roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

Well, it's been a minute and I have a few in the queue, so:

Ta-Nehisi Coates — Between the World and Me

Jan 19

I’ve read a lot of Coates's magazine length work, so I thought this was a superb continuation/culmination of several multi-year projects I was already invested in, as well as a good introduction for people new to his intellectual zone.

It’s also an excellent brain corrective in the present atmosphere, or at least it was for me. Some people find Coates pessimistic, but I find him reassuring and grounding: his writing helps me feel like I haven't gone completely fucking crazy, and gives some serious historical perspective to events that can otherwise seem like an ambush. I kind of can't imagine trying to make sense of the past two or three years without TNC’s writing.

I haven't heard much from him lately. I hope he's doing ok and working on something fulfilling. One of the things I liked best about following his work before this book blew up was watching him slowly assemble some complex argument in public, and it sounds like that era might be over.

Maggie Nelson — The Argonauts

Jan 20

A delight. A wandering, looping, discursive memoir/essay about queerness and motherhood and time and basically everything.

This has some kind of family resemblance to Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother, but not a simple one. They share a certain theory-heaviness, a certain obsessive practice of quotation, and a certain conception of both those elements being somehow integral to assembling a resilient queer selfhood that can persist across Weird Time.

I cannot for the life of me explain what the hell was the point of this book. It was incredibly important, but I can't summarize how so. Anyway, you should totally read it!

Sarah Jeong — The Internet of Garbage

Feb 2

Huh, wow. I was kind of bracing for this to be some remedial Twitter Harassment 098 material, but it's definitely not that.

Jeong is reaching toward a grand unified theory of Unwanted Content, of which harassment is only one aspect. I don't think she's there yet. But she's the only person I've seen even start that project, so shout-out for that. Also, there was a lot of interesting history and case law in here that I wasn't aware of.

Ryan Estrada — The Kind (comics)

Apr 11

That male lead really should have got eaten. I feel bad for the werewolf, and that would have probably made her life and mental health a lot worse in a lot of ways, but that relationship is doomed anyhow and the protagonist is a self-mythologizing crap-bro who refuses to listen to her expertise or respect her boundaries. He earned his doom, or at least a real solid and decisive dumping.

roadrunnertwice: Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便)、 minding the bakery. (Kiki - Welcome to the working week)

John Allison and Lissa Treiman — Giant Days, Volume 1 (comics)

(colors by Whitney Cogar, lettering by Jim Campbell)

Jan 10

As of volume 1, I think this series is still finding its feet, but it's still pretty good! A cute li'l comic about college kids being friends. Treiman's art is delish, all lanky and fulla sleepy flourishes and twirls. Shout-out also to Cogar's colors, which are Correct.

Each of Allison's Tackleford-universe series seems to have its own slightly different set of rules for what constitutes reality. This one is closest to Bobbins, with nothing particularly supernatural going on.

So far I prefer Bad Machinery, but it's new John Allison, obviously I'll read it.

Sofia Samatar — The Winged Histories

Jan 18

An obstinate, strange book. I loved it.

In a way, it's several books. One of them was almost like a more sympathetic (and thus more horrific) portrait of Vorbis from Terry Pratchett's Small Gods. Another one was a lover's quarrel, or a season's worth of quarrels digested into song. Every one of them holds things back, elides things, refuses.

You should probably read A Stranger in Olondria first, although I don't know that I can properly call this a sequel.

There's a certain family resemblance to Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic books, although I think they have different strategies for traversing the same desert.

Hey, what's your take: Did Siski have control over her own segment's narration? I thought she hadn't, and was troubled by it, but now I'm rethinking whether that dissociated voice could have been hers after all.

Yoon Ha Lee — Ninefox Gambit

Jan 25

Holy crow, this book was the best kind of bugfuck bonkers. A military space opera in a setting where state-of-the-art tech and weapons are based on "exotic effects" (read: anti-physics) derived from your society's calendar system? What??? Also, wild-ass premises aside, this is a real solid military siege thriller, with memorable characters and page-turning pacing.

Basically, this book has everything I read Yoon Ha Lee stories for, but with the amplitude cranked way up past the safety limits. I loved it. If you haven't been prepared by Lee's short fiction, hoo boy, you're in for a treat. >:]

roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)

Bonus Level: Heart Machine — Hyper Light Drifter

April or May 2016

OK, I'm gonna be honest here: I have no idea how I decide which video games go into the book review log. Like, for example, I also played The Last of Us and Uncharted 1 and 3 last year, but those didn't seem like they should go in. Why?! Well, I guess that's what I originally meant by that "Bonus Level" tag: I'm random about this, not rigorous.

But I AM more inclined to write about games where I spent a lot of time thinking and reconsidering after the end, and I spent quite a while chewing on HLD's spare, oblique story.

One thing I really couldn't let go of: what was the ✨fuckin deal✨ with the ominous dog-angel? Is it some kind of guardian or failsafe from the previous era? A personification of nature?

It didn't occur to me until way later that it means the same thing a spectral black dog always means: your personal doom, beckoning you onward to certain death. Duh.

Anyway, you should definitely play this game. It's one of my favorites of the year, possibly at the top of the list. Incredibly lush and active environments (all done up in Mana Fortress neon, with that "hi-bit" style that's all the rage these days), refined and precise gameplay, a really satisfying difficulty level (plus an easy mode if you prefer), and music and sound design that's just to die for. What a fucking delicious video game.

Anne Fadiman — The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Dec 12

Holy shit, this is a really good book and I'll recommend it to literally everyone.

I don't know how to tell you what this book is about, because the real answer is "basically everything." In that sense, its thesis statement is the "fish soup" anecdote from chapter 2, in which a student's French class assignment on a soup recipe leafs out into a history of fishing practices, the seasonal habits of particular fish, and a branching flowchart of tackle and bait.

