REVIEW: THE BEAUTY VOL.1- by Jeremy Haun

I decided to take a chance on The Beauty and bought it based entirely on the cover, the basic concept and all the positive reviews that it was receiving. I mean- it was about an STI that you want to catch- one that makes you extremely beautiful, so it sounded like it could have been an interesting look at the media’s unhealthy obsession with beauty. And after reading it? Honestly- I don’t get understand the positive reviews. I honestly don’t understand what it is that people see in this, because this lacks any nuance and the plot relies on all government law enforcement agencies acting unprofessionally and everyone being utter morons.

Why are people so drawn in? Well, I think part of it is because people are enamoured with the concept and because the cover art  is consistently amazing:

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It’s beautiful and horrifying, gothic and artistic- and not just this one; all the different covers and alternate covers for this book look bloody amazing. I mean, look at them:

The covers are fantastic and suggest a beautiful high art concept.The cover tells you this series’ whole premise. A ‘what if’- what if there was a sexually transmitted disease that everyone wanted, that made you beautiful. It raised so many what ifs- like there could have been discrimination against those who don’t contract, or an epidemic of people cheating on their non contracted partners… and then this happened.

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It apparently makes your HEAD LITERALLY EXPLODE! Did this disease enter the human population  when someone fucked a nucleur warhead? How could an STI possibly do that?

Yeah, fuck nuanced complexity. The obvious head exploding side effect takes away the potential for a more slow burn, complex exploration of society’s obsession with youth and beauty. It could still happen in later volumes-perhaps showing people refusing the cure because the thought of living without beauty is so unbearable that they’d rather live a short life than be anything less than physically perfect-but the campiness and the lack of subtlety of this volume do not bid well for the future.

This first issue doesn’t really explore the themes of beauty in much depth, but instead turns into an action thriller with two police detectives going up against a massive conspiracy.

And heavens, the action is silly. The characters act unprofessional- this was less like a police agency and more two maverick detectives running around doing what they felt like with no input from any superiors- and the conspiracy to keep the negative side effects of The Beauty hidden felt contrived. I’m sorry, but IF SOMEONE’S HEAD EXPLODES AFTER COUGHING ON NATIONAL TV, AND PEOPLE ARE SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING IN PUBLIC then you can’t keep that shit covered up! Especially since this is set in America and anything that encourages people to have pre marital sex would have a massage back lash from powerful members of the religious right (many of whom are wealthy and are in positions of power), so there would be hundreds of wealthy organisations looking to play up a negative angle of the beauty.

Furthermore, when one of your agents in charge of investigating the Beauty after the event is clearly trying to say something about the Beauty and THEN IS SUSPICIOUSLY DRAGGED OFF BY OTHER AGENTS TRYING TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT IN THE MOST EYE BROW RAISING WAY POSSIBLE, THEN THE CONSPIRACY IS OVER! Seriously, they were so blatantly covering it up… the fact that no one catches on defies suspension of disbelief more than the alien cactuses did from the Silver Age Batman comics. I mean, there are people who theorize 9/11 is an inside job based on the emergency service response time, and yet someone’s head explodes on tv, the FBI acts really suspiciously and they have a punch up in the corner and no one suspects a thing? Seriously?

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It reached Batman villain levels of insanity when we had a guy in a mask ripped straight out of The Book Of Life shooting a major celebrity and going after two FBI agents in broad daylight. Why would you hire a crazed serial killer to cover up a conspiracy? Why not an SAS trained soldier who is proffessional, and can stick to the mission and carry it out in a reasoned and dispassionate way?

Also, is there any chain of command- any accountability? Task Force? Because the whole story revolved around two government agents running around blindly.

It may explore some themes later, and there are a few with potential to be explored in later volumes. The religious right’s objection that was briefly shown is a realistic consequence to The Beauty… afterall, they hate any kind of sexuality that isn’t very tightly regulated, and marital sex is the enemy of the highly puritanical religious reiche in America. However, since the glimpse we did get was of Westborough style fanatics with a ‘God Hates Beauty’ sign, the chances of this being done without delving into full Mr Burns level cartoon villainy is very slim. Yeah, it’s easy to mock the Westborough, but there’d be a lot of more mainstream Right Wing churches up in arms against this who are less obviously hateful and crazy, so the only objectors shouldn’t just be those who’ve gone off the deep end.

However, I do like the fact that the self hated closeted religious conservative has become such a cliche, that whenever we see a religious right wing fanatic we automatically assume that he must secretly be craving the dick in his life .

