Graphic Novel Review: ODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa

So, brief note, the “Reading for the Hugos 2016” titles were feeling a little repetitive. I’ll still be reviewing Hugo-eligible works (and they’ll all have the Hugos2016 tag), I just won’t be bothering to note it in the title.

Anyway, ODY-C.

ODY-C Vol 1 Cover

Matt Fraction, of Hugo-nominated Sex Criminals fame, has another graphic novel out this year that hasn’t gotten nearly much buzz. Sex Criminals was my top pick for the last Hugo vote – I’m a sucker for library-related fiction – but I may have liked this even better.

And once again, I find that Goodreads reviewers don’t share my opinion. Well, some of them at least. The reviews seem to be split between What the hell did I just read and This is goddamn genius.

I lean strongly toward the latter, but I understand both perspectives: No doubt, this is not the kind of book you can flip through casually and expect not to get hopelessly lost. It does require a bit of focus (and it doesn’t hurt to have at least a passing familiarity with The Odyssey, on which it’s based), but it definitely rewards the effort of a close reading.

ODY-C Sample Page

At the start of ODY-C, Odyssia and her all-female crew, having just sacked the siegeworld Troiia after a century of war, prepare the ship for its long voyage back to their homeworld of Ithicaa. The end of the war, however, means the gods have lost a valuable source of entertainment, and the Olympians proceed to make the voyage home for Odyssia very difficult indeed, as the crew encounters a pleasure planet of lotophages, a colossal alien cyclops, and the strange Aeolus who offers them a perverse bargain in exchange for a shortcut home.

So, basically, a gender-flipped SFF version of The Odyssey, but Fraction brings a lot of smart twists to the source material that make it a distinctive story in its own right. Fraction mashes up that sort of magical Clarke’s-third-law technology with elements of myth in a number of original ways, and some of those permutations, like the backstory that explains the lack of men in the story, border on brilliant. And Christian Ward’s art is just a trip, falling somewhere in the hallucinatory terrain between Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune adaptation, a prog rock album cover, and your uncle’s airbrushed 70s panel van.

There are a few missteps: The narration occasionally trips over itself in an attempt to emulate the epic register of Homer’s original (and I spotted at least one glaring typo which I think got missed in the archaic syntax), but overall, ODY-C brings exactly the kind of genre-stretching, bar-raising originality that I think needs to be celebrated and awarded. With so many good graphic novels already released this year and more yet to come, I can’t guarantee it’ll make my final five for the Hugo nominations, but it definitely has a damn good chance.

Reading for the Hugos 2016: Now with Space Whale Poop! 9/7

Somehow, until a trip this weekend to the local comic book store, I had missed completely that Craig Thompson not only had a new graphic novel, but that he had a new science fiction graphic novel. The fact that Space Dumplins was written primarily for a juvenile audience may explain why it had escaped my notice, but it would be a mistake to dismiss this merely as a kids’ graphic novel: Very much in the same vein as Adventure Time, Thompson layers juvenile humor with references and subtexts that only an adult would be likely to get, creating a story entertaining enough for any age.

Space Dumplins

Gar and Cera and their daughter Violet are a hardscrabble working-class family, and their life only gets harder when a confluence of bad luck threatens to tear them apart. Violet’s school gets eaten by a rogue space whale, Cera’s promotion from textile worker to fashion designer’s assistant doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and Gar’s departure for a special assignment takes him far from his family. And then, it goes from bad to worse as a space-whale diarrhea disaster displaces millions of asteroid dwellers. It falls to Violet and her two friends – erudite sentient chicken Elliot and loud-mouthed lumpkin Zacchaeus – to save Violet’s dad and reunite the family.

Space Dumplins page 107

As you can likely tell, it’s full of scatalogical humor, dumb jokes, and goofy action, and I loved it. I believe it may also be Thompson’s first full-color graphic novel, and the result is gorgeous. It may be a little lowbrow for more serious SF readers, but if you can enjoy Adventure Time or Powerpuff Girls unironically, then you’ll likely want to check it out.

In other graphic novel news, I also recently finished Warren Ellis’ Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow, and it too is going on my list of potential Best Graphic Story nominees. Aliens have invaded the earth, landing enormous tree-like structures at various points around the globe and terrifying humanity with the prospect of alien conquest. And yet, the trees do nothing but sit silently, while humanity, reacting in fear and panic, turns against itself. Smart sci-fi with a global cast of characters, volume one of Trees unfortunately ends rather abruptly on a cliffhanger, and it may not satisfy Hugo voters looking for a more self-contained narrative. Nonetheless, I was impressed, and I’m very much looking forward to volume two.

Two other Hugo-eligible works I’ve recently finished and recommend: “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” a new novella published in C.S.E. Cooney’s collection Bone Swans, is very good. I’m not usually a fan of fairy-tale remixes, but this one – a take on the Pied Piper story – really shines. The protagonist, a shapeshifting rat, brings the proper amount of irreverence to a story that might otherwise have come off overly affected, and Cooney preserves the weirdest, most haunting aspects of fairy tales in their raw unsanitized form.