More narrowly, though, it's about cultural conflict and confusion. It's... I don't know. The author's afterword to this decade's edition is careful to emphasize that it's "a book written in the '90s about the '80s," but reading it today, it still seemed important and relevant. The situation for Hmong in America has changed a lot, but the most threatening questions, lurking behind every encounter in the book — how can we communicate usefully across radically different cultures? What makes a doctor (or anyone) good or bad at their work? — didn't go away.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen — Moving Pictures (comics)

Dec 17

I liked this, but I'm still not sure what to think about it. An exercise in sympathy for unsympathetic characters.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen — Russian Olive to Red King (comics)

Dec 17

A grim story about endings that trail off like no ending at all.

And something in there about... not fragile masculinity, but about masculine fragility. The empty, lonely unresilience hiding behind the brittle crust of American manhood.

I really liked all the broken parallels in here, how everything refused to match up. Like, Red is going into this tailspin of grief and thinking about nothing but Olive, but Olive, for what's left of her life, doesn't seem to think about Red at all; not because she doesn't care, but because there's just no room for anything but trying to survive and stay maybe 1/8 to 1/4 sane. And then that big art installation section at the end, and how that breaks the symmetry of the whole thing.

I dunno, this was a real lingerer of a comic. I'm still gnawing on it.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

Bob Altemeyer — The Authoritarians

Nov 16

Free PDF.

I heard about this book back in the '00s and always meant to get to it; the recent election made it a little more urgent.

Bob Altemeyer is a professor of psychology who's spent his career studying authoritarian followers, and this is a layperson's overview of what that career has turned up: how authoritarian-following can be measured, how someone becomes a follower, and what specific behaviors and attitudes are highly correlated with high follower scores. (Spoiler: a bunch of Bad Shit.)

Another spoiler: this isn't a very complete explanation for what the fuck just happened to our country. (I'm pretty positive that the recent election included a lot of average people lining up to do exactly the wrong thing — it wasn't just textbook high-RWA behaviors.) But it's pretty important nonetheless. Most notably, it offers some explanations for that bizarre core population of right wingers who just... don't seem to make sense. And it backs those explanations up with easy-to-understand descriptions of the relevant experiments.

I don't quite know what to do with this information, but I'm glad I have it.

E.K. Weaver — The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal (comics)

Oct 17

Readable online, but I read the all-in-one book version.

An excellent road-trip/romance story. Brilliantly observed art, great dialogue, 👌🏼.

A thing I really liked about this was its embrace of uncertainty: the way it avoids both Happily Ever After and the Camp Sweetheart reset plot. It's taking place in this liminal Camp-like space, on this road trip where both people are separated from their normal support structures, but... the stakes feel very real and more recognizable to me. A modern romance, not an antique one set in the present day.

Meredeth Gran — Octopus Pie, vols. 1-4 (comics, re-read)

Nov. 26

Readable online.

This is my favorite ongoing comic. You should definitely be reading it, and these new editions from Image are the best way to start.

Octopus Pie is one of those comics where, if you just say the premise, it sounds pointlessly generic. "Young people in Brooklyn struggling with life, work, and adulthood." Yeah, I'll clear my calendar immediately. So what I've been telling people lately is that it's a more formally and visually ambitious successor to Dykes to Watch Out For or the classic run of For Better or For Worse — a comfortably slow burn that builds up drama from layer after layer of small events, whose characters grow, backslide, and grow in what feels like real-time. Which is kind of the promise of all ongoing contemporary slice-of-life strips, but god, it's so rare to see it fulfilled in a way that feels at all real or dangerous. I've bailed out of so many strips like this because they wouldn't fucking go anywhere, but OP goes all kinds of places.

Volume 4 ends with "The Witch Lives," which was the arc where OP went from "a favorite" to "my actual favorite." It's one of the best stories I've read about the slow, grinding shittiness of heartbreak and resentment, and the way it uses and abuses the twice-weekly serial comics format is so mercilessly perfect. Best breakup album since Interbabe Concern.

Have I mentioned it's funny? It's also really goddamn funny.

Liz Suburbia — Sacred Heart (comics)

Nov 23

TBH, I can't tell if this story is over or not. The ending was sudden and shocking, and resolved nothing... but that might be thematically on-point?! But the author's website implies this is part one of four... but the website is pretty outdated? Oh wait, no, here we go. Yeah.

ANYWAY. Suburbia's art is DELICIOUS, and the atmosphere is shimmeringly, gruesomely apocalyptic. This book is weird and dark and sad and joyous and cool.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Maggie Stiefvater — The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves

Finished Boys July 7; decided to not finish Dream Thieves on Sep 11.

Ruth and several of her friends read and enjoyed this whole four-book series, and I was really interested! Alas, I hated it and gave up before book three.

Remember how I called Fangirl "a li'l book about being young and sucking?" This is a series about teens being Totally Rad in ways I found false and aggravating. The setting and characters felt thin and incomplete, and the plotting felt random. The lore had potential, and there were some really clever situations (Ronan's family), but everything built up around them was dissatisfying.

Once I'd extracted some useful pointers about what makes a promising story stop working, I was done. Anyway, your mileage may vary; like I said, some people whose taste I respect thought these were fine.

Lydia Millet — The Fires Beneath the Sea

Stopped reading Nov. 13

This was some perfectly good middle-grade modern fantasy family adventure, sharing quite a few genes with A Wrinkle in Time. The prose and dialogue were clunky, but not bad enough to make me stop reading, and the setup, setting, and characters were quite good.

But I just was not really in the mood for a middle-grade Wrinkle-ish thing, so I bailed out. No harm, no foul, would totally recommend this if you ARE in the mood for that. Sounds like book 3 of 3 comes out in January or something?

Andrew Hussie and Various — Homestuck (comics... sort of)

Aug 13

Readable online.

Good gracious, what to even say about Homestuck.

I started reading this comic in 2009 when it started (I was still working at the yarn shop!), and it's been a hell of a ride. It did things I have never seen before in webcomics or in any other medium, and those formal innovations were backed up by an incredible density of in-jokes and internal references, carefully timed plot twists, wild improvisation, touching character writing, and a whole lot of strange shit that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Delivered in unpredictable bursts of serialization, it had an addictive quality that kept a grip on me for years.

