As you might have guessed, it’s time for another NetGalley installment or “all Ben really does any more is read comic books”. Hey, I’ll have you know I also wrote 1000 words toward a new story this week, and 1000s more in a technical manual. So, hah! I honestly think there are some of you out there who will like these books better than I did, so don’t let my picky-ness deter you if something sounds interesting.
Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
This is miles better than Luna’s other work Girls (which I dropped hard after the first issue). That said, there are some pacing problems, and Luna’s artwork still has a tendency toward sullen, bored looking characters.
Alex is still moping after the loss of his girlfriend. His sexually precocious and apparently loaded Grandma suggests he buy an android to take care of his “needs.” Actually, she’s such a nice Grandma that she buys him one for his birthday.
Don’t leave yet. Alex isn’t as much of a creep as some of Luna’s other characters. He doesn’t know what to do with this gift he doesn’t quite want and yet is intrigued by. The problem is Ada is too agreeable. She does whatever he tells her, doesn’t have an opinion of her own, and can’t really form much of a connection with him. Alex, intrigued by robots with more full intelligence and looking to mod or hack Ada, goes online and easily finds a community willing to make her into a real girl. Will Alex + Ada form a real bond, or will she run away screaming?
Well, you’ll have to wait till the next volume, cause Luna + Vaughn take an entire book to tell maybe two issues of story. There are some laughs with a robot asking for cheesesteaks as fuel, and, well, the sexually precocious grandmother, but it’s a long walk to get there. Luna’s depiction of on-line communities is interesting, if you really like hexagons. In short good, but you’ll need more to know if this is really going anywhere. (3 out of 5)
City: The Mind in the Machine by Eric Garcia
What if you built a system that scoured every camera, every piece of data it could find, and tried to detect and prevent crime, re-routing resources where they could best keep your city safe? And what if this system was as dumb as a bag of hammers and couldn’t tell a group of kids playing cops and robbers from the real thing? Answer, the most common of sci-fi tropes, you need the human element.
Ben Fischer helped develop this system, Golden Shield, and conveniently (for the plot) lost his eyes in a train gas incident and now has been fitted with cybernetic eyes that also connect to his brain and to Golden Shield. Pretty soon he’s using expensive tram cars to stop car jackers and getting more play with the ladies, as all those who are cybernetically confident tend to do. But when he actually tries to track down the terrorists who bombed his train, his handlers in Homeland want him shut down, with extreme prejudice.
Look, it’s not bad, and it has a few laughs, but it’s basically any action movie with a few sci-fi trappings. Except for Golden Shield, and a few flying drones, everything is decidedly of this period. The story takes place in San Francisco but very little of the actual city bleeds into the plot. It misses some opportunities to really comment on our loss of privacy beyond being able to tell if your buddy’s popcorn is burning, or creepy amounts of detail for a first date. Good bubblegum read, but nothing to suggest this will be a thoughtful continuing epic. (3 out of 5)
Rocket Girl by Brandon Montclare
This book has no pretensions of being profound, as evidenced by the reproduction of the conversation between the creators on its creation. That said, it is enormous fun. 15 year old New York Teen Police Office DaYoung is sent back to the past to stop the technologically advanced world brought about by Quantum Mechanics. She rockets (heh, get it) back to the year 1986 from an alternate future 2013 in which teens are cops because adults can’t be trusted, and DaYoung suspects Quantum Mechanics of sending its own tech to the past to invent it sooner.
Amy Reeder’s reproductions of 1980s New York and its alternate future are a visual delight, as are the antics of the Rocket Girl. Of course within a few pages she saves someone dangling off the statue of Liberty, and breaks up a robbery by sending fruit flying, all while eluding the cops in increasingly acrobatic, or clever camoflage ways. And I’m a sucker for the commissioner in 2013, a kid (well maybe he’s 20) in an over-sized trenchcoat with a big cigar. He looks hilarious and acts accordingly.
While there are some logical questions to be asked, like why the Quantum Mechanics scientists of the past would help the rocket girl thwart their own future success, or why DaYoung would want to take away a future where she gets to fly around and fight crime (except maybe for an over-developed sense of justice). That said there are twists and turns to surprise you, and a sense that even with the first arc closed, there’s a lot more to come in the past. The comic also does some great side-by-side panels of both timelines, unfolding the stories in parallel as if they are happening at the same time. All-in-all, great fun that’s bound to get even better. (4 out of 5)
Meteor Men by Jeff Parker
You and a bunch of your teenage friends, and really everyone in the town, are sitting on your farmland looking at the meteor shower when something falls out of the sky. Suddenly you are the proud owner of a meteorite, well one that has split apart and has a suspiciously uniform hollow part to it. Between trying to assert your ownership of the rock from your over eager scientist friend, and finding a strange alien being in the woods who speaks to you telepathically and likes barbecue sandwiches, your life has suddenly become pretty hectic.
Turns out there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of these meteors that fell all over the world, and yet somehow this teenager out on the farm is the only one who can really communicate with them. And what happened to your boss at the gas station anyway?
This book is kind of E.T. meets Spider-Man 3 (trust me, you’ll get it when you read it). Of course you’ve got a government that over-reacts to the alien beings and tries to kill them all, only to discover they are basically invulnerable and can fling things really far. Oh and they seem to be really protective of this kid and misinterpret almost any action as a threat.
There are a few surprises, particularly the choices and attitudes and the end, but the ending also seems kind of abrupt given the setup. The artwork for the night sky is pretty good, and they do a pretty good job with the teenage moppet, but the alien design is pretty standard and most of the other characters fall into established roles. You’ve read this story, seen this movie, or watched this TV show before, but this is another competent execution of it. (3 out of 5)
Next week I might change things up and review some NetGalley manga. Till then, what are you reading?