Friday Reviews: Noir Mash Notes

Every Friday I review two books from NetGalley (usually graphic novels). This week we’ve got two stories of dangerous women, some who kill for love, and others for adventure.

Murder Me Dead

Writer and Artist – David Lapham

IDIG025518_1‘ll be upfront, I’m not a fan of David Lapham’s work, at least what I’ve read of it. He’s good at the gritty crime drama, that much is certain, but he has a little too much love of the grime for my taste. The series he’s most known for, Stray Bullets, is a crime anthology that seems to contain little of redeeming human value, despite being critically acclaimed (and Eisner winning). But I tried to come at this book fresh, looking for a different David Lapham. After all, giving writers another chance can sometimes work out. The Luna brothers might write some terrible comics like Girls, but still be able to produce interesting works like Alex + Ada.

Murder Me Dead is a noir tale through and through. A cheating husband comes home to find his wife has apparently killed herself by hanging from their ceiling fan. Her rich family blames him for her death. In the middle of this, an old friend from high-school reminds him of a girl he once loved from a simpler time. But upon reuniting with her, he finds that she is involved in a very tangled web of lies and bad people. Soon he finds himself doing just about anything for this woman, even though she probably isn’t worth it.

There’s a lot of twists and turns and betrayals to this plot. You’re not really rooting for anybody because everybody is terrible in one way or another. The best person in the story is probably the husband’s first mistress, who tries to get him to see the destructive path this other woman is leading him toward and leaves her husband not for him, but for herself. Lapham does a good job at drawing slimy characters, but doesn’t do a lot of justice to women. The man’s desire for this woman is irrational and completely ignores some pretty obvious red flags, which fits the noir world view of women. Lapham accomplishes his genre piece well, but I don’t feel like he injects a whole lot new into it other than a continuing succession of twists and turns. The ending sequence is interesting and provides a satisfying conclusion, but there’s a lot in the middle where you just want to take these characters by the shoulders and knock some sense into them.

In short, this piece feels like a throwback but doesn’t match up to the work done by the greats of that genre from that time. I guess if you’re a fan of Lapham’s you’ll be glad to see this back in print.

(2 stars | Definitely not for me, but maybe for you).

Noir Volume 1

Writer – Victor Gischler, Artist – Andrea Multti

DIG025417_1To be honest with you, aside from everyone being dressed in black, I don’t really know why this was called Noir. It’d be more accurate to just call it Pulp. Femme fatale and thief The Black Sparrow enlists The Shadow’s help in retrieving an artifact she stole from a museum. It becomes evident that the mysterious Moon stone is just one piece in a larger puzzle that may lead to a hidden knight’s Templar treasure. The Sparrow encounters and teams up with Miss Fury, another masked dark heroine who seeks adventure more than profit.

I did a little research on time line and like a lot of comic book characters there’s quite a bit of cross-pollination. The Shadow is reminiscent of The Batman who appeared a year or two later, and Miss Fury followed the debut of Catwoman wearing a costume that looks like a cross between Batman’s early ears and Catwoman’s costume.

Dialogue is a little pained at points and the writer didn’t seem to consistently decide The Sparrow was Latina until a couple of issues in. Personally, I like the domino mask depicted on the cover as opposed to the more pointed mask in the issues. It distinguishes her better from Miss Fury in terms of attitude. I was kind of expecting The Shadow to have more of a role in this story (at least coming back in the end), but his part is limited to just the first issue. There’s a couple of villains hepped on some kind of steroid drugs that do a decent job of being our Nazi stand-ins and otherwise we have kind of a female Indiana Jones story.

This got better as it went along, though the conclusion isn’t much of a surprise given the way these stories often go. Some of the back and forth between the two women is genuinely amusing, even though half the time they seem to be there just to strike sexy action poses. All in all a decent revival of a classic comic book property, and a fun story that while not particularly memorable is at least entertaining.

(3 Stars | Needs more Shadow)

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The Sky Below (Chapter Four)

In this chapter of The Sky Below, a baseball player copes with the loss of the Kielbasa Kid and kielbasa and we start to get a vision of what this new world will look like, besides showers coming out of the floor.