It went on a year-plus hiatus near the end, at a point where the story felt like it had gone off the rails a bit, and I tuned out and almost didn't notice when the final update came out. So this summer, I went back and re-read the whole thing.

Hussie has said on multiple occasions that he was writing the story with binge reading in mind, rather than the serialized pace at which I originally followed it. I think I don't believe him! Or at least, I think he mis-estimated both the strengths and the weaknesses of his storytelling techniques, as well as the effects of his erratic burst-update schedule on the experience. There are large chunks of the story that suffer at binge pace; while we were fine with reading two walls of chat log filler in-between whatever else we were doing on the internet that day, reading seven walls of filler in a row can get a little wearing, and I found myself skimming some of what I would have perused. The update schedule flattered the video updates, too: the short "FMV" sections are incredibly dense and intricate, and they rewarded multiple re-watches over the course of two days while you waited for the next post. Binge readers generally won't do that, and the resulting experience is less, I think.

Also, the heavily improvisational writing style made the text feel immediate and sly and gregarious as it was coming out, but not all the references aged at the same speed, and some of the original effect is now gone or mutated. AND technology has moved on a lot in seven years (Homestuck predates the iPad), and the heavy use of Flash means you kind of have to plan ahead for a reading session now! (At home, plugins enabled, laptop battery fully charged.) So all that considered: the true Homestuck experience was reading it as it came out, between 09 and 14, obsessively refreshing the page twice a day. Reading the whole thing today is a slightly watered-down experience.

UGH, I hate being a "binge reading is killing the novel" hipster, but I've really thought hard about this, and I think it's a bizarre special case! Anyway.

With that out of the way: should you read/watch/play Homestuck?

Yes. Hell yes. It's uneven as all get-out, but it's exciting and funny. It's also important. I think its effect on the next decade of video games, comics, and other media is being underestimated.

I liked the ending. I'm gonna miss those kids and their flailing, shitty, brave attempts to survive the gonzo creation myth they got dropped into.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

Kelly Link - Get in Trouble (short stories)

Sep. 24

There's some excellent stuff in here, but after chewing for a bit, I think I have to say this isn't Link's best collection. (That's still Magic for Beginners.)

But I DO still highly recommend it. For one thing, it's got possibly her best story so far, "Valley of the Girls." (I'm serious, this story is mandatory.) For another, even Link's weaker stories are good.

It's also her most unified collection, in a way that's hard to pinpoint. Something about a commitment to characters always making the wrong decision. A persistent turn towards... not evil, but badness. Heroes you feel driven to root against.

Anyway, I'll re-read most of these on some rainy day. Probably starting with The Demon Lover as Halloween gets closer.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - Saga vol. 1 (comics)

Sep 13

Yeah, okay!! This is about as good as everyone says it is. I kind of find myself holding it at arms-length a bit; something about it encourages a bit of emotional distance, signals you to not let the characters get too close. But it's a heck of a ride, it spends twenty-dollar ideas where anyone else would spend a fiver, and the art is really honest-to-god first rate.

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Sep 26

This was great.

I'd forgotten Aimee Bender completely, and then remembered her suddenly when I was trying to figure out what to say about Uptalk. So I checked in at the library, and she'd put out another story collection and this novel while I hadn't been looking.

It's been almost exactly ten years since I read An Invisible Sign of My Own (I found a brief comment in my journal about it: November '06, which was before I started keeping this book log!) and I can only remember so much of it, but the impression I'm digging up is of an intriguing but wildly off-center novel that threatened to fly apart off its axis at any moment. This is more controlled and much improved, but it retains that sweet intensity of dissatisfaction and magic and discomfort and yearning. I'm glad I remembered Aimee Bender.

Carla Speed McNeil — Finder: Third World (comics)

February? January? I forgot to write this down b/c I was at my parents' house or something.

This went some really strange places, and I don't have anything useful to say about it now. Finder's great, you should read Finder!

Bonus level: Severed

Aug 2

This was on sale for its recent iOS release, and I loved Drinkbox's last game (Guacamelee), so I went for it.

The narrative is extremely spare; so spare that I'm kind of reconsidering putting it in the didread list (which I usually only do for story-focused games). But I still find myself thinking about it from time to time, so.

As for gameplay: Housemate saw me playing it for a few minutes and said "So... it's Wizardry meets Fruit Ninja?" Not wrong! It starts really simply, and in the first area I found myself wondering if there was actually a game here. But once the difficulty ramps up and you have to juggle three or four aggressive enemy timers at once, it's kind of a blast.

Not a lot of replay value, but a solid experience the first time through.

Kate Wilhelm - Storyteller

July 24

An occasionally interesting memoir of running the Clarion writers' workshop. I needed an undemanding nonfiction read, and this fit the bill.

There're some fragments of useful stuff in here about the practice of writing and workshopping fiction, but most of the focus is on anecdotes and institutional history.

roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (HarryPotter.Hagrid - Two wheels good)

Donna Tartt — The Secret History

January 4, 2016

Hahahahaha oh my god. This was great. I don't think I have anything non-dumb to say about it, though. It has a generous sprinkle of the ol’ Gatsby nature, so tune in if you like watching rich people swan-dive into dumpsters? It's tense and incredibly slick? It's out of sync with consensus chronology somehow? I DON'T KNOW. I just loved it.

Well, wait, I have this little fragment: it's God’s own perfect antidote to Pamela Dean's rendition of Tam Lin. (That's too obscure for a real book review [which luckily this isn't], but if you've read Dean's Tam you know exactly what I mean, even if you liked it in a way I couldn't.)

Rainbow Rowell — Fangirl

June 4

A li'l novel about being young and sucking.

