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We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others. — Will Rogers

Two From Moore: Promethea and Top 10 2003.08.08.08:29

Let me start with a bit of fair disclosure: I'll read just about anything this man has written. The main barrier to reading his works is working their purchase into my budget. I can't buy all the books I want to, and I don't have time to read all the books I want to, either. But when I can treat myself to a new Alan Moore volume, it jumps to the top of my reading list.

[cover] And that was the case with the first volume of Promethea. I had been looking at this somewhat askance for over a year now, as I haven't really been budgeting a lot for books, least of all graphic novels. But one recent trip I decided to give this a try, after thumbing through briefly and looking at the artwork. After all, I'm already certain I'll like the writing, since it's Moore. And the artwork was really enticing, so I gave it a shot. Good thing, too.

Promethea is the story about a heroic figure that seems to appear rather consistently in mankind's legends and literature over the span of hundreds of years (if not more). A college student is doing a term paper on this, when she learns that Promethea has actually existed, in different forms over the ages, as a kind of by-product of the belief in the various myths themselves. And more, she (the student) is next in line to take up the mantle.

The story is really well-paced, and the vision of a not-too-near future is all believable. The innovations are subtle, and seem like logical extrapolation from what we already have here and now. Like I said, the art is really good. The dialog moves the story along, and the way the different literary myths are intertwined give the book a very unique feel. I'm already looking forward to the second volume (even if I have to borrow it from someone).


# amazon (and on and on and on and on) [/entertainment/books/comics]

Review: Preacher, by Garth Ennis et al 2003.08.07.07:16

[cover] After a steady diet of Alan Moore and Warren Ellis, I got talked into giving this title a try. I hadn't heard of Garth Ennis before, but several people recommended this one. I picked up the first collected volume, and I was hooked. The story is really what drew me in, more than the art which is often the case.

The story centers around Jesse Custer, the minister to a very small town in Texas. Only Jesse isn't happy at his job, and he has a tendency to ease the pain by way of the bottle. One Saturday night, he pulls a major bender. He ends up at the local bar, loudly airing the towns dirty laundry to all present. The next morning, he finds the church packed to the rafters with the town's populace (most of whom just want to see if he'll pick up where he left off). As he gets ready to try and cover his actions of the night before, the church is struck by a "meteor" in the form of Genesis– a half-angelic, half-demonic entity that has broken loose from heaven. The result is literally explosive: the church and all in it (the entire population of the town, it turns out) are immediately incinerated. All but Jesse himself. He regains consciousness some hours later, to find that he's the central suspect as Feds and local police try to learn what happened. Not only is Jesse alive, he has a strange new power, and somehow knows that not all is right in Heaven. He decides to find out what is going on, and sets out in the company of an ex-girlfriend whose path crosses his, and a hard-drinking Irish vampire who had rescued her the night before in Dallas.

It should be pretty obvious that this is not a title for most people, and it is definately not going to sit well with those who are hard-line fundamentalist in their take on the Bible. This takes a lot of the Biblical story and turns it in directions you would never have thought of in a lifetime. It will offend a lot of people, but it will also make a lot of people think, especially about questions of man's free will. The characters are all colorful, though some of them seem to be just there for easy laughs. And I don't know that I agree with all of the premises Ennis presents, either. But I could barely wait between volumes. At nine installments, I couldn't just walk out and buy them at a whim. Still, after each one was ended, I was itching to get my hands on the next one.

Highly recommended.

# amazon (and on) [/entertainment/books/comics]

Back to the Subject of the Graphic Novel 2003.08.07.06:37

So, since I've been reading a lot of graphic novels, and I can never just do anything without over-analyzing it, I got to thinking about why I've been reading so many GN's.

The best answer I can come up with (besides the storytelling, which I'll come back to in a few minutes) is that I've been so deeply entrenched in reading a whole raft of technical books, that even ordinary fiction is kind of off-putting at the moment. Whether I try to read the Chesterton book I've currently got on top of my list, or the book by Burns that I've been reading in conjunction with my therapy, it just feels a little too much like the O'Reilly and other tech books.

But as I said a couple of months ago, graphic novels are a really interesting form of literature all their own. More meaty and solid than the usual single-issue comic, and often times with a much higher production quality. And a lot of the stories being written by the current "masters of the art" are extremely creative and inventive. Two of Alan Moore's GN's have become movies (though in both cases, the books were significantly better). At least one other has been under consideration off and on for years. Garth Ennis' Preacher series is said to be in early pre-production as a movie.

So anyway, I'm going to post some reviews of some of my favorites that I've read in the past few months or so. Thanks to the many friends who've lent me various books and gotten me hooked on so many storylines.

# [/entertainment/books/comics]

In Praise of the Graphic Novel 2003.06.04.09:07

A number of the books on my favorites list (to the right) are graphic novels. Generally, they're collections of storylines that ran as serial issues in a regular (monthly or bi-monthly) title. Most were recommended by friends, though I managed to stumble across "The Invisibles" on my own.

