Good Stuff to Read – May 2011

I am a modern man, which means my basic quest in life beyond procreation is to stave off boredom. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, this has been one of the most impressive entertainment months I’ve ever experienced. What I mean by that is almost every single thing I have watched, played, and read has been a platinum hit. Not only that, but most of them have been a little off the beaten path, which in and of itself isn’t that unusual, but quality plus unusual is… uh… well, it doesn’t happen very often and for the past month it has been happening all the time. The “Damn, this is cool” areas of my brain have been stimulated for weeks, putting me well past the point where I should go see a doctor.

I’m going to assume you guys are hip to the big stuff in pop culture, which means I’ll skip discussing Portal 2 (excellent), Game of Thrones (also excellent, though in a case of TV jibing almost directly with the books, I’m a little sad any time Jamie and/or Tyrion aren’t on screen), and Glee (which you either love, hate, or profess to hating while it’s secretly a wicked guilty pleasure for you. This last one is not unlike having Nicole Kidman and then Joey from Dawson’s Creek as your succession of beards. You apparently have excellent taste in women, but maybe you should stop jumping up and down on couches and hating yourself).

Note to the kids at home : Don’t write paragraphs where 70% of the words are contained in vaguely clever asides. This shit does not fly well with your teachers and professors, even if you actually manage to be funny. I know this from experience.

Right, books… The recommendation to read Patrick Rothfuss came from a few directions, but mostly Becker and Ferrett first, and then BDM, Joey Pasco… and eventually lots of people were banging the Rothfussian drum. They were absolutely correct – when it comes to writing, Patrick Rothfuss is a golden god. I’m in the process of (slowly) compiling a (large) list of books worth reading in Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Rothfuss’s name now goes all the way at the top. Yes, even above George R.R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen Erikson, and Robin Hobb. Certainly above Tolkein and Robert Jordan. Rothfuss’s world is brilliant, his writing incredibly vivid, characters compelling, dialogue wonderfully spiky and clever, and he’s damned funny. With In The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear, he’s telling the epic tell of Kvothe, but eschewing all the narrative and perspective skipping of so many other epic fantasy writers in favour of just telling an awesome fucking story.

Thus far in two incredible books, Rothfuss has managed to gloriously employ all of the narrative hooks that readers like me typically love (teenage angst, training, a sense of discovery, worldbuilding with different cultures, rivalry, magic + mystery), and avoided the common pitfalls that so many of his brethren hit again and again. The books were so good that I started re-reading them two weeks after finishing the second book, which for me has only ever happened with Ender’s Game, which remains my favourite book ever. That is the rarified air that Rothfuss achieves.

If you like fantasy at all, you need to read these books… and then wait another five to seven years for the third one to come out. Sorry, it can’t all be good news.

I’ve also been reading quite a few comic books since my return to civilization, mostly based on recommendations from friends and you fine people on Twitter. I used to read a ton of comics when I was young, but since comics have a high cost to value, I’ve stopped reading them at various times in life, most recently when I moved to Curacao and no comics were available.

The Umbrella Academy was a recommendation from Justin Treadway that turned out to be an amazing one. I’m a big fan of Gabriel Ba’s work on Casanova, and it turns out UA has all of the good trippy bits of Casanova, plus better storytelling with less drug-fuelled haze. (I’m not sure how Matt Fraction is the writer of Casanova and the excellent Iron Man reboot, but after following him on Twitter for a while, I’d have to just say drugs. Lots of drugs.)Don’t get me wrong – I like Casanova, but I don’t always get everything that is going on there. UA shares a similar look (Ba has a very recognizable and wonderful style), with a slightly darker color palette and storyline about seven super children who are dealing with life as grown ups. The art is brilliant, the stories are good and yet really out there, and the dialogue – while not Bendis calibre – is enjoyable. I was initially rather sceptical that a member of My Chemical Romance could pull this off, but so far I’m quite pleased with the results.

Powers is another comic I have been reading lately, and one that has really won me over. The premise is that it follows two homicide detectives who only cover super-hero related crimes, which is a pretty damned good premise. I only read trades these days, and I have to say that the first Powers hardcover didn’t impress me right away. I thought the story started a little slow, but the bigger problem was that I was somewhat turned off by the style of art Oemming uses for the book. I’ve mostly gotten over that, but it does hold the book back a little in my opinion. However, things picked up in the middle of the first story arc and I found myself really enjoying things by the end.

Hardcovers 2 and particularly 3 are even better. In book 2, Bendis really hits his stride in two different outstanding story arcs, including a government conspiracy involving a major super group, but book 3 was where I found myself having ‘Holy shit, did he really just do this?’ moments. These are good things. I dunno, maybe everyone holds off on publishing the secret origin for one of the main characters until twenty or thirty books in these days, and kicks that off with a book that heavily involves monkey fucking, but I found it original and awesome.

So yeah, Powers is great and should definitely be read.

Stuff to Avoid
Most of the comic recommendations I have received in the last year have been great, but one that sucked was Blackest Night. Depending on how old you are, you may remember the early days of Image comics where books were 22 pages of generally great art and sparse stories – Blackest Night was just like that, except it was supposedly the biggest comics event of the year. The art was great and the story was basically the most boring event story imaginable. I found it super disappointing, especially given how good Geoff Johns other Green Lantern work has been. The repercussions have been pretty hit or miss as well, with Morrison’s recent Batman work turning out to be really flaky (though I have enjoyed most of Batman and Robin).

I also enjoyed the first couple books of Chuck Dixon’s G.I. Joe revival and definitely liked the Cobra series, but book 4 of G.I. Joe was total pants. I’ll probably give the main series one more shot to not suck before I call it quits (mostly based on how much I liked trades 1-3).

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6 responses to “Good Stuff to Read – May 2011

  1. “If you like fantasy at all, you need to read these books… and then wait another five to seven years for the third one to come out. Sorry, it can’t all be good news.”

    Good news: Rothfuss is not Martin. WMF followed NotW after four years, and the author has said that a great deal of the delay was due to some real life bullshit (I’m assuming some sort of illness in the family). I expect to see Doors of Stone before my sister graduates college.

    • Not quite the expert in monkey fucking that you are (I assume watching the Wizards for a long time has something to do with it), so I will have to take your word for it.

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