Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Link Smorgasbord, September 2015

Black Lives Matter Inspired This Chilling Fantasy Novel
N. K. Jemisin was interviewed for the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, and Wired ran an article on it.  Sadly, I have a feeling that the title of this article means a lot of people will discredit it, please don't, please read it.  She is a fantastic author, and she's not making up her experiences or talking about something that could happen.

EFF Asks Court on Behalf of Libraries and Booksellers to Recognize Readers’ Right to Be Free of NSA’s Online Surveillance
It's really hard to cut out tracking and surveillance of third parties with any sort of online library service.

Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters
Ok, so this one should have been in my August collection, but I was slacking.

Dudes, Did You See the Library They’ve Got Here?
A fun read from McSweeney's.

Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy

How Much Money do Libraries Spend on e-Books?
As of Sept 2015.  The prices are looking on average better than they were several years ago, but it's still pretty rough.

Someone’s Made Audiobooks Out Of ‘80s Film Novelizations
And it's everything you could have hoped for.

This Is Millennials’ Most Embarrassing Secret
To some of this this isn't exactly a surprise - stop assuming digital literacy.  Ability to execute a set series of functions does not require comprehension, and doing so hurts everyone.

Raspberry Pi now has a $60 7-inch touchscreen display
It's kind of adorable.

Xbox One Launch Woes Were Preventable, Next Console Likely Digital Download Only
And digital download only for games means we can't lend them.  :/

We Need the Right to Repair Our Gadgets
I'm a huge proponent of right to repair anything, it just makes sense on so many levels to be able to repair and to re-purpose.

Rejected Library Displays
I fail to see how any of these are bad ideas.  Not only that, my director agrees.  Stay tuned.

First Library to Support Anonymous Internet Browsing Effort Stops After DHS Email
Gah, but in better news they put the TOR relay back up!
Despite Law Enforcement Concerns, Lebanon Board Will Reactivate Privacy Network Tor at Kilton Library

Important Win for Fair Use in ‘Dancing Baby’ Lawsuit
This case has been going on for some time at this point, I remember it being brought up while I was in library school.  A family uploaded a 30 second video (with atrocious audio quality) of their baby dancing to Prince.  The audio is low enough quality that it's hard to even identify the song, but then music by Prince on private videos gets the audio muted, so they're serious about anything resembling infringement.  In this case the EFF sued Universal for the DMCA takedown... and holy crap they won.
Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that copyright holders like Universal must consider fair use before trying to remove content from the Internet. It also rejected Universal’s claim that a victim of takedown abuse cannot vindicate her rights if she cannot show actual monetary loss.
Oyster Is Shutting Down Operations
And a whole bunch of their executive staff is going to Google.

The Art of the Blurb (or, Step Away from The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Max Gladstone)
I would love to see some of his rejected blurbs appear on a book cover.  That being said, I Gladstone does have this fantastic quote from Elizabeth Bear on one of his:
"I'm having Max Gladstone killed. He's too good already to be allowed to live. If this is early work, the rest of us are out of a job." -- Elizabeth Bear, author of The Eternal Sky trilogy"

All the 'Happy Birthday' song copyright claims are invalid, federal judge rules
Well now

Monday, September 28, 2015

[Book Review] Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Troy Little (Powell's Books)

The lurid insanity of Thompson's tale of a five-day long, drug fueled bender is utterly suited to the visual medium.

Excellently executed graphic novel, highly recommend to fans of Hunter S. Thompson, or of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Possibly a good introduction vector, or possibly too much all at once, but let's face it, with Thompson you're getting all or nothing.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Diamond Book Distributors via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

[Book Review] Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown / Zen Cho (Powell's Books)

This is a book about the triumph of difficult women, and I mean that in the absolutely best way possible.

Zacharias Wythe is a most reluctant and unwelcome Sorcerer Royal, dealing with the politics of the power hungry and those who simply think him incompetent of any sort of intelligence or civilization simply due to the color of his skin.  Unfortunately, politics and power grabs among sorcerers seems to involve attempts against the life of the Sorcerer Royal, which are most inconvenient, especially considering the various rather delicate situations Mr. Wythe is attempting to handle.

