#CBR IV Review 14: Transmetropolitan, Volumes 1-5, by Warren Ellis

I finished these months ago, and am just getting around to the review now, lamely.

I read the first in this series two years ago after receiving it as a gift, and then picked up the next four from my lovely local library this spring. I enjoy the graphic novels, but am not sad that I do not own the series, as I don’t think I am eager read them again. They are clever and detailed, and the art is kind of amazing, but they are very dark and depressing at their heart.

Spider Jerusalem is the main character, and is a gonzo journalist in the vein of Hunter S. Thompson, but living in an dystopian future. He is enormously offensive and violent, a drug addict, and a relentless investigative journalist in a seriously strange world. He is a deeply unpleasant character, but as the series progresses it is easier to admire him and his work – not only does he try to defend the defenceless living in the city, but the sheer corruption of the world around him, particularly in politicians and the mind boggling number of religions, would probably be enough to drive anyone mad. Spider is helped by a few people, notably two young women he calls “the filthy assistants,” his editor Royce, and a few informants and collaborators.

Transmetropolitan presents¬† a very rich world – the characters are interesting and imbued with personality, and the art is enormously detailed and colourful. The stories themselves are complex, dealing with complicated problems – the power of media, choosing between two terrible political candidates, how to deal with poverty, the manipulation of religious entities, etc. They are dense, and dark, and witty, characterized by a overwhelming sense of anger at the general complacency of society and how easily people are manipulated. I think the series is great, and look forward to finishing it, but it isn’t one that I would revisit immediately as I do with The Sandman series.

#CBR IV Review 13: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This is a book that many people have adored, and it should have been right in my wheelhouse as well, but while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I did. While I understood the majority of the references, I was not really a gamer in the 80s, and those people are definitely the target audience.

Earth has suffered a seemingly catastrophic ecological disaster, and people are living in very cramped conditions, in stacked containers and generally very hungry. However, technology is very advanced, particularly in terms of a virtual universe called the OASIS. People spend entire days in there, as there are no jobs, and attend school there as well. There are not a lot of details about what happened to Earth, which is kind of a relief – it doesn’t really matter in terms of the story, so Cline doesn’t spend a lot of narrative time explaining it and the characters don’t dwell on it. This is nicely illustrated at one point, when the main character has jury rigged an electrical system that he powers by riding a bike at the beginning of each day – a very old fashioned way to generate electricity so that he can spend his day in an enormously advanced virtual universe.

The main character, Wade Watts or Parzival, sets off on a quest much like one that would be played in a video game. There is an genius master programmer who sets up a extremely complicated game, the winner of which inherits the OASIS. Parzival, with assistance with his friends, comes from out of nowhere to compete against an evil megacorporation for the prize. There is a little bit of romance, an enormous amount of cultural referencing (including Wil Wheaton and some great 80s movies), and things progress fairly predictably. The details are nice, and the characters are not detestable (as they are in The Magicians), but the plot is easily anticipated and therefore not all that exciting.

#CBR Review 12: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The last in The Hunger Games trilogy is certainly a much grimmer affair than the two preceding it, if is even possible. If you haven’t read this book (or indeed the series), beware spoilers below.

Mockingjay begins with Katniss gravely injured and depressed, Peeta a tortured captive of the Capitol, and District 12 destroyed with its few refugees fostered in the confines of militant District 13.  This small collection of tragedies is set against the larger backdrop of civil unrest overtaking Panem, as President Snow and his allies wage war against the rebels within the districts and even the Capitol itself. As is likely in most wars, too much is expected of its participants, with Katniss asked to serve as a figurehead for the dissidents. She is aware that she is a pawn in a much larger game she struggles to understand, but begins to see the larger picture and is really unable to see an alternative.

This final novel is dark and depressing, and a demonstration of how Collins successfully broadens the world of The Hunger Games, both geographically and politically. It is dark and dangerous, where it is evident that there will likely be no happy endings for anyone. Collins is Whedonesque in her willingness to hurt or kill beloved characters, some of them knowingly sacrificed and some just randomly killed. It is not what I would have expected of a YA adult, with characters it can be hard to like and storylines without pat lessons offered.

It has been several months since I finished this series, and I have had to restrain myself from going back and rereading it, given how far behind I am in my reviewing and feeling pressure to keep up my reading pace.