Friday, May 20, 2011

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Phillip K. Dick

For many years now the trend in Hollywood has been to make movies based on awesome books.  I'm not sure what started the whole thing, but these days it seems to show no sign of slowing down.  It's pretty easy to understand the trend.  Authors who get books turned into movies, TV shows, lunchboxes, and shirts at Hot Topic seem to own nicer houses, and Hollywood writers can get paid a lot know...writing.  It's really a win-win situation.  At the same time, those of us in the general public, can probably think of one or two (or fifty) terrible movies that were based on really great books.  Whenever I hear about one of my beloved novels or comics being turned into a movie or TV show, my first reaction is, "Please God, don't let them ruin it!"  Unfortunately, those prayers are not always answered.

On the other hand, there is something very rewarding about discovering an author based on a movie you loved.  Working in reverse order usually has much better results.  So when I discovered that one of my favorite movies, "Blade Runner," was actually based on a book, I had no choice but to hunt down a copy and read it immediately.  

The story follows a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, through a single day as he hunts down eight androids who have escaped Mars and taken human identities on Earth.  The androids are all of a sophisticated new model called Nexus 6, which makes them much more "human" than previous models.  As Deckard hunts them down, and comes face-to-face with each of them, he is confronted with a moral dilemma, and specific questions about what it means to be alive.  The androids desire to live.  To be as close to human as they can.  To enjoy life, and thrive on Earth.  And yet Deckard is hired to wipe them out.  At first he regards them as mere objects of human creation.  A computer that has stopped functioning as it's designer intended.  But as he goes on, he interacts with them, talks to them, hears their stories, and realizes that they might be more than just objects.  Can he continue to destroy them when he cannot define what it is that makes us alive?

Apart from the plot's central story are a few side journeys that really add a lot of depth to the book.  First is the story of Deckard and his wife.  Both are stuck in lives that are devoid of any meaning.  In fact, much of the Earth is in the same situation.  Humans rely on machines to "inject" them with emotions, often unable to feel anything without the machine's help.  They are lifeless creatures, reliant on man-made inventions to make them feel alive again.

The second subplot concerns the ownership of pets.  Earth has become a radioactive wasteland after a huge war.  Many animals have become completely, or are on the verge of being extinct.  Because of this, animals are a prized possession.  A status symbol, and coveted asset.  The less wealthy are dependent on electronic versions of animals, to allow them similar social standing, and a sense of accomplishment.  Deckard owns an electric sheep.  Nobody except he and his wife know that it is electric.  His status in intact in society, and yet he constantly struggles with knowing that his sheep is not genuine.  He cannot appreciate it, because it is metal on the inside.  He despises its falseness, constantly obsessing over the possibility of one day having a genuine animal. 

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is a lot like the movie "Blade Runner," and yet so different in many ways.  If you have seen the movie, you will immediately recognize many of the characters and plot points, but after that many of the similarities disappear.  Phillip K. Dick's book is a lot less about sci-fi action, and more about deep philosophical questions.  It forces you to ask, "What does it mean to be alive?", and yet leaves the question unanswered.  To me there is something very satisfying about a book that is able to take you through a fantastic journey, simultaneously making you think about life's great questions.  "Androids" is able to do just that, all without feeling forced or preachy.  For all the terrible movie adaptations out there, it only takes one like "Blade Runner"  to make me hope the trend continues for a long, long time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

As an avid reader, I have a pretty solid stack of books sitting in a pile next to my bed, waiting to be read.  I also have another stack in my office at work, and a couple more situated in key areas around my apartment.  I honestly can't remember the last time any of these piles shrunk; in fact they grow at a pretty steady rate.  Given my love for reading, as well as my hatred of throwing my hard earned money down the toilet, I know that I will eventually get around to reading all of them.  At the same time, I also have a slightly different stack of books to read.  This stack is stored somewhere deep in my brain, and consist of books that fall under the category, "Oh man, I really need to read that!"  These are books that I see others reading, or glance at on store shelves, or even hear about on TV, the radio, or from friends.  I file their memory away in my brain for later retrieval.

For quite a while now, maybe even several years, "Slaughterhouse Five" has fallen into the deep recesses of my brain's book pile.  It remained there until just a few weeks ago when suddenly I happened to remember it on a trip to Barnes and Noble.  I've been hearing a lot about Vonnegut lately, as more and more people recommend his work to me.  "Slaughterhouse" is of course his most famous work, and considered one of the best English novels of the 20th century.  Critical acclaim usually doesn't mean much to me, but due to all the hype I decided to give "Slaughterhouse" a shot, and dove right in.

The book tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become "unstuck" in time.  According to him, he was kidnapped by a race of aliens called the Tralfamadorians, and put in one of their zoos.  Due to their influence, they have enabled him to become unstuck in time, which means he can see and travel between all the moments of his life in in any order.  The story goes between Billy's younger days, his days as a soldier in World War II, his life after the war, and his later years as an older man.

The majority of the story revolves around Billy's time in the war.  As I read the story I couldn't help but think about Forrest Gump.  Billy is a lot like Forrest, a slow-witted man that is somewhat oblivious to the world around him, and yet also likable due to his innocence.  As a character, Billy is everything that war is not, and yet he finds himself in the midst of one of the worst wars the earth has ever seen.  There are many political statements made throughout the book, playing off of this contrast of character and setting.

While I did enjoy the book, I have to say that I wasn't blown away by it.  It is written in a great style that I really enjoyed, but at the same time the story never really sucked me in like I had hoped.  The main problem I had with the book was that I never really found myself caring about Billy.  He was likable, but not lovable.  I understand why Vonnegut made Billy the way he did, but I found it hard to care about him as the book went on.

Even though Billy is less than lovable, one could easily argue that he isn't even the main attraction.  The real gem of this book is the descriptions of the effects of war.  Vonnegut does a great job of describing what war is really about, and focuses on what happens when the war ends, and yet doesn't really end at all.  The war has an end date in the history books, but the effects last for years to come.  Broken lives, destroyed cities, generations forever changed.  These are the real starring characters of the book, and the ones that stay in your memory long after reading the last page.