If you missed Chapters 1-3 you can download them and the latest chapters from this page. As always The Sky Below is available in a variety of eReader and tablet friendly formats. So if you don’t want to read a whole chapter on the computer (and who does really?) be sure to check these out. Maybe something to curl up with over the long cold weekend.

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CHAPTER FOUR

The world was fuzzy and out of focus; colors blended into each other like a watercolor painting. This trick of vision would have made sense to Eddie if he’d been crying or gotten a bit of sweat in his eye. The truth was he’d just been staring too long. His eyes were dry from the wind, and his face was cold. It was as if he wanted to burn an image into his brain, but his eyes couldn’t or didn’t want to focus, so his mind just took one blurry picture after another.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting there. It felt like days, though it was probably only a couple of hours since the sun was still up. Still, there was no way to be sure. If gravity couldn’t be counted on, maybe the sun couldn’t either.

Someone finally spoke, Eddie didn’t really hear who, but whoever it was had had their fill of sitting around moping and was trying to stir the others into some kind of action. None of them seemed to have the energy to object, but neither did they show any enthusiasm, choosing only to shuffle mechanically toward the far end of the dugout.

Eddie thought about ignoring the voice, continuing to sit there and stare until the sun went out or he lost his vision. Then there would be nothing to keep him from stepping over the edge, which seemed to be calling him with every passing second. That big open sky was getting inside him, goading him to permanent and maybe inevitable action. After all, how long did any of them really have?

It was Manny who finally broke him out of his stupor, tapping him on the upper arm. Eddie grunted, his muscles stiff from sitting on hard cement, and shuffled in the same direction as the rest of his teammates.

At the end of the dugout a door opened into a short corridor that led to a secondary locker room. The area mainly served the other events hosted on the field, though occasionally during long games the players would take advantage of the proximity to towel off or re-tape a foot. The locker room was small, maybe twenty feet by thirty feet at the most. Along the right wall were a line of open lockers and above them in the center of the room was a set of long wooden benches.

A rack of bats hung near the door, most of which had surprisingly not fallen to the floor. Some had flipped and were hanging by their grip, while others had slid straight down and become stuck. Eddie reached an arm up and pulled a metal bat down, flipping it over so he could hold the grip in his right hand.

Slowly he ran his hands over the black and blue paint. There were a couple of dents and a few chips he could feel with his palm, but the balance was still good. There was no space to swing in this small room, so all he could do was turn the bat over again and again in his hand. He remembered the feeling of electricity, the power when the ball made contact with your swing in just the right spot. You could feel everything the pitcher had put behind that ball, and how it was fighting against the muscles in your arms and shoulders. When that momentum was pushed forward it felt like a release, like something almost spiritual. After every swing like that, Eddie could feel the light tap of his bat on his left shoulder, a reminder that maybe it was time to start running.

He was never going to have that feeling again, or so he imagined. Though if he was being honest it had been a while since he’d felt it anyway.

Everyone was still silent, even the young man who’d been shouting at them to move, who Eddie now recognized as Stankowsky, a rising star who’d come up from the Clippers just last year. Stankowsky was pacing back and forth across the ceiling floor until he tripped on something. He swore as he turned around to see the shower head sticking out of the floor. Some of the other guys chuckled for a second before the room was quiet again.

Stankowsky just stood and stared at the shower head. At first Eddie thought the kid was angry, but after looking closer he could tell that Stankowsky was trying to work something out. His features were sunken in, and he shaved his head every couple of days. A thin growth of mustache hung above his upper lip, though it was usually hidden from view by Stan’s pursed lips. His neck looked like he’d swallowed a baseball and with the way the kid mouthed off sometimes during practice, Eddie had thought about taking a swing at that ball more than once.

“We’re gonna need water,” Stankowsky said finally.

No one had really been paying attention except Eddie, but Manny was the first to reply, “What’s that, Stan?”

“We need to raid every snack bar and vending machine in the stadium, all the way down to the upper decks,” Stankowsky replied, ignoring Eddie’s obvious scrutiny.

Manny raised an eyebrow and the rest of the team seemed to be largely ignoring the conversation. Franklin for his part seemed to be wondering how Stankowsky could be thinking of food at a time like this, which was understandable for a guy who’d spent the last half hour revisiting his lunch.

