BooksOfTheMoon

Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night and Other Stories

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This book collects four short stories set in the Alita-verse, two of which feature Alita herself. We open with a story featuring Ido, shortly after he was banished from Zalem and his discovery of a girl who needs his help (sound familiar?). It’s quite a melancholy story, but gives us more insight into Alita’s ‘father’.

Second up, we have Sonic Finger, set during what I think of as a golden period of Alita’s time in the Scrapyard. She’s finished with Motorball and being a hunter-warrior, but is beloved by them and trains them. When someone attacks her with what appears to be a gun, her friends all rally round. There’s a lot more action in this one, but no real depth. We don’t get any character development or even any real reason as to why Sonic Finger was doing it.

The third story is a short one with hardly any dialogue, featuring a Deckman who left the scrapyard, and its encounter with Alita. This one manages to pack a lot of punch into a short, almost wordless story. We see the Deckman learning about the world outside the Scrapyard, playing with children and seeing the beauty of a sunset. All the while being trailed by Alita in her A-1 TUNED phase.

The final story is set after the end of the main series, following Koyomi’s attempts to be a journalist photographer, and her desire to find the rumoured still living leader of the Barjack rebellion again, just so that she can have a purpose in life. Again, not a huge amount of action, but some nice character development for Koyomi.

These are an enjoyable set of stories in the Alita-verse that help round out her world, but are by no means essential.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632367105
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition, Vol. 5

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

In the final volume of Alita’s story (well, her first story, at least), Alita storms Nova’s lab, with only Kaos for backup. At one point, she utters the immortal line “My rage is ultrasonic”, which, I must confess, made me giggle a lot. Meanwhile, since his attack on Zalem failed, Den is making a suicidal charge against the Scrapyard, alone, except for Koyomi.

There’s a lot to enjoy here, especially Nova’s second entrapment of Alita in the Ouroboros program, and Den’s mental battle with Kaos, but I was very disappointed with the canonical ending. It just seemed very abrupt and, frankly, a rubbish way to end Alita’s story.

This is continued with a non-canonical coda, almost, that takes Alita to Zalem and sees her and Nova, along with Lou, confront the master computer of Zalem. This improves a bit on the canonical end, but seems very odd. Nova in particular behaves in very odd ways that don’t seem to follow from his previous actions. Why would he restore Alita like that, and give her that new, nigh-on invincible body?

There’s also a short story set in the Motorball world, not featuring Alita, with a slightly different art style. That was interesting, with quite a melancholy tone to it. The volume finishes with a couple of interviews with the author where, amongst other things, he talks about the end, and how it’s not what he wanted, but various factors converged to force him to end the story where he did.

As for myself, I think I’ll content myself with the non-canonical ending, and not seek out the sequel series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366023
Year of publication: 2018

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition, Vol. 4

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This volume picks up 10 years after the end of the last one, with Alita having left Figure Four at some point and is back working for Zalem again, in her guise as TUNED unit A1. This volume sees her encounter with Den, the leader of an anti-Zalem army, and Kaos, someone who can read an object’s history by just touching it. She also finally finds her lost father-figure Ido, although that reunion doesn’t exactly go as she expected.

This is a strange volume and the story felt sort of incomplete. Possibly inevitable, as the pace of the overall arc ramps up towards a conclusion in the next volume. Alita seems more vulnerable here and leans heavily on some of those around her, including her new Zalemite operator, Lou (who’s quite adorable, in a deeply nerdy way).

The storyline with the AR units feels like it just peters out, without really much resolution. There are supposed to be multiple AR units, but we only see two of them. If they are as powerful as is portrayed, they should have had a much bigger impact. Likewise, there’s no real explanation for the missing Figure, with just the occasional flashback to him.

Den, leader of the Barjack rebellion against Zalem, is an interesting character, and had the potential to be quite a complex, layered individual, but it doesn’t feel like that happened.

I’ll complete the series now, but I’m losing momentum.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366016
Year of publication: 2018

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition 3

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 4 stars

At the start of this volume of Alita’s story, she’s given up the motorball arena and is enjoying having family and friends, as she continues her hunter-warrior work. But the hunter Zapan can’t forgive past slights, and returns to wipe out everything she holds dear. The second arc sees Alita being given a new life as an agent of Zalem and on a private mission to search out her lost father-figure, Ido.

I think there’s a quite intelligent story questioning what it means to be human at the core of Battle Angel Alita. This was mostly buried under sport and angst in the last volume, but it’s closer to the surface here (although the huge amounts of violence do distract from it). In the first arc, Alita has earned a family, and this is torn away from her, while she struggles to retain her humanity. At her weakest point, she’s offered a deal with the devil and gives in to it, leading to the second arc, where she tries to abandoned all thought and revel in killing. But this isn’t her either, as her encounter with Figure Four shows. The larger story is also foregrounded more here, especially in the second arc, as Zalem starts to play more of a part in the affairs of the surface.

