Yama’s Lieutenant by Anuja Chandramouli

​This might be a highly inappropriate analogy, but to me Yama’s Lieutenant atleast in parts, felt like Devil May Cry with Hindu pantheon. Though there is no Virgil for our Dante, he is equipped with two four-eyed hounds from hell, Chandrama and Suryama, for Ebony and Ivory.

The main story follows the adventures of Agni Prakash who has to ‘Odd Thomas’ his way off Arakshas, and keep the balance of both world. The initial real world take easily faded out after protagonist’s recruit, and even sub narratives started becoming dark. I don’t really go well with blood and gore, and this book’s intricately woven hell and hatred did unsettle me. The real mythology is juxtaposed with the main story line through manuscript of protagonist’s sister. I enjoyed the peeling onion treatment, where author kept both the characters as well as the readers under the incentive of a gradually unraveling secret.

For a book by the name Yama’s Lieutenant, I found both Yama and his Lieutenant strangely under developed. It might as well be my usual aversion for the ‘preordained chosen one’ narrative. I really did care for, and enjoyed the little chapters involving Agni and Varu, but the celestial twins, Yama and Yami, were more of an annoyance. Another issue I had was the excessive baggage side characters wore, along with their not so easy to remember mythological names. The far greater allegorical purpose the names serve could be lost for an outside reader.

Transcending mythology to new age, in my opinion, involves plenty of material to work with, but conveying the stories in their might requires a talented story teller, and this author kinda nails it.

I would like to thank the author for the review copy.

Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

Basically porn.

Though entirely insignificant, the story is set around a hotel in Austria, before Princip taking out the Archduke. Plot follows, explicitly and quite graphically, the sexual adventures and experiments of  fictional versions of three already fictional female characters-  Alice, Dorothy and Wendy (Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of the Oz and Peter Pan respectively). Storyline is more or less a sharing activity by their adult versions at the wake of WW1, aided with artful renderings of their past adventures. Narrative is layered, with definitive visual layout and writing elements for each girl. For example, through most of the first book, Alice storyline was represented  via looking glass, Woods(and her shoes) were a recurring theme for Dorothy and Wendy was a bit Victorian. (Also their first encounter with adventure were interpreted as their first sexual experience.)

Then there is sex, lots of it, in all imaginable/unimaginable permutations and combinations. And its not the kind that our teenage self would have loved a peek, but the kind that exhausts you as a reader. I put genuine effort in understanding the nuances in book 1, but by the next installment, the graphic nature transformed my reading into skimping and eventually skipping. By the last last book, so called plot was reduced to an utterly boring slide show of all the remaining sketches Moore and Gebbie crafted.

I don’t know where porn stops and art begins, or whether a distinction was even intended here in the first place. Anyway, whatever be the reasons – plot, art, expression, experimentation, provocation, shock yada yada yada ; Lost Girls is quite literally a ‘graphic’ novel.

These words from Moore himself would give a better understanding towards the inspiration and intentions of Lost Girls.

Certainly it seemed to us [Moore and Gebbie] that sex, as a genre, was woefully under-represented in literature. Every other field of human experience—even rarefied ones like detective, spaceman or cowboy—have got whole genres dedicated to them. Whereas the only genre in which sex can be discussed is a disreputable, seamy, under-the-counter genre with absolutely no standards: [the pornography industry]—which is a kind of Bollywood for hip, sleazy ugliness.

source : wiki

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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‘Beautiful’ would be an overused adjective for this magical visual narrative. There is literally nothing to read in the graphic novel, no written words, no colours, no page numbers; but each panel speaks a lot more than what a conventional paragraph would do.

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The graphic novel opens and closes with detailed portraits of people from all over the world, celebrating the diversity and harmony of magical world of immigrants in story.

It is the story of a man immigrating from his strange world to another in search of job and livelihood, leaving his family behind. New beginnings can be scary as well as exciting; the gorgeous art effortlessly conveys conversations, passing of time, flash backs and emotions through our man  and people whom he encounters. Migration and multiculturalism are recurring themes in this book, with every character being like the protagonist sometime in their life, an immigrant looking for a new home, with his/her whole life and dreams in a suitcase. Worlds illustrated in this graphic novel are strange and steampunk-y, with monsters and pokemon like creatures. And everybody speaks distinctly different languages, but it is barely a barrier for the ‘melting pot’ they live in, like how the absence of wordings in the book isn’t a barrier for readers in following the story.