Another idea this graphic novel had going for it was the motive the enemy organisation had for their actions (I don’t want to spoil it here but it was a really convincing motivation and well thought up)- but the antagonists have gone sub Bond villain mustache twirling  level evil and, with their employment of crazy masked serial killer,  I have doubts of this being handled in any kind of sensible way.

However, with all the negatives, there are some things I liked. I think it treated the women in this novel equally to the men, and I like the relationship between the two cops. They had a good dynamic, were equals, and Vaughn (our heroine) was supportive of our male lead’s marriage. I hope they stay friends- because this is such a good and equal friendship- though I suspect that it might turn romantic at some point because his bond with her is so much stronger than his bond with his wife.

I also like how this novel seamlessly includes LGBT people in the novel as characters who are unstereotyped and fully integrated into the plot with no fanfare, although i did see a happy scene between a gay couple and thought ‘oh shit, we’re heading for gaydeath aren’t we?’

SPOILER FOR THE LESS CYNICAL I was right. This was annoying, especially since our leading heteros make it out okay, but at least with all the death in the novel it didn’t feel egrerious and I’m glad LGBT people were at least acknowledged and treated as human like everyone else.

THE ARTWORK

Honestly, for the artwork was decent and yet disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well drawn, the colouring’s good, it has a great use of shadows and the character models are fine, but it was always more realistic and restrained which was a bit disappointing. I personally believe the cover art should represent the artwork of the story inside, and I was hoping for more beautiful artistic images like the cover promised; maybe with a less realistic and more dreamlike style, the siliness of events wouldn’t have seemed so jarring. Or it could have at least distracted me from the weaknesses of the plot like how J H. William’s artwork on the Batwoman comics kept me enjoying the series even when it became silly and incoherant.

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It’s more realistic artwork jars with the more insane elements of the plot, and its world and writing doesn’t have enough character to make it compelling. Also, I found the faces to not be particularly expressive- which is fine for those with The Beauty, as I guess they were meant to look artificial and like they had been botoxed the hell out of, but even the non Beauties don’t look very expressive. I mean, judge for yourself from the panels’s I’ve showed you, but I just don’t get a sense of character jumping out at me like I did when I was reading say, Saga or Ms Marvel- which I think is due to its more realistic style. I’ve hopefully shown enough of the artwork to give a general flavor (and if you think I’m full of crap, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments), but it just isn’t what I was expecting from the cover.

VERDICT: This is a fast paced thriller, and while it wasn’t memorable, for all its flaws it isn’t dull either. However, the action was so implausible and the villains so ridiculous and moustache twirlingly evil that it did destroy any suspension of disbelief I had.  It is a first volume and it could get better when it explores its central concept (the depths people will sink to for beauty), but so far this series does not display the depth and nuance necessary to do its central concept justice and I just don’t understand where all the positive hype is coming from.

RATING :

2 gorgeous covers out of five:

Daily Prompt: Scorched- BEYOND THE APOCALYPSE

via Daily Prompt: Scorched

BEYOND THE APOCALYPSE

2062- and we were running for our lives. Running from the men in anti radiation suits. We turned the corner- but there were more men out to kill us. They weren’t government or enforcers. They were ordinary men from our rival tribe; they were worse than enforcers. For them this was personal.

“You can’t do this!” screamed my sister.

“Like hell we can’t, you little vermin!” cried a woman.

“We didn’t do anything!” screamed my sister.

“You’re taking our food!” screamed man, “It’s thanks to people like you, that our supplies are dwindling! It’s your fault this happened in the first place!”

He handed us to the men in radiation suits. My sister screamed as they dragged us away. Towards the entrance. Towards the end. My heart pounded in my chest. This was more like a dream. I heard the door slam. I felt earth beneath my feet for the first time. Exposed on the surface. We were going to die. We were really going to die.

My sister banged on the door for what seemed like an hour. No one listened; of course they didn’t. If I learned one thing from the underground Haven, it’s that people never listen. Eventually my sister learned that too. Her screams grew silent. She fell to her knees and was silent for a long time. Then she began to speak again.

“There’s no way out.” she said.

My answer was silence. I looked up at the sky, at the grey snowflakes falling on my cheek. My sister looked up too, lost in thought.

“Hey sis, can you tell me about the sky again?” she said, “Before the great war.”

I smiled, sad. I looked into the big black sky; at the endless wasteland of fallen buildings, burnt to the ground and covered in grey snow.

“I’ve never seen it before. “

“Tell me anyway.” she said, “I…I need something…something to stop me thinking about this…”

I sighed and looked to the sky, at the grey flakes falling down.