A lot of this book is about struggling with anxiety and embarrassment, and kind of generally just being at a lower level of social development than everyone around you, and damn, for me that made it a tough read. But it's really well-constructed, it abjures easy outs, and it follows through on its swing. Good shit. 👌🏼

James Baldwin - The Fire Next Time

??? ??, ????

I distinctly remember reading this at an outdoor table at the La Bonita on Alberta Street during one of the last four summers, but apparently I never wrote it down. What the fuck.

Well, it's been long enough that I only have a vague impression of its content anymore. Also, I read it soon after Ta-Nehesi Coates'd done a periodic series of blog posts about Baldwin and his legacy, so I feel like what I'm most remembering is TNC's Baldwin rather than the undiluted substance.

It was a heady and confronting book, and quite short (two long essays), but that's almost all I remember of it — I retained the sensation, but I lost the précis. I'll have to revisit someday.

Various cartoonists - Wolfen Jump (comics)

Aug 9

This compilation is incredibly silly!! AFAICT the brief was "Whatever you want as long as WOLFMEN, also try and be at least slightly anime."

Most of the stories are like 8 pages tops, which isn't enough time to do... really... anything... story/character-wise, but at least 2/3 of them were good fun with high-quality high-personality art. If you're not sure whether to give a shit, read this and it should clear up everything.

Kimmy Walters - Uptalk (poetry)

Aug 9 (sorta)

Like with short stories, I don't read poetry collections whole or in order, and I always cache away fragments for winter.

Kimmy Walters writes the kind of poetry that characters in a Kelly Link story probably write. She is great. I also kind of want to name-check Aimee Bender here, too, but don't have a full theory of what the shared strand is. Pervasive surrealism combined with a method of playful transgression.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Megan Whalen Turner — The Thief

June 13, 2015

Ruth said I'd probably like these, and she was right!

This is the first of a series, set in a fantasy world heavily based on ancient Greece. It's also very different from the rest of its series — it's narrated first-person (the rest are close-in third person), it's a fairly straight-ahead adventure story (the rest are knotty political thrillers), and it's written at a middle-grade level and published with middle-grade typesetting and cover design (the rest are definitely YA, and have a certain amount of shocking content even by modern YA standards).

When I finished this first book I was mildly pissed about the twist ending, but I took that back after thinking about it overnight. See, the story is strewn with weird inconsistencies and glitches in the narration; I had taken them as failures of writing that I was willing to gloss over and forgotten them, and then I got blindsided by the ending. But it turns out the inconsistencies aren't errors, and the ending isn't out of left field. It's just that the narrator is writing for a (fictional) audience who're already clued into the twist, and who either know him personally or at least are familiar with his position. He's having some ironic fun with his real readers, and the end only seemed like a twist because I'm a mutually-fictional outlander eavesdropping on a story I'm not involved in. It seemed offensively glib that first night, but by the second night it was just your buddy Eugenides up to his usual cheeky hijinks.

Megan Whalen Turner — The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia

June 21 and Aug 6, 2015

Let's pause for a manifesto. I don't really have rules for the didread series, but I do have some guidelines. To wit:

  • Write something about all the books I read... eventually.
  • Avoid summarizing. It's a bore.
  • If I know someone else who would like this, try to say something that would make them pause and say "oh, what?"
  • Have fun whenever the opportunity presents itself (b/c no one's paying me to do this shit).
  • Bail out and post a one-liner when I can't think of anything else to say (b/c no one's paying me to do this shit). (I'm actually really bad at holding myself to this one, maybe you've noticed.)
  • Try to avoid spoilers.

That last one is really chapping my hide right now, because it's almost wholly impossible to talk about the rest of this series without spoiling the end of The Thief.

So maybe it's time to bail out and post a one-liner? "I liked The Thief, but I loved these." That's always a bit unsatisfying, though.

How's this: I went into Queen expecting magical thief adventures, and got blindsided by a psychologically gruesome story about how far you can go to protect your country. By the time I started King, I had no idea anymore what I was getting into.

There's another book in this series I haven't read, and some unknown number still on the way. I'll probably read them all. Super solid, and a hell of a ride. A year later, I still feel incredibly gross about some of what went down here.

Daniel José Older — Shadowshaper

August 22, 2015

I was really hyped about this, and there were a lot of things I think it did really well, but on the whole it didn't quite do it for me.

Which is fine!!! Real talk: this is YA written for the younger end of that audience (~14-ish?), and it's not doing anything particularly fresh in plot or structure or prose. What IS fresh and important is that the heroine is a brown girl from a Spanish-speaking family, and the setting is a recognizably diverse New York City, and tbh that is more than enough to earn it the attention it's gotten plus some.

This is a perfectly serviceable middle-of-the-shelves modern fantasy, of the type I grew up identifying with. Everybody deserves to grow up with a pile of those, and this book is a salute to all the brown girls who got left out of the pile I was stuck with. End of review. Buy this book for a kid who needs it.

(So what didn't do it for me? It veered off-premise and went generic. The set-up was that Sierra can use her artwork to empower the spirits of the helpful dead, which is awesome. But she only used that power for like two or three things before she just achieved god mode [because she was born special] and charged in for victory, leaving the themes of art and building stuff completely behind. If the climax and denouement had been based around the [TOTALLY AWESOME] powers the book had set her up with, I think I would have liked it a lot more.)

Natsume Ono - La Quinta Camera (The Fifth Room) (comics)

Mar 22, 2016

Awwwww this was cute!! The non-adventures of four Italian roommates and their rotating foreign subletters.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Sometimes people ask me for comics recommendations. I just put together a list of webcomics for a friend from work, so I thought I'd throw it up here as well. Some of these are all-time faves, and some all-time faves are conspicuously absent, but these are all The Good Shit in one way or another.