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Four pages that capture ‘time’ through simple sequences. This belongs to the flashback back story of one of the character our hero meets, who was the sole survivor of an old war.
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Titanic reference, in one panel somewhere after the first arrival. Other similar inspirational throwbacks are there in the book, undecipherable for me though.

In the artist after note Shaun directs to various immigrant anecdotes as his thematic inspiration. There were subtle artistic throwbacks as well towards some of the world’s most famous pictures, like the panel of newsboy announcing Titanic catastrophe. Another aspect I noticed about the art was the meticulous attention for detail, for every time I revisited the book it offered something new, something that made me smile. The panels often panned out into a birds eye view, thus reminding reader of all others who follow protagonist’s same plight and insecurities. Analyzing even from a primitive artistic pov, the sketches are definitely nothing easily reproducible, and the usage of inanimate objects and single focuses to convey passing of time is rather phenomenal and unconventionally cinematic.

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This panning out panes are a recurring occurrence in Tan’s visual narrative. First page is from protagonist’s first journey away from his family, the zooming out of perspective represents the departure. Similar usage in second page is a bit more interesting, it captures the similar plight of other immigrants around him, in that apartment complex.
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Though this leaf/flower/plant is alien to readers, this single page brightly conveys the sense of time that has been passed through over seasons.

This extensive work of 4 years could easily be completed in 10 minutes, or one could dwell into the side quests for long absorbing it’s cycles of departure, alienation, fear, assimilation and growth. No matter which path you take, you are bound to revisit for the beautiful feels.

/Above video provides a good insight into the mind and artwork of Shaun Tan./

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang

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Like Old Joseph from Book of Genesis, Fuwaad Ibn Abbas is pleading innocence before Caliph explaining the strange turn of events that resulted in his current predicament. Fuwaad‘s narrative forms the periphery of this novelette, and is centripetally enhanced by three separate stories, whose subtle concatenations are enough to capture readers attention till last page. And it involves time travel and alchemy.

There are two streams that are generally favoured in time travel stories – one where the changes in timeline are retroactive(Heinlein’s By his Bootstraps or Predestination), and the one where they are cumulative(Gerrold’s Man who Folded Himself, or the movie Singularity or Steins Gate). Also there is a third one that does everything the plot demands to, like King’s 11.22.63. Chiang has crafted his tale around the first philosophy, where excising oneself in the past could have implications in future of same timeline, rather than creating another stream of altered reality. I absolutely adored the little details behind working of Gate, and his for-dummies explanation of the same. By keeping the clause of no-past-beyond-manufacturing-date, Chiang was aligning ancient alchemy of his story with Ronald Mallett‘s modern scientific argument, without losing the archaic feeling of former.

There was this translated story vibe around it, like it originally belonged to a foreign folk lore , enriched by centuries of oral tradition. And I loved that. Not to mention the nostalgic Arabian Nights atmosphere the premise invoked. The crux of the story by its ending, felt in close agreement with the ideas of Chiang’s other shorts; particularly What’s Expected of Us: free will might be an illusion and Story of Your Life: the past, future and present are happening now or has happened already no matter the choices you make. Also, Bashaarat‘s shop was a medieval middle eastern Way Station (Clifford Simak) If you squint your eyes into past and look closely.

The time travel plot and story inside a story frameworks were nothing new, but the whole experience stands out, if you can ignore the little preachiness.

“Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.”

———

I found a free pdf copy of the story over net in this link.

This Hugo and Nebula winner was originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press and reprinted in the September 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. (source: wiki)

 

Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain, a 1905 feminist sci fi

sd--330x220Sultana’s Dream was originally published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine, Madras, 1905, in English. here is a drm free link

Considering the time and place it was written, this short is a bad-ass satire on traditional stereotypes and status quo of woman in Colonial India. In Begum’s vision of a feminist utopia – Ladyland, roles are gender reversed, where females lead the future with technology while men are secluded away.

Where are the men?’ I asked her.

‘In their proper places, where they ought to be.’

‘Pray let me know what you mean by “their proper places”.’

‘O, I see my mistake, you cannot know our customs, as you were never here before. We shut our men indoors.’

‘Just as we are kept in the zenana?’

‘Exactly so.’

