ARC Review: We Are Here Forever by Michelle Gish

Information

Goodreads: We Are Here Forever
Series: None
Source: ARC from BookCon
Published: July 30, 2019

SummarY

The human race has gone extinct and now the Earth belongs to the Puramus.  They’re cute little aliens that love soft things and flowers.  But are they really so innocent?

Star Divider

Review

The back of the book makes this story sound really mysterious.  Where has the human race gone and why have the purple Puramus taken over?   Where have they come from?  Will they repeat the mistakes of the humans?  This all sounds pretty deep and a little dark.  I have to admit, though, that my impression of the comic strips was neither deep nor dark.  Rather, I found We Are Here Forever best enjoyed as a cute, somewhat quirky comic that readers perhaps should not strive too hard to understand.

We Are Here Forever started as a web comic, and that is readily apparent in the dialogue of the Puramus, in their cuteness, and in the general brand of humor.  The Puramus switch readily from being adorable with big eyes to threatening destruction to any random (harmless) objects that prevent them from having fun.  They also like to explain their emotions (eg. “I am feeling anxiety”) and to affirm, hug, cuddle, comfort, and support each other.  It’s definitely the type of thing I would expect to read online, but it works in printed form, too–though perhaps it may attract a younger, web-savvy audience.

The “mystery” of the Puramus was not really an important thread in the book, which is really a series of different comic strips sometimes tangentially related to each other.  Their background is revealed a little at the end, but I found this merely interesting; it did not give me a give new understanding of the story, change my perception of the Puramus, or otherwise blow my mind.

In the same way, I never saw the evolving Puramu lifestyle as particularly relevant, deep, or dark.  It is clear that the Puramus begin to act a little more like humans (after some brief commentary on human consumerism), but there’s no real “message” about this being good or bad; it just is.  And it did not seem so important to consider why the Puramu lifestyle has changed in a story about anxiety over open mic night.  In some ways, I think the cover summary and the introduction are potentially setting up readers for disappointment, if they are expecting some crazy revelations about the Puramus or a profound exploration of why humanity might be doomed.

We Are Here Forever is, to me, a cute and quirky comic mostly enjoyable for its adorable depictions of floppy little aliens who love to stack and to snack.  I don’t see any deep message in it.  It’s just a nice way to spend some time and relax.  So I’m not sure I’d reread the book.  But I enjoyed reading it through once.

4 stars

The Private Eye: Cloudburst Edition by Brian K. Baughan, Marcos Martin, Munsta Vicente

private-eye-cloudburstINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Private Eye
Series:  Private Eye #1-10
Source: Library
Published: 2015

SUMMARY

Years ago the cloud burst, releasing everyone’s Internet searches to the world.  Now they take on various identities, using codenames, masks, and disguises, to hide their secrets.  But when an illegal P.I. gets caught up in a murder case, he may find that privacy is even more of an illusion than he thought.

Review

Okay, yes.  The premise of this series can seem a little cheesy.  Does anyone even care about their privacy on the Internet anymore?  Most people share every detail of their lives willingly!  A story about how this is dangerous can sometimes feel like it’s trying just a little too hard to be relevant and to speak to modern times.  Let’s talk about what the kids know, right?  Still, if you can get past the premise, The Private Eye is an engaging read, one full of suspense and mystery.

I love a rogue investigator as much as the next person, that mysterious figure who can find the truth when the official channels fail.  There’s something about the loneliness of the job that makes you want to cheer for them.  In that respect, The Private Eye captured me from the start.  Who is the mysterious P.I.?  Does he really only care about money?  Will he take his hardest case yet, for the thrill of the challenge?

The mystery surrounding the hero is the story’s most enticing point.  The world, full of men and women who don disguises to hide, say, their intellectual interests from their parents or their penchant for a fun night out from their boss, is interesting enough.  It’s all very sci-fi in the best way.  And the secondary characters are truly engaging and sympathetic, especially P.I.’s grandfather, who remembers the days of the Internet and finds P.I.’s horror of it quite amusing.  However, P.I. lies at the center of the story and he  needs to be compelling for it to work–because eventually the plot falls apart.