There are many things to appreciate about "Slaughterhouse Five," and really only one or two minor complaints.  The writing style was fantastic.  The story was thought provoking, and kept me interested till the end.  The story is full of humor, social commentary, and moments that can't help but tug at your heart.  I also really liked the sci-fi aspects of time travel and the alien influence.  I'm a sucker for anything science fiction, so that was fun and added some great variety to the story.  As already mentioned, my only real complaint was with the character of Billy Pilgrim, and while I didn't connect with him, I completely understand that if he was any different the story would have a much different feel and effect.  You can't really blame Vonnegut for making Billy the way he did.  He just didn't really work for me, and personal preference is of course, personal.  In the end, "Slaughterhouse Five" was an enjoyable read, that kept me thinking long after I finished reading it.  It also inspired me to read more Vonnegut, which is of course one of the best endorsements a book can get.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles - Haruki Murakami

Last month I was introduced to Haruki Murakami when I read the fantastic book, "Kafka on the Shore."  I was so hyped on that book, that immediately after finishing it I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up this novel, excitedly anticipating another mind-blowing adventure.  Unfortunately, after finishing "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles," I feel a lot less satisfied than when I first experienced Murakami's work.  If you ever saw "The Matrix: Reloaded," then you might know what I mean.  The original Matrix was amazing, and while the second had a lot of the same aspects that made the first great, the initial awe wasn't there.  In the same way, I felt that "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles," had a lot of the same great aspects as "Kafka," but when you feature them in a less inspired story, similar tricks just don't have the same impact.

The story takes place in Japan, and follows the life of a young man named Toru Okada.  Mr. Okada is currently unemployed, and lives with his wife Kumiko and their cat.  Toru has recently quit his office job, and is in the process of doing some soul searching to discover what his real calling in life is.  While he goes through this process, his wife continues to work and support their small family.  One day Toru and Kumiko discover that their cat has gone missing.  The cat has extreme sentimental value to Kumiko, and she asks Toru to find it by any means possible.  Thus starts the adventures of Toru Okada, as he sets out to solve the mystery of the missing cat.  He soons gets mixed up with several very interesting characters, including an old war veteran, a psychic prostitute, and a "spiritual healer" and her son.  What starts as a simple everyday task, soon turns into a crazy search that has much more to do with Toru, and less with his cat.

After reading this book, I really can't help but wish that I had read it before I read "Kafka on the Shore."  I think that if I had done that, I would have appreciated this book a lot more.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I left with the feeling that the sequel just didn't hold up to the original.  Of course, the two books are not linked in any way, but I think the analogy still works.

One thing I really enjoy about Murakami is he is really great at leaving a lot of his stories open to interpretation.  Right as you think he is going to explain everything, you turn the page and realize that the book is done.  It makes you develop your own ways to explain the unexplainable, imagining all sorts of possible tie-ups.  While I enjoyed that aspect of his writing in "Kafka," here I found it less appealing.  One reason for that is because in "Kafka" I think that the loose ends were much more open ended, freely giving way to the reader's imagination.  The places that my mind went were fun, and played easily off of the loose ends that Murakami left.  In "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles," the loose ends were less easy to tie imagination to.  They were simply beyond the scope of my imagination, and instead made little to no sense in many cases.  A few were well thought out, but others just left me with the feeling that Murakami was just being vague for no good reason. 

Looking back over these last few paragraphs, I really feel like I am bashing this book too much.  While I was reading it, I actually enjoyed the story, and didn't have to fight to get through it.  At the same time, I just didn't feel like it met my expectations.  If you are interested in reading Murakami, I would have to recommend "Kafka on the Shore" much more highly.  However, if you think you might read a couple of his books, you may want to start with this one.  It's a lot easier to appreciate a good novel when you haven't read an authors greater works right before.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Uncanny X-Force - Rick Remender & Jerome Opena

I've never really been that into super-hero comics.  Batman is of course the exception to that rule, but if he ever starts shooting lasers from his eyes I might have to reconsider my loyalty.  I'm not sure why I've been steering clear of hero comics this long, but if I had to guess I'd say that the movie "Spiderman 3" played a pretty big role.

Thankfully, I don't hold grudges for too long, so after a short hiatus from Marvel, I was willing to give them another chance.  After reading "Uncanny X-Force," I can't help but thinking I waited too long to get back on board.  Without a doubt this is one of my favorite current series', and one that I think everybody should be reading.

First of all, if you are going to make a superhero team, this might just be the perfect formula.  You've got the tough guy, the hot babe, the wise cracking joker, the leader with an inner struggle that might destroy him, and the French guy.  Ok, well it's an ALMOST perfect formula.  Joking aside, even though I went into the story without a clue as to the mysterious Fantomex (aka the French guy), I found myself actually enjoying his character and how he fit in with the rest of the more well-known players.  Each hero fits into the story, has a unique voice, and plays well off of the others.  Plus it has Deadpool...on a team.  How can you not read that?

Even though Remender is working with an all-star cast, that doesn't guarantee a Grammy.  In the last few months I've read quite a few comics that "could have been awesome."  Great concepts and characters don't always amount to a great comic book.  Fortunately, in this case, Remender knows his way around a script, and has put his amazing cast into an equally amazing storyline.

The first story arc is one of the best things I have read in quite a while.  It is an epic adventure surrounding the rebirth of Apocalypse, and brings the X-Force into some nasty battles against his current horsemen lineup.  It immediately brought me back to my younger days as a kid watching X-Men cartoons on Saturday mornings, and the epic Apocalypse battles from back then.  Of course, as I grew up, so did the comics.  If Remender's version was made for TV they would probably have to leave Fox and go to HBO.  But that only adds to the appeal for this adult reader.

Adding to the "grown up" feel of the story is the amazing artwork.  I really enjoy the look of the series, and the way that Jerome Opena illustrates it.  It is dark and bloody, and goes well with the characters on the team.  They are all killers with messy pasts, and the artwork masterfully reflects that aspect of the story.

While I can't completely say that I've made the jump to being a super-hero junkie, I will say that "Uncanny X-Force" has opened the doors of possibility a little wider.  Due to my love for this series I have already gone out and started to read some other Marvel hero series', which is a pretty big endorsement in my book.  If you are looking for an engrossing story, with one of the better teams of heroes out there, this is definitely the place to start.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Super Dinosaur - Robert Kirkman

The last couple of weeks have been pretty dead as far as my blogging goes.  I've been reading a ton of stuff, but most of it has been an attempting to catch up to current releases on the various comic series I follow.  I've also been reading an awesome novel that I should be finishing and posting about in a few days.  In the midst of all this reading, I had the opportunity to pick up a really great first issue of "Super Dinosaur," which just released this month.  I am a sucker for friend's recommendations, so when my friend Sunda recommended it, I knew it was bound for blog fame.  First of all, Sunda has purple hair, so really, how can you not value her opinion?  And second, this is a comic about dinosaurs.  Not just dinosaurs, but dinosaurs that wear robotic armor and fight each other.  If that doesn't do anything for you then you are probably this guy.  Keeping both of those facts in mind, I spent my four dollars, and headed home to dive into the adventure.