“Grandma always said back then, snow used to be different than it is now. Before the surface was scorched.” I said, “It didn’t fall apart when you touched it- not like this.” I said, holding another ashy flake in my palm as it disintergrated, “It was cool and wet. It used to cover all the earth, all the trees with beautiful white sheets. And people used to build snow men. Or make little balls and throw it at each other.”

We stare out, into the ashen wasteland.

“There wasn’t the war back then.” I said, my voice small, “There was… but not like this. Not like the one that did this- not like the purges.”

“Sis…” my sister’s voice choked. “How long… do you think we have… before the radiation kills us?”

“I don’t know, four hours maybe?”

We were both silent. We looked back at the cave lead door of the underground city we came from.

“Four hours.” she choked, “…I don’t want to die.”

“I know you don’t.”

“I’m scared.”

“I know you are.”

I didn’t know what to tell her. In a few hours, we’d be nothing. We’d be dead. All I could do was hold her hand.

“The sky,” she spoke softly “It’s beautiful. Funny, all that time underground… I never thought I’d see it.”

I looked up at the endless void, filled with beautiful stars. I’d never seen a star before, but I’d assumed it was like one of our strobe lights. I never knew its life could be so…pure.

” Do you think it’s true- what they say?” she said, “That… maybe there is a paradise-somewhere here?”

The lost land sealed by the stone door. The story every child in the underground city knew by heart.

“Maybe.” i lied

“Hey, sis. I don’t want to die doing nothing.Do you think… maybe if we look, we might find it before the radiation kills us?”

“I think we should try.” I said.

We walked together, into the scorched wasteland, looking at the remains of humanity. At the piles of rubble that was once our greatest achievements that meant nothing now. In search of what man had been searching for since the dawn of time. Paradise. A place better than this one.

Hey, thanks for reading. This was done in response to the daily prompt challenge which is here: Scorched . Follow the link to find out about taking part.

If you’re interested in another piece of flash fiction set in this world, please click here for more on their paradise.

FIRST LOOK: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in PASSENGERS

Yeah, you totally clicked for Jennifer Lawrence in the swim suit, don’t lie to me!

Passenger is a Sci Fi story about what would happen if they cloned Jennifer Lawrence so she could be in every Hollywood movie this year… okay I lie. What this movie is about is a romantic meet cute INNN SPAAAAACEEEE

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When SHIIIT HITS THE FAAAAAANNNN…

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Yeah, gas giants and messing up gravity doesn’t exactly get me in the mood to for having dinner, but apparently ensuing disaster gets those two ready to pick out curtains. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were meant to be in stasis for a hundred years while their ship they travel to a new planet to start a new life (2016 certainly has that effect on people) , but alas something goes wrong and the two of them wake up, only to find that something is disastrous is happening with the ship.

First off, the water effect looks amazing and it makes me wish that Katara could have pulled that shit in ATLA. Imagine if she drowned the fire nation in one of those balls? Well, it would probably not be suitable for kids anymore, and probably why I’m not a director- but that bit was cool. I suspect it’s the best bit in the whole movie.

Less cool was when they changed scene and we got the romance. Oh God, the romance. The dialogue ‘We’re on a date’ ‘ very nice’  Took you long enough to ask’ in the most artificial way possible. When Pratt’s character got the robot to give her that love note, I was thinking ‘seriously, mr Robot, do you want to give Ms Lawrence some cheese with that note?’I’ll admit I really don’t like the romance genre, but I can get on board if it’s nuanced and has really well written characters. However, this looks like a very cookie cutter couple with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence playing Hollywood Romantic leads rather than feeling like actual people. So far we have melodramatic declarations of love, cheesy declarations of love, the much older guy of course (Pratt is 11 years older than Lawrence), and with all the action and the time period there’s no way it’s going to develop in a natural way and will probably be ‘sass first and then insta love.’

Maybe the action will save the romance, but thus far I’m not sold. So far, the cutesyness really doesn’t go with the action and it undermines the stakes, and it looks like a sci fi with a romance sub plot tumor as the focus of the film. This could just be a marketing ploy however: the romance to draw the Twilight fans and the action to draw the Martian and Star Wars fans. But as of yet, neither the romance or the action looks good enough to draw me in.

Also, the scene with that robot slamming its head on the bar and sliding it along the surface? Totally becoming a gif that will feature heavily in the upcoming year.

