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Victor's lab

Review: Airman, by Eion Colfer

Posted on 2009.09.09 at 12:07
Tags: , ,
Rating: 4 Stars



I've recently enjoyed reading several books by oddball YA author Eion Colfer, creator of the Artemis Fowl series. While the adventures of the young criminal mastermind named after a goddess and a chicken have garnered a lot of press, his novel Airman has not. This is too bad, as it is a genuinely engaging, funny, and heart-ripping story. Chronicling the adventures of one Conor Broekhart, the fictitious first teenager to achieve powered flight from the fictitious Saltee Islands, it is a swashbuckling and frequently painful adventure.

Set in the Victorian era, with a cameo by Queen Vicky herself, the story is basically a steampunk Count of Monte Cristo. It is a story of betrayal, imprisonment, science, swordplay, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. However, said evil is so nasty and cunning and potent that victory is by no means assured. The most famous element of Dumas' Count, that of revenge, is by no means absent from this story. However, Conor never quite gives in to its abominable embrace, and is instead rescued by his obsessive pursuit of flight.

Something I really like about this book is that the aeronautic aspect of the novel is handled very realistically. For Conor to fly, he has to figure out how to fly, and when no one has ever done this before, it's damned hard. The longer the wings, the heavier the wings, engines are even heavier, propellers have never been curved before, etc. Aluminum plays what seems to me an unlikely role at the end, but even so, my hat is off to Colfer. Steampunk science has never felt more challenging, or more rewarding.

I do have a few quibbles about the book, and particular its ending, which seemed a bit too pat given the traumas the hero(es) have endured. If I were in Conor's place, I wouldn't be off to school, but half ready for the madhouse instead. That having been said, though, the overall book is terrific and satisfying. Go read it, so say I.

Victor's lab

Review: Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi

Posted on 2009.08.24 at 09:37
Rating: 5 stars

I read the first volume of this graphic novel series-- 2 books out so far-- this morning. It is an easy and quick read, but this does not mean that it is not wonderfully and deeply affective. The opening sequence, detailing a family tragedy that will echo throughout the rest of the volume, is incredibly human and sets the tone of the graphic novel so perfectly. It is so sad, and yet this does not stop the rest of the story from being full of humor and adventure. It's just that everything that happens from that moment on is tinged with a basic and terrible fear that all children have. The story also manages to deal with loss quite well, and realistically, and is note-perfect from the very beginning.

This is clearly a kids' story, but I really admire Kibuishi for not pulling any punches on the horror aspects of this comic. The scary monsters that populate the story are really really scary. Weirder, and more visually frightening than Lovecraft's creations. That having been said, I also suspect that they are the kind of creatures that kids want to read about. The artwork is really fascinating, the characters are memorable and well-written, and the plot is a terrifically involving little fantasy. I really can't recommend this book enough.

Victor's lab

Wild Kingdom

Posted on 2008.12.02 at 18:56
Well, to give the whole story, I'm sick. Sore throat, want to sleep, that kinda thing. I went by campus health today, and was lucky enough to get an appointment right away. I have a virus, there's not treatment except for treating the symptoms. If I rest, it will go away. No big deal.

Walking back from the student health center, though, I saw a blur of brown and white moving past my head. A large hawk, probably a red-tailed hawk, was flying low through the campus. She perched on a branch, maybe twenty feet in the air, and I stopped to watch her. She stared back, infinitely wild, watching me with the interest of a survivor. Worried that I would disturb her, I started to move on.

Another flash of brown-- she flew directly over my head, flying flat and fast into the trees. I lost sight of her for a second; the next moment, I saw something fall out of the tree the hawk had been flying at. The hawk dove with the squirrel, keeping pace with its falling body perfectly, finally landing strangely gently on top of the little tree-dweller.

I looked around. No one else had even noticed the bird-- easily the size of a man's head-- flying so close by, much less witnessed this bloody everyday miracle. The hawk sat there for what seemed like a long time, presumably squeezing the squirrel, making sure that it couldn't hurt her when it thrashed. After a few minutes, she started to eat.

Victor's lab

Dirk Dada Vs. Dr. McNinja!

Posted on 2008.10.11 at 14:38
So, Dirk's been nominated for "Best Protagonist" in frumph.net's "WebComic Readers Choice Awards." Unfortunately, Dirk isn't getting a whole lot of love yet. And no wonder! The wily Dr. McNinja is in the running. Or dominating the contest, with XKCD in second.

Now, make no mistake, I luvs Doctor McNinja, in all of its bizarro glory. Still, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't try to get everyone to register for free at Frumph, and then vote for Dirk Dada.

Plus, you know, ninjas are kinda foreign and stuff. Might be terrorists, who can tell? I'm just saying.

