Review: Saga, Volumes 3-4

Saga Volume 3Saga Volume 4

Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Saga: Volume Three and Saga: Volume Four

Volumes 3 and 4 of this saga (see what I did there?) continue the story of star-crossed lovers Marko and Alana and their daughter, Hazel, who is now a toddler. Fleeing their many pursuers, the family first takes shelter with Alana’s favorite author, D. Oswald Heist, whose romance novels have a surprisingly political subtext. But they’re unable to stay there for long, since a variety of people (and other entities) are hot on their trail. These pursuers include: The Will, a bounty hunter who’s still grieving for his dead paramour; Marko’s ex-fiancée Gwendolyn, who has a score to settle; a robot prince who’s following orders, even though he’d rather be at home with his wife and son; and two tabloid reporters named Upsher and Doff. Now, in addition to the many dangers that Marko and Alana will face if they’re caught, they also begin to face troubles within their marriage. Alana gets a job that introduces her to a dangerous drug, while Marko is tempted by a young mother he meets while at the playground with Hazel.

I enjoyed the first two volumes of this series, and I’m pleased that these two volumes continue to be entertaining, with a nice blend of dark humor and pathos. I remember being a little bit confused in the earlier installments because of the plethora of characters, but I think I’m clearer now about what’s going on. I was particularly happy to get a little more background on the robot kingdom, so I can see now how they fit into the bigger picture. I’m genuinely concerned about Hazel and her little family, and I hope they will be able to stick together going forward! I also have a soft spot for The Will and am interested to see what happens to him next. I definitely think that fans of graphic novels and/or science fiction should check out this series. Unfortunately, I believe only four volumes have been published as of now, but I’ll definitely look for Volume 5 when it comes out!

Review: Saga, Volumes 1-2

Saga Volume 1Saga Volume 2

Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Saga: Volume One and Saga: Volume Two

This graphic novel tells the story of one family’s struggle to survive in the midst of a brutal interplanetary war. Alana is from Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy. Marko is from Wreath, its satellite. When they meet, they fall in love almost immediately; but unfortunately for them, Landfall and Wreath have been at war for as long as anyone can remember. Since both Alana’s and Marko’s people disapprove of their marriage, the star-crossed lovers have no choice but to flee. They end up on the remote backwater planet of Cleave, where their daughter Hazel is born. The story is narrated by Hazel as she describes her parents’ escape from the forces seeking to tear them apart. But various parties from both Landfall and Cleave are pursuing this family, and it will take all their courage and ingenuity to survive.

After seeing some positive reviews of Saga, I decided to give the series a try, even though I generally don’t read graphic novels. (I have nothing against them, but I’m not a very visual person, so I generally find the artwork more distracting than helpful for the story.) I’m very glad I gave this series a chance, since I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. The story is very compelling and spans several genres, from romance to survival adventure to space opera. I loved the banter between Alana and Marko, who clearly care a lot about each other and express their love through teasing. I also found Hazel’s voice to be very compelling, and I look forward to seeing how she grows as the series progresses. There’s some colorful language and a few graphic (ha ha) images, so be warned if that bothers you. Overall, I definitely plan to continue with the series, and I already have Volumes 3 and 4 from the library!

Review: The Last Policeman

Last Policeman, TheBen H. Winters, The Last Policeman

Hank Palace, a police detective in Concord, New Hampshire, is investigating the death of a man who was found hanged in a McDonald’s bathroom. His fellow police officers are certain it’s a suicide, and with good reason: an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and collision is both certain and imminent. As a result, suicides are on the rise, along with a variety of other behaviors. Some people are “bucket listers,” quitting their jobs to chase their lifelong dreams while they still can. Some people turn to religion, others to drugs. In these circumstances, one more dead man — especially one who appears to have hanged himself — doesn’t matter very much to the police. But Hank suspects that there’s something wrong about this suicide, and he’s determined to discover what really happened. He uncovers several more mysteries in his investigation, including a hidden cache of drugs and a beautiful woman who knows more than she’s saying. But the biggest obstacle of all is the widespread indifference to his quest. If the end of the world is imminent, does one potential murder even matter?