 

YOHANCE-THE EKANGENI CRYSTAL- by Paul Louise Julie

I’m always on the look out for something new and creative, so when I heard that there was going to be a space opera inspired by African art, I thought ‘count me in.’ I waited for months in anticipation.  So now that it’s finally out, what was it like? Well, so far it’s only really the opening action sequence- but is it one hell of an action sequence with amazing use of art.

As you can probably see from the cover the graphic novel, the art work is extremely distinctive and looks great. I’ve never seen another graphic novel with art quite like that. The aesthetic combines African tribal artwork and designs with your typical star wars space opera design to create a slight variation on your typical space opera aesthetic. Not only that, but he also has an interesting use of colours: using bright reds or blues to give the planets a really unnatural, otherworldly atmosphere.

Stylistically, there’s a lot of improvement from his work on The Packabout how he uses the layout. Part of the strength also lies in how it’s formatted. It will often give you a massive picture of the environment and have a few smaller panels scattered around honing in on certain details or cutting away to a character in the ship. This gives it a really cinematic feel, and you genuinely feel like you’e watching a switching from shot to shot. It’ll often go from a bigger picture of the background . I mean, look at this.

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As your eyes dark from image to image it’s like different camera angles.The dialogue is also short, sparse and doesn’t clutter the page. This leads to a very streamlike reading experience and allows you to focus on the artwork and what’s going on in the page. This whole first issue plays out like a storyboard that’s better than the actual movie could ever be. There’s so much improvement from his first issue of The Pack in how he uses the page’s layout to his advantage, and it’s great to see him coming into his own.

However, there is one aspect of the art that changes this comic from flawless to  hit and miss, and it’s a big problem: the character designs. Mr Louise Julie has made this baffling choice of photo shopping a human’s face onto his character model, and it makes them look like some horrendous uncanny valley monstrosity. Like with a lot of his work with The Pack, he manages to cover this up by avoiding having people’s faces close up by focusing on the scenery, obscuring them by shadows or light, or by having the perspective so far away from the characters that you can’t see them properly. He gets away with it for the most part  (and Yohance is in his suit most of the time), but then we’ll get a close up of his badly photo shopped face and oh man….

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Look at the gorgeous design of the robot monkey when contrasted against that face. You know what this expression reminds me of?

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I don’t want to be reading this  action sequence and suddenly see angry baby! I mean, my God- the way it’s photo shopped is so awful. It doesn’t help that when we do get a close up he’s always pulling the most derpiest expression and he reminds me of one of those actors on those BBC shows for toddlers. It just pulls me out of the action and I have to try and ignore it before continuing- and that’s something you really don’t want for your main protagonist. It’ll be hard to get emotionally invested in later issues when the main characters are an eyesore to look at.

I’ve pondered why such an obviously astoundingly talented artist could put something so god awful in something so beautiful, and the only solution I can come up is that he’s great with backgrounds and lighting, but either he isn’t an expert at rendering faces or  his art style doesn’t lend to rendering expressive faces and he’s trying to compensate for it. Either way, this is not the way forward.

Now, onto the characters themselves. So far, we don’t know really know that much about them apart from the sci fi archetypes they embody. Yohance so far is the double crossing Rogue with the animal robot sidekick… Yes, he’s your Han Solo, your Captain Mal, your Spike Spiegel and every other galaxy hopping space scoundrel you’ve read about. Our heroine, Cana, isn’t a Black Leia Organa or Padme Amidala (like I was secretly hoping based on the cover art), but  she’s a rogue as well, and she and Yohance have a Captain Mal/ Saffron dynamic going on.

There’s nothing to distinguish them just yet, and their characters are very derivative, but it’s only the first issue and judging from what I’ve seen, the creator clearly has enough writing skill to make them interesting later on. I’m glad he didn’t try to do too much in one issue, and I’m glad he took his time to create a really memorable opening sequence.

Now there’s one other major landmine of a flaw with this book: the  price. I was so excited about this book that I purchased it right away and unusually (suspisciously) it didn’t tell me the page count, but judging by the price I expected it to be around about 130 pages. Yeah, I paid £7.70 ($9.43 for any Americans reading) for 39 pages. 39 pages. I have purchased a lot of graphic novels, comics and manga on and I’ve never had to pay anything like this for a kindle edition.

