Bone: The Complete Edition

By Jeff Smith

Rating: 4 stars

For such a big book, I don’t actually have an awful lot to say about Bone. I enjoyed this story of the Bone cousins, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone, being run out of Boneville and each finding their way to a valley where they find themselves caught up in epic events.

Fone Bone was a fun protagonist and Phoney’s money-making plans are enjoyably terrible. I liked Thorn’s evolution as a character, from simple country girl onwards, and her grandmother, the cow-racer, was fun as well. My favourite characters, however, were probably the two cowardly monsters with the quiche obsession. Their relationship was never made explicit, but they certainly behaved like an old married couple and stole every scene they were in.

The epic scale of the book is enjoyable, and it feels quite old-fashioned in a way, but with a modern twist. The art is fairly straightforward and clear, although I’d definitely loved to have seen it in colour.

Book details

ISBN: 9781888963144
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Year of publication: 1991

A Quantum Mythology

By Gavin G. Smith

Rating: 2 stars

I got this book free in a GoodReads giveaway, without knowing anything about it. Unfortunately, it appears to be the follow up to another book, The Age of Scorpio. Perhaps if I’d read the first book, this one might have made sense, but as it was, it was very difficult to keep up with what was going on (although I think that’s as much just the author giving very little ground to the reader, and throwing you in at the deep end).

And, alas, I also just didn’t really like it very much. The book is spread across three different time zones, usually with two different strands going on in each one, and there are few links between the storylines. In the past, some sort of disaster has befallen the Celts and the land is mutating everything that gets in its way, with a small band of survivors trying to escape and even stop it. In the present, two super-powered agents of a shadowy organisation are searching for a killer and in the far future, a murderous bounty hunter has acquired a girl: who may be the most precious thing in Known Space.

I think I found the sections in the past most difficult to follow. I’m not familiar with Celtic mythology or words, so I had to keep looking things up to see if they were made up or were an actual word. This was also the one that felt most like I was entering half way through a story and had no idea what was going on.

In the future, Scab and Vic are unpleasant and pathetic respectively and while we keep being told just how evil and nasty that Scab is, we see very little of this. And Talia (the aforementioned most valuable thing in Known Space) hardly helps her own case, by constantly whining and trying to manipulate others.

The story in the present is probably the most interesting, with Malcolm DuBois probably the most well-rounded of the characters, but it really doesn’t help that his quarry, Silas Scab, is (probably) the same one in the future, so you know he’s going to survive.

Speaking of surviving, the violence throughout the book is considerable. Smith seems to feel that because most of his characters have magic nanites in their blood that can repair injuries, he can just tear off limbs and tear holes in people with impunity. After a while it just becomes repetitive. I didn’t find the action scenes particularly effective because of this. Also, the future described in this book, and the bits of the present that (loosely) tie to that future are incredibly unpleasant and set up in the present to bring about that future. I found reading about it quite unpleasant (although I accept that this is very much just me, as I don’t like dystopia)

I appreciate that I’m coming to this half way through a story without seeing the beginning, but what I’ve read has given me no inclination to read the previous book and certainly not the next book in the sequence.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575126992
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2015

Ready Player One

By Ernest Cline

Rating: 4 stars

In the near future, the world isn’t a hugely nice place, with the oil running out and job security a thing of the past, so most people who can spend their time in the OASIS: a virtual environment where they can escape real life. The OASIS was created by James Halliday and upon his death, he left the whole thing, and the multi-billion dollar company behind it, to whoever solves the puzzle he’s left in the OASIS. Wade Watts is one of the millions of hopefuls who leaves the real world behind to try to be the one who does it.

This was a fun book that I raced through once I got started. It’s easy to read, with a likeable protagonist. Halliday was obsessed by the 1980s, so Cline has an excuse to throw in huge numbers of pop culture references which are pleasing to someone of my generation (although one has to wonder how the book will date).

The book has a (somewhat cartoonish) villain in the form of IOI, the evil ISP that is hiring hundreds of people and spending huge amounts of money to try and solve the puzzle, to the extant that they’ll take actions outside the OASIS as well as within it.

Opposing them, Wade is a nice enough guy who hasn’t got much to live for in the real world. When we meet him, he’s living in the future version of a trailer park: one where trailers are piled up on top of each other to make maximum space in a twisted sort of skyscraper. He’s in his late teens and spends every waking moment in the OASIS, researching the puzzle, which mostly means watching and memorising 80s films, TV shows, anime and playing computer games of the era. After a while, you do wonder at the obsession of Wade and other ‘gunters’ ([Easter] egg hunters) in their search, but it’s a nice way to indicate just how much they don’t want to live in the real world.

Wade’s other rivals are a friendlier bunch and despite the bravado from them to start with, it’s obvious that they’re going to end up buddies from early on.

As most of our viewpoint is spent inside the OASIS, we don’t get to see much of how badly the world is collapsing, with just hints as to how corporations have become more powerful than nation states although one rather neat window to this world is the reintroduction of slavery in the US, via ‘indentured servitude’: if you are in debt, large corporations can own you, and make you work to pay it off (which you’ll never do). Subtle this book ain’t.

But it is fun and a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys computer games and/or has moderately fond memories of 1980s pop culture.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099560432
Publisher: Arrow Books
Year of publication: 2011

Ghost Train to New Orleans: Book 2 of the Shambling Guides

By Mur Lafferty

Rating: 4 stars

The sequel to The Shambling Guide to New York is equally fun, as Editorix extraordinare Zoe Norris leads her team to New Orleans to expand Underground Publishing’s guidebooks for the magical. While she’s there, she has to deal with a boyfriend who’s trying not to succumb to zombieism, a newish vampire staff writer with a hell of an attitude problem, a secret society and learn more about her own new found power and her heritage.