And, in Related Works, I found Felicia Day’s new memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet to be hilarious and utterly charming. If you haven’t watched her web series The Guild or any of her other work, you might get a little lost in parts, but there’s also plenty in Day’s memoirs about how women are treated in certain corners of fandom – Day’s chapter on her personal experiences being doxed and threatened by GamerGate supporters is particularly tough reading – that I think needs to be heard.

Reading for the Hugos 2016: Three novels, one of them graphic 8/25

A few weeks ago, I came upon several mentions of The Gracekeepers by Scottish author Kirsty Logan while preparing a Station Eleven readalike list for work. It turned out the audiobook was checked in at the library, so I figured I’d give it a chance while waiting for my other holds to arrive. It wouldn’t otherwise have been my first choice: the cover art on the American edition alone, although lovely, didn’t really suggest that I was the intended target audience, but I decided to give it a try regardless. And so very pleased that I did. I adored this book.

The plot of The Gracekeepers admittedly moves quite slowly and Logan leaves quite a few elements of her world only vaguely explained, two things I noticed criticized by reviewers on Goodreads but which worked well for me on both counts: Yes, the plot develops slowly, but Logan’s prose is so lush and gorgeous I really didn’t care. And, yes, there are elements of her world that Logan never fully explains, but I actually love that kind of worldbuilding. A world with vague hints of the alien and fantastic goes much further with me than a world in which everything is fleshed out in detail.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

I also enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Signal to Noise, which I felt was a solid debut, with good plotting and a novel take on some classic themes about adolescent friendships spinning out of control and the regret that later comes with mature reflection. As far as reading it with next year’s Hugos in mind, unfortunately, it reads a lot like a YA novel. That, for me, is most definitely not itself a criticism, but YA novels just don’t do well among Hugo voters.

Finally, I finished The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, which is quite a tome by graphic novel standards, nearly five hundred pages in length. Scanning through the reviews, the book seems to have evoked strong feelings on both sides of the spectrum. Some of the criticisms do seem justified – the one major female character is a fairly textbook manic pixie dream girl, and the book can get a bit navel-gazey at times – but I love graphic novels that take on weighty themes like this one, and I’d still place it among the better graphic novels I’ve read this year.

Great Library Ideas: Experience Bags

Experience Bags
I thought this idea from Laurel County Library was pretty clever, and unlike some of the other Great Library Ideas I’ve mentioned here, also cheap for a library to implement. Laurel County’s Experience Bags are curated collections of books and other media, selected according to a particular theme like “Weekend with the Undead” or “Going Back in Time: The Roaring Twenties.” There are more details available on the library’s blog.

Reading for the Hugos 2016: Link Vomit 8/10

I’ve now got quite a backlog of things I’ve been meaning to review here in some detail, but I also am more than capable of accepting when I’m in over my head. So here, all at once, with mini reviews too perfunctory to reflect accurately the merits of the works, is most of what I’ve recently enjoyed reading:

Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope
Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope

Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender, art by Greg Tocchini (graphic story)

In a distant future, humanity has fled the surface of an Earth irradiated by a growing sun, and built massive radiation-shielded cities far below the ocean’s surface. Although Low is set on earth, it feels much more like space opera in the tradition of Dune or Star Wars (complete with plucky underdogs and evil tyrants). But against all that complicated backdrop, it’s really the story of a broken family doing what they can to pull the pieces together. Some of the best world building I’ve seen in a graphic novel in recent years .

The Divine by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka (graphic story)

A supernatural adaptation of a real-world story of child soldiers in East Burma, The Divine takes place in the fictional country of Quanlom, where America explosives experts Mark and Jason are fulfilling a lucrative contract to blow up a volcano for its mineral content. The pair soon discover, however, that the volcano is protected by a group of child soldiers, one of whom wields uncanny supernatural powers. The two American characters, unfortunately, are awkwardly one-dimensional, but an ambitious and memorable concept despite the flaws.

The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris
The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris

The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris (related work)

Jon Morris’ survey of “half-baked heroes”  features a selection of the most cringeworthy superheroes from comic book history. There are plenty of laughs to be had here at the expense of the goofy superheroes of the past, like Fatman the Human Flying Saucer or The Eye (who is, quite literally, a giant floating eyeball), and Morris’ commentary is largely focused on poking fun. But on a more timely note, a number of these superheroes remind us that superhero comics have never been apolitical, and it’s interesting to read these in the context of current debates about representation in comics.

And, now, a quick list of short-fiction: I found the novella Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds a solid, entertaining read, albeit a bit predictable in parts. I also thoroughly enjoyed the novella “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Pakistani author Usman Malik and the novelette “An Evolutionary Myth” by Korean author Bo-Young Kim. Besides being fine stories in their own right, both were vivid reminders of one reason diversity is vital for the future of fantasy fiction: Because, frankly, rehashing and remixing the same inbred set of mythologies makes for damn boring reading, and it’s refreshing to have something different, especially if it’s as well crafted as these two are.

And finally, the short story “When Your Child Strays from God” by Sam J. Miller is a clever first-person account of an Evangelical mother who begins to question some of her assumptions when the use of an experimental drug opens her heart to empathy. Not likely to be on any puppy ballots, I’m sure, but for me, a story that manages both to be light-hearted and profoundly affecting, which I imagine isn’t easy to do.

Anyway, that at least makes a dent in the backlog. Onward!