Mar. 20th, 2010

joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I finished this a little while ago actually and haven't had a chance to write up a review until now. So here goes:

I liked this second edition of the LEAGUE universe much better than the first, possibly because it had a much more coherent plotline to follow and it focused alot more on the characters of the LEAGUE. While the first volume was mostly about gathering the group together, followed by a short plot involving the cadamite (or whatever), this one started with the main plot thread and kept that thread throughout, weaving the character development into that.

And the plot was interesting and engaging, starting with the first chapter--a montage to everything Mars from literature. Very nice artwork throughout this entire chapter, even if there were a few questions brought up by said artwork (such as what's the rule about breathing martian air, anyways; sometimes it seems they can, other times they wear masks). Very nice chapter, which leads directly into chapter 2 with the introduction of the League into the plot. Once again, we have numerous different literary figures making appearances, which is one of the cool aspects of the League world. I don't want to spoil any of that, so I won't say any more there.

Instead, I'll focus on what I felt was the best part of the entire novel: the characters. We get much more with the relationship between Mina and Quartermain. Perhaps too much, in some chapters. But the relationship that stands out and that held my attention throughout was that of Hyde and Griffin. We get to see exactly how nasty these two can get, and reading about it was what kept me riveted to the book. To the point where I felt that this was really what the novel was all about. I felt that Chapter 5, where all of this comes to a head, was really the high point of the novel, even though Chapter 6 is the one in which the main plot thread finally gets resolved.

And that's where the book was a little bit of a let down: the final chapter. The confrontation between Hyde and the monsters was great, but it still felt anticlimactic to what happened in Chapter 5 between Hyde and Griffin. And the rest of the resolution (I'm not saying much here because it would spoil the novel) certainly didn't measure up to Chapter 5. The final few pages dealing with Mina and Quartermain's relationship felt rushed as well.

So in the end, I loved the graphic novel overall. There was some really good artwork (and some really bad, to be honest, but mostly good) and the characterization was spectacular, to the detriment of the main plot unfortunately. I've already gone ahead and bought the rest of the LEAGUE universe books (1910 and the Black Dossier) and will definitely read them as well.

Extras: At the end of the book there are a bunch of extras, including a rather dense "atlas" of the world. I started reading this and almost put it down because it was TOO dense and didn't seem to be adding much to the novel except for some satisfaction when a particular literary reference was one that I knew. However I persevered and was rewarded when instead of doing place after place after place (as in the first few chapters), the authors began weaving in accounts of the places from the League characters' journals. In fact, a small story began to develop. That story is really the only reason to read this extra--aside from those few moments of recognition. The additional cover art and such is always interesting as well.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
Before I begin, I just want to say that this anthology has, so far, been the best DAW anthology I’ve read. The stories were all consistently good and engrossing, drawing me in and holding me in each alternate reality. Kudos to the editors, Nick Gevers & Jay Lake, for putting such a stellar anthology together, and kudos to the writers for coming up with such interesting alternate Earths. I’ve indicated the two stories I thought were the strongest, but of course that’s my personal opinion. It was harder picking out these two this time though.





Table of Contents:

This Peaceable Land, or, the Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe by Robert Charles Wilson: A good story about what might have happened if the Civil War had never occurred. The tone and the potential consequences of this alternate reality are perfect and utterly believable, which makes what happens in the story that much more disturbing. It took a while of reading before you realize why the story is “alternate,” but otherwise a great story.

The Goat Variations by Jeff VanderMeer: In this story, we get to see a variety of alternate Earths, all centered around what the president (of an alternate Earth) was doing and thinking before and during the seven minutes of silence after receiving word about what had happened on September 11th, 2001. We get to see these reactions because of what happened in this alternate Earth, where a machine has been invented that alters the mind of the current president so he can see these other realities. A cool idea, and an interesting take on the theme of the anthology, although I’m not convinced the story resolved itself as well as it could have. However, it was haunting at a gut level.