The ending feels rushed, the stakes don’t feel that high, and it’s certainly unclear whether we ought to be fearing the villain as much as P.I. does.  Certainly the villain is bad–he’s a murderer.  But is his plot so diabolical?  Are we going to side with P.I., are we going to feel the danger and the suspense that he is, when we don’t buy into P.I.’s worldview?  Perhaps only if we buy into P.I. as a character.

Ultimately, The Private Eye is an entertaining read, one sure to appeal to graphic novel fans and sci-fi fans.  The premise is, if nothing else, thought-provoking–assuming you allow your thoughts to be provoked, since the book itself seldom delves into the questions it raises.  And the characters are the best part.

4 starsKrysta 64

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Guest Post)

Charlotte Bronte Banner
We are continuing this week’s Charlotte Brontë feature with a guest post by our friend Denise.  Denise is a librarian and an avid reader.  She has contributed a number of guests posts to Pages Unbound, including reflections on Robin Hood and Tolkien and reviews of The Doomsday Code and The World Above, among others.  See all her contributions here.

Cover of The Eyre AffairInformation

Goodreads: The Eyre Affair
Series: Thursday Next #1
Published: January 1, 2001

Summary

Set in an alternative Great Britain, where time travel is a completely normal occurrence and forging great literary works is a punishable crime, this book features Thursday Next, a literary detective whose job is to protect literature from theft, fraud, and sabotage. And the works of sabotage can get pretty ugly, as Thursday finds herself in a battle to save Jane Eyre (both the character and the story) from being destroyed by an adversary with fantastic abilities and a penchant for committing crimes for the sake of committing crimes.

Review

Adaptations can be a tricky thing. Usually, they are loved for being clever and on-point with the spirit of the original, or they are vehemently despised for totally missing that point or being little more than imitation. I’m not sure Fforde’s Eyre Affair fits totally with any of these opinions. I found the story as a whole enjoyably clever, though I can understand arguments that Fforde’s treatment of Jane Eyre misses some key points. Regardless, I became hooked on this series the first time I read The Eyre Affair. But then, it was difficult not to, with the world Fforde has created – where serious discussions of literature are both commonplace and heated; where the lines between fiction and reality are constantly being blurred to the point where fiction as a whole begins to have a life of its own, not to mention the puns! And Fforde’s world just gets better and better as the series goes on.

But we’re celebrating Brontë this week, so on with an examination of Jane Eyre’s place in The Eyre Affair

Despite the fact that the title of the work is The Eyre Affair, Jane Eyre is not dragged into the story (literally) until about halfway through. Fforde’s is a world that loves Jane Eyre, but is unhappy with its ending – a much different one than we are familiar with, where Jane does not go back to Rochester but elects to go with St. John Rivers, though she still refuses to marry him. In a way, The Eyre Affair is also the story of how Jane Eyre got its mostly happily-ever-after ending, with the implication being that some of the things that happen in the novel happen, not because Brontë wrote them that way but because other things entered the manuscript and affected its outcome behind the scenes. “What was Brontë thinking?” is a common sentiment expressed among the characters in the novel. At the same time that some might see something taken from Brontë’s genius with this set-up, I think Fforde is highlighting it. We know the “original ending” is what is really fake, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that no one likes it in the book. I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t like it in our real world either. Ultimately, it’s an interesting thought experiment, like so much else in Fforde’s world. And the changes are still “pure Brontë” as far as this world is concerned; she may as well have originally wrote it herself by the time all is said and done. I do struggle to suspend my disbelief with that claim though, since it is a bit unclear how the structure/understanding of Fforde’s world supports it. It wasn’t the ending in Brontë’s “original manuscript,” after all, and she isn’t shown rewriting her own story. (Though that is, perhaps, a possibility, with all else that is possible in Fforde’s world – the time travel, jumping in and out of book worlds, etc.)