*This message paid for by Prevaricators for Dirk Dada, Best Protagonist and Presumed Emperor of the Whimsies.*

Victor's lab

We survived the SPX

Posted on 2008.10.07 at 21:16
We made it to Bethesda and Baltimore this weekend, for SPX and the Nerdlinger Awards respectively. It was a good trip, we got ourselves one of those coveted custom-labeled beer bottles that are the Nerdlinger trophies, and had a terrific weekend of meeting people and selling stuff. Just in terms of sales, it was one of our best shows ever. There were a lot of worries about the economy collapsing and killing all our sales, but it didn't happen. Evidently, most folks had a good show.

There were also occasional social activities, but I spent a good portion of the weekend doing homework. Because I am lame.

Lame or not, I got to see some great folks. David Malki, Jane Irwin, Leah Riley and Will Woods, John Bintz, Carla Speed McNeil, Tim Daniels and JJ Kahrs, to name a few.

Also, at Carla's suggestion, I ate breakfast every morning at Stella's Bakery, a place of astounding fruity deliciousness. The pear tarts are heaven, and the Greek couple that owns it are that rare combination of curmudgeonly and sweet that I find so appealing.

Good weekend. Too much driving. I kinda want to sleep for a couple weeks.


Victor's lab

Spider Attack!

Posted on 2008.10.02 at 21:40
So, I got into my car this morning. Took off my glasses, trading them for my prescription sunglasses-- and felt the weird, distinctive friction of a spider web breaking on my cheek. Dangling from the temple of my glasses for the briefest second was a tiny, baby spider.

It was cold this morning. Baby spiders live on heat.

THAT SPIDER WAS EATING MY HEAT!!!

Victor's lab

To Bethesda and Beyond! Beyond Not Included.

Posted on 2008.09.30 at 19:56
We'll be at the Small Press eXpo this weekend, being jolly good peoples and displaying our wears. We are also up for a Nerdlinger Award, which is kinda awesome. May the best nerds win!

Victor's lab

New week. Good morning.

Posted on 2008.09.29 at 11:48
I finished my paper last night. The paper I spent all weekend on, and then some. It was, to put a name to it, REALLY FREAKING HARD! The thinking and writing was not so bad, but researching 23 items individually and then justifying their place in the New York Historical Society's library collection? Well, let me just say that there are a lot of books that seem pretty good that no one has an opinion about. But it's done, and I think it turned out pretty well.

This morning, I spent an hour in bed after I woke up, reading The Best American Comics, 2006. It does, in fact, contain some very good comics. And some mediocre ones. Seriously, there were plenty that any given page of Usagi Yojimbo beats without even any question or effort. The political comics, while I tend to agree with their liberal sensibilities, were the most egregious. Bad art combined with a lecture on oversimplified international politics DO NOT SOMEHOW MAKE EACH OTHER BETTER! That said, I did learn a few things that, if accurate, were pretty dang interesting. Plus, I have to admit: the World Bank can be a real male generative organ.

The good comics were real good, though. R. Crumb, Lynda Barry, Joel Priddy (who I'd never heard of before, but whose "The Amazing Life of Onion Jack" is awesome), Jesse Reklaw, and Tom Hart all shine.

Victor's lab

No Place To Build A Web

Posted on 2008.09.22 at 19:42
A beautiful, huge yellow-and-black spider surprised me on the way out the door this afternoon. Apparently, sometime during the day, she decided that the doorway was the perfect place to construct a classic orb web. At around knee level. So, as pretty as it and she was, I was halfway through the web before I saw it, and she was running for the wall. Which was practical.

After this major upheaval in her day, she decided to rest motionless on the doorjam, about six inches from the deadbolt. I knew she was harmless. Even so, she was positioned so I could see her quarter-inch fangs very clearly, so I was nervous about locking the door. It took me a few seconds, and a couple false starts-- very manly, I know-- but I put my hand next to her and locked the door. And hit her with a free-swinging key, which seemed rude. She wasn't hurt, though, and dealt with the whole ordeal with dignity and grace.

She was really awesome to look at, so I pulled out my phone and tried to take a picture. I never take pictures, but this seemed worth the effort. So I tried, and failed. My camera memory was full. Somehow, I took 200 pictures without knowing it. From the look of them, they are mostly of the inside of my pocket. So I learned how to delete pictures, and snapped one of her. Didn't do her justice.

On my way to "work"-- I was headed to a coffee shop to do some reading and writing for school-- a was followed a good ways by an older gentleman in a Cadillac, his head just barely peering over the steering wheel. I swear to God it was Cotton Hill! I didn't mess with him. I don't want to get head-butted in the groin.

Victor's lab

WebComic Readers Choice Awards!

Posted on 2008.09.05 at 14:18
I thought I should mention: The Dada Detective has been nominated for a WebComic Readers Choice Award, Best Protagonist.

Voting starts October 1st. I have to admit, Dirk is very good at protagonizing.

Other pals of mine who are nominated: John Bintz's A Brief Moment of Clarity and J Gray's Second Shift. Congratulations fellers!


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