Then into all of this comes the inconveniently magical Prunella Gentleman, no matter that women simply do not practice magic, even untrained she has the power in her blood to put most of England's sorcerers to shame.  Add in some international politics, warmongering, faerie in-laws, and various disregards of social convention, and things accelerate dangerously until they can be taken quite firmly and unexpectedly in hand.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 5

"When Bilbo opened his eyes, he wondered if he had; for it was just as dark with them shut.  No one was anywhere near him.  Just imagine his fright!  He could hear nothing, see nothing, and he could feel nothing except the very stone of the floor."
So starts perhaps one of the most pivotal and remembered chapters in The Hobbit.  In the dark, with no clue about what is going on.  Here we see Bilbo succeed on his own first time in the face of certain danger, facing mortal threat with little more than his wits (though the glowing blade helps).

Bilbo with Sting in the dark

Tolkien does give us hints of things to come, most notable about finding of the ring as a "turning point in his career, but he did not know it."  But for all of that, he invites us into Bilbo's journey as fellow travelers.  The writing is evocative of memory and feeling, with Bilbo feeling hopeful, hopeless, and inspired to bravery by the little things.  Not only that, but the text is full of things like "But you must remember..." and "I should not have liked to have been in Mr. Baggins' place..." drawing us in with familiarity to the recollection of the action.

Bilbo and Gollum face off
Gollum is that unseen monster in the dark, one that hunts unseen on unaware prey.  He could be the monster in the closet or under the bed.  He is definitely horrible, with a human-like intellect and no qualms about discussing his next dinner in front of his intended (and still living) meal.  However, at the same time Gollum is incredibly frail, a creature of the dark that shaped him, but also lonely and perhaps easily defeated.  Perhaps importantly, Bilbo defeats Gollumn not with violence but with wit and words.  This is definitely not a book without violence, not with the trolls and goblins so far, and not with the wargs and battles ahead, but it is definitely a story in which we see the titular character outwit challenges rather than attack them.  Bilbo starts out less successful at this such as with the trolls, and the fact that here he honestly gives his full name indicates some further needed growth, but as the challenges grow so does his wit.

Bilbo is not the only protagonist to benefit from trickery, I spoke about Gandalf as a trickster back in Chapter 2.  The wizard also eschews violent conversation when he can manipulate it otherwise, while the dwarfs do not let violence deter them from their chosen path.

As for Peter Jackson's adaptation of this scene, it was near perfect.  The whole chapter is done so richly.  I almost feel bad complaining about the brevity of the riddle game with the excellent representation of the chapter, but then there's so much unnecessary extra bits added to Jackson's films that could have been pruned back a few minutes to allow us a few extra riddles.  Bilbo finds himself at the bottom of a chasm with something mauling the struggling goblin, filling in that Gollum feeds on goblins when he has the chance.  Martin shines throughout the whole movie as Bilbo, but here without the distraction of a swarm of dwarfs we really get to enjoy his performance, and Andy Serkis' performance embodies Gollum, providing the motion capture and the voice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

[Book Review] Bookburners: Badge, Book, and Candle

Bookburners: Badge, Book, and Candle (Season 1, Episode 1) / Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery, and Margaret Dunlap

A crime scene flooded with blood and where finger prints were retrieved from the severed fingertips carefully balanced on an ashtray is enough to make anyone question both their own sanity and that of the world around them.  But Detective Sal Brooks knows that her brother came to her for help, and knows that someone forced their way into her home in pursuit, regardless of what the security tape shows.  All she knows is it revolves around the strange old book he was carrying, and somehow the mysterious team led by a priest that invaded her home is hunting for it.  Things are going further down the rabbit hole, and Sal refuses to turn away, even if that means accepting that magic, and demons, are real.  Maybe some information really isn't meant to be free.