The story of "Super Dinosaur" revolves around a teenage boy named Derek Dynamo.  He is the son of Doctor Dynamo, a brilliant scientist.  Doctor Dynamo and his former partner Max Maximus co-discovered that under the Earth's surface is a place called "Inner Earth," which is the home to the dinosaurs!  Inner Earth also contains a rare material called "DynOre," which is basically solar power contained in rock form.  Soon after their discovery, the two scientists become enemies, with Maximus trying to take over the world, and Dynamo trying to protect it.  Doctor Dynamo recruits his son, his created robot "Wheels," and a giant T-Rex named Super Dinosaur, or "SD" for short.  Together, the four of them battle the forces of Max Maximus and protect Inner Earth from his evil plans of world domination.

If you are over the age of 12, then there might have been a few times in that last paragraph that you rolled your eyes.  When I first started reading this comic, I have to admit, I was a little turned off by some of the lackluster choices.  "Max Maximus?"  "Derek Dynamo"?  "DynOre?"  I mean, even the comic's title is a little..well, unoriginal.  This isn't exactly the complex Kirkman I've grown to love.  Where are the dark, gritty, emotionally taxing story lines?  The exploding zombies?  Where are all the things that made Kirkman a comic legend?  Then it hit me, Spielberg did "Saving Private Ryan," but he also did "E.T."  Maybe this new Kirkman is different, but that doesn't mean it's not worthy of praise. 

After reading "Super Dinosaur," it was pretty obvious that Kirkman was writing this book for younger audiences.  When asked about the series, Kirkman said, "I want it to be a true all-ages book in that it's appropriate for kids young enough but still able to read, and it's still something that my fan base will probably enjoy."

Honestly, when he puts it that way, he nailed it!  This is the perfect comic series for young readers.  It's got everything that kids love, action, adventure, fun artwork, it's simple to read, and...oh yeah, DINOSAURS!  It's a home run.  Not only would any kid gladly read this story, but Kirkman also did something that is truly rare in youth fiction – he made it appeal to older readers as well.  While I wasn't as captivated as I have been with some of his "Walking Dead" storylines, I have to admit, I had a lot of fun with "Super Dinosaur."  It was an enjoyable read, simple, fun, and entertaining.  When a book has all those characteristics, it doesn't matter if you are 12 or 29, it makes it worth the read.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Morning Glories - Nick Spencer

I have to admit, when I first heard about "Morning Glories" I was a little bit less than enthusiastic about reading it.  Reading a comic about six gifted kids at a prestigious prep school seemed about as appealing as a trip to the dentist.  I spent four years in high school, and believe me, I'm not in any rush to go back.  Unfortunately, every trip to my comic store had me passing "Morning Glories" on the shelf, trying to avoid eye contact.  It didn't help that everyone I talked to told me I needed to be reading it.  I was starting to have flashbacks to 1997 when "Titanic" came out and peer pressure led to one of the bigger mistakes of my twenty-nine years.  Was I really about to read something made for teenage girls, just because everyone said it was good? 

As I've already mentioned, "Morning Glories" takes place inside a prestigious prep school for gifted teens.  The story follows six new students as they arrive at school, get situated, and start to experience all that their new home has to offer.  Almost immediately they realize that things are not exactly what they expected.  They discover they all have the same birthday, which just happens to be on the exact day they were brought to Morning Glory Academy.  They also soon realize their past lives have been completely erased; not even their own parents remember them.  As panic sets in, the students are confronted with a harsh truth: they are prisoners in their own school!  The entire staff of Morning Glory Academy seems to have some dark ulterior motive for the students, but that motive is a complete mystery.  As this newly formed alliance of six begins to oppose the authority of their captors, they embark on a mission to reclaim one of their members from unknown horrors, and to try to answer the biggest mystery of them all – why were they brought here in the first place?

After reading through the first six issues in one sitting, I can tell you that I am in a much better mindset than when I exited the movie theater after "Titanic" in 1997.  The great thing about "Morning Glories" was that it shattered all of my preconceived notions.  I was expecting "The Breakfast Club," and instead I got a well written, beautifully illustrated, intricate, dark , sci-fi mystery, that just happened to take place in a high school.  There's no better feeling than when something goes above and beyond your expectations, and "Morning Glories" did just that.

The other thing that got me excited about "Morning Glories" is it's a fairly new series.  I believe they are on comic 8 or 9 right now, so catching up is really pretty easy.  As I mentioned in some of my other posts, trying to jump in on a well established series can sometimes be daunting, but that isn't a problem here.  The first six issues are available in paperback trade form for only TEN BUCKS!  That's a fantastic deal, and really allows you to check out this great series without much of an investment.  Although, if you are like me, that initial ten dollars might quickly turn into an extra four each month.  Whether you're a fan of high school or not, take a chance on "Morning Glories."  I think you'll find high school to be a lot more interesting this time around.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nonplayer - Nate Simpson

I usually like to wait to review comics until I can read at least the first trade (6+ issues), but this week I am making an exception.  It's been a while since I mentioned Jeff Wester in a blog post (hey, you can only name drop so much), but once again Jeff came through with the goods.  This week he posted about a new comic release called "Non Player" that was hitting store shelves.  Fortunately I spend way too much time on Facebook, so I saw his recommendation about 3.2 seconds after he posted it, and was soon standing outside Iguana Comics waiting for someone to open the shop.  Due to my lack of social life and quick speed-walking skills, I was soon in possession of a brand new copy of this amazing first issue.

"Non Player" takes place in two very different worlds.  The "real world"– a  technology-rich, futuristic setting – and an online fantasy world in which players become their alter ego and live the adventure.  The story centers around a young woman named Dana Stevens, who lives a very mundane lifestyle as a delivery girl, but takes every opportunity to live out her fantasy online.  Apparently as the story goes on, the lines between the two worlds will be blurred, making for an interesting concept, and hopefully some great story lines.

Obviously I can't say a whole heck of a lot about this book yet, because I've only read the first issue.  However, in my short four month obsession with comics, I haven't read anything yet that has me this excited for the next issue.  The concept is awesome, especially as an ex-WoW player, and the artwork is amazing.  This book has some of the most stunning artwork I have seen ANYWHERE, and is worth a purchase just based on that alone.  If I could afford it, I would wallpaper my room with this guy's art.

