and basically invulnerable due to her healing factor. In her new solo title, Laura has partnered with such unlikely heroes as Dr. Strange and Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, as well as her boyfriend, Angel, from the all-new X-Men already, and seeing her work with these disparate heroes has been a lot of fun. Now she has taken an even younger clone of herself under her wing, forcing her to make even more responsible choices in an effort to set a good example.

Taylor has developed a strong character in Laura Kinney, someone who hasn’t been around all that long, yet has already amassed significant experience in the Marvel Universe. She carries on a legacy of the lost Logan, and seeks to honor him by adopting his identity. he art by David Lopez and David Navarrot has an intensity that matches the young heroine. Now it’s time to see some of Wolverine’s rogues gallery to make an appearance to square off against the “all-new Wolverine.”

See you soon with the Top 10!

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 6:03 pm | 0 Comments
16th June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 15 – 20

After being inspired by this article in Past Magazine, I started assembling my Top 10 list of Marvel Comics that I’m currently enjoying. What I discovered is, I’m actually really digging about 20 of their titles (and reading about 30 — not a bad ratio). I made a couple of surprising discoveries when compiling this list. I’ve always been a big fan of team books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that our of my Top 20 reads, 14 were solo titles! And of the seven team books I am enjoying, only one is in the Top 10. The reason for this leads to my next surprising discovery. I’ve always enjoyed team books more than solo books because, as you all know, I read comics mainly for the superheroines. Historically, you’d only find superheroines in team books like the X-Men or the Avengers. You might find one or two solo titles about a superhoine, but they usually didn’t last too long. Shockingly, 10 of my Top 20 Marvel titles I’m enjoying right now are solo books about superheroines! It’s really unprecedented, and I am thrilled. I guess Marvel finally figured out that girls read comics too.

captainmarvel#20 – Captain Marvel
Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters, writers
Kris Anka & Felipe Smith, artists

As a superheroine-loving, comic-reading youth, I was very excited when Marvel clumsily embraced the women’s liberation movement in the 70’s, publishing titles like The Cat, Night Nurse, and somewhat more successfully, Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel. Carol Danvers, a/k/a/ Ms. Marvel, was an interesting character, and fit right in the mold of what a big comic book company thought a 70’s liberated woman should be. After her title was cancelled, she showed up in the Avengers and the X-Men, and proceeded to have her life ripped apart and over the decades, put back together. And while I’ve always liked her okay, I’ve never really taken to Ms. Marvel. Except for her first run in The Avengers, when she was actually kind of playful — flirting with Wonder Man, teasing Captain America — she always came across as a little flat. Chris Claremont did some work with her after she had her powers stripped from her and her memories wiped by Rogue in a classic Avengers Annual, subsequently boosting her powers to cosmic levels and changing her name to Binary. Kurt Busiek tried to mix it up a little by having her struggle with alcohol when he brought the Avengers back to popularity. Then Marvel decided that Carol, now called Captain Marvel, needed to be their flagship heroine; a character to rival Wonder Woman, and they started pushing her in solo titles again.

I really wanted to love her first solo outing written by the talented Kelly Sue DeConnick but could never really fully embrace it. Part of that was Dexter Soy’s unconventional, and in my eyes, unattractive artwork. So after a while, I stopped reading it. Recently she got a new creative team, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters who relaunched her series with Carol as the commander of Alpha Flight, housed on a space station and protecting the earth from interstellar threats. Her supporting cast includes Sasquatch, Aurora and Puck, former members of the Canadian team, Alpha Flight, with some lovely, streamlined art by Kris Anka and Felipe Smith. The combination is working. The stories are fun, Carol in getting more interesting to me again, and hopefully, this trend will continue. I really want to love Captain Marvel. maybe soon I will.

#1ultimates9 – Ultimates
Al Ewing, writer
Kenneth Rocafort, artist

After the universe reshaping that took place in Secret Wars, the Ultimates came together to monitor and protect the earth from major cosmic disturbances. Their first mission was to stop the planet-destroying habits of Galactus, so you know they mean business. With that in mind, the team packs some major power with a membership that includes Blue Marvel, Black Panther, Spectrum, Captain Marvel and Ms. America, with Galactus as a sort of unofficial member. It’s also an amazingly diverse team with not a single caucasian man in sight. Much of my enjoyment of Ultimates comes from this unconventional line-up. Female-heavy, and featuring Monica Rambeau, aka Spectrum, was also a major-enticement. But Ewing does a great job in thinking big in terms of storyline and is creative in his solutions.