This book takes the time to expand much more on coterie society, especially human coterie such as the zoetists, and the city talkers, Zoe’s own speciality. We find out more about recent history and why there are so few city talkers. I liked this, but can’t help thinking that the secret society/cabal thing is possibly laying it on a little thick.

I did enjoy the many pop culture references (I squeed a bit at Zoe’s goldfish being called Lister and Kochanski) and the nod to recent(ish) events in New Orleans, with an alternative explanation for the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Now, when can we get the next book?

Book details

ISBN: 9780356501918
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2014

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 4: Materia (Gunnerkrigg Court #4)

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

The fourth volume of the most excellent webcomic picks up the story at the start of Annie’s third year at the eponymous school, having returned from a summer spent in Gillitie Wood. Her first task is to make up with Kat, who doesn’t know how to deal with her running away at the end of the previous volume. This volume sees existing relationships between familiar characters deepen and new ones formed.

Robot appears to be becoming somewhat obsessed with Kat, but not so much that he doesn’t form a close relationship with Shadow; Kat seems somewhat confused, but not so much that she doesn’t start translating the evolved programming of the Court robots; and as for Annie, well, we get to see some of the fire buried within her as she attempts revenge on Jack for the spider incident in the previous volume and a little more of her relationship with her father.

There’s a weird chapter that I had forgotten about where she is in a coma and Zimmy helps her out. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on there, and I can’t help but feel that her father is somewhere at the heart of it.

At the time of writing, this is the last paper collection of Gunnerkrigg Court, so I’m reduced to following it, three pages a week, online, which, given the pace of the storytelling, is grindingly slow. I can’t wait for the next volume now, although given that this one was only released this year, it could be some time away yet.

Book details

ISBN: 9781936393992
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Year of publication: 2013

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 3: Reason (Gunnerkrigg Court #3)

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

Volume three of Gunnerkrigg Court picks up the story of Antimony Carver and her friends at the eponymous school mid way through her second year through to the end of the year, culminating in a row and a blaze of revelations. The story of the Court, and of Annie, start to gather pace a bit and we learn more about Annie, seeing more into her character. Having read the webcomic and coming back to read the hard copy, I see things that I missed the first time, things that were set up early, in passing, and come back to be important later on.

Annie’s best friend Kat continues to grow as well, with revelations regarding the beginning of the Court and its genius inventor hitting her hard. Seeing her dealing with this, and her growing importance to the robot community of the Court is lovely.

I continue to love the art, the story and the characters of this comic (Parley and Andrew in particular are really sweet). Reading the whole thing in graphic novel form condenses it and makes it even better. And I also continue to be impressed with the quality of the physical object. The hardback is physically solid, with high-quality, glossy paper that really makes the story come alive.

As always, highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9781936393237
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Year of publication: 2011

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 2: Research (Gunnerkrigg Court #2)

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

The second collected volume of Tom Siddell’s marvellous webcomic follows Antimony Carver’s second year at Gunnerkrigg Court, after a summer where her father failed to contact her. She and Kat soon fall back into their old ways, finding a robot shrine, sneaking out in the middle of the night to watch Science, meeting the denizens of Gillitie Forest and more.

We also learn more about Annie’s history, her mother, and her powers, as Kat’s mother starts to teach her to use her innate powers, and to start training to potentially take over her mother’s former role as medium to the Forest.

The first volume could feel a bit bitty at times, but in this second one, the story is firmer, the art is improving under your eyes and the characters remain as true to themselves as they ever were.

We get to find out some of Reynardine’s history (and he cemented himself in my heart from the moment that he chased off the bullies mocking Annie and Kat, early in this volume), more about the ghost at the bottom of the chasm, more insight into Zimmy and Gamma and much more. The first volume was entitled ‘Orientation’, which seemed right. Now we know the characters and Siddell is showing us more about them, and making us care for them.

Volumes three and four have already been ordered, and I await them impatiently. Even though I’ve already devoured the webcomic, I want to read them again. I find it frustrating even reading through webcomic archives: it took me a week or more to get to this stage in the archive, while I read the first two volumes on paper in an afternoon.

Book details

ISBN: 9781932386776
Publisher: Archaia
Year of publication: 2009

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation (Gunnerkrigg Court #1)

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

This beautiful hardback volume tells the story of young Antimony Carver’s first year at her school, the eponymous Gunnerkrigg Court, collected from the marvellous webcomic. A strange place, blending magic with high technology, Antimony sets out making friends, building robots and meeting gods and spirits, some of whom try to kill her.

Any lingering comparisons with boy wizards going to school in magical castles are soon dissipated: Gunnerkrigg Court is far more interesting than Hogwarts. The first volume focusses very much on Annie and her best friend Kat, along with the spirit Reynardine. Their blossoming friendship is a lovely thing to watch developing, and the mystery surrounding the Court, Annie’s parents and the forest on the other side of the chasm is built up slowly, with just enough answers being drip-fed to avoid too much frustration.

The art is beautiful, with a manga-esque twist to it, that emphasises the humour. The lines are bold and cartoony, and match the storytelling perfectly. The only thing that I could wish for is for Mr Siddell to work faster!

Book details

ISBN: 9781932386349
Publisher: Archaia
Year of publication: 2007

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