What’s also important to understand about this book is that it is clearly meant to be funny; it is very rare that this world of Fforde’s actually takes itself seriously. I mean – the main character’s name is “Thursday Next”… and the pets everyone just has to have are cloned dodo birds. Even the charming premise that destroying great works of literature is a punishable offense can seem as ridiculous as it is charming within the realms of this text. Just about the only things that are treated with any amount of levity are themes, specifically death – death in the war going on in Thursday’s world, the possibility of losing literary characters, of losing whole stories – and fiction, specifically the ability of story to truly live: an interesting juxtaposition of topics that is brought to the forefront amid the humorous situations and the puns, and all the more so because everything else is funny. Some elements of Jane Eyre’s story are inserted into Thursday’s own story in a comical way, especially pertaining to her love life, but overall Fforde seems to be less interested in the story that Brontë tells for itself. What’s important to The Eyre Affair is Brontë’s impact, which, in turn, provokes several interesting questions. What would happen if we lost Jane Eyre, or any of the great works? If one of our favorite characters ceased to exist, or never existed? And why isn’t literature taken as seriously as it is in this book by the public at large today? Does it deserve to be? Fforde’s world, humor, and passion for literature may have been why I fell in love with these books – but it’s the exploration of these questions, and questions like these in subsequent books, that keep me coming back to the series for more. I highly recommend it to all grammarians, librarians, bibliophiles, science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts, amateur detectives, creative writers, Bronte fans (of course) and everyone else in between.

Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Return of Zita the SpacegirlInformation

Goodreads: Return of Zita the Spacegirl
Series: Zita the Spacegirl #3
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

Imprisoned on a planet from which no one has ever escaped, Zita is more determined than ever to find her way back to Earth–and to save it from the villain who wants to destroy its population so his own people can claim it as a home.  But will Zita’s old allies turn against her in her most personal battle yet?

Review

The third Zita the Spacegirl book offers much the same fare as the previous installments, reuniting all the old characters for a battle that this touches Zita personally–the one for Earth.  However, though the threat is real, the story never gets too serious, always providing a bit of humor just when things seem to be getting too dark.  The plot is not particularly original, but the sense of fun makes the story worthwhile.

Most of the characters in this book readers have met before, but the two most interesting new faces include a talking skeleton and a pile of rags that somehow gained life.  They are by far the best part of the story, overshadowing the cliche plotline (alien attacking earth to claim it for his own) and the older characters, who have little new to offer other than the expected reuniting of Piper the con man and his old flame Madrigal.  Without the skeleton and the rag pile, I am not sure I would have felt compelled to read on.

The story reads much as you might expect, with Zita breaking prison to thwart her nemesis.  Not all of the occurrences made a lot of sense and one part even seems to contradict prior happenings, but at this point in the series I no longer expect the plot to be consistent.  I am simply along for the ride, enjoying watching a young girl, brave and full of heart, explore the universe and fight evil.

If another Zita book comes out, I will probably pick it up, but I certainly feel no need to read it immediately.  Waiting for the library to get a copy will not cause me any worry in this case.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the SpacegirlInformation

Goodreads: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
Series: Zita the Spacegirl #2
Source: Library
Published: 2012

Summary

Zita wants nothing more than to return home, but her reputation as the girl who saved a planet from destruction has preceded her throughout the galaxy and she cannot set foot anywhere without being mobbed by fans.  The discovery of a robot who can mimic her appearance seems the perfect opportunity for her to escape all the attention while the robot signs autographs in her place.  But the robot enjoys being a hero and, when Zita returns, decides to take over Zita’s life for good.

Review

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl picks up an unspecified amount of time after the events of the first book, Zita the Spacegirl, and its glossing over of the details represents the core problem of this installment–too much seems unexplained.  The characters are likable, the action fast, and the message laudable, but sometimes it all seems too much.  The parade of bizarre aliens and the chase scenes through distant worlds begin to overshadow the story and that is all right if one simply desires to marvel at the artwork.  If one is also reading for plot, however, the experience may be a little more disappointing.

The main plot revolves around a group of aliens who wish Zita to visit their world to protect it from an imminent attack from a group of Star Hearts, since they have heard how she saved a different planet from a meteor.  This is immediately confusing because the previous book ended with everyone seemingly convinced Zita’s friend Joseph was the true hero–at least, they wanted him to be king and never asked for Zita to rule them.  At what point did the truth come out?  We gloss right over that to carry on with Zita’s minor exploits.  When the main thread is picked up once more, it only gets stranger–the aliens seem to be coercing Zita to help them, even though she already agreed to do so.  And then the mess really begins.

[SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING] The message of the book seems to be that true heroism consists in sacrificing oneself for others–and that is a beautiful message!  However, the message quickly becomes somewhat muddled.  Zita and Robot-Zita fight over who gets to control the weapon that will fight the invading Star Hearts and Zita wins because the weapon can only be controlled by a True Hero–that is, one willing to sacrifice her life.  Robot-Zita still thinks being a hero means getting to sign autographs.  However, Zita is actually unaware that controlling the weapon means giving away her life and once she realizes that she is being absorbed into it (or melded with it or something), she wants out.  Luckily, Robot-Zita is there to take over because now she realizes the nature of heroism and she wants to exhibit it.  This is fortunate because we cannot doom our heroine in the second book of the series but we also need someone to give up their life to stop the Star Hearts and apparently no one will really miss Robot-Zita anyway.  But then the question is: why could Zita control the weapon?  As soon as her life is actually in danger, she asks to leave and lets someone else make the sacrifice in her stead.  I can’t say I blame her–I wouldn’t want a machine to take me over, either–but it is kind of a let-down as far as endings go.

The other disappointment proves, of all things, to be the long-awaited other female character (not including Robot-Zita).  She’s stereotypically exotic and mysterious and attractive and has a romantic past with the con man with whom Zita has been travelling.  She ostensibly appears because she wants Zita for some reason, but if she ever revealed that reason I missed it.  Basically she runs around looking cool and setting up a future reunion with her old flame.  Too bad she seems to have little reason to be there other than to be a future romantic interest.  Too bad her only backstory is about that same romantic interest.  She seems an independent type, yet we have no idea who she is, other than “Piper’s old girlfriend”.

The Zita stories are cute and it is important to have female characters who exhibit bravery and integrity and sacrificial love.  I just wish that these messages could be wrapped in a story both that pays a little more attention where its plot is going and that introduces more female characters for the little girl audience that it no doubt attracts.  I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the SpacegirlInformation

Goodreads: Zita the Spacegirl
Series: Zita the Spacegirl #1
Source: Library
Published: 2011

Summary

When Zita accidentally sends her best friend Joseph to space and a cult of aliens preparing for the end times kidnaps him, she’ll have to band together with an unlikely assortment of characters to save him before an asteroid obliterates them all.

Review

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, exciting romp through space featuring all the weird aliens (many of them reminiscent of Miyazaki’s work) a science-fiction fan could want.  From the first page when Zita discovers a mysterious button and just has to press it, readers know they are in for a story as full of wonder as it is full of danger.  For Zita’s love of fun and her curiosity cannot be quenched even by the startling experience of landing on a strange planet with no way home, even as the inhabitants prepare to die by asteroid and a cult of aliens kidnaps her best friend.  Her open-eyed delight at everything around her keeps the story light even through some of its darker elements.  The unabashed wonder at the universe makes this story stand out as unique, even though some of its elements recall to mind other works.

The characters are the major source of charm in this book, from the irrepressible protagonist to kindhearted conman who befriends her to the battle robot whose sense of loyalty caused his makers to reject him.  The ragtag team who plans to rescue Zita’s friend Joseph forms rather quickly and that seems odd, considering most of them have no real reason to be invested in Joseph’s fate.  However, seeing them work together is not only delightful but oftentimes humorous and it was difficult not to fall in love with them all almost immediately.

Unfortunately, I found myself wondering rather early on where all the females live on this planet.  I appreciate having Zita as a bold and noble female protagonist and I see what the author did there by having her rescue the guy.  However, besides Zita and two chickens who appear briefly for a scene, I do not recall any females in the book.  Of course, some of the background aliens could very well be female–we do not know what the genders of aliens look like.  However, since the robots and aliens introduced were all male (that means, of Zita’s team of six, she is the only female), I got the sense that, well,  everyone here is male.  Even the side characters who appear for one or two scenes, long enough to have names or be referred to with a pronoun, are male.  So do aliens reproduce differently on this planet or are they in an unacknowledged population crisis?  Not featuring females in a story without some sort of explanation (like it’s historical fiction and it’s set in a male-dominated environment), aside from disappointing little girls, just does not make sense.

Still, I enjoyed Zita’s adventure immensely and plan to follow her exploits in the next two books.  It’s always refreshing to see a protagonist who immediately places others before herself.  Good people do exist!  I just hope that the forthcoming stories showcase some more awesome females.