Artwork aside, I found the actual story line to be very engaging, and while there wasn't a whole ton of depth yet, I felt like it did a great job of drawing me in.  Really all we get to see is a pretty epic battle scene, followed by some "real world" dialogue and character interaction.  It definitely sets the scene for the next book, and gets the series off to a great start. 

If you're looking to get in on the ground floor of a great new series, then get down to Iguana and reserve a copy of "Non Player."  Image just announced a second printing to come soon, which is great news for the series.  As an avid MMO fan, I'm hoping "Non Player" takes after World of Warcraft, and sticks around for many years to come.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dutch Bros. Freedom Fighters - Jeff Egli

If you've been anywhere in Oregon, you probably are familiar with Dutch Bros. coffee.  Down here it's all about the Dutch, and "that other brand" is almost a curse word.  What you might not know, is that they have a brand new comic series that just premiered this past week, and is available for FREE at any Dutch Bros. stand.  The comic represents a collaboration between two great local businesses here in Grants Pass, Dutch Bros. and Iguana Comics.  If you've been following my blog for any length of time you know how much I love Iguana Comics, so I was really excited to hear about this project.  Double bonus is that the comic is actually illustrated by all around great guy, and co-owner of Iguana Comics, Jeff Egli.  Over the past couple of months I've got to know Jeff a little bit, and recently he was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the project, comics, and life in general.  Here's what he had to say...

How did you get involved in the Dutch Bros. comic project?  
Jeff:   Waaaay back in 1992 when I originally opened Iguana and Dutch Bros started up (they seem to have been a bit more successful with their business) my twelfth box subscriber was a skinny twelve-year-old kid named Brant Boersma.  I believe he signed up for X-Men adventures.  Fast forward to 2010 after re-opening Iguana after a 12-year hiatus, Brant comes in, all grown up, asked for his original box number and approached me with the idea. 

Comic books are quickly moving out of geek culture and into mainstream society. Why should someone unfamiliar with comics consider taking notice?
Jeff:  The main reason is that the majority of comic books are written by amazing writers with mature, well thought out and gripping storylines aimed at mature, smart, and witty readers...they're not just for kids these days.  The scripts are so good, they continue for years, sometimes with the same writer, the same artist, and then get developed into TV series and movies.  If you take the world's best writer and they collaborate with the world's best artist what you would get is the world's best comic book.  Now days, you see something like this happening, you have writers like Stephen King, Joe Hill, Bill Willingham, Robert Kirkman teaming up with artists with 20, 30 years of experience, they make amazing books!

What other projects can we look forward to seeing from you in the future? (Any more local collaborations?)
Jeff:   I just finished a kid's book with a local writing team, it should be available for purchase at Iguana on April 9th as well as online.  (You can see a bit more at  I am also working on a creator-owned project, as well as a few collaborations with other local talent.  Keep an eye at the web page and Iguana.  I have also been told there will be several more Dutch Bros comics.

What advice can you give to aspiring artists/comic writers?
Jeff:  If you truly want to break into the comic book world, simply write or draw as much as you're able.  The best advice I ever heard was:  Writers write, artists draw!

 If you could stop being Jeff Egli, and take on the identity of one character from the comic world, who would you be? Why?
 Jeff:  Superman...the father of all superheros.  He is one of the most powerful heroes of all time, plus, I would love to be able to fly!  Spiderman is one of my favorite superheroes to read, but it would be a lot easier to save people from a burning building as Superman.

What's the best thing about owning/running/being a part of Iguana Comics?
Jeff:  Our Customers!  Every week we see some of the most well-read, insightful, and downright fun people in the valley — that just plain rocks!

Any other amazing information you would like my readers to know?
Jeff:  Our one-year Anniversary party for Iguana will be April 9th, we'll have all kinds of great stuff going on at the shop including creator signings for the Dutch Bros book.  Don't forget to come by the shop for Free Comic Book day on May 7th plus....we're in the process of opening a second Iguana location in Medford, we will be opening on May 4th - Woot!

Thanks again Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions!  Congratulations on a great project, and I look forward to seeing more from you in the future!  

To all my readers, be sure to visit Iguana Comics here in Grants Pass.  It really is an awesome business, full of wonderful people.  Iguana also has a monthly comic book club that I am part of, and it's a great way to get introduced to some of the amazing books that are out there.  You can visit them at 329 NE 6th Street Grants Pass OR 97526, or online at their Facebook page!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Batman and Robin - Grant Morrison

Batman has been around for a really long time.  In fact he dates back all the way to 1939, so trying to catch up with his story is a bit overwhelming.  Don't ask me how he's managed to stay so young looking, but let's assume he and Heidi Montag don't have the same doctors.  As a new comic reader I find it pretty overwhelming to try and jump into the world of some of these characters that have been around forever.  With literally thousands of comics, side projects, crossovers, team-ups, and all the Justice League stuff, Batman can be a real pain to catch up with.  Fortunately for people like me, authors do a great job of creating "jump on points," where the larger story takes a new turn, allowing new readers a great place to join the adventure.  Morrison's "Batman and Robin" is the most recent jump on point in the saga of Batman, and for the most part it delivery on every level.  The only down side is that you just might need a quick history lesson to truly enjoy what the future holds.

Bruce Wayne, the original Batman, is dead.  In his place is Dick Grayson, the original boy wonder, and his new Robin, Wayne's son Damian.  Damian is also the son of Talia al Ghul who apparently is not in line for any "mother of the year" awards.  Fortunately, due to their relationship, Damian is in possession of some rather beneficial skills that make him a formidable Robin.  The new Batman and Robin set out to fill the gigantic void left by the original Batman, working together periodically, but frequently at odds with each other as they try to fill their new roles.  The story introduces some new villains into the world of Gotham City, as well as a few familiar ones that anyone will instantly recognize.  My favorite was the Red Hood, a new caped crusader with old ties to Batman's past.  I won't spoil who he is, but for someone with limited knowledge of Batman's lore, it was a fun discovery. Not all of the new characters worked for me, but overall I felt that the experience was fun and fresh, and most of the gambles worked.