The art style is pretty consistent with what has come before, with all that that implies, including the fact that fight scenes aren’t always easy to follow.

So an enjoyable story in and of itself, and also expanding the world for the future as well.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366009

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

Rating: 4 stars

I’m not really a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, nor do I think it’s a good idea to be reading a book about the end of civilisation caused by a global flu pandemic, just when we may be seeing the start of a global flu pandemic. And yet. I very much enjoyed this book: it’s beautifully written, compelling and, above all, perhaps, hopeful. I was talking with a friend when I was mulling over the book in a bookshop and the phrase that tipped me into buying it was that many (most?) post-apocalyptic stories focus on the worst of humanity; this one focuses on the best.

And it mostly does. It doesn’t gloss over the fact that awful things will happen during the collapse of civilisation and that people will use it for their own purposes, whether that’s just their own selfish desires, or a twisted ideology that rationalises their own position at the top. But our PoV character after the collapse is Kirsten, an actress in a travelling company whose motto is “Survival is insufficient” (incidentally nicked from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager), making clear to both their fellow survivors and to the audience that civilisation is about more than just warm bodies. It’s our art, our stories, our history, our desire to come together and form things greater than the sum of their parts.

The portions of the story pre-apocalypse were interesting for a different reason: they mostly followed the actor Arthur Leander, and it’s striking how everyday they are. Arthur falls in and out of love; deals with his work; and tries to manage friendships (some more successfully than others). All while unaware that his death and the end of the world are coming.

There is a conversation near the end of the book about whether it is unkind to teach children born into the new world about the old one, about all the things that there used to be, but which they will never see. I think it is extremely necessary; as a reminder of what we can be and to never stop striving. One of the characters maintains a “museum of civilisation” for, I feel, much the same sort of reason. And with the note of hope at the end, remembering the past in order to make a better future is more important than ever.

Definitely recommended (but do wash your hands first, and remember to sneeze into a tissue).

Book details

ISBN: 9781447268970
Publisher: Picador
Year of publication: 2015

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition 2

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

After losing her first love Yugo, Alita abandons her old life and throws herself into the sport of motorball, rising up the ranks pretty quickly. She challenges the reigning champion, Jasugun, to a match, and in the course of that, she learns more about her past.

I didn’t find Alita hugely likeable in this volume. After the fairly bubbly personality from volume one, she goes full emo here, as she abandons Ido (even ignoring him when he comes looking for her), wanting to forget her loss. Ido finds new family with the trusting young woman Shumira and her brother, who he helps when he has seizures.

I’ve mostly never felt that the characters in this series are sexualised. Even when Alita isn’t wearing clothes, she’s very clearly more machine than person, and the images (to me) don’t feel sexual. Which is why a full-frontal nude scene of Shumira in the shower felt so out of place. As well as feeling unnecessary, it felt entirely gratuitous and not required for the plot at all.

Some of the action scenes are still difficult to follow, and I thought it got confusing towards the end. I’m still not entirely sure how the fight between Alita and Jasugun played out. But there was some tantalising back-story in there, and the art does remain pretty, quite distinctive and very evocative.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365996
Publisher: Kodansha America, Inc

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

By Max Brooks

Rating: 4 stars

I’m not normally a fan of either zombies or post-apocalypse stories, but this was recommended by a friend whose judgement I trust, and I’m glad she did, because I really rather enjoyed it. Told as an oral history after the end, it tells the story of the Zombie War using interviews with those who were involved with it and who were just caught up in it, from the early days of the first breakouts right to the end, after the war was won. It’s a good approach, which allows for subtle world-building, both in terms of each section, which starts with a heading of the location (“United Federation of China”, “Holy Russian Empire” etc) and the content of the interviews, which let out a lot about what’s happening or happened, without spelling it out.

So great world-building and a clever framing device. Also, the fact that it’s happening after the war means that humanity survived and thrived to the point where an historian could do this, and that makes it less grim than others of its genre and, for me, makes for a decent read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780715637036
Publisher: Duckworth
Year of publication: 2006

Extinction Game

By Gary Gibson

Rating: 3 stars

Jerry Beche is, he believes, the last person left alive, after a doomsday cult engineered a virus which wiped out humanity. So he’s, to say the least, surprised, when a groups appears out of nowhere and plucks him away to an island paradise where he joins other end of the world survivors in the hunt for more people and technology. The snag: they’re not people from his world, but other last (or almost last) survivors of their own parallel worlds, all brought together by the mysterious Authority for an equally mysterious purpose.

Although Jerry seems like your out and out survivalist type to start with, we also see his fragility and the (failing) coping mechanisms that he used to keep going in a world where he believed he was utterly alone. His fellow “pathfinders” don’t get as much in-depth treatment, but are still fleshed out fairly well. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Chloe, I’m not convinced that having been in love with one version of Jerry, she would fall so quickly into the embrace of the second, but that’s a reasonably minor gripe.

