Because time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!
At the end to Greg Bear’s THE FORGE OF GOD, Earth was destroyed and humanity had to flee. The surviving adults, helped by a consortium of aliens that had also faced the destroyers, sent their children on a revenge mission to hunt and punish the bad dudes. Sequel ANVIL OF STARS is about the journey of these children, as they hunt for clues, train for the coming assault, debate internally about the morality of their mission, and have a decent amount of teenage sex. Bear is a master in his field, but ANVIL is really a stumper. The majority of the book is slow, if vaguely ominous, and while the universe and characters he’s created are pretty great, the pace of character development is glacial. As the conclusion gets closer, things start to pick up, both plotwise and philosophically. But this would be far superior as a novella or even a series of short stories than a full-blown book. Bear’s writing is as crisp as ever, but not even that can bring ANVIL up to the level normally expected from such a brilliant writer. Head to BLOOD MUSIC or DARWIN’S RADIO to get a better sense of what Bear can accomplish with the written word. —Ryun Patterson
Bart Schneider’s THE MAN IN THE BLIZZARD crams in enough hipster references in the first few pages. That lost my attention faster than if George Bush talked at a Mensa gathering. I get it: You’re hip and “with it.” Its references to Facebook, YouTube and Pitchfork will age the book faster than milk being left out overnight. Augie Boyer is a private eye in Minnesota who comes off as some sort of poetry-spouting pothead Sam Spade. Sadly, it seems everyone in this novel has taken a college course in poetry and aced it, since it’s constantly talked about, to the point of overkill. If I wanted a poetry lesson, I’ll pick up some W.H. Auden. Schneider does not mince words or politics; all Republicans are painted as some crazed group of jackbooted Nazi-like figures who want women to deliver babies live at the Republican National Convention. It does not help that before any of the story finally grabs the reader’s attention, most would have put it down. —Bruce Grossman
If you want to see some of the coolest graphic design of 2008, pick up FORECAST: NOZONE X. If you want to be sent into a spiral of deep depression, also pick up FORECAST: NOZONE X. Two birds, one stone. Part magazine, art book, comic and political polemic, the Nicholas Blechman-edited duotone journal makes sharp points about global warming, carbon footprints, foreign oil and a litany of other hot-button issues via charts, illustrations, cartoons and whatnot. The contributors are quite skilled in crafting cool visuals, but geez, is this subject matter bleak! Decidedly leftist, it struck me as dealing in the kind of fear-mongering that the right is often accused of (and with damned good reason). Even if you agree that the country is screwed up (and it’s hard not to, given all the evidence), this overplays the doom and gloom … and looks awesome while doing it.
As the basis for the Spike TV animated series, Takashi Okazaki’s AFRO SAMURAI: VOLUME 1 is not without plenty of martial-arts action. The lead character is No. 2, a strong, silent type with a ‘fro that actually looks more Carrot Top than any African-American. He’s armed with a sharp sword and out for vengeance for the suckas who killed his father. Heads roll, as in plural, as he looks for and finds the quintuplet monks who have a contract out on his own noggin. As much as I love old-school samurai and kung-fu flicks, this manga is sadly flat. ‘Tis a decent story, but Okazaki’s art is ugly, muddy and sometimes impenetrable because of the dark shading. Or it could just be that this drawing style has never sat well with me.
They say there is comfort in repetition, and OVER & OVER: A CATALOG OF HAND-DRAWN PATTERNS proves that, for more than 250 pages. Edited by Mike Perry, this delightful art book offers a kaleidoscope of visually striking and pleasing patterns from 50 artists, with many presented as full-bleed spreads. Their moods range from totally twisted to buttoned-up and serene, and it’s hard not to get lost while gazing at them, drawn in by their hypnotic pull. Whether simply outrageous or simply beautiful, more than half of these cry out to be framed or co-opted for desktop wallpaper. For anyone who’s ever marveled over the curve of a serif in an original typeface, I strongly recommend this largely letterless and utterly gorgeous tome — a graphic designer’s dream.
Titanic buffs will do backflips over TITANIC: THE LAST GREAT IMAGES even if its author, marine geologist Robert Ballard, doesn’t claim to be one himself. “I don’t go to bed at night and dream of it,” he writes. And yet, he found the damn thing, in 1985. With writer Ian Coutts, he examines the wreckage with a little bit of history and a whole lot of photography in this heavy coffee table book. The vintage pictures and magazine illustrations were of most interest to me, while the numerous underwater photos aren’t super-crisp — then again, submerged as the subject is, how can you expect them to be? If rusty, barnacle-ridden dead ships are your thing, this one’s for you. —Rod Lott
Buy them at Amazon.