Remember how I said you might need a quick history lesson in order to fully enjoy the direction of the future?  To me that is possibly the only downfall of the series.  Even though Morrison takes the story down an interesting road, he makes assumptions that readers know a lot about Batman's past.  While that may be true for many readers, it wasn't true for me, and I often found myself not understanding many of the references.  Why is Batman dead?  How did Dick Grayson become Batman?  Where did this Damian guy come from?  None of these questions are satisfactorily addressed, but instead Morrison assumes you just know.  It sort of felt like watching "Return of the Jedi" without seeing "A New Hope," or "Empire."  Great movie by itself, but probably more confusing than it should be.  Despite these holes left unfilled, "Batman and Robin" really doesn't disappoint.  It has amazing action, deep plot, complex character development, and some fantastic artwork.  It also has a Robin character that just might demand his own series one day.  Overall the positives far outweigh the minor complaints.  Especially when filling the holes simply requires reading more comics...perfect solution!  Any book that immediately makes me want to pursue more related material is a keeper, and "Batman and Robin" fits that criteria perfectly.  Batman's past is epic, and the future is off to a great start.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Y: The Last Man - Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra

In the opinion of this recent comic-book-junkie's mind, there are two kinds of comic series': those you read one of, and those you follow on a continual basis.  "Y" definitely falls into the second category for me.  In the last three months I have read a wide variety of comic books, and "Y" got me hooked quicker than any of the others.  Although the series has concluded, there are more than enough trades to keep you reading for a while.  And while I am a little disappointed that the series has finished, I am also glad that they turned out such a great final product instead of following in the steps of "The Simpsons" or "The Wheel of Time" books.  In other words, "Y" doesn't milk the cow until the udders fall off...and that's a very good thing.

The story of "Y" takes place sometime in the near future, in the United States.  A massive plague has hit the world, killing every living creature with a Y chromosome.  If you are scientifically challenged, that's every male on the planet.  Of course, I'm assuming you noticed the sweet cover art picture I included in the top left corner here, so you know there are a couple exceptions to the rule.  "Y" follows the story of the last two living males on the entire planet Earth: young twenty-something Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey Ampersand.  Yorick has his mind set on getting to Australia to reunite with his girlfriend, Beth. Unfortunately for him, he is soon accompanied by a couple different women, both of which have much different plans for the last man on Earth.  Agent 355 and Doctor Allison Mann team up with Yorick to begin a long journey to discover why Yorick is immune to the virus, and to protect him as they make their way through this new and unfamiliar world. Foreign military organizations, roaming bands of Amazon women, mercenaries, and everyday ordinary women desperate to have a man all join in the adventure, further complicating an already delicate journey.  Of course anyone who's taken a trip across the U.S. knows that it can sometimes be pretty uneventful (Indiana anyone?), so all these groups only serve to move the story along and bring the adventure to life. 

The best thing about "Y: The Last Man" is it's perfect blend of humor and social relevance.  Yorick brings a sense of nerdiness and humor that kept me laughing out loud on a page-to-page basis.  I almost want to compare the style to that of Scott Pilgrim, although the two books are nothing alike.  If you put Scott Pilgrim's sense of humor into the world of Mad Max then you might have a close comparison.  The pop culture references, nerdy jokes, and sarcasm flow freely.  At the same time, the book tackles numerous socially relevant topics that really make you think and develop your brain muscles.  Topics like men and women's roles in society, morality vs. governmental obligations, the divine vs. evolution, science vs. "natural order," and many others are all discussed.  Amid all the action, drama, and comedy, there is a very thought-provoking story here.  Fortunately, neither the comedy nor the social relevance ever dominate the story.  The comedy never distracts from what is really going on, and the social commentaries never become preachy or in your face.  It's like eating a piece of cake with the perfect amount of frosting.  If you are looking for the perfect blend of humor, thought provoking topics, great action, and beautiful artwork, then "Y: The Last Man" might be just what you are looking for.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami

I finished reading Kafka on the Shore over a week ago now, but I couldn't begin to write a review on it because I needed more time to think about it.  Now, after waiting more time I find myself in the same predicament.  I feel like I would have to read this book at least five more times before I could write a review that would do it justice.  This is by far one of my favorite books, and I guarantee I will be reading more Murakami in the future.  It is written in a style that exudes beauty, simplicity, purity, and innocence.  As I read Kafka on the Shore I often began to feel like the world was simpler, purer, and more welcoming.  I can only describe it as being able to once again look at the world like you did before your innocence was lost.  That's not to say that the entire book is lacking any darkness.  In fact, there is quite a bit of violence, sexuality, and other mature themes throughout the entire story, but I never once felt that they were vulgar or gratuitous.  They were simply there because evil is a part of life, and innocence and purity cannot avoid them forever.

Kafka on the Shore is a story about two characters.  The first is a young fifteen year old boy named Kafka Tamura, who has run away from his home in Tokyo.  He is on a journey to find his mother and older sister who left when he was just a small boy.  His journey brings him to a library in the town of Takamatsu where he becomes involved in the lives of the library's owner Ms. Saeki and worker Oshima.  The second character is an old man named Nakata, who has the ability to communicate with cats.  He becomes involved in a mystery to find a specific cat, and soon finds himself traveling across Japan as the mystery unfolds.  Kafka and Nakata's paths are deeply intertwined, but not necessarily in the physical realm.  The story frequently merges into the metaphysical, and often leaves questions unanswered, forcing the reader to draw their own conclusions.  For this reader at least, that was one of the more endearing factors of the book.

"Kafka on the Shore" is the type of book that you really have to read in order to understand the experience.  Just writing this review alone was a study in frustration, pushing my descriptive skills to the next level.  Trying to summarize it is like trying to explain a beautiful sunset, or an amazing experience in your life.  Sometimes you experience something that hits you right between the eyes, gripping you in a way that was completely new and unexpected.  You try to tell someone about the experience, but you just know that no words in the English language are going to get the message across exactly like you experienced it.  Maybe that's why this book was originally written in Japanese?  All joking aside, if you are willing to let your imagination soar, keep an open mind to deeper meanings, and be satisfied with not having all loose ends tied up, there is a fantastic journey waiting to be had in "Kafka on the Shore."  After all, isn't the journey of imagination what reading is really all about?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

If you've been reading my blog for at least a couple weeks you know that I've been reading a novel that has been busting my brain.  Well, that novel has finally reached it's last page, and now I take on the difficult task of reviewing it.  House of Leaves reminds me a lot of dating a few of my ex-girlfriends (actually, maybe all of them).  When I first picked up the book I loved the cover, and I found the concept interesting and appealing.  The short description seemed like just what I was looking for.  But then I started reading, and I realized things just weren't going to work out like I had hoped.  Like my ex's, House of Leaves wasn't exactly a bad book, in fact it had many great qualities that will probably appeal to future readers.  (See how I put that last sentence in there just in case any of my ex's read this?)  At the same time, sometimes a book (or woman) has such a great cover and concept that you keep trying to convince yourself that you actually like it more than you do.  You keep reading, and keep reading, getting more and more frustrated until finally you realize that no matter how hard you try, this book will never be one that meshes with you.  Is it just me or was that analogy awesome?