  • Back - Raucous loony-tunes quest story with a dark edge.
  • Nedroid (aka that Beartato comic) - Masterfully precise visual gags; been around forever and is hugely underrated. Doesn't update very often, but it never misses. (Cartoonist is the artist for Back.)
  • HE IS A GOOD BOY - I don't know how to describe this, because if I say "horror comedy" you'll imagine the wrong thing. Maybe "nightmare comedy." I guess just go to and click five or six times. (Cartoonist is the writer for Back.)
  • Cucumber Quest - Brightly colored adventure story with excellent gags and a lot of heart.
  • Dicebox - Slice-of-life sci-fi family drama with occasional freaky hallucinations. This is one of my favorite comics ever. The first volume is available in print.
  • Bingogo - Japanese-style 4-komi about a gal who adopts some critters. Quietly bizarre.
  • Thunderpaw: In the Ashes of Fire Mountain - Adventure, cartoony/melancholy. Two dog-boys wander the wilderness after a natural disaster. Traditional comic panel layouts combined with looping animation for atmospheric effect.
  • Necropolis - Fairy tale / origin story. Excellent character and clothing design.
  • Boulet - A French cartoonist/raconteur posts whatever he happens to be overthinking. Wry sensibility, effortless visual excess.
  • The Meek - Gorgeous epic fantasy that hits a solid balance of empathy and pessimism. NSFW (one female lead is usually shirtless, but in non-sexual context). Recently back from multi-year hiatus.
  • Mare Internum - Same cartoonist as The Meek. Hair-raising man vs. nature action story with a seriously mentally ill protagonist. On Mars. Features flashbacks of child abuse if you want early warning about that.
  • Decrypting Rita - Exuberantly weird sci-fi about a small group of characters duplicated across a number of increasingly cartoonish alternate realities. First and second volumes are available in print.
  • Forming - Psychedelic pantheistic foul-mouthed alien creation myth weirdness. I have never seen anything like this. I think first volume is in print?
  • Rice Boy - The website says "a brightly colored and surreal fantasy adventure story" so I'll just go with that. It's finished, it's available in print, and it works really well as a unit. Author's current comic (Vattu) looks amazing but I haven't dived into it yet.
  • Brainchild - College kid is haunted by her reptilian doppelgänger. I don't know where this is going, but I like it.
  • Oh Human Star - A man comes back from the dead as a robot duplicate with all his original memories, and has to build new relationships with his estranged partner and his daughter / failed copy. First volume is available in print.
  • Derelict - A loner salvager gets caught up in a civil war. First volume is available in print.
roadrunnertwice: Yehuda biking in the rain. (YehudaMoon.Yehuda - Rain)

Nicola Griffith — Slow River

June 28

It was really hot out, I didn't have the juice for anything but sitting around and reading, and I wanted some near-future non-dudely sci-fi with a lot of grime in it. And sewage treatment definitely counts as grime. (So does child abuse, so be ready for that.)

I liked this a lot. It was well-written, lurid, and unusual. And also extraordinarily '90s, but in a subtle and actually really kind of refreshing way! Hard eco-fi is coming back, mark my words.

TANGENT. What are we all thinking about the term "feminist SF" these days? Me, I'm reluctant to bring it out unless a work is about gender in some significant way, largely because I get annoyed when I see it applied to fiction that has nothing in particular to say about gender but which happens to be written by someone with allegedly feminist beliefs. Is that sensible? Bogus? ...Well, I think the real answer is "no one cares about Nick's imaginary shelving system," but I was pondering it anyway, because I originally started writing this snippet by saying I wanted some near-future feminist sci-fi with grime, and on further consideration I wasn't sure whether I'd class Slow River as feminist SF or not! It's about a lot of stuff, but is it specifically a feminist book? I... don't think so? But maybe? Also, it won a Lambda award and who the hell do you think you are.

So I punted and changed that first sentence, because actually I hadn't particularly been looking for deep gender thoughts in the first place and mostly just wanted something with low dudeliness values. Solving classification problems by moving specificity to somewhere else in the system.

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki — This One Summer

Comics. June 13

This comic reads like a repressed or forgotten memory suddenly re-emerging in full fidelity — lifelike weight and detail, rendered alien and dreamlike and more than a little menacing by its discontinuity with what must have come before and after.

I don't mean that as metaphorically as you probably think I do; something about the forcefulness of Jillian Tamaki's observation and rendering, especially involving her... I dunno, sense of air and height — honestly made me feel like my memory was being interfered with. Left me kind of queasy. Could just be me, though; total recall void where prohibited, events remembered for you wholesale are not packaged for individual retail sale.

Anyway, it's really good. Disconcerting. It's supposed to be kind of alienating, because a lot of what it's about is that point at the start of adolescence where your sense of self starts to dissolve and — if you're lucky — you start to sense the danger that it might re-cohere into something you don't actually like. It's also about a bunch of really gnarly gender stuff, and has a merciless tendency to linger on moments of embarrassment or cruelty.

It's not a downer of a book; it's also about the small moments that make up a friendship or a family, and about the weird flow of time on vacation. Stuff like that. But at its core, it's dark and weird, and, like I said before, threateningly familiar.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Carla Speed McNeil — The Rescuers (re-read)

Comics. June 25.

Ruth just read this (I pushed a bunch of Finder on her after she enjoyed Dicebox), and talking with her made me really want to re-read it.

I can't remember what I said about it when I first read it, but this is very possibly the best book in the Finder series.

It might also be the worst jumping-on point. The whole point of Finder is that it's demanding and builds aggressively on prior context, but The Rescuers is on another level entirely. A new reader can understand what's going on if they pay attention, but I think the heart of the story is about how inevitable every shitty turn of events was. And that's the sort of thing you puzzle out afterwards, filling in blank after blank with what you remember from before.

The Rescuers is a tragedy, or maybe more like three to seven tragedies. It's about some events surrounding a botched kidnapping based loosely on the Lindbergh Baby case. There's no particular catharsis, and the story ends with a literal disintegration of the narrative: one endless page crumbling into ever smaller panels, fractally mimicking the failures of communication and connection that made any real resolution impossible.

It's bitter and cynical as hell, and unfailingly humane and generous as it breaks almost every character. Good fuckin' shit, easily the best dead baby comic of the aughts.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

I wonder if I can finish these 2013/2014 book posts by the new year? PROBABLY NOT, but let's keep it rolling, and I'll do another one tonight.