This... was excellent.  An eerie bite-sized read coming in at around 50 pages filled with demonic books, magic, and possessions.  I seriously want to LARP in this setting, it would be so much fun (Max... if you see this, I know you're into gaming, please make this happen).

I came into this excited to read it, and I really can't wait to read the next segments.  I'm really hoping that once everything's out SerialBox has a bundle offer for sale, if you subscribe it's a great price and includes both text and audio, but the subscription starts with the next episode and I'd really like to buy it all together in one chunk (especially since I didn't subscribe before the series started).

Episode 2 review hereEpisode 3 review here

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Serial Box via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 4

Rested and hopeful from their sojourn in Rivendell, we take our first steps into the untamed wilds.
The Misty Mountains
The Misty Mountains

Last week I wrote briefly about Rivendell as the place where everything hangs in balance, and as a reminder that there is evil in the world.  We know that the road ahead is not devoid of life, but that we are stepping away from civilization as we know it into the realm of Here Be Dragons.  The trolls may have been out of place in Chapter Two, but now we're headed into their realm.

Fortunately for everyone, the literal dragons won't occur for some chapters more.  Our little party of adventurers isn't quite up to that challenge just yet.

We see some growth of Bilbo here in their second brush with danger.  With the trolls he went and put his foot (or to be exact, his hand) in it, ending with everyone captured before Gandalf arrived to save the day.  When they settle into the little cave at night it is thanks to Bilbo that they are not all captured, his cry of alarm is what enabled Gandalf to escape capture and ultimately rescue the party.  We also see growth of the dwarfs accepting Bilbo as one of the party, as they physically carry him with them in their flight from the goblins.  Perhaps this is just decent humanity (dwarfanity?), but it is a concerted effort that they share among themselves so that Bilbo is not left behind.

The Goblin King and his goblin horde
The Goblin King
I love the use of language in this chapter, and how it creates this warren our party has fallen into.  The goblin song is jarring and percussive in nature, yet has the well constructed lyricism you see throughout all of the songs Tolkien wrote.  He gives us images of dark and dangerous warrens as he describes passages that are "crossed and tangled in all directions," and glaring red light.
"Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted.  They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones"
The goblins whip and pinch and laugh.  They howl and jabber and skitter.  They have long memories and recognize ancient Elven swords.  And they know when to slip on soft shoes for silent stalking, to move quietly enough that not even a wizard nor a hobbit hear their approach.  When we met the trolls they were nasty and mean, but tempered with gross humor.  With the goblins that humor is largely gone, leaving perhaps a gleeful menace.

After my frustrations with Jackson's adaptation of the Chapter Three, he truly takes us Over Hill and Under Hill here.  The storm giants were glorious, the terrain treacherous, and the goblins menacing, wicked, and cruel.  We honestly get the story with very little in the way of plot or narrative additions.  Thorin makes clear that Bilbo is only along on sufferance, and that he is by no means accepted as one of the party.  While I feel it was unfair to rob Bilbo of his heroic moment of warning, I do think that Jackson used this change to good effect in terms of character interaction and development (which is a challenge for anyone not Bilbo, Thorin, or Gandalf).  And, to be honest, the change of sounding the warning along with the other tweaks are a set up for Thorin starting to actually accept Bilbo after they all escape from the mountain.
Goblins grab a dwarf in the dark
Jackson did splice Chapter Four into the middle of Chapter Three, splitting Bilbo off early from the dwarfs and sending him down to Gollum's lair, but it does make some sense.  Can you imagine Bombur (or any of the others) carrying Bilbo on his back?  And a panicked bid for freedom in pitch dark tunnels is a lot more exciting in a book than in an adventure film, whereas a flight along torch-lit chasms screens so much better.  Regardless, I'll be summarizing Riddles in the Dark along with the appropriate chapter rather than where it appears in the film.

