Thursday, August 22, 2013

Understanding Comics (Non-fiction Book)

Understanding Comic: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud is a good “think” book. Not only does it educate the reader about the world of comics, but it also expands the reader’s way of looking at media and art. I believe that a person does not necessarily need to have a strong interest in comics to benefit from this book.

Briefly, as the name implies, Understanding Comic: The Invisible Art looks at comics as art. Appropriately, the information is presented in the form of a comic, with the author speaking to us from inside comic book panels. The author begins by trying to define what a comic is and looking at them from a historical standpoint, starting with “comics” from ancient cultures. The author goes on to discuss such topics as:
  • How people and their surrounds are represented, 
  • The relationship of different panels to one another within a particular comic, 
  • How time and space are treated within a comic, 
  • How visuals are used to express an invisible world, 
  • The relationship of words to pictures in a comic, 
  • The artist’s purpose and path in creating comics. 
Understanding Comics helped me look at comics in new ways and whet my appetite for new types of comics, for example Japanese style. It also gave me cross-genre ideas. For example, I could see the effect of authors using more or less information to describe their protagonists. By not focusing on some details, I could more easily imagine myself as the character. In the world of social media, I thought about how the picture and the background or graphic work together to create a message. While this is a very easy book to read, it also has the potentail be a very inspiring one.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fool’s War (Science Fiction Novel)

Artificial Intelligence. Religious Faith. Prejudice. Conflict. 

I had a mixed reaction to Fool’s War by Sarah Zettel. On one hand, it has some really interesting ideas, many of which work well. On the other hand, I was left feeling like something was missing.

Briefly, Al Shei owns a spaceship, that transports cargo, as a kind of timeshare with her brother-in-law, a man of questionable character. Al Shei hopes that eventually the money she makes will be able to buy a dream spaceship for her much loved husband and her children. When Al Shei has her turn, she finds that her uncle has hired a Fool for this trip. Fools are highly respected individuals who “were entertainers, confidants, clowns (and) functioned as pressure valves for long trips and cramped quarters.” Al Shei also finds out that her brother-in-law has left a package on the ship. When things begin to go dramatically wrong, Al Shei desperately tries to find out more about the package. Eventually, Al Shei and her crew uncover a plot that could cause an unprecedented war.

Fool’s War has a number of strong points. For the most part, Al Shei as a character works for me. She is portrayed as a devout Muslim woman, but she is also a shrewd employer and a loving wife. At the end, she is a woman who must reconcile conflicting parts of herself. For the most part, I liked how Zettel dealt with Artificial Intelligence. She made an interesting conjecture on how an AI could become sentient. She also did a good job at describing the many action scenes where an AI is in the Net. Some of the scenes portray conflict, but others portray the love and caring of AI’s for one another.

Some ideas could have been developed more. There were some relationships between the crewmembers that could have been more fully explored. If the book had been part of a series, I would have loved the idea of the Fools to have been uncovered very slowly. The cadence felt wrong to me. It felt like the plotline launched into the conflict too early and stayed there too long. I needed more plateaus, where I could just breathe and soak in the characters.

All and all, I’m glad that I read this book.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mistification (Fantasy / Horror Novel)

You do not understand. Without the magicians, all the ugliness would be revealed. All reason for living, all excuses for our existence would be destroyed. Society and civilization would collapse into anarchy.
I have only read a few horror novels in my life. So, while my local library classifies Mistification by Kaaron Warren as a horror story, I am reluctant to do so. Yes, at times it looks at the dark side of human nature. Yes, there are some violent scenes that involve the supernatural. But, for me, it is a novel in which the author has used various scenes and stories to communicate ideas and feelings about magic, healing and superstition.

Briefly, the novel is composed of one overarching plot with dozens of short stories interspersed. The major plotline involves Marvo. The story opens with his earliest memory, being eight years old and being hidden from men in green who want to kill him. Years later, when he finally leaves his hiding place, he learns about who he really is, a magician, about his mission, and about the world he has only been exposed to through television. Along the way he meets Andra, a witch and healer, and they create a magic act together. Marvo has a need for stories, “seeking stories like they were drugs.” Marvo attempts to fulfill his mission as a true magician, while avoiding the death he foresees in a vision.

I found Mistification fascinating. The novel is dark and too sexually explicit for young adults. I didn’t find it uplifting. I couldn’t relate to the characters. With the exception of the last part of the novel, the plot didn’t excite me. Yet, I enjoyed the story because it conveyed so many interesting ideas and feelings.