Bryan Lee O'Malley — Seconds

Comics. Jul 19, 2014

This was really good. I don't have much more to say about it, it just pretty much nailed everything it was trying to do. It was cute and creepy and moody and funny. Do the thing, read the comic.

O'Malley's cartooning ability has continued to mature, to a point where I have a hard time even describing some of the stuff he's doing with time and space and perceptual shifts. He is working on a very advanced level and making it look easy. Also, his assistants and colorist have done a lot to boost the page-for-page budget for beauty and detail; this book looks phenomenal.

Lloyd Alexander — The Book of Three

Apr ???, 2014

I somehow missed reading the Chronicles of Prydain when I was a sprout; I know I picked up The Black Cauldron at some point (it was the paperback with art from the Disney movie on it) and I know I bounced off it, but I don't... fully... remember why. I think not having read the first book made the beginning of the second too much to catch up with, and I think I probably wasn't in tune with the sense of situational humor, especially the whole thing with the pig. I don't remember how old I was.

ANYWAY THOUGH, this was GREAT. Pretty much the ideal blend of straightforwardness and sophistication for kid lit, and enough distinctive detail in the world and characters to stand far out from the pack.

Lloyd Alexander — The Black Cauldron

May 7, 2014


William Gibson — Zero History

Apr 14, 2014

I liked this even better than Spook Country. A techno-thriller about pants was a strong contender for my favorite book of the year.

UGH, now I want to re-read this whole trilogy again. Yeah, I'm doing it. Getting out Pattern Recognition right now.

Robin Hobb — Assassin's Apprentice

Summer??, 2014

At Isaac's recommendation.

I eventually liked this! At first I was turned off by the dolorous tone of the narration, but after a while that faded into the background. The events of the story were super engaging, and I kind of liked the young version of Fitz.

I've heard mixed opinions on whether I'll enjoy the other two books in this trilogy as much, but I'm totally willing to give 'em a shot and am interested in what happens next.

roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (HarryPotter.Hagrid - Two wheels good)
Still chewing through these two years worth of books to review.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl

May 26, 2014

This book can be read as a psychological thriller, and that reading is probably why it’s been so popular and is getting a movie. But after considering for a while, I think it’s actually an extremely dark comedy, which not a lot of people are prepared to find funny.

(Among other things, that comedic reading is my theory for why Nick Dunne, stupidest man in the world, is still alive at the start of the book and hasn’t died by walking into an open manhole or trying to fuck a cactus or something.)

Ursula Murray Husted – The Lions of Valletta

Comics. Sept. 23, 2013

This was cute! A short GN about stray cats, art history, Venice, and metaphysics.

Kate Bornstein – Gender Outlaw

Mar 21, 2014

A bit of remedial gender topics reading! With at least one immediately useful piece of theory, which was nice. This book is old as hell by now, so it’s an odd combination of historical record and things we, as a society, still haven’t gotten a good grip on.

I don’t yet have a good way to summarize the gender-related stuff that’s been on my mind lately, so I’ll just leave that be for now.

I literally found this in a free box on my block right when I was in the mood to read it.

Richard Stark – Butcher’s Moon

July 28, 2014

More Parker! Parker is great. You should read Parker. Especially if you’re in a bad mood and just want to see some assholes get theirs.

I’m reading these all out of order — this is the one that ended series one of the Parker books. I’ll have to re-read it once I’ve seen more from all the side characters that come in for encores. But even without prior context, I loved this.

Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb – The Midas Flesh

Comics. July… or August? 2014

I was lukewarm on this, and I think it was in large part because everyone except the main villain talked like T-Rex being very excited about something. The stylization of North’s dialogue works very well for something like Adventure Time, and I expect it will work for Squirrel Girl, but this book doesn’t benefit from it.

Plot-wise, it had some interesting ramifications on the central conceit. Art-wise, it was very very attractive! But the moment-to-moment experience of reading it didn’t satisfy. It needed more dramatic and emotional range.

roadrunnertwice: Crow perched on a trail signpost. (Crow on signposts)

Naomi Mitchison – Travel Light (Re-read)

Sept 30, 2014

I loaned my copy of Travel Light to Katie a long time ago, and I asked for it back when I was in town for her wedding. “Uh… I thought that was a gift, not a loaner,” she said. “And actually we had to buy another copy in addition, because the first one went missing for a while and we wanted to make sure we could still re-read it if we had one loaned out.”

So that’s my sister’s review of this book! And then I bought two more copies when I got back to Portland, so I guess that’s mine.

Notes this re-read: I remembered the way narrative time decompresses over the course of the book, but I’d forgotten how it re-compresses again at the end. Very thematically on-point.

Those poor men from Marob. :(

Insert deep thought about the preconditions for correct use of omniscient narration here.

YO, how effortlessly precise was it when Halla’s fireproofing came up again at the end, and right as Halla starts to realize how the world has changed around her we all behold what started as a lighthearted fairytale flourish and is now revealed as a miracle?

The changing of names, some resinously sticky and some sliding off at the first rain: Halla Bearsbairn, Halla Heroesbane, Halla Pathfinder, Halla Godsgift.

Mitsuru Adachi – Cross Game

Comics, re-read. July 2014

I know I just reviewed this a few months ago, but it’d been like a year since I’d read it.

I’m not gonna say anything new here, so here are some panel snaps.

Madeline L’engel and Hope Larson – A Wrinkle in Time

Comics. Mar 21, 2014

I had forgotten nearly everything about the book, and remembered that Hope Larson had done this comics adaptation a few years back (with colors by [ profile] jemale!), so I checked it out.

I’d remembered this series going Deep Weird into Christian apocrypha in the later books (hey Many Waters), but I was surprised by how religious it is even at the start. Well, like I said, I’d forgotten the whole thing, but I also probably didn’t really notice as a kid; I had a history of being kind of oblivious and just rolling with whatever.