What I really want to thank Jackson for in this segment is giving us the music.  Do I think it worked better as a song from the goblin horde?  Totally.  But the Goblin King was perfectly fabulous and grandiose (oh, Dame Edna, you always have a special place in my heart, even as a greasy troll with a tumorous-looking neck waddle), and it was well worked in.  Music is such a part of The Hobbit, with songs appearing regularly throughout the whole story, and the music always tells us something.  We even have an orchestral medley of the Misty Mountain song as the various generic adventuring soundtrack throughout the movie.

[Book Review] Batman Volume 7: Endgame

Batman Volume 7: Endgame / Scott Snyder

The Joker's done playing games, and he's coming after Batman like never before.  His loving torment of Batman over the years is gone, replaced with an all-enveloping viciousness designed to take out Batman and annihilating everything and everyone the dark knight has ever cared for.

Hatred is the name of the game here.  Crazed, obsessive, maddening hatred.  Once Joker thought of he and Batman as mirrors of a sort, bound together by fate.  But after being flung into a near bottomless pit to die, he's feeling a little jilted, and all of Gotham is going to help make Batsy pay.

In Endgame Snyder gives us a darkness reminiscent of Frank Miller's Batman.  The Joker has found a way to turn his madness into a biological weapon, infecting first the Justice League, then Gotham itself.


I'm honestly not 100% sure how I feel about this story line.  There are some things I loved, and some I remain unconvinced about.

There is a lot of focus, with accompanying expository dialog, on Batman's various armaments, and miraculously deployed solutions that leave me a little unconvinced.  I kind of felt like "yeah, I get it," though I know his gadgetry has always been a big part of Batman's shtick.  I'm more interested in Batman's ingenuity, than an advertisement for his products, if that makes any sense.

I absolutely love Wonder Woman wrecking Batman, she is deadly, focused, and intense.  In some ways the whole Jokerization of the Justice League that comes out at the end of that fight feels like a let down and cop out.  Especially as she's basically completely normal until near the end of their conflict.  On the other hand, I'm sure many people will love that twist.

I also enjoyed the teaming of classic heroes and enemies together against a common goal, particularly as some of the Batman villains have been more twisted than evil.

The whole Immortal/Inhuman Joker thing was not my bag of tea.  Just wasn't feeling it, and it kind of made me groan.  I'm not fully sure why, especially since I happen to love a different anti-hero known for his insanity and effective immortality.  Maybe it was making him into some sort of god among men, or maybe it was just the whole Pale Man bit which made me think of Robin Hobb's White Prophets.

Snyder doesn't pull many punches in this.  The Joker infection causes cellular degradation that if allowed to progress will be fatal.  Commissioner Gordon is taken out, Albert is maimed and left living with his failure, and Batman and the Joker fall together.

I like the poetic balance of Batman and Joker ending together, and it was well done.  Alfred's choice to not have his hand reattached because he has no one to care for anymore highlights his depression and mourning in the aftermath.  I do feel that in some ways this story wasn't lethal enough.  I suppose there's only so many main characters you can kill off in a single story if you're not George R. R. Martin.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of DC Entertainment via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Loss a year later

I've always been horrible with dates.  As a kid I couldn't even tell you what the date of Christmas was beyond sometime in December, and that is something printed on any calendar I cared to look at.

The end result of this is me at work with eyeliner running down my face as I realize that it's my mom's birthday.

It doesn't hurt any less.  The pain is still just as raw, deep, and overwhelming as it was last year.

Time hasn't so much healed this wound, but it has allowed for scarring over.  The times when I have to remind myself that I can't reach out to her have lessened.  I'm not awake every night unintentionally fighting off sleep because I keep seeing her lying there, waiting her for her to wake up.  It's the reminders, the realizations, the recognitions that break through and let the grief out again.

I still fight the impulse to call her about something that's going on, or to just say hi.  I see articles about advances in assistive technology that not so long ago I would have sent to her.  Or come across books that I know she'd love and want to tell her about them.  I still end up awake at night crying because suddenly it hits me again that I'm never going to see her again, feeling loss mixed with survivor's guilt.  My reflection sometimes makes me start, seeing my mother's face as I pass by.