Take his first storyline, when the Ultimates decide to tackle the problem of Galactus. Their solution isn’t to destroy him, or stop his insatiable hunger. Instead, they use their brains and their considerable power to change his fundamental nature from world-destroyer to life-bringer. It’s a bold, and surprising move in comics, and has made for some pretty damn entertaining stories.

squadron#18 – Squadron Supreme
James Robinson, writer
Leonard Kirk, artist

Originally created as Marvel’s version of the Justice League and hailing from a parallel earth, James Robinson has reimagined the team as a band of heroes assembled from multiple parallel earths that have all been destroyed. The team holds the Illuminati responsible, and their primary mission, when not helping humanity, is revenge against those who destroyed their homeworlds. In fact, in one of their first missions, they successfully kill Namor, the Sub Mariner. Each member represents the core team of the original Squadron Supreme, including Hyperion, Nighthawk, Doctor Spectrum, Whizzer, and Power Princess. I’ve always enjoyed the Squadron Supreme, but it was the inclusion of Thundra, who hooked up with the team after a few issues, that inspired me to follow the book.

Fortunately, Robinson has set the team up with an intriguing mission, one that is justified, if misguided, and also puts them into opposition of the heroes on our earth. It’s difficult to know how long he will be able to maintain this mission, and how things will evolve longer-term, but with early revelations of a team-traitor, and the addition of Thundra, things are already starting to evolve.

uinhumans#17 – Uncanny Inhumans
Charles Soule, writer
Steve McNiven, Brandon Petersen, Kev Walker, artists

I’ve always been a big fan of the Inhuman Royal Family, particularly Medusa, who is my second favorite super-heroine after the Invisible Woman. Medusa has gotten a lot of play in the past few years, which I really appreciate, but now that Black Bolt is back, I feared Medusa would be taking a back seat to her hubby. Fortunately, so far, that’s not happening. While Uncanny Inhumans hasn’t quite lived up to my hopes for the title; it’s a pretty standard book, it is resolving some dropped threads from the past: like what ever happened to Medusa and Black Bolt’s son, Ahura. That opening arc, which also involved Kang the Conqueror, was a great start, but the book has been floundering a bit since then with a few transitional issues that will hopefully lead into something big coming up. The addition of the Human Torch as the human liaison to the Inhumans is intriguing, but his relationship with Medusa seems a bit more like a plot device.

Still, I have high hopes for this ongoing spotlight on one of Marvel’s quirkier ideas from the 60’s. Marvel Entertainment has put the Inhumans movie on hold, which is a shame, but they’re getting commercial time on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Medusa is certainly getting a lot of face time between this title and A-Force, which will appear a little bit later on this list. So my hopes remain high, and I am enjoying the Inhumans time in the spotlight.

aninhumans#16 – All-New Inhumans
James Asmus & Charles Soule, writers
Stefano Caselli, artist

Speaking of the Inhumans, what about all those other Inhumans, including all the new ones created by the Terrigen mists, that don’t fit into Uncanny Inhumans? Marvel has created a second team, this one led by Crystal, arguably one of the most popular of the Royal Family, who is occasionally forgotten about when dealing with the Inhumans. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying All-New Inhumans a little more than the Uncanny version. This group of Inhumans has a very targeted mission — protecting all the new Inhumans created by the Terrigen Cloud that has now having affects worldwide. All-New Inhumans covers some interesting moral ground as the team, nominally on a diplomatic mission wherever they go, uncover all sorts of disturbing behavior around the explosion of new Inhumans.

Marvel has always had a tough time creating new Inhumans beyond the Royal Family and having them stick. Both All-New and Uncanny Inhumans is doing a pretty good job with this, giving them some strong characterization and more to do (Sean McKeever’s brief series in the early 2000’s about a younger group of Inhumans being an exception. Would love to see some of those characters again.) The fact that Charles Soule is involved with both Inhumans’ series is good, allowing for strong continuity and interplay. I just hope that Marvel isn’t going to continue with the idea of Inhumans replacing mutants in their universe, because those stories have already been written for decades. It’s time to try something new.