Liked the art on this adaptation; Charles Wallace looks appropriately alien, and the atmosphere when the family is hanging out in the kitchen during the storm is pretty great.

Something about the story made me uneasy, this time around. It’s not just the religious stuff, it’s something I’m having a hard time putting a finger on. Something to do with a shadow ideology of Specialness or Smartness, that I would have accepted at age 9 but have since come to be really really wary of. I dunno; I’d have to comb back through and dismantle the dialogue to have an actual rumble with anyone about this, so I’ll just leave it at “uneasy.”

roadrunnertwice: Silhouette of a person carrying a bike up a hill (Bikeluggin')

Cory Doctorow – Pirate Cinema

Nov. 12, 2013

Polemical YA that I actually found quite readable. Duder’s big political film that won the day at the end sounded HILARI-BAD, but I really enjoyed the parts about hanging out in a squat and making stuff.

A.S. Byatt – Possession: A Romance

June 29, 2013

I enjoyed this book a ton. I think I love it. I found parts of it almost too uncomfortable to read, but, worth it. IT’S COMPLICATED OKAY.

The mixture of high- and lowbrow was playful and delicious. I really enjoyed the language of the thing. I have complicated feelings about some of the things she did with narration. The hyper-virginal relationship between Roland and Maud was kind of hilarious, but also kind of sweet, shut up, I can’t help it, fuck off. There are at least three things about the title that make me want to laugh out loud. LITERARY DETECTIVES HURRAY. I will probably never ever tell you what I really feel about Ash and LaMotte.

BIZARRELY, they made this into a Gwyneth Paltrow movie in the early 00s. ANNOYINGLY, my paperback is the “hey let’s slap a movie poster on the front” edition.

Jeff Smith – RASL vol. 2: The Fire of St. George

Comics. Nov. 2013

I think the genre we’re working with here is “hard-boiled fever dream.” This thing is rattling down the highway at 90, held together by Juicy Fruit and dream logic and half-remembered daytime TV specials about the Bermuda Triangle. I really need to get ahold of the other two books of this and see what it looks like as it crosses the finish line.

Leigh Brackett – The Sword of Rhiannon

(Originally published as Sea Kings of Mars)

Aug 4, 2013

I have no idea what to think about Leigh Brackett at this point. What an oddball career! (exhibit a, exhibit b)

I wasn’t into this. Parts of it it had a certain appeal, but the writing didn’t crackle the way Corpse did, and the protag bored me—he wasn’t connected to anyone or anything, and it made it impossible to give a shit about him. Oh, and the plot, bleah. Sorry yo, I can’t root for reptoid genocide.

Also, insert something here about the unexamined colonial viewpoint in this variety of Mars fic, but I’m kind of just done thinking about this book. It was kind of a bummer after how good Corpse was.

Anyone know if Brackett’s other SF pulp was any good?

roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Kekkaishi.Yoshimori - Coffee milk)
Haven't thrown up any book reviews in a while, may as well shovel out the back of the queue a bit. Here's some stuff from 2013.

René Daumal - Mount Analogue

July 2013

"It isn't easy to explain-- there's a book called Mount Analogue by René Daumal that tells all about it. Just take my word for it."

I always did just take the Chicken Man's word for it, but it looks like I didn't have to, because Mount Analogue turns out to be completely real. (Shout out to [personal profile] rushthatspeaks for the tip.)

The book is unfinished, which is frustrating and which also makes it somehow eternal.

There's a fragment from the endmatter that gets stuck in my head from time to time. "There at the summit sharper than the sharpest needle, alone stands he who fills all space." And when it starts echoing back and forth in there, I'm like: Ah. I get it. I think I see what you're saying about mountains.

Paul Krugman - End This Depression Now

Nov. 24, 2013

I read this because econ's a longstanding hole in my education, and I wanted to know more about Krugman's economics than can come across in a column.

Mission accomplished! Learned a lot. Forgot a bunch of it. Could probably stand to flip back through.

Kazu Kibuishi - Amulet, vols. 1 thru 5

Comics. Nov. 2013

This series is excellent. I read book 1 ages ago and promptly lost track of Kibuishi, but he's been plugging away on this transdimensional fantasy story ever since. (And a bunch of other things, including covers for a Harry Potter re-release.)

Kibuishi works at a very fluid and cinematic pace, and the five books (so far—oh, wait, hold on, looks like #6 just came out this year) go by in a flash. (All the better to re-read and absorb more of the atmosphere.) Also, WOW his art is delicious. Expressive faces, powerful sense of motion, great color sense.

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil - Bad Houses

Comics. Nov. 25, 2013

Well, it's been a while and my neighbor is borrowing it, but I remember this being a pointy little story about several different ways of being stuck. Claustrophobic and itchy all the way through. (A good thing, since it's what the book sets out to do.)

I also remember the omniscient narration, which is an unusual thing to see in a comic and which added some interesting texture.

Richard Rhodes - Hedy's Folly

August 11, 2013

The material was hella interesting. (Thanks for the wifi, Hedy Lamarr!) The writing was pretty forgettable.


Mar. 19th, 2014 12:31 am
roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Kekkaishi.Yoshimori - Coffee milk)

Wow, I haven’t posted anything good here in a WHILE. I kind of assume everyone is reading my Twitter anyway, so I guess I’ll just… skip the life update and go straight for some book posts.

Things I read in the first part of this year! (Will eventually catch up with last year’s; a bunch of them are written already anyhow.)

Scientist-adventurers, Bill Gibson, comics anthologies, backlogged Pinkwater )
roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Kekkaishi.Yoshimori - Coffee milk)

Hiromu Arakawa – Silver Spoon, chapters 1-82 (in scanlation)

August 4

(Readable here.)

This is kind of great. It’s a slice-of life series about a bunch of kids at an agricultural high school out in the boondocks of Hokkaidō, and it’s really charming and clever and humane. And hilarious! And if nothing else, it’s probably the only boarding school hijinks story you’ll read this year where someone has to butcher a roadkill deer.