I mean come on, I know this is an independent project and the guy’s gotta eat, but not only is this insane for a digital copy (the price is what I’d expect for a hard back edition), but this is financially unviable. I don’t know how long the series is going to be (but considering all we’ve had is the opening action sequence and we’ve only barely set up the plot, it’s going to be a good few issues), but who can pay £7.70 for what is essentially an opening sequence? And pay that for each installment? Not many people are going to be able to afford that, and since he’s an Indie publisher without the fan base of companies like DC and Marvel, he can’t really afford to charge a ridiculous amount- especially since he’s not big name yet. I personally don’t regret it- the artwork is gorgeous and it’s something I’ll gladly flip through again- but I can’t pay that price for each future issue.

VERDICT: This is an immensely strong start . However, because of how ridiculously expensive this is, I can’t recommend that anyone by this and I’d suggest either waiting for this to go down in price or for it to be collected in a larger volume. However, if you’ve got the cash to burn and you’re really desperate for an African themed sci fi, than I can assure you the quality is top notch. Also, for more of his amazing art work and a series centred around African aesthetic that’s more sensibly priced, I’d recommend giving his work on The Pack a look.

COMIC REVIEW: PRINCESS PRINCESS EVER AFTER- by Katie O’Neill

So, it’s fair to say that I am a little bit old to be the target audience of Princess Princess Ever After, but after spotting it in an article on The Mary Sue  I thought I’d give it a look. I love anything to do with fairytale worlds with strong women women in it, and sometimes you just feel like reading something  colorful and feel good. Honestly, it’s just a cute, fun story that I’d recommend to any kid- and not just because its progressive, but because its got a good sense of humor and adventure, with characters that are surprisingly nuanced for such a short book.

The most obvious thing about Princess Princess Ever After is that yes, it is a  fairy tale with a same sex couple aimed at children. And that’s a big thing. Although things have generally gotten better with LGBT people in media aimed at adults and even a YA audience, even liberals are often uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex couple in a kid’s book or tv series (see Korrasami). This is because while they see opposite sex romance as fully encompassing romance, companionship, and innocent first love, they see same sex as equaling gay sex.

This book shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. The tone is perfect for children: sweet, innocent and with a good sense of fun. The story is far more about two very different young women bonding and going on adventure together (with a prince in tow) than it is about romance- although their relationship is adorable.

The characters are all likable and surprisingly fleshed out for such a short story. Its two main heroines are Princess Amira, the tomboyish knight, and Princess Sadie, the cute girly girl.

Princess Amira is a great character. Strong and brave, who ran away from home to avoid conventional gender roles. In a genre which overwhelmingly glorifies delicate white (usually blond) women, it’s great to see a black Princess who’s not the usual ‘white woman painted brown’, but has a hair that looks like a style that a black woman is more likely to have and comes from an African culture (my guess would be North Africa, judging by the desert). Though an aside… does something about Sadie and Amira remind you of anyone?

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Princess Sadie is the more conventionally feminine one,and my God, is she adorable. She’s sweet and cries a lot, but possesses a kind heart that makes her a good leader. They do have a traditional butch/ femme dynamic, though this is clearly done to show that there’s more than one way to be a girl rather than out of a belief there has to be a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in every relationship. This book does try and mix it up a bit and show that feminine does not equal inferior and Princess Sadie is just as useful as Amira. It’s a lot like Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe or Haruka and Michuru from Sailor Moon, or Utena and Anthy from RGU. As a woman who’s been in the army and seen that the tomboys really don’t perform better than the femmes, I’d totally love to see a story where the girly girl is a kick ass fighter and rescues her butch girlfriend, but hey, Sadie does get some rescuing in too..

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The villain is one that shows that sometimes it’s the ones closest to you that can hurt you the most. The only downside is that the main villain was defeated in a very quick and convenient way once the emotional confrontation was over. This seems to happen a lot (especially in stories aimed at girls), but the book was never about the final showdown and packs so much in that it doesn’t really matter.

The drawings are also really cute and make it a joy to flick through. They’re full of bright, round designs with lots of cute fairytale creatures like dragons and unicorns.

Verdict: This is a brilliant comic and one I’d recommend to any kid- especially little girls, who can probably find a bit of themselves in both our heroines.

Rating: 5 tomboy and girly girl animated couples out of 5

BOOK OF THE MONTH: MARCH

Another month has rolled around and I’ve looked at more books this month than I have in any previous months.

 

Book of the Month: The Color Purple– by Alice Walker

imageI originally thought I was going to make it To Break The Demon Gate, but as soon as I read the Color Purple I realized it couldn’t be anything else. A heart wrenching story of oppression, love, the importance of education and friendship seeing you through adversity. I said everything I needed to say about this book in my review here, and it’s a book that I would recommend to everyone and that’s why I’ve put it my Top 20 Books Everyone Should Read.