The graphic novel is a curious beast. When I bought comics on a more frequent basis in high school and college, the format was still very experimental in a lot of ways– there were a few original ideas, and a few collections (in those days the collections were of limited series such as "The Watchmen" and "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns"). Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke" was very much a ground-breaking title; it was a completely new story, not a collected serial. It won pretty much every award it was eligible for, and went into at least 5 printings (the copy I have is from the 5th printing). My last year of college (well, the summer between my junior and senior years) I was even able to take a philosophy course titled, "Philosophy and the Modern Graphic Novel" that looked at how some of the themes explored in these heavy-paper comic books could be traced back to the core philosophical questions. To me, it was a relatively easy "A" for a summer spent (re-)reading a lot of Alan Moore.

Now, when I go to any of the local shops I buy from, I barely look at loose issues anymore. If it's a good title, I can count on it being collected at some point. I may have to wait an extra year or two, but one book is easier to keep track of and store on my shelves than six. Seven half-inch volumes span the full collection of "The Invisibles". I'm getting into Garth Ennis' "Preacher" title these days, and it's infinitely easier when you can get the story in these pre-sized chunks. Enough story to make a really good, gripping evening's read. Enough to leave you ready for more (I'm through the first three volumes, and I'm anxious for my next trip to the store).

Some reviews and recommendations to come. Soonish. In the mean time, if it's Alan Moore, Frank Miller or Garth Ennis, it's probably safe to buy. Neil Gaiman or Warren Ellis, you should already have it anyway. And Kyle Baker. And Judd Winick's comedy material (the Barry Ween and Frumpy the Clown volumes). But I'll get to some specifics later.

# [/entertainment/books/comics]

Potter Peer Pressure 2003.05.18.22:12

After considerable time spent resisting the Harry Potter craze, I finally decided a while back to give in and read the books. At first, I was intent on only reading each volume after seeing the corresponding movie; I read Philosopher's Stone after seeing the movie (the copies I have are British editions, so it's called that rather than "Sorcerer's Stone"), and likewise with Chamber of Secrets.

But I decided not to wait for the next movie before reading the third book, and I'm very glad for that. The books do in fact get progressively better (as well as progressively longer), and I found myself struggling to put the book down at nights to sleep. I'm into the fourth book now, and at about the 1/3 mark, it's even better than the third was.

So, if you're like I was about this, and have resisted either because you think they are strictly children's books, or you're adverse to fads (which was my reason— I still have avoided seeing Titanic, and waited nearly 10 years before being talked into seeing E.T.), go ahead and pick them up. Read the set in order, just so that you are familiar with the backwards-references. There are some small details not included in the movies, so there will be bits that are new in both of the first two books. Move on to the third book, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how engaging it is.

# [/entertainment/books]

The Alienist, by Caleb Carr 2003.03.24.10:43

This is no new release, indeed even the paperback edition has been out for years. This was recommended to me before I even moved to California, and it has taken me until now to finally read it. What a shame that is, because this is a first-rate book.

The book takes its title from the name by which early psychologists were known: alienists. The setting is New York City, 1896, and a small group of people have been assembled to try and comprehend a murderer who has struck mulitple times with very similar characteristics. What we automatically recognize now, 100 years later, as a serial killer. But in turn-of-the-century New York, this isn't something anyone has seen before. The closest anyone comes are those familiar with the Whitechapel murders some years earlier in London.

The cast of characters includes Theodore Roosevelt, then Commissioner of Police for the greater NYC, Lazlo Kriesler, an alienist specializing in troubled and abused children, Sara Howard, a secretary to Roosevelt who is desperate to be the first female detective, and the narrator, James Moore, a police-beat reporter for the New York Times who ends up along for the "adventure" due to his friendship with Roosevelt and Kriesler. The supporting characters are numerous and colorful. In fact, the whole of NYC is in a way a supporting character for the story. Carr's understanding of the city and the period are amazing, and his descriptions (both pleasant and not so) really convey a sense of the place. The visuals he evokes are fantastic, even (or especially) when describing the horrors of the poverty and indifference the city suffered under.

The book took me a while to finish because it is rather lengthy, and I was distracted from regular time spent reading early on. Also, it is a little slow to get going in the first third of the book, so it's easy to put it down after only a little bit of reading. But by the middle, it really starts to pick up. And in the final third, your understanding and compassion for all the characters should be such that putting the book away becomes harder and harder. I read before bed to relax and clear my head, but towards the end I kept wanting to turn the light back on and read just one more chapter, just a few more pages.

If you like suspense and/or mysteries, then I believe you would greatly enjoy reading this book. I look forward to reading more from this author. This one goes straight into my "favorites" list.