“All of you need to look around,” Stankowsky said, raising his voice slightly but remaining calm. “This stadium is upside down, probably the whole city, maybe even the whole damn world. Lake Erie is now a cloud of mist floating up into space until it freezes. Same goes for the Cuyahoga River and every fountain, well and puddle. The only water there’s going to be is what we’ve bottled.”

Franklin smirked, “Haven’t you always been a doomsday prepper, Stankowsky? Isn’t the first thing you guys do is horde a stash of water?”

Stankowsky shook his head. “It’s in my bunker out in Garfield Heights. Might as well be on the moon for all the good it’s going to do us here.”

“Well, I guess we’re really screwed then,” Franklin said dismissively.

“You guys don’t get it do you?” Stankowsky said, “Whether this thing lasts another hour, or another year or a whole century everything’s going to be different. The only way we’re going to survive is if we embrace the reality of our situation before anyone else does.”

“Aww, you’re full of crap, Stan,” Franklin scoffed.

Eddie wasn’t so sure. They’d survived the first wave of this thing basically on luck alone. But there was only so far luck was going to take them.

“You should listen to him,” Eddie said. “We’re probably not the only ones who survived. We were down 4-0 in the fourth inning. I’m betting people didn’t wait for the seventh inning stretch to go for another beer. There’s probably people right below us walking around trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“I guess our losing streak saved a few lives,” Manny observed.

“Yeah,” Franklin sneered, “If ‘ol Eddie here had been able to keep a count alive longer than three pitches, maybe Alfonso would still be with us too.”

“That’s not funny, Franklin,” Manny said.

“Just making an observation,” Franklin said, leaning back on his elbows.

Eddie wondered how many of the men standing in that room had made the same “observation”. Hell, he’d been thinking it too. If they’d had a choice between him and Alfonso, even Manny wouldn’t have picked Eddie.

“Why do you want to go down to the upper decks anyway, Stan?” Their second baseman, Conesta, asked. “We’ve got no idea how long those levels are going to stay structurally sound. We should get what we can from this deck and head up into the sewers.”

“Conesta’s got a point,” Manny observed, “We all saw what happened to the pavilion. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of this place peels away.”

Stankowsky shook his head again. “We’re going to need more than just water. We’re going to need a way to defend ourselves.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Manny asked, his voice growing colder. “Defend ourselves from whom?”

“Everyone else,” Stankowsky replied flatly.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” Manny fumed. He looked to Eddie like he was about to leap forward and shake Stankowsky by the shoulders.

Stankowsky continued, ignoring the question and any imminent threat, “I’m just expecting people to be people, in all their flawed, crazed and animal ways.”

“You’re the animal, Stankowsky!” Manny said, “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there who could be hurt and suffering.”

Eddie’s blood should have been boiling at the same temperature as Manny’s but somehow he was remaining calm. It was possible that he was just numb after what he’d seen, but he suspected it was something else.

“You’re right,” Stankowsky said, “And I feel for all of them, really I do. But is there going to be enough water for all of us?”

“Fuck you!” Manny cursed.

Stankowsky for his part remained stoic. “Fuck you too, if it’ll make you feel better. I’m just being realistic. We’re going to need to cooperate to survive, but not with everyone. Do you know what we are, Manny? Do any of you?”

He scanned around a room full of blank or angry stares.

“We’re a tribe, and a tribe looks out for their own. We don’t know who we’re going to meet out there, in the stadium or anywhere else we go. We don’t know what they’ll become. But we know each other.”

Eddie didn’t like the man saying those words, even if he knew they needed to be said. But that was the problem with hard truth. The people who came to the hard conclusions were hard people.

He put a hand on Manny’s shoulder, “Stan’s right, Manny.” Manny’s muscles loosened slightly, but his face still bore a dangerous expression. Manny hadn’t liked Stankowsky much when they’d been teammates, and he probably liked him less now that he was trying to be some kind of post-apocalyptic tribal chief.

Eddie turned to address the rest of the people in the room. “We are a team, even if there’s some of us we can’t stand. Now I want to try to help anyone we can, but part of being able to do that is being able to take care of ourselves.”