The Unblinking Eye by Stephen Baxter: In this story, the alternate reality is one in which the Europeans never discover the Americas, thus giving the Incas a chance to rise to supremacy. However the story is told from the perspective not of the high and mighty and powerful, but from a commoner’s level. I liked the way the events unfolded, and the revelation of what the Unblinking Eye truly was, and felt this story (though complete and satisfying here) could be expanded into a much larger story.

Csilla’s Story by Theodora Goss: In this story, the Earth isn’t as altered to as great an extent as some of the other stories. Here, it’s pretty much our own Earth, but with a particular race of possibly magical gypsy-like people living and surviving under great prejudice, even though the truest members of their group have green hair and bleed silver blood. This actually contains many smaller stories, since the main story is about preserving their heritage even though they are hunted down and persecuted wherever they live. A good story though.

Winterborn by Liz Williams: This is probably the most far-fetched of the “alternate” Earths in this anthology, with the premise being that magic in Britain is real and that the faerie realm still interacts heavily with our own world, to the extent that the current queen is from faerie herself. The main story revolves around a young woman who can speak to those who have died in the waters of the rivers in and around London. Through these resources, she learns of an imminent attack through magical means on London and the queen. I loved the descriptions of the magic and the use of how humans take over and control the lands around us, to the extent that we “relocate” rivers to suit our own needs and how this could come back and bite us in the ass. Another good story, although I do think it stretches the general premise of the anthology a little thin. *grin*

Donovan Sent Us by Gene Wolfe: Here, the alternate Earth is one in which the Germans have won the second World War because the Americans never got involved. The story centers around an attempt to rescue Churchill from the prison camps in Britain after the Germans have taken over. The story certainly draws you in, and the ending is shocking. Not what you’re expecting as you work through the story at all.

The Holy City and Em’s Reptile Farm by Greg van Eekhout: This story is the wildest alternate Earth of them all, with everything you can think of turned on its head and introduced without explanation and without qualms either. Las Vegas is basically a religious mecca, with all the glitz and glam it possesses now, but with the religion turned on its head. There are camels alongside cars, religious zealots and thieves in the Holy City. But all of this is sideline world detail. The main story is about a young woman trying to save her family’s reptile farm by going to the Holy City to win a religious artifact in a lottery. It doesn’t turn out as she expected.

The Receivers by Alastair Reynolds: In this alternate Earth, the war goes on longer than expected, which interrupts the lives of some famous musicians. Yet the music these musicians would have created calls to them through one of their new jobs to help with the war effort. It’s a sad story in some respects, and yet uplifting at the end. A much more personal story, more about the characters and their missed opportunities rather than the way the Earth was altered.

A Family History by Paul Park: This story was interesting in that it was speculation from the perspective of the narrator, along the lines of “if this hadn’t happened, and this hadn’t happened, . . .” etc. I didn’t find this worked well for me, however once the narrator settled into a particular story thread for a particular set of speculations, I got involved in the story. It basically presented two alternate possibilities for a certain character. Why the narrator is so interested in this particular character and what could have happened to him doesn’t become clear until the end. It still didn’t feel as fully developed as it could have been.

Dog-eared Paperback of My Life by Lucius Shepard: The main premise behind this story isn’t that a significant event (or insignificant, even) happened differently, but instead that a bunch of alternate Earths have converged. An author discovers a book by himself that he never wrote, which is the beginning of his discovery that these different versions of the Earth sometimes meet, sometimes briefly, sometimes not. This is a 90 page “short” story, and I felt that the beginning could have moved a little faster. Mostly, though, the main character isn’t really someone that you’re supposed to like all that much, which makes it hard to be concerned about him. You’re mostly reading to discover what happens with the idea of the story, not the character.

Nine Alternate Alternate Histories by Benjamin Rosenbaum: This isn’t so much a story as it is a potential list of ways in which we could interpret the idea of an “alternate” history. It was interesting reading, and the different types of alternate histories presented were interesting to think about, but I still wouldn’t call it a “story” per se.

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April 2010

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