 

Short Story of the Month: Mummy– by Banana Yoshimoto

imageThis was definitely the most difficult category to choose because I’ve read so many superb 5 star short stories this month. However, the stand out had to be Mummy by Banana Yoshimoto which was found in a compilation of short stories by Japanese authors called The Book Of Tokyo. Banana Yoshimoto is currently one of the most acclaimed authors of Japanese fiction, and from reading this short story it’s easy to see why.

Mummy is a very strange and utterly intriguing short story about a young women who enters a warehouse alone with a guy she barely knows, but instead of finding herself a murder victim, she enters a three day sexual adventure that’s  strange, dangerous, fucked up and exhilerating. Banana perfectly captures what it’s like to be a young woman embarking on an early sexual adventure- the hunger for the forbidden, the new, dangerous and the thrill of adventure.

Runners up: The Forest of Memory, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, Moonlight on Shoji Bridge

World Building of the Month:The Teracotta Bride– by Zen Cho

This was another category that was difficult to choose. Right up until the end I was torn imagebetween the supernatural politics of the Mercy Thompson series and the science fiction reimagining of the Himba people in Binti; I thought I had finally decided on Binti, but then I read the Terracotta Bride. The Teracotta Bride gives us an in depth look at the Chinese/ Malaysian afterlife,a world with ten levels of hell where wealth is gained by corrupt methods and from paper burnt by the deceased’s ancestors. As well as giving us a fully realized interpretation of that world, it also points out its flaws (that even though the rest of the world’s evolved, the afterlife still possesses a medieval view of the role of women); it also asks some interesting new questions about this world like ‘are those paper servants created to serve their master sentient?’ or ‘what happens to the Teracotta Soldiers after their master’s reincarnated?’ On top of that, it even brings in a little speculative fiction element with the same principle used to created the Terracotta Soldiers is used to create a robot servant? What happens to a robot in the afterlife? Does it have a soul?

Every about this story was so unique and fascinating that there could only be one choice for Best World Building.

Runners up: Moon Called, Binti

Male Character of the Month: Lord Yamada and Kenji

to break the demon gateTo Break The Demon Gate is one of my all time favourite fantasy series. It takes place is Japan during the Heian era and is full . Lord Yamada is a great protagonist- a disgraced minor Lord who’s suffering from the loss of a loved one and is taken to the edge of grief. I think we all know what it

However, a story with only Lord Yamada wouldn’t be the same, as part of what makes the novels so great is his banter and odd couple friendship with Kenji, the ‘reprobate monk’. Kenji is the yin to Yamada’s yan, a carefree, light hearted lecherous monk who’s always getting lost along the tenfold way in the bottom of a cask of sake or some other worldly pleasure. Even though he’s always on the recieving end of the more humourless Yamada’s scoulding, the two have a strong friendship that sees them through their numerous adventures against the various schemes of the supernatural.

Female Character of the Month: Jade Yeo

imageIt was either Jade, Sofia or Cyan from Hedon this month and since I’m trying to avoid giving The Color Purple everything, it just had to Jade. I mean, come on, what’s not to love about her? She read’s like an unholy hybrid of The Importance of Being Earnest’s Cecily and Jane Austen’s Emma, completely rebels against all of societies norms and calls her unborn child ‘the worm’. She is one of the greatest females in literature and I really enjoyed the relationship between her and her best female friend.

Runners up: Sofia, Nettie, Cyan

 

POC Character of the Month: Sofia- the Color Purple

imageI really, really try not to nominate the same book for every category, but I couldn’t read The Color Purple and say it’s not the best thing I’ve read all month and that it doesn’t include the best POC portrayal in literature; because it is one of the most revolutionary portrayals of African American women ever written, so much so that it garnered praise from Oprah Winfrey (who ended up playing Sofia) and Lenny Henry.

I chose Sofia in particular because I fell in love with this character. Strong and independent, she had to stand up for herself her own life and she vowed never to let any man treat her like a punchbag. True to her word, when Harpo tried to beat her into submission she didn’t back down but fought him with every ounce of strength she had. Her finest moments included taking down Miss Eleanor Jane and her misguided and privileged view of her importance to her unwilling ‘mammy’ figure- something that is sadly still relevant today when films like The Help continue to get made and receive more critical acclaim than films like Selma.

LGBT Character of the Month: Celie- The Color Purple

shug and celie.jpgBefore Pam Grier’s portrayal of Kit Porter in The L word and Orange Is The New Black came on the scene, The Color Purple’s Celie and Shug Avery were two of the very few portrayals of black lesbians and bisexuals in the media.