This novel is an interesting combination of two popular genres, the police procedural and the apocalyptic novel, and I think it’s a fairly successful one. Hank Palace is a dry, unintentionally funny narrator who manages to retain some of his ideals despite the cynicism of his surroundings. Even though he knows that life is about to change forever (assuming life will continue at all after the asteroid hits), he remains devoted to his job. But the world of this novel is even more interesting than its narrator. I think the various reactions of people in the book to the impending catastrophe are very plausible. And the details Hank lets slip about the new role of government are as realistic as they are chilling. In this world, every crime is punishable by death or life imprisonment. There is no habeas corpus, so anyone suspected of lawbreaking is condemned without trial. The US Constitution is still the law of the land, but it’s impossible to enforce — and most government officials and police officers don’t really care. Overall, I was fascinated by the setting of this novel and will eventually continue with the series to see what happens.

Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Sometime in the early 21st century, World War Terminus has resulted in widespread destruction and nuclear fallout, so everyone who can afford it has emigrated to Mars. To help these emigrants establish a new civilization, androids were created to be servants and laborers. As time went on, the androids became more sophisticated until they were virtually indistinguishable from humans — except for a complete lack of empathy. Now some of these androids have returned to Earth, where their presence is illegal, and policeman Rick Deckard is charged with hunting them down and “retiring” them. In fact, he is authorized to kill them on sight; but as he pursues the rogue androids, he must confront his own feelings and beliefs, including what it means to be human.

When I started this book, I was expecting the main issue to be the nature of the androids themselves: If they have the same intelligence and (mostly) the same emotions as humans, aren’t they also human? But oddly enough, the book leaves no doubt on this issue — the androids are not human, and Rick Deckard’s struggle with this fact gets him into trouble on several occasions. Even though the androids are machines, Deckard can’t help but see them as human beings, due to his own empathetic response. He feels pity for them, recognizes their contributions to society, and even falls in love with one of them. Ultimately, the real issue of the book is not the humanity of the androids, but rather the humanity of the humans: Can Deckard do his job and still retain his humanity? As such, I found the book a fascinating read, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected.

Blade Runner final cutAfter reading this book, I decided to rent the movie “Blade Runner” so that I could compare and contrast the film adaptation with the original. Basically, the movie is VERY different from the book, and I was bewildered by most of the changes. The movie is visually stunning — I loved the vision of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles — but I just didn’t understand Deckard’s relationships with the androids in the movie at all. It’s hard to say more without spoiling, but let me just say that the final confrontation scene goes VERY differently in the movie versus the book. The movie also suggests (and Ridley Scott confirmed that this was his intention) that Deckard himself is an android, which is 100% NOT the case in the book. So while “Blade Runner” is an interesting movie in its own right, it’s definitely not a faithful adaptation of the book!

Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea

Across a Star-Swept SeaDiana Peterfreund, Across a Star-Swept Sea

In this post-apocalyptic retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel (!), Earth’s civilization has been all but destroyed, thanks to the horrific unintended consequence of genetic engineering known as Reduction. Now, the island of Galatea seeks vengeance through revolution: aristocrats are being captured and forcibly Reduced, their minds irreparably damaged. Meanwhile, the neighboring island of Albion seems more interested in flirtation and gossip than in Galatea’s problems — except for the Wild Poppy, who daringly rescues Galatean aristocrats out from under the noses of the rebels. No one suspects that the Wild Poppy is really Persis Blake, a seemingly idle and frivolous courtier of Albion. In order to maintain her cover, Persis must befriend Justen Helo, a Galatean scientist whose family is famous for curing the initial Reduction. Justen seems to disagree with his country’s violent policies, but can Persis trust him? And will she be able to maintain her cover as their relationship deepens?

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was really excited to discover this retelling with a sci-fi twist! I think the novel does a good job of following the original story while not being a scene-for-scene copy. While the original novel is mostly told from Marguerite/Justen’s point of view, this version is largely from the perspective of the Pimpernel character, Persis. In fact, one of the most fun aspects of this book is that the characters are gender-flipped! I did have one large-ish problem with the book, though; most of the larger narrative of How We Got To This Point was totally lost on me. There were some wars, and some people got Reduced, and the people who didn’t became the new aristocrats, I think? To be fair, it’s not that complicated…I’m afraid I just didn’t want to pay that much attention! Still, I picked up enough to get the gist of things, so I guess it doesn’t matter that much. Overall, I didn’t love the book, but it’s still a fun read for Pimpernel fans, especially those who also like YA.