House of Leaves starts out from the perspective of tattoo artist Johnny Truant.  Through a short chain of events Truant comes into possession of a trunk that formerly belonged to a man named Zampano.  In the trunk is a manuscript written by Zampano about a documentary film called "The Navidson Record".  The Navidson Record is a short film about Will Navidson, his wife Karen, and their children.  Several other characters come into play as the film progresses.  It documents their experiences living in a home in Virginia, and the mysterious anomalies that take place in the house.  Will first notices something strange about the house when he realizes that the dimensions of the master bedroom have changed.  He begins to measure, and discovers that the inner dimensions of the room are larger than the outer dimensions.  During this investigation the house produces two new mysteries, the first being a new hallway between rooms, and the second being a doorway that previously was not there.  The doorway is of particular interest because when opened it reveals a long hallway of around 30 feet that extends beyond the outer dimensions of the house.  This hallway also contains other doors that lead to new hallways and corridors that far extend beyond the dimensions of the house.  Navidson's film then becomes a record of several explorations into the labyrinth of these halls and the horrors found within.  That word "horror" is extremely appropriate.  House of Leaves alternates between Truant's narrative, Zampano's account of the Navidson Record, and many other interjected commentaries from other written perspectives on the film.

I am really torn on this book.  The actual story line is great, and thoroughly enjoyable.  It's just that there is so much "other stuff" that just ruined it for me.  It is written in a crazy style where Danielewski switches perspectives mid-sentence, makes you read a multitude of footnotes, puts text upside down, and does  about a million other things that all drive this reader crazy.  There are also long periods where the story just stops and you are forced to read forty pages of word studies, commentaries written by people that don't even exist, or pages with the entire text crossed out.  I'm sure that there was a reason for all this, but I always felt like there was some hidden secret that I wasn't privy to.  It's not exactly fun to read a book feeling like you are always missing something.  At the same time, as I already said, the story itself was awesome so I kept reading through all the stuff I hated just in order to once again engage in the great parts.  If you are willing to put up with a lot of craziness and possible frustration, there is a great story hidden within House of Leaves, you just might have to dig a little harder than you would like in order to find it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Frank Miller

There is something a little nerve wrecking about picking up a book about a character you love.  You come into the experience with certain expectations, and you don't know whether they will be met or not.  It's sort of like when U2 releases a new album and I always walk to the check out counter thinking, "Please God don't let this be the album where it all goes to crap."  Maybe U2 was a bad example since people might argue that happened a long time ago, but I think you know what I mean.  Batman has always been a character that I love.  From the reruns of the classic TV show with Adam West, the action figures, the animated series, the footy pajamas, and now the excellent Dark Knight movies, Batman has been a part of my entire life.  Sure things got a little bit scary when the neon lights flooded Gotham City, but we can always lock those movies away with the newest Star Wars trilogy right?  It was with this feeling of unease that I peeled back the cover of Frank Miller's graphic novel, and was soon reassured that everything was as it should be in Gotham City.

The Dark Knight Returns takes place ten years after the voluntary retirement of Bruce Wayne as Batman.  Most superheroes (excluding Superman) have been forced into retirement due to a distrusting public and government.  Bruce Wayne is haunted by the death of the second Robin (Jason Todd) as well as the death of his parents.  He is becoming more and more disillusioned with the current state of Gotham City, the new government, the rising crime and corruption, and the general sense of fear among its citizens.  After Harvey Dent (aka "Two-Face") is released as "rehabilitated", a crime spree starts and Bruce is once again forced to don the cape and cowl to return as the caped crusader.  Unfortunately Gotham City's welcome is mixed, and Batman soon finds himself fighting old and new enemies, as well as a few former allies. 

 Frank Miller's story is everything that a Batman comic should be.  It's dark, gritty, political, and full of action and intrigue.  Miller does an excellent job of making the story his own, while still keeping enough of the established lore intact.  Where he does take chances I found myself loving the directions he took and never disagreeing with the gambles.  The only negative for me was that with each turned page I knew that I was drawing a bit closer to the end of the Batman saga.  It was like watching an old friend slowly get older, more feeble, and knowing that the end would come before you were ready.  When you have lived with Batman for as long as I have, I'm not sure you are ever ready for him to put the cape and cowl away, but who knows, maybe in another ten years Gotham City might just need him again.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fables - Bill Willingham

When I first heard about Fables I was immediately drawn to the concept.  The characters from folklore and fairy tales have been kicked out of their respective kingdom by a villain named "The Adversary", and have been forced to enter our human world.  The characters that are able to take human form are allowed to live in the middle of New York City in a large building called Fabletown, while the other non-human characters are forced to live outside the city at "The Farm".  Characters like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Jack (down from the beanstalk), and even "Bigby" the big bad wolf (now able to take human form) all reside in the middle of New York, while the three little pigs, Brier Rabbit, and others must all stay hidden away in the country.  This separation causes problems between the two groups, as many of the farm fables feel segregated and left to rot away from outside contact.  Problems also arise in the city as Rose Red, sister of Snow White, is missing and presumed murdered.  Bigby the big bad wolf is on the murder case, and looking for answers.

The first hardcover edition of Fables covers two separate story lines.  The first is the story of Rose Red's murder, and Bigby's investigation.  While the plot was well written and interesting, I never really felt like I was reading about folklore characters.  Sure they were named Snow White, Jack, and The Big Bad Wolf, but they all looked human, acted human, and could have easily been humans for all I knew.  There were brief moments of fantasy, but they ended too soon and left me saying, "That's it??"  I enjoyed the story, but really wanted the fables to come alive more than they did.  Thankfully, there was a second story line that didn't disappoint.  This second story explores the mutiny at The Farm, and the ensuing conflict between city fables and country fables.  Here we get the full effect of what got me excited about the series in the first place.  Talking pigs, Red Riding Hood packing heat, the tortoise and the hare toting machine guns, and sleeping giants that awaken from hundred year slumbers.  You know...the good stuff!  Even though it takes a while for Fables to grasp it's true identity, once it does it is a great adventure that really delivers.