Okay, things start to get really interesting from here. You can see that most of the team books are in this group, surprising, as they tend to be my favorites. Also notable about those teams is that they’re all pretty much led by women (except for Ultimates, and the leadership there is debatable.)  Lots of good stuff from Marvel these days. Hope the quality continues.

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 10:15 am | 0 Comments
14th June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now – Or Was…

Both Marvel and DC are transforming again. It’s something they do every nine months or so. Sometimes more. It gets old. But at the same time, I read a post on some comics site that listed the best Marvel comics out right now, and I realized that I agreed with many of the picks on this list, and that there were actually quite a few Marvel Comics being published at the moment that I was really enjoying. Since I don’t really use this blog anymore except for my year-end best books list, I thought why not share my mid-year best comics list? And here we are…

But before I launch into this list, I had to mention two titles that are not currently being published, so it would be against the rules to include them on my list. That said, when they were being published, they were definitely in my Top 6 or 7 Marvel books out there. The good news, is that one will be coming back… transformed a bit… very soon, and the other will turn up again in the near future as well.

lokiLoki: Agent of Asgard
Al Ewing, writer
Lee Garbett, Artist

I’m not generally a fan of comic titles centered around “villains.” I came late to Loki’s starring role. In the pages of Thor, the heroes arch-nemesis, his half-brother Loki, god of lies, ends up being reborn. His tales as a pre-teen were told in Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery title. After reading consistent great reviews of the comic, I picked it up, fell in love, and have been reading about Loki’s adventures in various titles ever since. Now aged to a young adult, befriended by a mortal named Verity, who can see through lies, acting more as an anti-hero… or even (gasp) a hero, than the traditional villain he has always played, and now working as an agent of Asgard, his mystical homeworld on command by the all-Mother, rulers of the gods, he wrestles with his future self, that traditional, purveyor of evil that whose shadow all his actions fall beneath.

Ewing’s Loki is conflicted and charming, smart and cunning, but not so trustworthy when it all comes down to it. His journey has him evolving from a god of lies, to a god of stories, which is a lot less judgmental, but still has the ability to swing both ways… morality-wise. Sadly, Loki got caught up in the whole rebirth of the Marvel Universe business and his title was suspended. The good news, is that this week, Loki returns in a new title called Vote Loki, where the god of stories take on the role that he was born to embrace… political candidate for President of the United States.

hawkeyeAll-New Hawkeye
Jeff Lemire, writer
Ramón Pérez, artist

After writer David Aja’s ongoing Hawkeye series turned Clint Barton, the avenging archer from an heroic superhero, to a down-on-his-luck hero of the people, and paired him up with the younger, better(?) Hawkeye, Kate Bishop Jeff Lemire followed up with a story that combined a future adventure with the present, when the two estranged Hawkeyes meet up after years on their own to correct a mistake they made around three powerfully mutated children who kill with their minds.

Both Aja and Lemire knew how to make Barton and Bishop unique and fascinating, with their two heroes sharing both a mutual admiration and attraction that was sweet without being icky. They tackled serious subjects with a hefty dose of tongue-in-cheek, dry humor that suited their protagonists perfectly. Both Hawkeyes found themselves rising up from B-list cult favorites, to A-list cult favorites and proved once again, that you don’t need super powers to be a true hero.

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 11:03 pm | 0 Comments
3rd February 2016
by Michael

Best Books Read in 2015 – #’s 2 & 1

2015 was a good year for speculative fiction, with four out of the top 5 books I read this year coming under the science fiction/fantasy/horror genres. My top 2 books feature a favorite author, and one I’ve been meaning to read for years, and finally did. And they’re both named Nei/al.

#Trigger Warning2 – Trigger Warning: Short Fictions & Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Has Neil Gaiman ever disappointed? I can’t say that he has, and this collection of short stories continues that streak. Using a title that was born from the internet to alert readers/viewers etc. to potentially offensive/disturbing content, Mr. Gaiman ponders the idea that his own work would one day bear the label, “trigger warning.” Good fiction should challenge the reader, often disturbing, scaring, challenging us. This collection certainly succeeds on that level.