My mom & I, several days after I was born
Life is returning to normal.  My ability to feel empathy has somewhat returned, and I'm not shutting down so quickly when in any sort of emotional experience.  My focus is no longer quite so shattered, and I'm able to retain details for what is approaching a reasonable amount of time.

She definitely shaped so much about me, including my love of books and the importance of accessibility, both of which ultimately have steered my professional development.  And she also truly was a good friend.

More about my mom's passing: Remembering a life


If you're interested in supporting accessibility in libraries, we set up a small fund at the Jones Library in her name.  Donations to it go to purchasing accessible materials and resources.  The Jones Library donation form can be found here, and it would be in memory of/for the Martina Carroll Accessible Book Fund.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

[Book Display] Banned Books Week 2015

OK folks, confession time.

I have never done a banned books display.  Somehow I've managed to miss being in place to do a display around Banned Books Week for the past few years.

So I'm quite happy to say I put one together this year.

Early Photo of the Main Display

Top shelf of Display
Banned Books Week 2015 (or, if you're looking to have fun with mixing up acronyms you can always use BBW) kicks off at the end of Sept, so it made sense to me to have the display for the preceding weeks.

Largely the response to the display has been "people still ban books?" or "someone wanted to ban ____?"  Which, by and large, is heartening.  But people do ban books, and I've gotten to hear parents harangue their child for watching Teen Titans or reading Harry Potter because they contain "witchcraft."

Speaking of which, someone just borrowed some items from the display, so it's a good time to add some Harry Potter to it (as well as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)

Not everyone is thrilled with the display.  In particular someone seems to object to the inclusion of Saga Volume 1... or at least objects to the cover.  Every now and then I walk by the display to see that someone has turned the book around to hide the cover.

Such blatant display of breasts.

The horror.  The shame.

We're all rather amused by it, to be honest.

There's a lot of books that have been challenged and/or banned over the years, which makes finding an easily digestible comprehensive list is a bit of a bear.  I pieced my list together from multiple sources, trimming down by items in our collection.  Some items show up across sources, some show up sporadically, others I know about from current events.

Freedom to Read is something that's been important to me before I even understood it as a concept, finding the banning and censorship of materials reactionary and absurd.

My mom was fantastic in supporting me as an inquisitive reader and as an individual capable of reasoning.  She definitely let me read things that were way over my head, knowing that if I needed to ask, I would.  I can tell you there were loads of things that went completely over my head, which has made re-reading books as an adult a source of amusement as I go "wait... how'd I miss THAT?"  I also, as an interesting side effect, had a much healthier concept of issues relating to sex and drugs than most of my classmates, even if much of what I was reading was fiction.

On the flip side, I can honestly say that my dad had little to no idea what I was reading or the contents of what I was reading, and that was deliberate.  I took advantage of the fact that my dad wasn't a reader, because I knew that he wouldn't approve of most of what I read.  I mean, I was sent out of the room during the "draw me like one of your French girls" scene in Titanic, even though I was a girl in my teens.  My book collection at his home was extremely minimal, a mix of picture books/easy readers from when I was little, the Mandie books, L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and her Emily of New Moon series, the first two Harry Potter books, a few Star Wars novels, and the two Mercades Lackey novels I bought myself.  That was what I had at my dad's when I graduated high school.  Line that up with someone who was reading close to 200 books a year, and who started reading Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley in 3rd grade.
"It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to
say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has
the right to spend their life without being offended."- Philip Pullman
So the display itself has evolved.  The addition of yellow caution tape occurred after I took photos (some awesome volunteers found it for me), and obviously I'm adding books as they go out (or just to add more).  The 'burning' book logs are made of items salvaged from discards.  The READstricted signs are from the American Library Association's Banned Books Week page and the Censorship Causes Blindness sign is by RandomHouse.  I made the banner and the "CAUTION: Banned & Challenged Books, Read at Your Own Risk" sign.

For the display I made an attempt to select books that might seem odd in their inclusion (such as Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle), as well as a general attempt to avoid cross-over from the local school summer reading picks.  In the case of a series, I made an effort to put out the first book when possible.  In the case where I put out several titles from the same series I used audio books.

