Self/ Yann Martel

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A 1996 work. Earlier than his more well-known work, The Life of Pi.

I couldn’t help but compare this with The Life of Pi. In many ways it is just as good, with that twist of reality at the end and leaving the reader to wonder where were the crossover between reality and make-belief.

Reading this was like watching one of those unknown indie films – where you start off not knowing where the story is headed but you continue because the innocuous characters have grown on you. And when you reach the end of the story you think, “That was interesting”.

Essentially it is a mash of fiction and autobiographical elements. Probably should check out what a Wikipedia entry might say about this book.

It’s like the film, starring Robin Williams, “The World According of Garp” where you see the growing up of a child, from childhood to adolescent to adulthood; through friends, lovers, strangers.

But a lot weirder than the movie for sure.

A metaphysical exploration of where reality and escapism interjects.

Something changes to the protagonist and its a critical plot point so I won’t say anymore.

I think you can enjoy this if you just ease back, let the story unfold without trying to classify the book or anticipate the story.

Runaways: homeschooling/ Immonen & Pichelli

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Issues 11-14.

Military craft crashes to their home. Some mysterious and probably dangerous package that’s hinted. The Runaways have a casualty. Then an uncle shows up.

TBC.

Includes a short story: what if the Runaways became be Young Avengers.

The iron dragon’s daughter/ Michael Swanwick

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First published 1993. Definitely an evergreen classic.

You could say this was also a coming-of-age story about the protagonist – Jane.

She’s a changeling, of unknown parentage. Her type has iron in her blood, and hence is the only species able to become dragon pilots. Something about being immune to the iron corrupting fey-blood.

The dragons in Swanwick’s fantasy realm are technological wonders, sentient war machines that require human pilots to fly. And maliciously evil too, such is their purpose.

Basically she ends up with a dragon and they both have an axe to grind with the status quo.

That’s super over-simplification of the plot but share anymore and you’d blame me for tainting Swanwick’s magic touch.

OK I’ll add that the end has that Sophie’s World twist to it. Right. Hate me.

Swanwick’s fey-steam punk world holds up a lot stronger than what I’ve revealed (which honestly isn’t much).

It’s a smooth ride, for every line — every backstory — seems such an intricately coherent thread to the whole telling. There doesn’t seem to be any frivolous bits. I found myself revisiting sentences just to replay the mental imagery over. Yet, I still managed to finish this work in days.

You get the assortment of creatures vile and fantastic. His magic is in telling them as if you’ve known them all that while. And the species and characters are there

The only readers who should avoid this novel are those who take offence at depiction of sex. Plus, the faerie-sex scenes can sometimes come across as rather deviant. Certainly much, much more sex than in Dragons of Babel (don’t make a beeline for the book now, y’all)

I’ve mentioned how every line in this book seems to be intricately woven, haven’t I? It’s all relevant to the fey-world and mood that Swanwick is trying to create, IMO.

This novel doesn’t delve as deep into the Babel or the Fey-world backstory (see “Dragons of Babel”) though one is quickly absorbed into the whole Dickensian steam punk-lord of the ringish-faerie tech realm.

Fantastic stuff.

American Born Chinese/ Gene Luen Yang

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A 2006 publication.

Coming of age story about a teenage boy coming to terms with his racial identity.

The concurrent backstory is of the legend of the Monkey King Sun Wukung, and a Sit-com character about a extreme Chinese stereotype.

In brief, the protagonist finds his race (Chinese) a mark that prevents him from being assimilated with his American school mates. The parable though, is that the real obstacle is one’s acceptance of oneself.

“Returning to your true form is not an exercise of Kung-fu, but a release of it.” (The Tang Sangzang character to Sun Wukung; with the latter being able to free itself effortlessly by just reverting to his smaller monkey form rather than trying to be a man).

The book tackles the issue of racial identity by highlighting the particular perspective of the protagonist.

The theme probably resonated more then, compared to now (or are things the same?), where the dynamics of what it means to be “Chinese” is a lot more of an identity divide than now.

Astro City: the dark age 1 – brothers & other strangers/ Busik, Anderson, Ross, Sinclair

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Set in the 70s US, with the Watergate political scandal and involvement in the Vietnam conflict as backdrop.

Storyline revolves around two brothers, who ended up pursuing different paths on life after the tragic deaths of their parents. One is a cop and the other involved in crime.