Celie is a great character: she is a very human character who suffers a lot. She starts off as an extremely passive person who suffers silently and endures through life, even proving to be a little manipulative when she advises Harpo to beat his wife because she envies her freedom. However, she soon develops into a strong and capable person with a sense of self worth, and a big part of what takes her on that journey is her love for Shug. In spite of being constantly forced to sleep with men since she was 14, the first time she ever feels desire of her own was when she thought of Shug, who she felt a mix of adolescent infatuation and sexual desire for since she first found a picture of her. That sexual awakening burgeons into a deep friendship and later a physical relationship. Two often gay relationships are reduced to either ‘just sex’ or an asexual companionship, but The Color Purple avoids that by both 

Because of the pernicious stereotype of gay people being turned gay because of abuse and that lesbians are attracted to women because they hate men, it can be difficult to portray an LGBT character who was abused. However, although she 

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REVIEW: THE TERACOTTA BRIDE- by Zen Cho

BLURB: In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.

It’s a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn’t choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.

Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death.- Amazon books.

Review: Zen Cho is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, especially when it comes to fantasy. Sorcerer to the Crown was a brilliant Victorian Steampunk and one of the only ones to explore Britain’s relationships with the word around it, while The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo was a fantastic 20s romance written in a style that was reminiscent of the Master of Romance herself, Jane Austen. The Terracotta Bride is another fantastic entry from the author, a 51 page novella that combines the Malaysian/ Chinese afterlife with a little bit of speculative fiction.

I’ve seen a few stories set in the afterlife and usually they are inspired by Judeo Christian mythology (and in one case the Shinto afterlife), but I’ve never seen one set in the ancient Chinese/ Malaysian afterlife before. This in and of itself makes The Teracotta Bride fascinating; in this world, wealth often depend on the fidelity of one’s descendants as material things are burnt in order to give their ancestors luxuries in the afterlife; there are ten hells in this world, and depending on which sin you commit, you do a certain amount of time suffering a certain punishment until you atone for any offences you’ve committed in your past life; the tenth hell, however, is for those who are either wealthy enough to bribe their way up there, or for those who have committed no sins of note, and this is a comfy waiting room for reincarnation.

It’s interesting that none of the people in the tenth hell actually wanted to be reincarnated; if you become reincarnated, you lose all your memories and personallity, all of who you are and it’s unknown how many horrors of the flesh you would have to endure again when you’re reborn. It was also interesting how the world was very patriarchal and corrupt; although our heroine Siew Tsin, was born in a later time period (it’s unclear when, but most likely in the forties onward as she was hit by a motorcar and possessed ambitions), the world of the afterlife is deeply patriarchal to the point her male ancestor is able to sell her to off to a powerful male as his bride.

Another interesting thing is that the afterlife appears to contain the same flaw as the majority of other afterlives: that your age and appearance is that of when you die. This means that authors always end up using protagonists that die young and tend to be surrounded (Eve and Kristoff Nast from Haunted were in their forties, Siew Tsin was only 19). This makes no logical sense though, as since your body has gone, why would you be bound to your body’s age? Why wouldn’t you appear the age of the prime of your life? Wouldn’t it mean that it would be more forward thinking to kill yourself in your late teens/ twenties/ early thirties after an intense exercise boot camp to ensure you spend the rest of eternity in the best body possible?

But this is a minor problem. The ideas in this novella are true to the idea of the afterlife. Heard of the teracotta soldiers buried with the Chinese Emporor. Well, after the emporor is reincarnated and they have no one left to serve, they don’t disappear, but become like masterless ronin and reek havoc. Those paper servants burnt to serve their master? Are they real with a consciousness, or mindless? The Teracotta Bride is a fascinating idea. Instead of copying the idea of the ancients and building teracotta figurines, what would happen if we used our advanced knowledge of technology to create a servant? This novel then goes down the traditional science fiction route with this character and asks the usual science fiction questions. We have a perfect woman created to serve the needs of her male owner. What is she thinking? Can her true will be brought out from behind her smile? Does a robot have a soul? This is science fiction at its most recognizable, but I’ve never seen these questions asked in this context. This gives the story a fresh feel.