# [/entertainment/books]

Genre Fiction and Writing for a Known Universe 2002.11.29.05:53

I just finished reading the trilogy of books by Jeanne Cavelos based on the Babylon 5 concept of the techno-mages. The trilogy, called "The Passing of the Techno-Mages", deals with the group that was briefly introduced in season two of B5, and focuses on the character of Galen who was introduced in the brief "Crusade" series. In the books, Galen is a new initiate into the order, and it deals with how the mages view the coming Shadow War, and their decision to not take any part in it. As far as fiction goes, the books are pretty decent. The pacing is good, and the plot is very compelling. The way the writer fills in the background and mythos of the techno-mages is very fascinating, and it serves to show just how under-utilized the Galen character was in "Crusade".

It also got me to thinking about the whole genre-fiction thing. I read a lot of it, it happens. I've read a lot of novels written for the White Wolf "World of Darkness" universe, specifically their Vampire: the Masquerade mythos. The techno-mage trilogy marks the second set of three I've read for the B5 universe– I read the trilogy by Gregory Keyes on the genesis, workings and eventually outcome of the Psi-Corps earlier this year. I've read some 16+ vampire books. I've also, in the past, read a select few Star Trek books and other similar stuff. Besides these, there's hundreds of book based on Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even things like Battletech and D&D. I haven't read any of those (not even the Buffy stuff, though I'm a big fan). But if the audience weren't there, there wouldn't be so many of them.

Not all of the books I've read have been that great, and some outright stank. But I'm really drawn to them because of my interest in the source material. I'm a big fan of B5, and since learning the card game based on V:tM, I've been interested in most things related to it (without actually getting drawn in to the role-playing game itself). But it's no doubt a limited appeal, a limited audience for the books. And it makes me wonder what extra challenges the writers have to deal with, staying within the confines of the universe they're writing for.

# [/entertainment/books]

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman 2002.10.17.07:04

I just finished this book last week, and I must say this is one of the best books I've read in years. I'd owned the book for a few months, and finally "forced" myself to start reading it. Once I started reading it, I seriously had to force myself to put it down each night. Many nights, I was up far too late reading "just one more chapter".

I first started reading Neil Gaiman with his excellent "Sandman" comic series done for DC Vertigo. Years later, I picked up what is still my absolute favorite book to this day: Good Omens (which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett). I've lost count of how many people I've loaned it to (and it's currently in someone else's hands even now).

Gaiman has a way of looking at humanity's pantheon of beliefs and worshipful figures that I can't really describe with any fairness. This was evident in Sandman, in which the old golden-age character became the basis for introducing the family of the Endless, seven siblings all with names that started with "D". This book is even better, in a lot of ways, to the magic he worked on the personas of Dream, Death, Delerium and the others.

In a simplified nutshell, the main character (Shadow, just a name, just an ordinary guy) is on his way home for his wife's funeral. He was let out of prison a few days early for the event, and the thought of returning to his wife was all that had kept him going for the three years on the inside. On a plane, in a funk, he meets a guy who calls himself "Wednesday" who knows way more about Shadow than he should, and who offers him a reasonable job being personal aid and bodyguard to the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. Soon Shadow, and the reader, is meeting personalities ranging from Czernobog to Kali from the pantheon of old gods, and meeting some damn unpleasant personalities from the pantheon of the new gods, who don't seem to want to share humanity with their forebears.

The book isn't science fiction at all, and while it qualifies as fantasy, it's not the swords-and-wizards-and-dragons kind of fantasy that you get from Tolkien or even Rowling. I have a hard time categorizing it, but I had no trouble at all enjoying it. All I can say is, get the book. Read the book. I predict you will enjoy the book.

# amazon () [/entertainment/books]

Who Am I:
Randy J. Ray
Software Engineer


Buy my book!

Programming Web Services with Perl

I've also contributed three chapters to:

Computer Science & Perl Programming

Category quick-links:


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Apr May Jun
Jul Aug Sep
Oct Nov Dec

Reading and Re-reading
· The Annotated Thursday: G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Would Be Thursday, G.K. Chesterton, Martin Gardner
· The Feeling Good Handbook, David D. Burns
· Organizing From the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern
· XML Schema, Eric Van Der Vlist
· BEEP: The Definitive Guide, Marshall T. Rose

High in the queue
· Silk, Caitlin R. Kiernan
· Coldheart Canyon, Clive Barker
· Idoru, William Gibson
· Shared Source CLI Essentials, David Stutz, Ted Neward, Geoff Shilling

Recently finished
· Planetary Vol. 3: Leaving the 20th Century, Warren Ellis, et al

Recommended favorites
· The Cowboy Wally Show, Kyle Baker
· Lost Souls, Poppy Z. Brite
· The Alienist, Caleb Carr
· Quarantine, Greg Egan
· The Authority: Relentless, Warren Ellis et al.
· Planetary: All Over the World and Other..., Warren Ellis et al.
· American Gods, Neil Gaiman
· Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
· Neuromancer, William Gibson
· A Philosophical Investigation, Philip Kerr
· Say You Want a Revolution (The Invisibles, Book 1), Grant Morrison et al
· You Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of..., Oswald T. Pratt and Scott Dickers
· Cryptonomicon, Neil Stephenson
· Rising Stars : Born In Fire (Vol. 1), J. Michael Straczynski

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