Reading Journal for May: So many quests…

(44) The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

An interesting, brief, novel. I reviewed this in an earlier post.

(45-54) Nightingale’s Lament, Hex and the City, Paths Not Taken, Sharper than A Serpent’s Tooth, Hell to Pay, The Unnatural Enquirer, Just Another Judgement Day, The Good the Bad and the Uncanny, A Hard Day’s Knight and The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R Green.

I started this series last month, and noted that it was not particularly good, but that I was inclined to be generous because the series had lasted so long. I think that’s a fair view, having finished the core of the series now. My recommendation is to begin the series at the seventh book, Hell to Pay.

The first arc of the series concerns the protagonist, John, working out exactly what kind of  antediluvian horror his mother was. The novels in that arc work on the Chandleresque idea that the plot doesn’t matter so long as the scenes out of which it is composed are riveting. In each story, John takes an assistant on the case, and the enjoyment of the story is, to a major degree, carried by this ally. Sadly, for several of these stories, the ally is Suzie Shooter, who is a Strong Female Character in the Rape Avenger / Macho Women with Guns mold. In the later arc, the stories have plots and the characters have depth. Suzie, particularly gets worked up into a personality, rather than a single joke.

The final story is weaker than the rest in the arc: the author seems to need to answer the question “What would happen if the good guys fight?” without ever actually having consequences, or, as one of the characters notes, decisively answering the question. There’s also a party where characters from the author’s other series turn up, scattering spoilers and links which I didn’t understand.

There are weak elements when the author tries to include marginalised groups. His transexual superhero is badly written. His CSI operator with “multiple personality disorder” is so badly designed that you could, if you were generous, say dissociation works that way in one of the other universes to which the Nightside is connected. His historical research is patchy, but again, maybe vikings have horned helmets in other worlds?

So, worth the read for the back half of the series.

(55-57) Astro City: Shining Stars, Through Open Doors, and Victory.

I‘ve been working through these back issues of Astro City while I take refuge from the reboots of the DC and Marvel universes.

Astro City is a marvelous conceit: take all of the trappings of superheroes, and then tell small, human stories. What’s it like to be a teenage girl pursued by a voracious media machine? What’s it like to work in an emergency call centre and prioritize the response wrongly, so that people die? Astro City is not about power: it’s about choice and consequence.

A lot of people say comic book characters are iconic, and that their stories have taken over the role of the myths of previous civilizations. The mistake authors then make is to ramp up the drama. The heroes are saving the world every week and, in many cases, the humans the heroes are saving are so apathetic or hostile that it seems questionable if it is worth the effort. Eventually the crisis after crisis creates a continuity that new readers can’t follow, and so the publishers reboot the stories. In Astro City, because the stories are smaller in scale, there’s no need to reboot the world every few years.

For an example of an Astro City story, and how it faces the continuity reboots now plaguing both major publishers, check out The Nearness of You. This story was published eighteen years ago, and Kurt Busiek’s only become better since.