“Is this the part of the movie where we all put our hands in the center and shout ‘go tribe’ or something?” Franklin’s voice slithered out from where he was leaning against the lockers.

Eddie smiled, “You know what? You’re right, Franklin. This is some kinda movie. Probably one of those crappy horror flicks they used to show on Big Chuck and Lil John.”

“Yeah, like The Ground Above or Topsy-Turvy-Terra,” Conesta offered.

Manny chuckled, his face softening, “What does that make Franklin, the Kielbasa kid?”

“That’s good,” Eddie laughed. “And I’d always had Stankowsky pegged as a certain ethnic.”

The three men started laughing uncontrollably until Stankowsky cut them off. “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

“Oh, that’s right, you’re from down south,” Eddie put his arm around Stankowsky. “If YouTube somehow survived this catastrophe you should watch the certain ethnic lays carpet.”

“Or the certain ethnic movers,” Conesta added.

Manny laughed, “Oh, I’d forgotten about that one.”

“Anyway,” Eddie continued, “Stan’s right about one thing, there are supplies in this stadium we’re gonna regret losing to gravity if we sit around here all day.”

“Holy shit!” Conesta interrupted.

“What?” Eddie asked.

“All the cows and pigs, they’re probably floating in low earth orbit by now. No Kielbasa kid after all.”

“At least they’ll be well preserved,” Manny said, chuckling again.

Eddie grinned, “Probably, though I for one am grabbing a hot dog when we go downstairs.”

He grabbed a sports bag that had been crumpled in the corner and tossed it to Stankowsky. He tossed another at Franklin before handing a few more to Manny, Conesta and Belanchek, their pitcher.

“What if we run into trouble?” Conesta asked. “It’s a long way between here and the security office.”

Eddie looked down at the bat in his hand, then back up at the rack above him. He’d been in fights as a kid, but that was using your fists and feet, not a weapon. He’d seen the damage a gun could do, but that had felt cold, almost distant. Even as he contemplated their goal he found himself realizing he could fire a gun. That wasn’t personal. But beating someone with a bat, the electricity of impact of metal against bone … that was taking something he had loved since he was a kid and perverting it.

“We’ll use these,” he tossed his bat to Manny, then started taking them down for the rest of the players. It was funny; as he watched them toss the bats from one hand to the other, adjusting their gloves and trying out the grip, they almost looked like ballplayers again. His eyes turned to Belanchek, who was pocketing a couple of balls and tossing a couple more in his pack. Who needs a bullet when you have a 97 mile per hour fastball?

Maybe Stankowsky was wrong, maybe they wouldn’t need any of this. Maybe people would look in the face of this tragedy and decide to help each other out.

‘Yeah, when pigs fly,’ he thought, ‘though come to think of it, I guess they are.’

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All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.

by-nc-nd

Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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Writing Maintenance

As my car and my body struggled to deal with the below zero temperatures yesterday morning, I started to think about how writing is a lot like maintaining a car.

For one thing in cold weather, it’s not a good idea to let your engine sit for more than few days without being run or it’ll complain the next time you try to turn it on. Similarly, writing works best when you’re doing it often in regular sustained bursts. When you “turn the key” so to speak, on your next post or the next chapter of your novel, the words are more likely to flow naturally if it hasn’t been that long since the last time you took your writing out for a spin.

Similarly, you can get a lot of carbon build up in an engine if all you do is city driving. Sometimes you need to take a car out on the highway to get rid of that grime. With writing the equivalent of this is to practice different kinds of writing. If all I did was write blog posts, or sit sequestered in a room working on my novel, eventually my mind would start to get filled with crud. One type of writing can help free up gunk that’s built up in other types.

If it’s been a really long time since you’ve driven a car, like 18 months or more, one of the first things you need to do is put some new gas in the tank, and maybe even drain some of the old gas out. This is kind of how it feels to go back to anything you’ve written more than maybe a year or two ago, especially as you’re developing as a writer. Something that looked tight and provocative to you when you wrote it will look horrible to you a little later. Here’s the only problem, you’re not always right. Sometimes we can over tinker, change the grades of gasoline or try a bunch of additives, when really all we need is a fresh tank.

