Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Other things read recently

Gravity by Tess Gerritsen. Gravity is Gerritsen’s fourth medical thriller (reviews for two earlier ones can be found here), this time taking place in space. A NASA astronaut and medical doctor, sent to the international space station, ends up battling a deadly contagion. Space shuttles crash, orbiters are shot down, eyeballs explode … it’s just another day at the office for Tess Gerritsen. I don’t know, though, I guess I’m torn. I want to like these books. I like the fact that the main characters (of the three I’ve read) are all strong, conflicted women. I like the fact that the author is trying different environments. But despite the rave pull-quote from Stephen King on the back cover (“… better than [Robin] Cook … yes, even better than [Michael] Crichton.”), her books just sort of leave me cold. Characters seem thin, as though development is being pushed aside for the sake of more science-y stuff. Perhaps next time I’ll skip ahead half a decade (Gravity was published in 1999) and see how Gerritsen has changed over the years.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. This book won the dang Pulitzer Prize! And it’s about comic books! Well, the main characters, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, are pioneering comic book creators and this is their story. Joe is a Jewish artist (and escape artist/sleight of hand expert) from Prague who escaped from the Nazis. Sam is Joe’s cousin, born and raised in Brooklyn, a writer who is always looking out for the next big thing. Between Sam’s story and Joe’s drawings, they create the Escapist, a costumed superhero and start an empire. In addition, Chabon gives us the Holocaust, Salvador Dali and Surrealism, Superman, Jewish mothers, the rise of New York City, Antarctica, golems, a cameo by Stan Lee and much more. It’s a big book – 648 pages and teeny print – but it’s a page-turner, intelligent, entertaining, funny (laugh out loud in some places), heart-breaking. I learned more than I ever thought I might care to know about the birth of the comic book, but this extensive history is encapsulated in a wicked good story and a timely one, given my own recent forays into comic books and graphic novels.

The Sandman, Volume One: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, covers by Dave McKean. Come on, y’all didn’t think this post was going to get away Gaiman-free, did you? Preludes & Nocturnes is the first volume (out of eleven) in the Sandman series that Gaiman did for DC Comics, thereby resurrecting and revitalizing an old and forgotten character, Morpheus, Lord of Dreams and Nightmares. This first volume of collected stories introduces us to the Sandman, captured by a malevolent sorcerer and robbed of the tools of his trades, and then follows him as he retrieves his belongings and reclaims his place in the world. Here the Sandman comes into contact with other established characters – John Constantine, Doctor Destiny, the Scarecrow – but apparently in later volumes stands on his own as Gaiman constructs Morpheus’s own world around him; hopefully there will be much more of Dream’s older sister, Death, here shown as a cute, perky Goth girl. The writing, of course, is strong: dark, scary, clever; the illustrations are much more standard issue comics fare, not the lush dreamscapes of Gaiman and McKean’s Black Orchid. I have the next couple of Sandman volumes on a wait list at the library – I can’t wait for them to come in.

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