MadInkBeard by DerikBadman

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Spring is here reading

Spring has finally arrived. The other morning I saw a woodpecker pecking a metal chimney cap. It sounded like a tinny snare drum roll.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (Orbit, 2019)

Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy is a really excellent science fiction trilogy that I read a year or so ago, and this is her first fantasy novel. One of the intriguing parts of the trilogy was how the primary culture in the books exclusively used the feminine form of pronouns in their language. This created an interesting experience where on reading I first “saw” every character as a woman, but as you read on that reading gets thrown into question. If you think about it, absent explicit physical description, our reading of a character’s gender is based on language and how other characters in the novel interact with them. When all the characters are using the feminine pronoun this becomes even more interesting also when the characters are aliens.

Leckie performs a similarly interesting feat of language in this novel. It is narrated in the second person (addressed to a “you”) by an at first unknown narrator. The narrator-protagonist is for most of the book only seen from the inside via their narration, while the addressee and co-protagonist, Eolo, is only seen from the outside as the narrator closely observes them and their actions, often making guesses as to internal motivation or thought (“Maybe you were…”). Other characters refer to the Eolo as “he” throughout the book, but there are a few moments where that comes into question. Nothing is made explicit, but on one reading it is certainly possible to read Eolo as either a woman disguising herself as a man (not unheard of in fantasy novels) or as a transgender man. The language of the book keeps that in question, I think, though it’s possible I missed something.

As for her worldbuilding and relation to language, Leckie offers an interesting takes on fantasy gods. There are many gods (small and large) in the book and they are curiously bound by their utterances. Anything a god says must be true. If that thing was not previously the case, then by the utterance the god’s power is expended in making such a thing true. Like in many fantasy worlds, the god’s power comes primary from worshippers, acts of devotion, sacrifices, etc. and is thus limited. The gods must be very careful in what they say, for if they say something untrue it could use up all their power to make it true (or possible just kill them if they don’t have the power). That constraint becomes an important part of the plot, and is also a pretty interesting concept for use in an RPG.

This was a pretty quick and enjoyable read. Seems to be getting a lot of attention so you can probably even find it at your local library (I did).

Bubbles: an independent fanzine about comics & manga #1 (March 2019)

Another item I learned about from Copacetic Comics instagram feed. This is a letter size black and white zine about comics (mostly manga in this issue) that is a really great mix of essays, reviews, interview, and comics. There’s a story plus interviews about Blast Books and their publishing of some unusual manga in the 80s/90s. There’s an interview with James Hudnall about his work at an early Viz, working on manga translations. There are a few articles and interviews alone with an inset program for an performance art music piece from 1979 called Music From Nancy. An interview with a scanlator and some quick reviews of comics round out the front side of the zine. Then on the back/flipside (so it reads right to left) is a short translated manga by Tsurita Kuniko, who was Garo magazines first female artist. It’s a dark, poetic story with a great use of abstraction. I’d love to see more of her work.

In the Hudnall interview he tells an anecdote about Toren Smith (of Studio Proteus who were involved with a lot of early manga translation) giving out copies of the Appleseed manga to stores as a way to assess customer interest. That recalled a memory of mine, getting a free copy of Appleseed Book 1 No.2 (from way back in 1988) at a small comic convention. That was probably the first actual manga I’d ever seen/read and started me on reading a lot of those early Eclipse/Viz series. It always seemed weird to me why they had some many copies of that comic to give away, but now it makes sense.

All in all this fairly short zine apparently created by one person (there are no credits so I’m assuming its just one person doing everything) is a much better and more interesting read than the latest issue of The Comics Journal. Looking forward to issue 2. You can order a copy here.

Paysage Après La Bataille by Éric Lambé and Philippe de Pierpont (Actes Sud / Fremok, 2017)

Got a couple more recent books from the Belgian publisher Fremok recently and this is the first one I read. The art is simple and minimal, with a great use of very limited color (a few pages here and there), and the whole book (it’s unpaginated but about 1.5″ thick) reads quickly. While there are interesting moments of abstraction and dreamlike interiority in the story, in the end this ended up being a story about a woman whose child dies so she runs away to a trailer park where some odd people live. Yeah, that seems super clichéd to me and just didn’t amount to anything new. Quite disappointed in this one, especially since it was a winner at Angouleme in 2017. You can see some sample pages at the co-publisher’s page. This one’s going into the “sell/give away” pile in my office.