The mystery of the Authority, and the trustworthiness of the other pathfinders is intriguing and kept me going through the book, and Jerry is a likeable first person narrator with just enough unreliability to keep things interesting, without being frustrating. The ending was self-contained so you don’t need to run away and read the second book in the series, and, to be honest, I’m happy with the way it ended, so I probably won’t.

Book details

ISBN: 9781447242727
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Year of publication: 2014

A Canticle for Leibowitz

By Walter M. Miller Jr.

Rating: 3 stars

Structured in three distinct parts, this book tackles the slow reconstruction of society after the “flame deluge”, when nuclear warheads fall across the world like rain. Knowledge and science are blamed for the deluge, and those burning the books and bearers of knowledge proudly proclaiming themselves “simpletons”. In amongst this, an engineer by the name of Leibowitz starts an underground network for the preservation of books and knowledge. Six hundred years later, America has retreated to a new dark age, and the Church once again finds itself with the responsibility for preserving the knowledge of the past, specifically through the Blessed Order of Leibowitz. Another six hundred years after that, an Enlightenment is happening, with secular scholars rediscovering the knowledge that had been lost, and the Order of St Leibowitz gaze upon the first electric light for over a thousand years. But with the coming of the Enlightenment, once again there comes strife between the ancient Church and the emerging state. And finally another six hundred years pass and the heavens are once again opened to mankind, as colonies spread amongst the stars. But back on earth, global tensions are high and rumours are rife of construction of forbidden nuclear weapons…

This is a difficult book to discuss. Miller was a convert to Catholicism and the Catholic church is portrayed very sympathetically, as the preservers of knowledge that the secular world would otherwise have completely burned. For the first section of the book, you’re unequivocally on their side. The second section reintroduces the tensions between emerging nation states and the Church, and the age old question of whether knowledge should just be preserved for the sake of it or whether it should be brought into the light and used. The final section is more difficult, as the abbot of the abbey of St Leibowitz of that time takes a very hard line stance on euthanasia even in the face of the immense suffering through radiation poisoning that he sees around him: crystallised in one woman and her child who are dying anyway and want to go to the state-sponsored clinics.

The abbot espouses the age-old doctrines of the church, but in the face of immense suffering, I saw it as nothing more than the ancient fact of a bully trying to hold power over the powerless. But then you’ve got the final few chapters which may be just the ravings of a dying man, or may be something else entirely.

The themes of the book seem to be about the inevitability of the cycle of history; about how man will raise himself up to be like a god, but can never sustain himself and lose his feet of clay. It’s quite a depressing message: after the first two sections in which (despite the inevitable death and destruction at the human level) civilisation is on an upwards trajectory, the final one seems to suggest that we’ll never be able to overcome our animal natures, and may even spread the cycle to other worlds.

There is a seam of mysticism that runs throughout the book that I’m not entirely sure what to make of, with Rachel in the last section, and the old hermit (or something like him) showing up in all three. Miller does seem to be clearly hinting towards a conclusion that God definitely exists and is an interventionist God.

Finally, for those, like me, whose Latin is restricted to the odd phrase here and there, the wonderful Wikipedia has a handy translation of each Latin phrase in the novel.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552094740
Publisher: Corgi Books
Year of publication: 1959

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 3: One Small Step (Y: The Last Man, #3)

By Brian K. Vaughan

Rating: 3 stars

I recently got the first four volumes of this series which are short enough to read in quick succession, so I’ll use the same review for all four of them.

The Big Event that drives the story here is that one day every male mammal on Earth dies, except Yorrick Brown and his pet monkey. Yorrick isn’t particularly unique or even interesting. He doesn’t have a job and makes a bit of money as an amateur escape artist. But he eventually finds his (congresswoman) mother and begins a quest across America to try and find someone who can use his genetic material to try and either figure out what happened or help repopulate the species, all the time trying to ward off advances as he tries to stay loyal to his fiancĂ©e, not to mention the nutter man-haters and international forces who quickly hear about him and try and kill or capture him.

After four volumes, I’m quite enjoying this, but it’s definitely nowhere near as good as Vaughan’s subsequent project, Saga. Yorrick is an annoying mix of smug, self-satisfied and self-loathing that doesn’t endear him to me, although he does improve over time, as the body count racks up around him.

There’s interesting hints about what caused this “plague”, with a possible magical origin hinted at. Then there’s a secret society and his bodyguard, known only as ‘agent 355’. The sexual and gender politics doesn’t ring that true to me, and the whole ‘Daughters of Amazon’ man-haters seem very odd and hardly something that would come to the fore in the portrayed situation.

Still, there’s lots of interest here and I probably will finish the series. But even if you don’t like this, don’t let it put you off the much better Saga which, in my opinion, handles family, sexuality and politics much better than this.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401202019
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 2004

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