Every now and again we need to assess how things are going with our writing. Is it worth putting more money or time into this car, or should we get a new one? This doesn’t mean giving up driving, it just might mean going in a different direction. If you’ve been trying your hand at genre fiction for a long time, and it really isn’t getting you anywhere, maybe it’s time to try writing something else. Then again, maybe not. Some people get 300,000 miles or more out of their cars (personally I’d love to hit the moon with mine, but it’s a Ford so that’s unlikely).

We do regular maintenance on cars and we should do regular maintenance on writing as well. Whether it’s writing exercises, or reading good books, there are things that help us to keep running more than just the practice of writing. You wouldn’t drive a car without ever changing the oil, or the brake pads or the tires. Why would you write without reading books? Sure you don’t have time, but eventually something may happen that will cause you to need to make the time.

Lastly, it is possible for an engine to overheat, particularly if it’s been driving at 70 or above for 10 hours or so. Taking breaks is just as important, sometimes more so. We can’t operate at peak speed forever, we need to slow down. I’ve been feeling this a lot with the two week cycle of The Sky Below, and I relish the Thursday and Friday after a chapter is released where I don’t really think about it. I need the recharge before I can keep going.

Keep driving and keep writing. And pray for spring!

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Processing Words

If there’s one piece of software at the center of the writing life, it’s word processors. I’ve used a variety of these programs over the years migrating with technology and formatting preferences. Recently, I got to thinking about the pros and cons of all these programs as I was working on Chapter 4 of The Sky Below on my Linux box using AbiWord and thought I’d share them with you.

WordPerfect – I wrote my first book with this program, starting with version 6 and using version 8 and 10 with each new computer we bought. I used to say you could have Word or you could have perfect. As a software guy one of the things I appreciate about this program is the cross-compatibility between versions. You could create a document in version 10 and open it in version 6 and vice versa. This was the program I used on my first computer (a Windows 3.1 Compaq) and on my first laptop (a gifted gray brick of a Toshiba Satellite). Remember when you used to have to come up with 8-character names for file names?  Probably the reason most of my titles are still short.

OpenOffice – Nothing like getting an entire office suite for free. Word Processors, and even programs like Excel and Power Point feel like such an essential part of the computer that it can sting a little bit to pay high double digit, or even low triple digit prices for them. I primarily used OpenOffice 2 and 3 though I have 4 installed on several of my machines. Probably the last time I used this was for NaNoWriMo in 2011 when I found out the word count had a quirk where it would count quotation marks as words and I had to make up a deficit of about 1000 words before the deadline. Surreality’s first draft was written between WordPerfect and OpenOffice which caused all sorts of interesting formatting quirks when I started converting it to an eBook. I remember liking that you could save books to PDF long before Word got that ability directly.

AbiWord – Basically a clone of Word 2003 but with a variety of plugins and conversion formats so you can read and w rite to just about every common format (including the .docx format used by Word today). The main advantage to this is performance. I’ve got it installed on old hardware designed mainly for Windows XP and now running Zorin light linux. OpenOffice might run (or it’s branch LibreOffice), but it would take forever. Playing around with it the last couple of weeks I noticed it had a summarize feature that looked pretty cool and the ability to save directly to the EPUB format. Works well for writing and editing the chapter before formatting it in something else.

Notepad++ – If you’ve never used this program you really should, particularly if you’re a web programmer who doesn’t like using a fancy IDE. This is mainly my program of choice for writing blog posts offline before pasting them into WordPress and is also a great way of using the “nuclear option” to clear formatting from something else. It can read the text back to you with text to speech, has a spell check and can open up documents in tabs. I really wish Linux had some kind of equivalent to this as I’ve come to heavily rely on it on almost every machine I own.

DocumentsToGo – I probably had the best setup you could possibly have for this, a tablet case with a keyboard so I could type in this like a mini-laptop. But after taking more than half an hour to write 300 words I went back to focusing on getting my old Linux laptop to fit my needs. This has few of the formatting options of a real text editor and is probably most useful for creating short notes or viewing documents. Maybe on more powerful hardware with a better keyboard I’d like this better, but that seems far too expensive to buy on a tablet when I can get cheap laptops for a couple hundred bucks.