Even though Fables is focused on children's characters, this is definitely not a book for little kids.  There are several adult themes, some inappropriate language, and occasional violent images.  These themes are more obvious in the first story arc, and seem to simmer down as the second arc starts.  Seeing as this is a comic I also should mention the artwork.  Unfortunately of all the comics I have read lately, the artwork in Fables was among my least favorite.  The cover art is absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately it doesn't carry over to the inside.  Despite my personal taste I don't feel like it distracted or took away from an otherwise well done series.  If you enjoyed nursery rhymes and folk lore as a kid, then you might also enjoy the way they have matured and grown into adulthood with you.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Sixth Gun - Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt

Let's see, how many blog posts can I start by referencing my buddy Jeff?  I should really link his website one of these days...maybe tomorrow.  Anyways, once again I am reading a book that comes highly recommended by Mr. Jeff Wester.  In case you are wondering, yes, I do occasionally find books on my own, but this isn't one of those times.  Fortunately for me Jeff has yet to steer me wrong, (although the verdict is still out on a certain book that will not be named) and The Sixth Gun is no exception.

The story takes place in the years following the Civil War and follows Drake Sinclair, a man with few morals, a love for money, and a knack for getting in and out of tough situations.  During the Civil War a band of evil confederate men find themselves in possession of six pistols that hold great power.  The most powerful of them, the sixth gun, belongs to their leader General Oleander Hume.  While each gun contains a unique power, they can only be wielded by their owner, and ownership can only be transferred upon death.  At the start of the story, General Hume has been defeated and locked away in a prison far from the reaches of the sun's light.  His gun has been taken, and through a course of events become linked to a young woman named Becky Montcrief.  General Hume is soon liberated by his gang, and the six villains head off to reclaim the lost sixth gun.  Of course Becky and Drake soon become entangled in the adventure, teaming up to protect the gun and maybe even claim a few of the others in the process.

The Sixth Gun is one of those stories that really hits the ground running.  This is a story about action and adventure, and it has plenty of both.  It is a fun read that doesn't take itself too seriously, and keeps the entertainment coming.  Sometimes you just want to sit down and be entertained for a while without having to think about deep social issues, or whatever other stuff that authors like to interject into their books.  The Sixth Gun was the perfect blend of fun, adventure, and pure enjoyment for me.  That's not to say that it lacks substance, but simply that it doesn't try too hard to be something it's not.  The art style also fits perfectly with the storytelling.  It is a simple style, very cartoony, and yet full of simple details that made my eyes stray back to previous panels to look again.  Overall it is a very promising new series that has a lot of potential.  If you are looking for a new series to get you started in the comic world, then Jeff highly...I mean, I highly recommend it!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Walking Dead - Robert Kirkman

Maybe it's because my friend Jeff is so convincing, or because I'm reading an impossibly frustrating novel at the moment (one day ill post on it), but for whatever reason my blog is about to get a whole lot more illustrated.  Scott Pilgrim planted a seed, Locke and Key watered it, and now I have a full blown shrubbery growing out of control.  You see, my blog is a little outdated.  After discovering the joys of comics last month I've been on a mission to read every comic I can get my hands on.  Now my mission is to put them down long enough to update this stupid blog (which is on my bad list for making me put my comics down).  So here goes nothing...

The Walking Dead is all about the imminent zombie apocalypse — trust me it's coming, and sooner than you might think.  Unfortunately, the zombie theme has been done so many times, it's in the running with vampire stories for winner of "genre that has been beaten to death", so I was a little hesitant going into the first page.  The story starts out with the main character, Rick Grimes, waking up alone in a hospital bed.  Not exactly a groundbreaking start in the zombie genre, and Kirkman keeps a healthy dose of tired cliches coming.  There is a reason these cliches have become tired, and it's because they work so well!  Just like Pepsi would never change their recipe (Crystal Pepsi?  Doh!) the zombie cliches are part of the fun!  What makes The Walking Dead special is that it mixes an expert story and strong character development into the cliche formula.  The dialogues between characters are what really draw the reader in.  Kirkman explores the delicate mental psyche of the people dealing with the complete destruction of everything they knew as reality.  Despite the obvious appeal of guns, axes and gruesome zombie dismemberment, there is a real focus on what an event like this does to the people involved.  Exhaustion, mental deterioration, animal instincts, and the fight for survival are all parts of the formula.  The characters grow, change, deteriorate, and fight to stay alive, and they take us along for each part of the gory ride.

On the surface, you can look at The Walking Dead and say "been there done that".  There are a ton of cookie cutter zombie moments that have been used a million times in a million other zombie works.  At the same time, The Walking Dead breaks new ground on the zombie genre by taking it to a deeper level and exploring the human side of the apocalypse.  Each living person, as well as each zombie is a character of the story.  With every zombie that dies (and there are thousands) Kirkman takes you through the excitement of the action, as well as the pain of seeing a human life lost.  The humanity of each zombie is felt, and you share in the pain and internal conflict that each human character is forced to deal with.  In the end, despite all the familiarity, The Walking Dead breaks ground like a decrepit hand rising out of the grave to bring something new and exciting to the once beaten to death zombie genre.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Locke and Key - Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez

Today was just a regular old Saturday, enjoying my usual routine of sipping coffee at Rogue Coffee Roasters and wondering aloud how to spend the rest of my day.  That is until I read a comment on Facebook from my friend Jeff saying, "I'm trying to get everyone to start collecting at least one monthly (comic) book."  Ok, I thought, I'll bite.  After a quick trip to Iguana Comics and an enjoyable afternoon of reading, I can confidently say that I have found a reason to read a comic every month.  That reason is "Locke and Key".

Locke and Key follows the lives of three kids who are trying to cope with the recent murder of their father.  Along with their mother they move across the country to live with their uncle in an old mansion named "Keyhouse".  The youngest child, Bode, soon discovers a hidden key that opens a door into the spirit world.  Shortly after his discovery, Bode meets a mysterious woman who apparently lives in the bottom of the well at Keyhouse.  The woman tells him that there are other keys to other doors, and even one key that can open a door to anywhere.  She needs Bode's help in finding the keys, so that she can escape the well and be free from her prison.  While the search begins, we discover that the man who killed their father has escaped from prison and is making his way across the country to find the family once again.

While I am certainly not a comic junkie, this book brought me one step closer to that level.  From the very first page I was sucked in to the story and beautifully done artwork.  The subject matter is dark and gritty, and it is hard to not feel the underlying evil that is seemingly always just around the corner.  There are disturbing moments, where the evil does make its ugly face known, adding to the fear and suspense of what is coming next.  Because of these moments, these comics are definitely not for young readers.  At the same time, if you are able to look past some of the gruesome moments, you will find a deep story that expertly draws from the best aspects of mystery, horror, and fantasy.  I only finished it a mere hour ago, and already I am counting the hours till Monday morning when I can go pick up the next volume.  Congratulations Jeff, you are one person closer to your goal.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

George Müller: Delighted in God - Roger Steer

I love to read biographies.  There is something extremely exciting and inspiring about a person who rises above the generally accepted mediocrity of human life to do something exceptional.  It can also be very exciting to see (or read about) someone who lived as an example of principles we value.  We find comfort in the realization that the goals and beliefs we hold dear, and may or may not have obtained in our own lives, have come to fruition somewhere else.  We can look at their life and say, "Wow, now there's someone who really did it!" Maybe we take comfort in knowing that it is possible despite our own failings.  Maybe we are inspired to push ourselves to new levels because of their story.  Whatever the reasoning, I continue to love a good biography.