On Display (and per usual, I'm a horrible person and this list has no consistent or logical organization):
  • Go Ask Alice / Anonymous
  • A Clockwork Orange / Anthony Burgess
  • Saga (Volume 1) / Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staple
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things / Carolyn Mackler
  • It Had To Be You : The Gossip Girl Prequel (Gossip Girl) / Cecily von Ziegesar
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes / Chris Crutcher
  • The Adventures of Captain Underpants : The First Epic Novel (Captain Underpants) / Dan Pilkey
  • Snow Falling on Cedars / David Guterson
  • Draw Me A Star / Eric Carle
  • To Kill a Mockingbird / Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye / J. D. Salinger
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter) / J. K. Rowling
  • The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings) / J. R. R. Tolkien
  • A Time to Kill / John Grishman
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany / John Irving
  • Fat Kid Rules the World / K. L. Going
  • Bridge to Terabithia / Katherine Paterson
  • The Kite-Runner / Khaled Hosseini
  • Slaughterhouse-Five / Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Giver / Lois Lowry
  • A Wrinkle in Time / Madeline L'Engle
  • The Handmaid's Tale / Margaret Atwood
  • Gone with the Wind / Margaret Mitchell
  • Persepolis / Marjane Satrapi
  • In the Night Kitchen / Maurice Sendak
  • The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials) / Phillip Pullman
  • The Amber Spyglass (His Dark materials) / Phillip Pullman
  • Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps) / R. L. Stine
  • Drama / Raina Telgemeier
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian / Sherman Alexie
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower / Stephen Chbosky
  • The Things they Carried / Tim O'Brien
  • Lolita / Vladmir Nabokov
  • Twilight (Twilight Saga) / Stephanie Meyer
  • Wicked / Gregory Maguire
  • Looking for Alaska / John Green
  • The Immortal Live of Henrietta Lacks / Rebecca Skloot
  • Better Nate than Ever / Tim Federle
  • Crank / Ellen Hopkins
Additional Titles (for use when more room opens up on the display):
  • The Color Purple / Alice Walker
  • Scary Stories (series) / Alvin Schwartz
  • Junie B. Jones (series) / Barbara Park
  • You Hear Me? / Betsy Franco
  • 1984 / George Orwell
  • A Stolen Life / Jaycee Dugard
  • Catch-22 / Joseph Heller
  • Blubber / Judy Blume
  • Are You There, God?  It's Me, Margaret / Judy Blume
  • And Tango Makes Three / Justin Richardson & Peter Par
  • One flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest / Ken Kesey
  • Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Kaffir Boy / Mark Marthabane
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings / Maya Angelou
  • Roll of Thunder, Here My Cry / Mildred Taylor
  • Fahrenheit 451 / Ray Bradbury
  • Beloved / Toni Morrison
  • In Cold Blood / Truman Capote
  • Fallen Angels / Walter Dean Myers
  • Lord of the Flies / William Golding
  • Sophie's Choice / William Styron
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God / Zora Neale Hurston
  • 50 Shades of Grey / E. L. James
  • The DaVinci Code / Dan Brown
  • The Misfits / James Howe
  • The Higher Power of Lucky / Susan Patron
  • My Sister's Keeper / Jodi Picoult

Monday, September 14, 2015

[Book Review] Dresden Files : Down Town

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files : Down Town / Jim Butcher & Mark Powers (Powell's Books)

Gentleman Johnny Marcone isn't just a two-bit gangster anymore, not when he's now a mortal signatory of the Unseelie Accords.  But while people like Harry Dresden and Karen Murphy want to see Marcone and his power games gone from Chicago, they have no interest in outcomes that lead to widespread chaos and bloodshed.  Unfortunately, not everyone is so considerate, and once again Dresden and Marcone find themselves with a common enemy.