The setup is that the main character, Yugo Hachiken, burnt out really hard at the end of middle school and begged his counselor to find him a low-pressure high school with dorms somewhere far away from his overbearing asshole dad. Thus, agricultural school. Which of course kicks his ass immediately, but at least it’s kicking his ass in new and different ways that don’t isolate him and pit him against all his classmates, and he gradually starts making some friends.

SIDENOTE: Something that resonated a lot with Past Nick is that Hachiken doesn’t really have any hopes or dreams. He’s spent so long treating school and high-stakes testing as an end in themselves that he has no idea what lies past that horizon, and on the first day of class, he finds out that literally every one of his classmates has some concept of What They Want To Do. I won’t lie, that hit me where I used to live: when I read that page I physically felt that exact same crushing weight on my guts, the one I used to feel whenever our high school counselors said something inane about “career” planning.

With Hachiken, that dizzy feeling about the future is largely from the pressure his dad put on him; me, I think I did it to myself. Performing well academically was an easy way to get praise and recognition, and up through a big chunk of college, I tied too much of my identity to it instead of doing the hard work of figuring out what I really valued and who I wanted to be. (If any teenagers are reading this, here’s the best advice I have: get good at thinking, but don’t ever become “smart.” “Smart” is not a valid identity. If they try to tag you “not-smart,” same deal.) Relevant to ongoing thoughts about etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, Hachiken wrestles a lot with that exact same shit, and I love him for it. It’s refreshing to see a story engage with that kind of identity struggle in a way that seems authentic to me.

But don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t a heavy comic! There is a dog named “Vice President” who carries a tip jar around his neck. There is Men’s Bath Yogurt (NURTURED BY THE HEAT OF A DOZEN SWEATY BROS). There is a cheese-obsessed equestrian club teacher who looks like a Buddha for no particularly good reason. That one horse has Kronar-the-Barbarian-face. It’s great. Also, I read that Arakawa went to an ag high school herself, and the experience comes through — it’s a really rich setting, and she has a lot of love for all the characters, even (especially?) the ones who would be one-note jokes in a lesser comic.

Oh, and shout-out for a good job to the scanlation team “Red Hawk Neo,” who apparently have actual good writers on deck (and researchers for double-checking the occasional animal husbandry technobabble). I’ve mentioned before that there are two main cohorts of scanlators: the “disposables” who do fast and shitty jobs on series that will probably be (or already are) licensed for official release, and the “permanents” who try for high-quality translations of niche titles that would otherwise stay in Japan. Silver Spoon might actually get picked up, since it’s by the cartoonist who did Fullmetal Alchemist, but RHN are working like they expect it to stay online for a while.

roadrunnertwice: A mermaid singing an unenchanting song. (Beaton - Doop doop)

Katsuhiro Otomo – Akira, vols. 1 thru 6 (2011-ish reissue)

June 19, July 9, July 21

“Oh, you’re reading Akira?” asked Schwern, spotting the books in my room. “How is it as a comic?”

“Coherent!” I said.

Yeah anyway, this isn’t like the movie at all. If you’re as interested in adaptation failure as I am: mandatory read. (I use the term “failure” loosely, as the movie was obvs a triumph on any number of aesthetic axes, but those axes did not include “making any damn sense,” “engaging the small matter of Akira coming back to life and ruling a psychic empire,” “keeping faith with the story’s core themes [as opposed to its superficial themes],” “treating the female characters better than dogs in the street,” etc.)

Also, the cartooning is fucking incredible.

As for the story, it was engaging and frustrating in equal measure. I’ll say this about it: it added up to a novel-length whole that was actually worth getting annoyed at, whereas the only argument the movie was worthy of was a mute button.

Sidenote: It was actually the Bartkira project that got me re-interested in reading this — a bunch of folk on Tumblr rigged up this project to re-draw every page of Akira with Simpsons characters, five pages at a time, and the results were much more interesting to me than I thought they’d be. Since they were redrawing it panel-for-panel, you could see dozens of different minds trying to figure out what Otomo was doing with his layouts and compositions, and it added up to this decomposed cubist consideration-in-toto of what Akira’s cartooning did right. And the layers of meta were fascinating too, since it essentially turned the cast of the Simpsons into actors putting on a play of Akira, and I kind of loved that. I dunno if you heard about that scheme a while back to do a live-action Hollywood Akira cast with white people and set in New York (it died on the vine and good riddance), but some Tumblr commentator referenced it and said that Bartkira was actually the Akira adaptation America deserved, and I think I agree: this is a story built around the very specifically Japanese neuroses of the last century, and a summer-theater tribute performance is much better and more respectful than trying to tear out its skeleton and tell a story about something completely unrelated. (Supposedly a downloadable compilation of Bartkira will eventually show up; I’ll post a link when and if I see one.)

There was this other effect too, which was that I came at the series understanding the characters as icons and archetypes rather than engaging with them entirely as they were. Dunno what exactly to say about that.

T.A. Pratt – Dead Reign

Feb/Mar/Apr ???

I forgot what I was going to say about this, but I quite enjoyed it. This was the one with the New Death causing problems everywhere.

Martha Wells – The Death of the Necromancer (re-read)

May ?

Wells gets huge points for running with gaspunk and steampunk ideas years before anyone else was in the game (originally published: 1998), and bonus points for handing protagonist duties to a stylish Moriarty-esque crime lord.

This is a bit more scattershot and wandering than I remember it, but still a real fun book. I consider the Fall of Ile Rien series (which follows the daughter of DotN’s protagonist, among others) vastly superior, but my brother disagrees with me and thinks this is the tour-de-force of her pre-Raksura ouvre. YMMV.

Wells has reprinted all her reverted out-of-print stuff as $3 ebooks, and you will almost definitely get more than $3 of enjoyment from this one. Kobo link, Kindle link.


roadrunnertwice: Vesta Tilley, Victorian drag king (Default)
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