George Müller was a German man who lived during the 19th century.  He started out as a bit of a lost cause, but ended up as one of the most well known examples of the power of prayer and complete surrender to God's will.  As a young man, Müller was constantly in trouble.  Chased by the law and his debtors, he was on a self destructive path.  One day he was invited to a Bible study where he heard the word of God, and was so convicted that he decided to accept Christ on the spot.  From that day he was a changed man.  He felt called to become a pastor, and soon found himself leading a church.  As the church grew he began to have a passion for the abandoned children of England.  Many kids were orphaned when their parents died, or simply left to fend for themselves on the streets or in the work houses.  Müller felt God calling him to minister to these outcast children, and so he started to pray that God would allow him to open an orphanage.  For over 60 years Müller worked with orphaned children, opening multiple orphanages and ministering to thousands.  The miracle of his life is that he never once asked anyone for money, never did any fund raising, and never relied on anyone besides God to see him through.  He would simply pray earnestly that God would meet their needs, and through prayer his ministry flourished! 

George Müller's story is one that took me a little bit by surprise.  In one sense it is the story of a great man who's accomplishments far exceed most other humans.  Looking back on his life no one could argue that he failed to accomplish much.  On the other hand, it is a story about an average Joe, someone who's own merits and actions do not impress or go outside of the scope of what we would consider normal human behavior.  In fact, Müller is most well known for praying, something that the majority of people attest to doing in their own lives.  Müller's biography is less about Müller, and more about the power behind our prayers.  It is a testament to how God honors the prayers of his children, and opens doors for those who are faithful.  George Müller was faithful in the small things, and because of that God opened huge doors and allowed him to impact thousands upon thousands of young men and women.  Although his humanitarian accomplishments are great, the lasting impact of Müller's life is that his testimony continues to proclaim that God can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, as long as we are willing to honor Him.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How We Got The Bible - Neil R. Lightfoot

Whether you are a Christian or not, you probably have a few opinions about the Bible.  I know this because I often read my Bible in the local coffee shop here in Grants Pass, and quite a few people like to come up to me and share their opinions.  Even people who don't directly speak with me enjoy sharing their opinions through their often exaggerated facial expressions aimed in my direction.  The Bible is a controversial book!  Christians want everyone to believe that every word is from God.  Non-Christians want to convince us that it's all just a man-made book of fictitious stories and made-up tales.  The Bible is without error.  It is full of errors.  It is a complete work.  We don't have the complete work because parts have been lost, changed, or removed throughout history.  The men who wrote the Bible were inspired by God.  The men who wrote it were crazy and just making up lies to gain influence and sway people.  The arguments go on and on, and opinions get stronger and stronger.  But what is the truth?  Is it even possible to know the truth almost two thousand years later? 

In "How We Got the Bible", Neil Lightfoot approaches all these topics and more as he presents the evidence and historical records that have led to today's canonized Bible.  Beginning with the earliest known manuscripts and moving through history, Lightfoot presents clear facts about what we do know, the evidence we have, and the written documentation from the people who worked throughout the centuries to keep the Bible accurate and available.  It is refreshing that he is able to write about the facts, address the pros and cons for certain arguments, and also stay unbiased in his presentation of the evidence.  If history and the evidence cannot prove a point, then he says so and does not interject his own bias into arguments.  Lightfoot also gives detailed accounts of many of the over 5,000 manuscripts and ancient texts that we have in record today.  The stories of how these texts came to be found are fascinating and often inspiring.

While Lightfoot's work can sometimes read like a miniature textbook, it is nonetheless a fascinating look at the history of the world's most talked about book.  It is packed full of facts and evidence, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions, but not allowing generalities and rumors to go unaddressed.  It forces you to examine the truth of the Bible's history, and to put aside arguments based on urban legend or hearsay.  What facts do we have, and what conclusions can be drawn from them?  If you are a human being, then I'm sure you have an opinion about the Bible.  Do yourself a favor and read this book, because then when you see me at the coffee house we can talk facts and maybe even an opinion or two.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall

Imagine waking up one morning, and finding yourself laying in the middle of the floor looking up at the ceiling.  The problem is, you don't recognize the house you're in, or remember how you got there.  In fact, you can't remember anything at all.  Your name, age, occupation, address, family, and past are all a complete mystery.  In "The Raw Shark Texts" the protagonist finds himself in this exact situation, but with one major twist.  He has been left a single clue with which to unravel the mystery of his past: a written note left by a man named Eric Sanderson, also known as...himself.  This single letter is soon followed up by a visit to a former doctor who has insight into Eric's situation.  With the doctor's help Eric's life moves back into a a sense of normalcy and routine, that is until more letters from himself begin to arrive daily in the mail.  He soon discovers that his "normal" life is not at all what it seems, and he embarks on a journey to discover the truth of his past, no matter what dangers await.

The problem with reviewing a book like this is that you really can't say a whole lot about it, because too much information would totally ruin it for a first-time reader.  It reminds me of putting a puzzle together without knowing what the final picture is suppose to look like.  If someone walked into the room and said, "Oh yeah I've built this one's the Empire State Building!", then it would completely ruin the moment of realization for the builder.  The same is true of "The Raw Shark Texts".  As each piece of Eric's past is revealed, the reader finds themselves one step closer to the final picture, but still just barely unable to realize what it looks like.  At the same time, Hall does an excellent job of making the reader believe they are building the Empire State Building, but when the moment of realization comes you discover you have been building a picture of an eight legged dog wearing a mini skirt and dancing on the rings of Saturn.  In other words, he will completely mess with your sense of reality and keep you guessing till the end. 

"The Raw Shark Texts" is one of those rare books that just seem to hit the mark on every level.  It is one part sci-fi, one part mystery, and 100% mind trip.  It doesn't take itself too seriously, but instead stays fun and edgy the entire time.  It will challenge your perceptions of reality, but in a fun and exciting way that makes you want to keep reading just one more page...all the way until there are no more pages to flip.  At the same time, you might just find yourself flipping back to page one to keep the experience going.