GoogleDocs – I love the collaboration of this, the auto save and the easy ability to highlight notes in the text and resolve them without leaving a trace on the document. This is a great way for my wife and I to revise Surreality before putting in the final changes in something else. Again I feel like this document format is plain, and doesn’t even have some of the simple paragraph styles that are so easy to set up in Word. Some of them are there, but frankly I’ve found it best to write the document in Word, upload it to Google Docs to edit, then paste it back into Word to apply the final changes. I don’t love having chapters up in the cloud so I tend to delete them after they’re in the finished draft.

Microsoft Word – I’ve used this since 97 but the primary versions I’ve used are 2002 (XP) and 2007/2010. I’m one of the people who grumbled about the redesign of the menus into these pallets or tabs or whatever you want to call them, but the truth is once you get used to them, they’re actually easier to use and better laid out than pull down menus ever were. I hate to say this, but the Word format, even though it seems to have a lot of overhead, actually saves documents that render consistently to eReaders and in general has the most robust formatting options for equations, integrating images, etc. Sure if you wanted to lay out your book in something like Latex or Sigil it might look a tidge more professional (maybe) but that’s no way to write. Some self-publishers will insist that using Word will make your book look unprofessional, but the truth is a lot of that can be overcome by testing your book out and paying attention to the advice of other writers. I don’t like that I have to keep buying Word, particularly these cloud based subscription models like Office 365. Sure, it hurt to spend $85 to get a single license copy of 2010 for my new laptop, but it’s been worth it so far.

There are probably others I’m forgetting including what I’m pretty sure was an old version of Word Perfect on a old DOS machine I used to use (green text on a black background and everything). What’s your favorite program to actually write in?

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Brrrrr

Not much to say this morning other than stay warm out there. According to weather.com it’s 3 degrees (feels like -10) where I live and it’s even colder where I work (nothing says winter quite like 0 degrees Fahrenheit with -12 wind chills).

On the lighter side, I got stuck at the end of my driveway this morning. Turns out shoveling out the apron and even some into the street isn’t enough if you don’t have enough momentum. I managed to edge my way out by turning my wheels back and forth and praying, after which I proceeded to sit in my driveway and laugh for a good 30 seconds before trying to get going again.

Sure, I’d expected my doors to freeze open, and my heater to take forever to get up to temperature, but getting stuck in the middle of the road hanging out from my driveway? That’s a new one.

I’m gonna get a hot coffee cocoa and hope the day keeps going so well.

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Friday Reviews: Forgotten Memories and Mysterious Pasts

Each Friday I’ll be reviewing a couple of books (usually comic books from Net Galley). This week is our first Manga week of the year with a couple of titles that explore robots with personality and people with the personality of robots.

Android Angels

Writer and Artist – Kosuke Kabaya

AndroidAngelsIn the world of Android Angels, domestic robots are available for the public but can only be leased for a period of four years before having their memories wiped. This, ostensibly, is to prevent the attachment of people to machines rather than human beings. Still the androids are able to retain any abilities they may have gained from previous owners, and there is some sense that they retain a latent sense of memory as well.

This is an anthology of shorter manga stories with some loose connections, mainly a couple of pages featuring a character from a previous story. The first shows a young student and her robot butler who in a past life was some kind of military droid with bad people still out to get him. Another deals with cooking and the sexual properties of pomegranates. A third takes us into the home of an android developer testing out new designs with only a one month period of getting to know the machine and the last deals with an owner who isn’t quite read to give up his relationship with his android.

Most of the stories deal with the kind of relationships people form with their machines and not as much with the implications wiping memory might have on personality and sentience. Androids in this universe have some sense of their status as lesser servants and that should not form relationships directly with humans, but at the same time come to care for them. Some even express desires of their own. From a science fiction and romantic perspective we cover a lot more ground here than the first arcs of Alex + Ada (from the Luna brothers).

Art is good and done in a more comic style. Not a lot is done to explore the setting of these stories, or the reasons why humanity is now living as it is. As with most anthologies some stories are better than others, but the recurring themes are intriguing, and the stories give us some small emotional or family humor moments. Some of the humor may be less accessible to an American audience, but I’ve always liked the cultural idiosyncrasies of humor.

Probably one of the better things I’ve read out of Gen Manga, which as an independent Manga publisher has so far been a little uneven for me.