Most of the Dresden Files graphic novels I've read focus on Harry and sometimes Karen.  This is the first one I've read that gives a fuller ensemble, with Molly, Mouse, and Johnny taking front seat along with Harry, plus support from Karen, Ms Gard, Mister, Thomas, and Bob.

Personally, I'm super excited to have a graphic novel featuring Molly, for some reason she's always been nearly impossible for me to visualize (though I'll have to re-read the books to see how accurate the tattoos are... I've noticed comic books at times get a bit creative in that regard).  Molly grows into a serious power in the overall series, one that we only see snippets from, so getting a graphic novel with Molly as one of the main characters is fantastic.

Marcone, as always, exhibits his mastery of getting Harry to do what he wants (namely, by telling Harry to not do it).  The two of them have a very interesting relationship, filled with antipathy, but they so often end up against the same wall.

The art is clean, the story well paced, and the characters recognizable by their personalities as well as their looks.  And besides, who doesn't love Mister?

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Diamond Book Distributors via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 beings with our party flush with success from their first encounter with danger.

The first hurdle is passed, danger lurks ahead, but first they seek the hospitality of the Last Homely House.

Rivendell is a haven from the world at large, a place where our road weary travelers can relax and renew their sense of purpose.  It is also the point where everything hangs in balance, Bilbo has his itch for exploration and his desire for a cozy hearth, and the point of no return for the adventure.  After Rivendell the dwarfs can expect no shelter or friendly faces, even though Middle-Earth is not so empty that they head into a wasteland devoid of any civilization.  Here it is that they come to truly start their adventure, and to gain direction as Elrond interprets their map.  We'll see Rivendell as this keystone in other of Tolkien's work, such as the gathering of the fellowship in Lord of the Rings.

The Last Homely House serves to remind us that the journey is treacherous.  "Evil things did not come into that valley," reminds us that there is evil, and it is waiting.  The Hobbit invites the reader into Bilbo's journey.  In many ways we become Bilbo, experiencing his uncertainties, his fears, and his wonder.  Rivendell is a sanctuary for characters and readers, we know in this location, nothing ill can occur.

This chapter is where to me, the movie really goes off the rails.  We go from a journey of days to a frantic race from orcs, with Thorin's deep-seated racial prejudice against elves making him act like an utter ass again and again, and some Middle-Earth history special sauce thrown in.  We also get a rather disappointing treatment of musical nature of the Elves, there is no lyrics or even joy to the music played.

The Last Homely House is described as the ultimate refuge, one where all who visit are at peace and all their needs met.  Instead Jackson gives us a lovely but stuffy and rather unsuitable dinner reception, with jokes about the femininity of their hosts (though considering the difference between male and female dwarfs is the amount of facial hair, Kili disparaging on their hosts' lack of beards makes little sense), and a gaggle of dwarfs acting like rebellious and particularly ill-mannered 10 year-olds.

In many ways Jackson at this point wrests The Hobbit from being a story about Bilbo to one divided among the dwarfs and one devoted to setting the stage for The Lord of the Rings 60 years later.  We learn of the Necromancer, of the forming schism between Saruman and Gandalf, of greater motivations for Gandalf to support the Thorin's venture.  Bilbo exists here more as an observer, seeing bits of history and the present that are destined to meet, and wandering as still an outsider to the dwarven party.  Meanwhile the dwarfs eat, and joke, and scandalize the elves, showing us more of their personalities than just that of unexpected guests.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 2

Continuing on with the group read of The Hobbit, where we leave the comfort of home and our adventure really beings.

Were it not for the wreckage of breakfast (odd, considering they cleaned up dinner the night before), the events of Chapter 1 could have been naught but a dream for Bilbo.  But for better or for worse, a band of dwarfs shepherded by a a wizard descended upon Bilbo's home and invited him to join their quest to reclaim their long lost home and wealth.

But if there's one thing wizards are good for, it is creating and banishing illusion.  A quick check-in by Gandalf later, we see Bilbo racing to meet the waiting dwarfs, a bundle of confusion, anxiety, and excitement. Once he meets up with the dwarfs, he is a part of the party but as misfitting as the garments he borrows.