Ranging from re-imagined fairy tales, Holmes’ tales, or Dr. Who stories, to several ruminations on death, memory and love, Gaiman’s stories reel you in with fanciful flights of imagination, then grab you somewhere startling and potentially upsetting. The result is delight, and a terrific read that will keep you pondering what your own personal trigger might be.

 

Seveneves#3 – Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

When the moon explodes scientists soon predict that the resulting debris burning in the earth’s atmosphere will eliminate all life on earth in a couple of years. The majority of Stephenson’s nearly 900 page book follows the urgent, yet tenuous plan for an ark to small habitats to be constructed around an existing space station to save the brightest of humanity to one day repopulate the human race. The latter portion of this epic jumps forward 5000 years too explore what has become of the human race in a way that rivals the space epics of Frank Herbert or Mary Gentle.

Stephenson spins a riveting tale by blending a space thriller with a deft character study, exploring the character traits that may ultimately form the basis of humanity. While 900 pages is a daunting task, the book never drags, and urges you to keep reading to see how the characters will overcome the herculean obstacles that inevitably end up in their path. This is my first Neal Stephenson novel… I guess it’s finally time to read Snow Crash.

posted in 2015, Books, Lists | at 11:18 pm | 1 Comment
23rd January 2016
by Michael

Best Books Read in 2015 – #’s 4 & 3

A debut novel and the first of two short story collections take the #4 & #3 spots on this year’s Best Books Read in 2015. And the #3 book is the second book by Simon Van Booy to appear in the Top 10! Nice work, Simon!

Join#4 – Join by Steve Toutonghi

Steve Toutonghi’s debut novel, Join is a lovely piece of speculative fiction that explores a near future that explores the next phase of humanity and how the changes to the race have dire impact to the planet itself. In an unspecified future, individualism has a whole different look as more and more people chose to join. Small groups of people merge minds into a single consciousness while retaining their physical bodies, allowing them to experience life through multiple bodies, and in affect, living forever, for while individual bodies die, the consciousness remains alive in the Join. While much of humanity has chosen to live this way, there are still solos living individual lives either by choice, or because the process is more than they can afford.

But even as humanity moves toward its next phase of life, the planet itself is in grave environmental peril. Worse, Chance, a join of five, stumbles upon the existence of a potentially mad, and decidedly murderous abomination called Rope. Meanwhile Chance’s friend Leap finds itself in grave peril from a rare condition that only affects Joins. Chance and Leap must find a way to save Leap, while avoiding the terrifying fate that could await them both through Rope’s machinations.

Reminiscent of recent work by David Mitchell and Neal Stephenson, Steve Toutonghi has created a fascinating future for humanity, all the while exploring the concepts of individuality and immortality, posing questions with no easy answers.

 

Tales of Accidental Geinus#3 – Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy writes beautiful books filled with deep longing and transcendent love. He is also a keen observer of human nature, from different points of view, ages, and backgrounds. His novels are lush and thought-provoking, but his short stories are masterful. Mr. Van Booy follows the great Alice Munro in the examination of human nature.

In his latest collection of stories, Simon travels around the world to provide the rich tapestry that make up his character. England, Nigeria, Beijing and New Jersey are among the backdrops that form these tales. He explores the nature of poverty and invention in ‘Golden Helper II: An Epic Fable of Wealth, Loneliness, and Cycling,’ and unspools a tender act of human kindness in ‘The Goldfish.’

I always look forward to Simon’s carefully constructed tales, and Tales of Accidental Genius adds another beautiful chapter in his literary body of work.

posted in 2015, Books, Year-end lists | at 12:25 pm | 0 Comments
21st January 2016
by Michael

Best Books Read in 2015 – #’s 6 & 5

Here’s where really start to cook. The last six books on my list were all outstanding, in so many ways. Lots of speculative fiction this year, which is always a treat, as well as two titles by a favorite author.

Father's Day#6 Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy’s forthcoming novel is a gentle look at a woman’s relationship with her father. Harvey is a commercial artist living in Paris. Her father, Jason, is coming for to visit for the first time, and as she carefully prepares a father’s day present that will recall milestones in their relationships, she worries about how he will react. While Harvey and Jason reunite in Paris, their life stories simultaneously unfold, with more than one twist in the mix.