(4 Stars | Probably more like 3.5, but still worth the read)

Good-bye Geist

Writer – Ryo Hanada

600167-goodbye_geist_largeA young student is harassed on her commute. At the same time she finds out another student has been filming her. What’s the connection between these events and a series of violent acts on animals from seven years ago? Who can be trusted, and who might be a source of new feelings to be explored?

This had some interesting ideas, but kind of fell down in the execution. For starters some of the characters look very similar in appearance and are difficult to distinguish. It can also be difficult to determine the gender of some characters initially, adding to the confusion as to what exactly is going on.

The story itself feels disjointed and never really draws to much a conclusion. We’re led to believe that what’s going on now is connected to a series of cat mutilations and an eventual murder from seven years ago but why these events are playing out again now is never really explained. We’re also left not sure if our main character is making the best choices for herself and whether she is accepting that the world can do some terrible things or whether she is fighting back.

Given the confusion of the plot, the tacked on short story at the end is confusing in part because you’re not sure at first if we’re meant to think it has anything to do with the plot. It describes a particular conversation between two people on the eve of graduation and again given how indecipherable the author’s art is we’re not sure if these are our characters a few years later or a flashback to previous events.

This had the bones of an intriguing mystery and exploration of teenage feelings but needed work in the execution.

(2 Stars | Rounding down from around 2.5. I kept reading to see if it made any sense but it never really did.)

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Tech Tips for the Distracted Writer

I had a good writing session on Tuesday (got about half the next chapter for The Sky Below done as well as some blog posts), and it was due in large part to writing on my old netbook.

See for me I have two competing urges. On the one hand as a techie and a fan of open source software and just plain tinkering, I like to give every device I own as many capabilities as possible. But at the same time I try to take away distractions like the internet, or games on the computer or just all the myriad  organizational tasks I get myself into so I can get down to real work.

My old netbook is probably my least distracting device and it still has some games, reading material, videos and other distractions. It also happens to be the perfect size to actually fit in a lap when there are no tables at the coffee shop, and taking it along is still lighter than my other netbook (whose bag admittedly is also weighted down by the addition of hard drives, flash drives, tablets and little notebooks).

I’m still figuring some of this out and as always would love to hear what works best for you, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • First up is the easy one, work somewhere that isn’t the same place you play. This can be a spot in your house, maybe a comfortable chair away from the TV or an office if you have one. Or for me since my office is often very distracting the old cliche of the coffee shop works well.
  • I’m not a big fan of “distraction free writing” software, mainly because of the limits in formatting and methods of saving out. But for blog posts one thing you can do is hit F11 (works in most browsers). This makes the browser window fullscreen and hides the menu, which can be helpful on tiny screens like the netbook, but can also take some of the temptations like links out of your way. Some word processors work this way too.
  • Prepare a “go bag” containing only the stuff you’ll need for your writing session. Pens, paper, a computer and any reference materials.
  • If you’re like me and you keep drafts on your tablets for reference, use your eReader instead of your tablet. It’s easier on the eyes and comes with less apps and distractions (though mine still has Scrabble).
  • Schedule play time as well as writing time. Probably one of the reasons I’m productive during the week is I let the weekend be a time when I relax and don’t worry as much about getting stuff done (especially in the evenings). For me that’s Neverwinter Nights with my wife. For you that could be reading comic books, watching TV or playing other games.
  • If the problem is really bad you can always pen and paper it. This can feel very slow if you’ve been a typing writer forever, but it can be a good exercise in choosing your words carefully. And there’s something about the texture of paper that’s been creased by writing that is irreplaceable.
  • If you’re using a computer, don’t take a mouse with you. I’m not a fan of touchpads generally, but they usually can get a document open with little trouble. The rest of the work you actually need to do is using the keyboard. The mouse will only take you places you didn’t mean to go.
  • If you can, use a different computer or piece of tech from the one you typically game on. But if you only have one, maybe consider dual booting. Since almost everything is harder in Linux you’ll be less inclined to do anything but the thing you came for.
  • Take a phone with you for emergencies only. The rest of the time keep it in your bag. If you need to listen to music, let the computer do it. The phone is a many armed temptation.

What do you do to make sure you actually get some work done?

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