The premise and metaphors are rather impressive, for example the name Sultana by meaning is a lady Sultan, King/Emperor. She playfully bashes the prevailing old school inclusiveness of then male dominated society – ‘zenana‘s, and denigrate ‘weaker species’ logic. At one point of the story, in Ladyland, ‘zenana‘s are said to be replaced by ‘mardana‘s (mard- male in hindi/urdu), thereby making the land a crime-less eco friendly ‘Amazon’. The things that looked like science fiction in her ‘wonderland’, when observed now, were actually prophecies and solutions for 21st century- Solar Energy, Hydrogen weather balloons, Commercial Aviation and even competitive academics.

And there is a special charm in the writing, a narrative cuteness that keeps men from being offended, be it then, be it now.

We do not covet other people’s land, we do not fight for a piece of diamond though it may be a thousand-fold brighter than the Koh-i-Noor, nor do we grudge a ruler his Peacock Throne. We dive deep into the ocean of knowledge and try to find out the precious gems, which nature has kept in store for us. We enjoy nature’s gifts as much as we can.

———-

52ab07006e1f5.jpgBegum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, commonly known as Begum Rokeya (9 December 1880 – 9 December 1932), was a Bengali writer, educationist, social activist, and advocate of women’s rights. Considered the pioneer feminist of Bengal,[1][2][3] she wrote novels, poems, short stories, science fiction, satires, treatises, and essays.[4] In her writings, she advocated that both men and women should be treated equally as rational beings, and the lack of education is the main reason of women’s lagging behind. (source:wiki)

Nameless by Grant Morrison

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In our solar system, between Mars and Jupiter, there is an asteroid belt, which some people see as an anomaly in place of a should-have-been 5th planet. This hypothetical planet is named as Phaeton by scientists, and the pseudosciences behind it are collectively referred to as ‘disruption theory’. This comic bends that theory and use it in its multi layered narrative, with one completely unfitting element – occultism.

Nameless is a name. Its the name of our protagonist who identifies himself as an expert on the occult(like Constantine). Story opens with a seance, of cosmic proportions, where Nameless is contracted to obtain an archaic key off someone’s dream, by inducing dreams inside dreams. Pretty much like Cobbs from Inception, but with a Lovecraftian touch and Legion(X- Men) psychology.

Meanwhile a huge asteroid- Xibalba (Mayan underworld reference) with a weird Enochian symbol on its surface, is on a collision course with Earth, with a margin of 33 days. A group of scientists are stationed at the Dark side of the moon, to act as Planet’s Michael Bay-ish ‘Armageddon’ crew. Things get weird and trippy when Nameless is recruited to decipher the asteroid symbol and solve the first murder on moon, which turns out to be more or less an Event Horizon scenario. Wrapping my head around this plot is still an ongoing process. It is a non linear acid trip with intertwined ‘unreliable narratives’, that borrows reality realms off Kaballic Tree of Life for plot; and from comic’s own panels, Nameless is Exorcist meeting Apollo 13 in Dantes Inferno.

There are fish people, door to an anti universe and exposure to Elder ones. Also you get to see serious people in space suits with Gravity Falls symbols painted all over, doing Randezvous with Rama and Mountain of Madness. By later issues, it reminded me of Warren Ellis Injection in quality and mind blowing wtf contents.

I must remind you of comic’s mature nature, with gruesomenese in levels with Martyrs movie, if it was a comic. Adding to the horrors is Morrison’s spinning writing – obscure and lunatic(and awesome), like its sci-fi premise. Nameless is further blessed by Burham’s gorgeous artwork- properly inked and meticulously detailed, like a Jodorowsky panel. Also, the reading experience may not be for every body(definitely, not for me if ever cinematic-ally adapted), especially with its vividly rendered physical violence, and existential (and arguably heretic) philosophy.

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Though intellectually demanding and deep, this limited series was a solid read; and weird fun, like all 6 issues in single sitting fun. To me, Nameless in its entirety felt like listening to Tool, while being relatively high.

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Superman : Peace on Earth by Alex Ross and Paul Dini

A panel to panel slideshow of this book would make a great music video for the famous ‘Five for Fighting’ song. 

Complete story is written in first person, as a soliloquy by Clark Kent, with cinematic artwork flowing in a third person fashion. There is a reason why I mentioned Clark Kent instead ofKal-El or Superman, which the book would be able to illustrate best. In fact in thirty something pages, this book achieved what All Star Superman been striving for in 12 issues.

I picked this book out of approbation for Alex Ross, and to comfort myself in Paul Dini’s affable writing. But this oneshot did something far more wonderful, without undermining my suppositions – helped me appreciate Batman v Superman more.