In some ways this is a very straightforward novel for Van Booy. The language he uses is less lush, and more direct than some of his previous work. That sumptuous quality of language suited Van Booy’s gorgeous stories of love and longing between adults, but the love shared between a parent and child is more rooted in need and care, and the straightforward style he adopts works well for these characters. My one criticism revolves around the final and arguably the most vital twist to the tale which happens in the last 15 pages of the book It’s one of those moments where you stop and think back over characters’ motivations and decisions in a different light. In this case, I haven’t decided if it served the overall story all that well. Still, Simon’s a favorite writer of mine, and I will go on whatever ride he takes me on, and this one was overall, quite lovely.

The Just City#5 The Just City by Jo Walton

Jo Walton certainly doesn’t repeat herself. After scoring big with Among Others, a tale of a young girl with magical powers of the fairy, then moving onto My Real Children, which explored the alternate realities that show the different paths our lives can take, she now tackles Plato’s Republic in this delightful, philosophical fantasy, The Just City.

When the Greek God Apollo vents his frustration to Athene at having the nymph Daphne pray to Artemis to be turned into a tree rather than be caught by Apollo for a sexual tryst, he learns of Athene’s plans to conduct an experiment, creating Plato’s Just City, referred to in his work, Republic. Athene collects a couple hundred philosophers from across time, all of whom have read Plato’s Republic, and also prayed to Athene. They will be the governing body of this city at first, but then they will harvest ten thousand children, lost souls who were being sold as slaves.

Apollo gets in the game by giving up his godly powers and being born incarnate as a human boy and joining the ranks of children being raised in Plato’s Just City. He befriends Simmea, a brilliant young girl who is destined to be one of the gold philosopher-kings of the Just City (or at least give birth to one) and together with a controversial late recruit, Socrates, change the course of Athene’s experiment in dramatic ways.

Walton is an exceptional writer, with much of her latest novel coming in the form of debate and rhetoric. There is a lot of philosophy here, and lots of wonderfully delightful and original writing. Through Plato, Walton explores the role of women in society over history, relationships, both platonic and erotic, slavery and free will, and machine intelligence, just to name a few topics. I highly recommend all of Walton’s works, and this one is no exception

posted in Nonsense | at 8:50 am | 0 Comments
20th January 2016
by Michael

Best Books Read in 2015 – #’s 8 & 7

Contemporary fiction with female leads — some might call it women’s fiction. For me, I’m just more interested in stories about women, and these next two novels were definitely very interesting! Lydia Millet and Jojo Noyes come in at #’s 8 & 7 respectively.

 Mermaids in Paradise#8 – Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet has constructed a complex novel that still serves as a light-hearted, entertaining read while exploring deeper issues along with protagonist, Deb.

While honeymooning in the British Virgin Islands, Deb & Chip find themselves among a small group of tourists who inadvertently discover the existence of real mermaids. Despite their best attempts to share their discovery in a responsible way, various factions such as the tourism industry and religious zealots threaten to turn this spectacular scientific discovery into something frightening or even murderous.

Millet weaves a narrative that includes ironic humor, modern romance, and speculative fiction that works on every level. The slyly subversive ending puts a unique spin on the novel as a whole.

One Plus One#7 – One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes writes romantic comedies that have a bit of a bite and earn any sentimentality that they display. In ONE PLUS ONE, Jess is a hard-working single mom who cleans houses to try to make ends meet. Her daughter Tanzie is at that awkward pre-teen stage, but she is a math wiz beyond compare. She also cares for her ex-husband’s son, Nicky, who is awkward and sensitive, and often the victim of local bullies.

When an opportunity arises that could lead to Tanzie attending an exclusive private school, Jess finds herself with no alternative than to depend on Ed, a wealthy man whose house she cleaned. Ed has hit a rough patch himself, but he finds himself drawn into Jess’s family drama and the two reluctantly find themselves drawn to each other. But life is rarely smooth, despite Jess’ eternal optimism, and the roadblocks these two face are large.

The emotions shared by these characters, both positive and negative, don’t come cheaply and are beautifully played out. This is a fun book to read that will make you laugh and make you cry. It’s got real chops and I highly recommend it.

posted in 2015, Authors, Books, Year-end lists | at 7:32 am | 0 Comments
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