Author: Charles Stross
The Laundry Files, vol. 3.5
My rating: 4 of 5
Lucky for him (ha), Bob has pulled the distinct privilege of working the night watch at the office over the Christmas holiday–by virtue of being out sick while everyone else was putting in their vacation requests. Go figure. Oh well, theoretically, it should be a boring job sitting around babysitting a phone that never rings . . . unless the unthinkable happens. But then, considering Bob works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is protecting the world from the things that go bump in the night and considering his stellar run of luck so far, why shouldn’t the unthinkable happen, right?
When I picked up Overtime, I was definitely expecting the fabulous combination of eldritch horror and office mundanity that it offered. What I wasn’t expecting was the Christmas theme. And yet, it works marvelously, providing a delightful comedy-horror plot that ties this little novelette together brilliantly as Bob deals with temporal anomalies, an eldritch interpretation of Santa Claus, and the challenges of fighting back the apocalypse using only office supplies, used Christmas decorations, and leftover treats from the office Christmas party . . . theoretically the last Christmas party the Laundry will see if the predictions offered by a Mr. Kringle (that only Bob can even remember now) are to be believed. The writing offers the same engrossing, droll style found in the earlier Laundry books (and yes, I would recommend reading at least The Atrocity Archives first for some context), but with a slightly more story-based focus and with less techno-babble . . . probably due largely to the short length of the story. Recommended for those who enjoy a sardonic tone and a solid urban fantasy and/or comedy horror story.
Author: Roger Langridge
Colorist: Fred Stresing
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Nine-year-old Abigail is having a rough time adapting, what with moving to a new home, adjusting to a new school (in the middle of the school year!), and having her dad being so busy with trying to find a job. He can’t even keep their tradition of going to the zoo for her birthday this year! But things begin to look up when Abigail runs into Claude one day at the playground and promptly decides he’s going to be her new best friend. He’s in need of a friend himself, what with being a yeti, escaped from a government research lab and on the run. Good thing adults can’t see him (although kids can, which quickly makes Abigail popular with the other kids at school); only, the people from the government have special equipment that can find him, and they’re closing in fast.
Abigail and the Snowman is quite the unusual graphic novel. For one thing, although it is most definitely a graphic novel in the way it’s set up, I’m also inclined to compare it to a comic strip (because of the art style) and to a picture book (because of the intended demographic and the sort of story it tells). It’s really cute–definitely a feel-good, happy ending kind of story. I feel like it expresses the challenges of a single-parent family going through a difficult move very well–both from the kid’s perspective and from the parent’s–while still giving us a loving, functional family relationship. It also shows a good development of real friendship and loyalty, especially as both parties are brought to the point of making choices that are sacrificial for themselves for the safety and wellbeing of their friend. I would generally say that the intended audience is elementary grade (depending on their tolerance for a certain amount of violence/scariness; parental discretion advised as there are bad guys with guns involved in the story), although middle-graders would probably also enjoy the story. It’s heartwarming enough to be fun in a different way for grownups as well.
Story by Neil Gaiman
Adaptation, Art, & Lettering by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Fifteen-year-old Enn doesn’t really get girls. He’s at that awkward age where they seem to have flown ahead, all mysterious and unknowable. His best friend Vic keeps telling him to just talk to them, but . . . what exactly are you to say to someone you don’t understand at all? Enn’s troubles come to a head when Vic drags him to a party, waxing eloquent on the girls they will encounter there, only to find halfway through the evening that they’ve crashed the wrong party–and the girls here are an even more bizarre variety of mysterious and strange than any Enn has encountered before.
I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” ever since I first read it in M is for Magic many years ago. It’s classic Neil Gaiman–the magical clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, couched in such a way that it hints at all sorts of wonders unseen without ever stooping to spell everything out, to take away the mystery of it. It’s breathtaking. Moon and Bá’s graphic adaptation is far better than I expected, managing to preserve much of the ethereal strangeness, the predatory otherness, that makes this story so gripping. Likewise, they do well making Enn awkward and ordinary, making the culture clash here painfully, magically apparent. I think that there are a few parts where more is shown than I would like; this is the sort of story where more left to the imagination is better. But then, that’s the challenge of telling this sort of story as a graphic novel at all, and I think the adapters did well in not overdoing the showing on the whole. The art style is lovely, capturing the alien and the ordinary both in an ethereal collision. Highly recommended.
Author: Douglas Adams
My rating: 3.5 of 5
A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.
I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.
Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.
Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell
My rating: 4.5 of 5
School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!
As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)
Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The holidays are here! Which means it’s time for the ball–vintage dresses and relationship faux pas abound. Then the university is closed, and everyone is supposed to be at home resting and celebrating with family. But Esther and Daisy received an emergency text from Susan, and they have made their way to Northampton to rescue her, from what, they know not. And when the girls get back to university after the holidays, what awaits but the dreaded exams . . . it would probably help if Esther had actually bothered to attend class for most of the previous semester. Meanwhile, Susan is keeping secrets from her friends, and Daisy has developed a weird Texan alter-ego. Naturally, zaniness ensues.
The second volume of Giant Days follows faithfully in the steps of the first volume, dealing a strong combination of relatable, cute slice-of-life story with some pretty hilarious comedic randomness. I would say that I liked this volume slightly less than the first volume, but that’s a matter of levels of brilliance rather than of good versus not good. The characters are strong, developing their personalities even more and branching out to show us more of each of the girls on their own, while still giving us a good chunk of page-time with them together. (Personally, I would have preferred more time with them together, since that’s when they really shine, but it’s neat to see them developed individually as well.) We also get more involvement and character growth for both McGraw and Ed, both of whom I’m growing to love almost as much as I do Susan, Esther, and Daisy–which is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the level of character development for all five of these characters is just stunning. It makes me very happy to read it. So does the art, which is just perfect for the story–bright and expressive and kind of casual. Highly recommended.
Author: John Allison/Illustrator: Lissa Treiman/Colorist: Whitney Cogar
My rating: 5 of 5
Susan, Daisy, and Esther became fast friends when they began their university studies together. Yes, they all have their individual quirks–you could even say that they’re very different from each other. But perhaps it’s those very differences that make them good for each other, that help them through the complications of studies, relationships, illness, and drama that plague them along the way. Certainly, those quirks keep things interesting, as long as they can survive living in Esther’s drama zone, dealing with Susan’s mysterious past, and helping Daisy handle the big, scary world despite her (shocking) innocence.
I think I’m in love! Giant Days is everything I ask for in a graphic novel. The art is charming–a contemporary style similar to, say, Nimona or Seconds or even Kibuishi’s work, but with its own unique flair–and the coloring is just perfect–vibrant but not overdone. And the tone of the story is spot on, giving us a current, relatable slice of life story that touches on deep issues but never goes so far that we lose sight of the lighter side of things. And there’s plenty of the lighter side to be found here; this graphic novel is brimming with humor in abundance. There’s just enough quirkiness to the characters and the situations they find themselves in to appeal to the nerdier audiences, but the story is such a solid, timely slice-of-life story that I think a lot of YA/NA readers will find themselves charmed by this work as well. The characters are strong and interesting, and their depiction is vivid and captivating. I’m excited to see what Giant Days will bring in future volumes.