The story itself is just very well paced and interesting. Siew Tsin is the passive doormat character (like RGU’s Anthy, The Color Purple’s Celie, or Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price) who observes the action around her. However, when she meets this terracotta bride, she slowly develops a sweet friendship with her and gains a reason to rebel (like Celie and Anthy). Junsheng and Ling’en are not likable characters, as they are so self absorbed, but they are interesting and the eternal marital disputes between them is interesting. Ling’en even relents from being the cold imperious ice queen and is even able to show some compassion for Siew Tsin, giving her more depth and making her a more human character.

VERDICT: With a unique and well realized world, excellent pacing and some interesting characters, The Terracotta Bride is a brilliant novella is an interesting novella which I would strongly recommend.

RATING: 5 artificial girls / 5

BOOK REVIEW: BINTI- Nnedi Okorafor

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

I’ve never come across an African society  in science fiction before (save the Rastafarian space station in Neuromancer). The world of Okorafor’s Binti was a first for me in that respect, and it was fascinating. I’d never even heard of the Himba tribe until reading this novella, and the way she blended their culture with futuristic technology and a deep future philosophy was masterfully done. Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: BINTI- Nnedi Okorafor

REVIEW: DINNER WITH FLEXI- by Jason Werbeloff

It’s not often that a book has me stumped. When it does, it’s  always a surrealist piece or some post modernist crap that attempts to be experimental but just ends up being tedious and less thought provoking than if they’d wrote out their message flat out. But I honestly don’t even know where to begin with Dinner With Flexi, or even what I just read, where am I, or where Werbeloff is getting his crack from. I think if I knew the answer to the last one, I’d either have some awesome hallucinations or be in a better position to review this short story.

Okay, the plot. Flexi is a sex-bot (a must have in every cyber punk story ever written). And she services men. Not just with sex. No, she serves the men by allowing them to eat the flesh of human women. You see, this is a world where all other food sources have been destroyed and the only solution is eating human women. Of course it is. This story from the mind of a man who decided the most logical solution to a lack of the metal required for internet hardware was to replace search engines with human brains- in that context it makes perfect sense.

As you’d imagine, I have so, so many questions about thhis premise: what condition could humans survive that hardy creatures like cockroaches or rats could not? Unless they stole the insta-pregnancy solution from Hedon, how could women reproduce fast enough to keep up the food supply?But I’ll and turn my brain off since this is meant to be farcical and only ask this: wouldn’t fucking and feeding at the same time be distracting and the cause of a lot of heartburn?

But of course, though Dinner with Flexi parodies a lot of Philip K Dick, it primarily parodies the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies. As for the latter, It’s either parodying the way women’s bodies are commodified, or the language that is used when talking about objectification.

It’s a very bizarre reading experience, which falls into a standard ‘taking the red pill’ narrative until its ending. Is it sexist? After all, women are reduced to cattle and a lot of horrible things happen to them for the sake of black comedy. Then again, women are the only ones who are sympathetic and have any kind of depth while all the men are the most over the top evil patriarchal moustache twirling monsters imaginable. Is it feminist? It’s clearly not making a deep statement or about women overcoming the patriarchy because of the endng. And speaking of…

What I really have to give it credit for is its ending, which is somehow perfect in a terrible, bleakly comic way. It’s so over the top, so cruel and such a downer and yet told in such a blase way that the only reaction left is laughter.Maybe it’s meant to be subverting the ‘downtrodden rebellion against dystopia’ narrative.Maybe it’s just meant to be fucked up. One thing I can say about Werbeloff though; whether he’s on form or just missing the mark, he is never boring and never less than completely memorable.

BOOK REVIEW: HEDON- by Jason Werbeloff

In 2051, the Bhutanese Empire rules post-apocalyptic Shangri with iron-fisted Buddhist compassion. Happiness is compulsory, but making everyone happy isn’t easy in an overpopulated world. Breeders are ghettoed, homosexuality is mandatory, and Shangrians’ happiness levels are strictly monitored by hedometers implanted in their heads. Become depressed, or feel too happy without helping others feel the same, and The Tax Man will get angry. Very angry.

Gemini and Cyan, winners of the pregnancy lottery, are on the run. Cyan can’t fall pregnant, and Gemini is addicted to the Experience Machine. Will they evade The Tax Man, and find a way to end the brutal pleasures of Shangri?

The lovechild of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, HEDON is gritty satire on a dystopia drunk with bigotry and positive thinking.

Hedon is a dystopian novel set in far East Asia, where happiness is government mandated and anyone who fails to meet the correct quota of joy is quickly dispatched by the tax man. With most dystopian novels, the object is to look at problems with our own society and look at what would happen if they were taken to their logical extreme. Hedon does not do that. Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: HEDON- by Jason Werbeloff