The interesting thing about Busik’s style is that the whole superhero thing develops in parallel, often anchored to the two brother’s individual narratives. Like the controversy over the superhero vigilantes, the superpowered battles. The Silver Agent has a central role in all that is happening but we are left with hints and curiosity.

Gotta look for book 2!

Halo: bloodline/ Van Lente & Portela

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Story unveils the relationships among a Spartan team (Team Black) and a Convenant warrior pair.

Both find themselves stranded and (here’s where I reveal a little more than what the blurb says) have to make a choice to team up to survive.

Well, won’t share more or else i’ll be giving the whole plot away.

But I can add there’s a sub-plot about some relationship angst among the Spartans.

Could be something that might be expanded to a novella, though expectedly this graphic novel version offers the surface-level Hollywood treatment.

Romeo & Juliet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels)/ Matt Wiegle

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A graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

ISBN: 9781411498747

I’ve never read Romeo & Juliet. All I really knew was both lovers killed themselves. The Shakespearean text was hard to understand on my own. So this graphic novel was really useful for me in appreciating the full story.

There’s many interpretative layers to the play, I think. And many possibilities for re-makes and re-interpretations.

Here’s a ‘dark’ one: For instance, Romeo could have been a fickle knave rather than the naive lover, which meant Juliet’s death, as well as his, might have a different backstory. Or, Juliet could have been played up to be even more of a stubborn and rebellious (manipulative?) teen rather than being caught in a love triangle.

Rough notes:
The Montagues (Romeo’s family) and the Capulets (Juliet’s) were two rich and powerful families in the city of Verona (I think renaissance period Italy).

Romeo was at first pandering over an unrequited love (a Rosaline, who never quite appeared in person) but quickly changed his mind after he saw Juliet. The chance encounter came when Romeo, egged on by his friend and cousin, gate-crashed a Capulet dinner party in disguise.

Romeo then famously wooed and Juliet with his charm and words, after he sneaked into the Capulet family home grounds and under Juliet’ balcony. (What a charmer! Or maybe Juliet’s not so bright. And yes there seems to be a lot of sneaking around).

Romeo and Juliet got themselves married secretly, with the help of Romeo’s friend Friar Lawrence.

But on that same day when they got married in secret, Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) ends up being killed by Romeo in a revenge-fight, because Tybalt picked a fight and sneakily killed Mercuto (Romeo’s friend).

That very day, Romeo was also banished, as punishment for the clan duel and murder.

Juliet was heartbroken to learn of the death of a cousin and the banishment of her still-secret husband.

(prior to Romeo’s leaving his city, he manages to sneak into Juliet’s room and spent the night there. So scandalous! Heh. All that with the help of Juliet’s nurse and a rope ladder).

Juliet’s father then made a hasty decision to marry her to a nobleman Count Paris. When he told Juliet about it, he was furious at His only daughter’s seemingly smarmy response about non-marriage. He issued an ultimatum: marry Count Paris or be disowned.

That forced Juliet to seek Friar Lawrence’s help.

He devised a plan: he gave Juliet a concoction that would allow her to fake her death. He and Romeo would wait or her to be revived and the couple would sneak away. All that, the friar intended to inform Romeo by way of a letter.

It all went to plan, at first. Juliet drank the mix and appeared dead on her wedding day to Count Paris (poor man). Her wedding celebrations became funeral preparations (her poor parents!)

But the first sign of a SNAFU was when the letter never made it to Romeo (a quarantine due to a suspected plague outbreak).

Romeo receives word from a servant that Juliet was dead. He rushed off to see his beloved, armed with poison so as to die at her side.

Unexpectedly Count Paris showed up at the tomb that night. He caught Romeo attempting a tomb break-in.

They duel.

Romeo killed the count (for a supposedly naive romantic dude, Romeo was quite the fighter!)

He carried the count’s body into the tomb, said his final words to Juliet, drank the poison.

“Thus with a kiss I die.”

Goodbye, Romeo.

By then, the Friar discovered the carnage at the scene. So too, did Juliet as she woke.

The friar was unable to persuade Juliet to leave. He fled.

Juliet famously plunges the dagger into herself: “Oh happy knife, this is your sheath! Rust there and let me die.”

It all came to an end when the friar was caught fleeing the scene. He revealed everything in front of the Prince of Verona, and both fathers of the two dead lovers.

The two heartbroken old men, rebuked by the prince, make up on the spot.

A seemingly happy ending to a tragic sequence of events.

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