Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Witty's Year End Book Review 2010

Another year of unemployment, more time to stress out and read books to calm down...

To re-state the rules: These are not books published this year that I think are AWESOME AND COOL.  Some of these books may have been published ages ago.  It's just these are the books I've read this year that I feel are deserving of the AWESOME AND COOL labels of labeling.  And for the Chinese Spammers who try to leave ....... comments in my comments field, there's a chance they might notice a title and read a book and BE CORRUPTED FOREVER BY MY WESTERN CULTURE IDEALS BWHAHAHAHA.  Okay, maybe not, but here goes.

BEST FICTION BOOK

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
This is a cyberpunk novel that's been out for less than two decades (published 1992!), but I'd heard good things about it and never got a chance to find a copy to read.  Well, with the time on my hands now...
Snow Crash involves Hiro Protagonist (yes, that's his name) living in a 21st Century Los Angeles future world where corporations (some having merged with crime families) control everything... even to where people's names are trademarked.  After losing his job delivering pizza for the Mafia (it's there in 20 minutes OR ELSE), Hiro teams up with the girl YT (Yours Truly) - who's partly to blame for that job loss - to hire themselves out as a hacker/intel to the privatized CIA.  They quickly uncover a dangerous new drug - Snow Crash - that's part computer virus and real-life virus that's infecting more and more citizenry.  It all has something to do with Sumerian religion, self-made gods, and a quest for a universal language that can enslave us all...
What makes the novel fun is how it's both standard cyberpunk - the computer universe and its anarchistic hacker culture - and post-modern thriller. Post-modern meaning self-awareness.  Hiro is fully aware of all Internet Traditions (even though this book was written before any serious traditions were forged!), and also fully hip to the tropes and memes of heroic narrative.  His description of Raven also explains the Badass so well it's what the Tvtropes.org website uses to open their Badass entry.

BEST NON-FICTION BOOK

 Battle Cry Of Freedom, James McPherson
If not the definitive work on the American Civil War, most likely it's in the Top 5.
Political blogger Ta-Nehesi Coates hosted a book reading club online for 2010 on this work, and I had chimed in with my comments, observations, and witless retorts.  Index here on all of TNC's Civil War entries, by the by.
McPherson goes into excellent detail about both the causes of the Civil War (Slavery, slavery, Southern financial and political elites eager to maintain the status quo, and oh yeah slavery) and the battlefield conflicts themselves.  Switching from one chapter that investigates and highlights the political, economic, and cultural changes that the war brought upon the nation; to the next chapter that describes the carnage, confusion, and wartime heroism of each major battle (Shiloh, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Petersburg) and the generals who mismanaged it all.
It's a must-read for all Americans.  Even the ones who don't like history.  You need to read this because, by simple comparison of the rhetoric of the Southern Slaveowner politicos to the rhetoric of today's Far Right conservatives, you'll realize we're still fighting that damn war...

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL


JLA/Avengers, Kurt Busiek and George Perez
This had been out for a few years, and in fact had been on the drawing board for decades (back to the mid-1980s when the comic business exploded into mainstream culture), but I had finally gotten around to reading the collected series this year.
Comic book crossovers are nothing new.  In-universe, they happen all the time (especially as a guest appearance by a popular character - Batman - could boost sales for a struggling title).  Crossing universes, however, are obviously trickier: companies are wary of losing any creative control over their characters, and crossovers between universes have a habit of ignoring certain continuity in order to justify its plot.  Sometimes, a writer unfamiliar with the history or traits of a character can derail everything both within the crossover's story and back in the established continuity that could well kill off a character's popularity for good.  This is, by the way, what happened when DC and Marvel did create a crossover event called DC Vs. Marvel in the mid-1990s that created a convoluted and ridiculous Origin Myth for both universes, set up characters to fight each other for no real reason or resolution, and ended up entertaining NOBODY.
JLA/Avengers did it right.
Taking the primary superhero teams of each universe - Justice League of America (DC) and The Avengers (Marvel) - the story involves a DC galactic villain Krona who travels from universe to universe in a quest to understand how universes are created (in order to control such power for himself).  But in order to do that, he has to destroy said universes while studying them.  When he reaches the Marvel Universe, he confronts the first being of any power that can delay him - The Grandmaster, a hedonist lover of high-stakes games - and is forced to accept the Grandmaster's challenge of having universal champions fight each other to claim twelve powerful totems... and they choose the Justice League and Avengers for the game...
Busiek has a lot of fun tweaking the cultures and continuity of each comic book universe as the two teams visit the others' world and clash.  DC heroes are horrified to see how in the Marvel universe that mutants are persecuted and tyrants like Doom left unchallenged.  Marvel heroes are horrified to see that Supers in the DC universe are nearly worshiped as gods in what looks to them like a fascist society.  Marvel's resident speedster Quicksilver is envious of the fact that his competitor The Flash has his own museum.
Impressive also is Perez's artwork: Notorious for drawing elaborate battle scenes and massive gathering of characters (the cover art for one issue was so packed full of superheroes that Perez had to rest his hand for weeks after completing it), this series was quite possibly his best effort since Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The clincher for the series is when the two teams, realizing the Grandmaster's plot had forced their two Earths together to trap Krona - and that the trap is falling apart - find out from the cosmic being the price each hero will pay even if they stop Krona.  As the heroes had reverted to their Silver (Heroic) Age personas of the 1980s, all of them are shocked by the de-railings (and deaths) each character suffered during the Dark (Antihero) Age of the 1990s.  Disgusted by their futures, they nonetheless agree that stopping Krona - who would destroy both universes anyway - has to happen... and they proceed to launch a massive assault on Krona's citadel just as he's carving into the two beings (Infinity and Kismet) that personify each universe...
As a comic book fan, this was a decent read.

BEST BOOK BY SOMEONE I KNOW AND CORRESPONDED WITH VIA EMAIL ON AN OCCASIONAL BASIS 

I'm gonna need to get back to you all on this one, I haven't made up my mind between Sheryl Nantus or TNC or...

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