Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Alchemist

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Novellas are like jello shots. Some are great and some aren't. Most people say you get what you pay for and it makes sense but it doesn't always have to be true. I enjoy novellas because they leave you wanting more. It can prove how good a writer is by what he or she leaves out. It also forces to writer to flesh out a story without having to do a novel but giving the reader enough to get the story. For a novella based in a fantasy world, it is difficult for the writer to do this with ease unless it's a world the readers are familiar with.

Paolo Bacigalupi does a wonderful job in his novella "The Alchemist." In the city of Khaim, all sorcery is forbidden and punishable by death. At one time, magicians were a dime of dozen until the scourge of the bramble, a dangerous plant like weed that continues to spread into the cities with each use of magic. The only way to slow down it's growth is to prevent magic from being used.

Jeoz, our protagonist, is an alchemist. Jeoz invents a machine through alchemy that destroys large swaths of bramble in an instant. His invention borders on sorcery since he uses a particular ingredient used by magicians. When Jeoz approaches the mayor of Khaim and his chief sorcerer, Jeoz is caught up in Mayor's scheme for power. Jeoz is imprisoned along with his daughter whose sickness can only be hampered by sorcery.

The story is more about the love between a father (Jeoz) and his daughter (Jiala). It's a timeless tale that resonates even in the terrific fantasy world Bacigapuli introduces us to. Bacigalupi sets up the reader with enough of a back story to flesh out the universe of Khaim but not drowning out the story in details. It's no lie that Bacigalupi has several awards under his belt as a new comer. I am sold on Bacigalupi and plan on checking out his other work. "The Alchemist" left enough to leave this reader wanting more.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Ultimate Spider Man: Miles Morales

The news hit the interwebs hard on 08/02/2011. I got the word straight from Brian Michael Bendis himself on twitter that morning. A picture was released later in the afternoon. I have to give it up to Marvel Comics for using the interwebs to build up hype for it. I called my usual comic book haunt and requested 2 but was advised that I could only get one when I arrived.

Why is it important?

In Tony Browder's "Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization," there is a picture of a little black boy looking into the bathroom mirror. He is wearing a towel with a cap. In the reflection is a broad shouldered white man as a superhero. That picture says it all when it comes to people of color and comic books in America. We have a love/hate relationship with comic books. It reminds me of the same relationship women of color have with hip hop culture. There are so many things to love about comic books: the stories, the artwork, the team ups, the characters, etc. However, most of it not all of the stories aren't about us. If we are shown, it is in a demeaning manner.

It is important to note, and this is something that many historians, culture critics, artists, and sociologists have pointed out, that comic books are America's mythology. Unlike places in Europe, Africa, or Asia, we don't have legends that are part of our cultural landscape. Christianity insured that we were not isolators in the literal sense. Sure we have stories of Paul Bunyan but they are not valiant stories of fighting monsters. The settlers all but destroyed much of the Native culture and to be honest, none of their mythology is taught in schools. African Americans have John De High Conqueror but his story has been watered down or quickly eroded from the landscape as well.

If you listen to any politician, artists, or person of influence, he or she makes several references to comic book heroes whether he or she talks about Spider Man, Superman, Batman (remember Morgan Freeman in "Lean on Me?"), or many others. Even J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI published comic strip and a comic book series called "G Men," to help propagandize the FBI's influence. Even people of influence understood that importance. Heck, librarians have been telling us for decades that comic books are literature.

Many of us grew to enjoy reading through comic books. While to many, comic books may seem juvenile but many of us were able to get into philosophy, literature, and science because so much of it was used in comic books. For us to understand those concepts, we had to learn a least a little bit of those things.

So wouldn't it be important for the people who read and spend good money on those comics see people who look like them in those pages? Shouldn't a nation's mythology be made of up of people who make up said nation? Ask any psychologist about the damage people of color have when worshiping a white Jesus. Deep, right?

Did I like the intro to Miles Morales?

To be honest, the only thing I expected was a full length story. I forgot that issue 4 of the Ultimate Fallout was really about how people reacted to Peter Parker's death. The reader will get about 9 pages of the new Ultimate Spider Man in action. On the last panel, he takes off his mask. It could have been better but to be honest, I don't know how Bendis could have introduced Miles Morales to us without a back story.