Our band of adventurers actually travels for quite some time before any incident of note occurs, Tolkien neatly indicates their journey so far with a sentence or two, the moves on to traveling in the rain, noticing the lack of Gandalf, and ultimately the whole messy business with the trolls.

I've always read this book as if none of the band had any strong martial experience.  We know that Thorin was but an "adventurous lad" when the dragon came when he shares the quest's backstory in Chapter One.  They had the dreams of their fathers' wealth and power, but they have all been living as refugees & itinerant workers for most of a lifetime.
"After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as best we could up and down the lands, often enough sinking as low as blacksmith-work or even coalmining."
In fact, Fili and Kili need to be filled in on the exact situation just as much as Bilbo, and Gandalf speaks of failing to find a Hero or Warrior for the type of assault Thorin outlined, instead settling on the aforementioned Bilbo as a Burglar.

The encounter with the trolls reinforces that these dwarfs are not all mighty warriors or even seasoned guards.  They're the tattered remains of a displaced tribe seeking to regain their grandfathers' land and glory.  So when it comes to investigate a mysterious campfire in the woods (or planning to infiltrate the dragon's lair), it's not their own beards they risk, but the toe-hairs of one contracted Burglar, someone who may even be considered disposable to at least Thorin.  Their plan isn't even thought out, they give Bilbo instructions that they assume he understands, and shove him along his way.  The fact that they'd respond to their scout failing to return or signal by wandering in illustrates that these dwarfs are really not used to thinking in terms of ambushes and attacks.

This all contrasts quite strongly with how the dwarfs are presented in Jackson's movie, where he takes these already very proud characters, gives them even more pride, active fighting roles against the invading Smaug, and an still living nemesis from a long-ago war.  All this seems to to frame the dwarfs as far more heroic and noble than in the source material (and to stretch out the story even more).  Yes, in the intervening years some of the party did fight within wars to some acclaim, they have not primarily lived a martial life.

I find the whole troll scene a wonderful and witty scene.  There is danger, but there is comedy as well.  And while the trolls are certainly a dangerous threat, they do not fit into any archtype of dastardly villain.  They are simply trolls as trolls, bad-mannered eaters of flesh, and creatures of the earth.  They're not even written as deliberately malicious creatures, more simple-minded and hunger-driven.  William even offers that they just let Bilbo go since they're full.  Gandalf of course comes back in time to pull the party out of the literal and figurative fire.

I want to spend some time reflecting on Gandalf here.  He's not of the races of Middle Earth, but instead of the Istar.  His power comes as much from knowledge and experience as it does from the magic he wields.  His importance is not as a wielder of powerful arcane magics, but instead as a shepherd and a catalyst for events in Middle Earth.  When you think about it, on its own the plight of 13 itinerant dwarfs is unfortunate, but not something say on the scale of seeing the destruction of a magic ring holding the soul of the Dark Lord.  He travels the world as an old wanderer, a teller of stories, and a purveyor of fireworks.  But something about these dwarfs fit into a greater scheme, one that he may be working to shape, or one that may be beyond even his ken.

Where I think Gandalf's personality really shines through is as a trickster.  As far as tricksters go, he's rather tame and quite benevolent, certainly no Coyote or Anansi.  When he first stops in on Bilbo his mind is not settled on his choice of a Burglar.  Instead he finds the whole thing a source of amusement, shaking up Bilbo's life, the confusion of both Bilbo and the dwarfs, laughing at the pile of dwarfs who have fallen into Bilbo's doorway.  Even how he resolves confrontations indicates a preference for trickery.  A wizard who takes on a Balrog and investigates the dungeons of the Necromancer, can certainly  handle three trolls.  But he chooses to toy with them until the sun rises.  His relationship with the hobbits is certainly one of both fondness and mischief, for he delights in shaking up the lives of these creatures of comfort to the dismay of respectable hobbits everywhere.

His presence or absence is generally deliberate, with his own purpose in mind. As it is said,
"A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to."