Posts from the ‘Young Adult Literature’ Category

Little Brother

Little Brother.jpgTitle: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
ISBN: 9780307711540 (audiobook), 9780765323118 (paperback)
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 382 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008.

I lost it. “Dad! Are you listening to yourself? They’re talking about investigating practically every person in the city of San Francisco!”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s right. They’ll catch every alimony cheat, every dope dealer, every dirtbag and every terrorist. You just wait. This could be the best thing that ever happened to this country.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” I said. “I beg you. You think that that’s what they intended when they wrote the Constitution? What about the Bill of Rights?”
“The Bill of Rights was written before data-mining,” he said. He was awesomely serene, convinced of his rightness. “The right to freedom of association is fine, but why shouldn’t the cops be allowed to mine your social network to figure out if you’re hanging out with gangbangers and terrorists?”
“Because is’t an invasion of my privacy!” I said.
“What’s the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?” (137-138)

Marcus is a computer nerd living in San Francisco. He’s cut out of school early with his friends to pursue a clue as part of an online scavenger hunt, when the impossible happens. A terrorist attack leaves them one man down after the Department of Homeland Security apprehends them and holds them for secret questioning. When Marcus gets out, the city is in a semi-militarized state as the government hunts down the perpetrators. That’s what they claim they are doing, but as their surveillance methods increase, Marcus isn’t the only one who begins to wonder who these people are and what or who they are really collecting and pursuing.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant about technology, surveillance, privacy, and how they intersect all too often these days. However, reading this book gave me the same creepy crawly feeling that Robopocalypse did almost 5 years ago. Written before Robopocalypse, nothing has really changed since Cory Doctorow wrote this a decade ago. The general public still blindly accepts that surveillance is happening, that information about them is being collected about their movements and habits and activities, and nobody questions where that information is going or how it is being used. We grant access to huge quantities of information because companies require it in order to use their services, and now these publicly owned companies have the ability to control that information, including selling it to third parties, analyzing it for their own purposes, and deciding whether or not the authorities can gain access to that stored information.

It’s hard to imagine any of this happening in real life, and that’s Doctorow’s point. It might be hard to imagine, but it could happen, and we have the technology already where it could. Obviously advocating for a more involved and informed society when it comes to technical privacy, the book ends with Marcus advocating in what feels like a public service announcement for “signing up voters and getting them to the polls.” It includes afterwards by a security technologist and the MIT student who hacked the XBox, both of whom encourage readers to evaluate the world. “Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid” says the security technologist Bruce Schneier, while Andrew Huang ends his essay with “Be like M1k3y [Marcus’ screen name in the book]: step out the door and dare to be free.”

As a result of the technical nature of the story, there are huge sections of info dumps, where action is forwarded and details are revealed in professorial paragraphs mimicking a classroom lecture. This means that readers might get more out of it when they read it over listening to it. While the background is necessary to understand the story and appreciated by this reader, I do wish there had been a better way to incorporate it into the narrative. Obviously Marcus, the main character, is going to surround himself with people who can aid in his digital exploits and who are already more knowledgeable than readers about hacking concepts, so explaining it in character to a character wouldn’t ring true to the story. But they do have an opportunity when they finally have to involve a less-tech savvy but no less paranoid character (I won’t reveal who) about two-thirds into the story. And five pages on key-encryption or an even longer passage on Marcus’ history of LARPing, while appreciated, seemed a little wordy.

The story is insular in nature, with the close-up focus of Marcus and his movements and point of view. As a result, we don’t get a detailed feel for any of his classmates, friends, or fellow hackers who aid in his attempted take down of the government overreach. There is a romance, and they do have protected sex off screen which might prevent recommending it to some audiences. In fact, I feel like we get more information and character development from Marcus and his parents then from any of his friends, most of them falling to the sidelines due to objections of Marcus’s activities.

It’s an important book to recommend in these times of digital sharing and oversight, and hopefully one that not only sparked discussion when it was published but will continue to encourage debate and free thinking, along with caution and thorough analysis of the world, both virtual and real.


Wires and Nerve

I originally intended to post these in October, but the end of the year got away from me. Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober 2017 I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for the theme from October 29th: united.

Wires and Nerve.jpgTitle: Wires and Nerve
Series: Lunar Chronicles series
Author: Marissa Meyer
Illustrator: Doug Holgate with Stephen Gilpin
ISBN: 9781250078261
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: A Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, c2017.

I’ve been hunting wolves for seventy-one days. I’ve tracked their packs through the jungles of Peru. The sewers of Rome. The abandoned shipyards outside Cairo. I’ve seen the devastation they cause with my own eyes. The mutilated bodies of their victims. The terror that lingers in those left behind. I’ve been hunting them long enough that I’m beginning to understand how they operate. Like the wild wolves they’re meant to imitate, they like to prey on the old and sick, singling out the weak from the herd. They strike fast, targeting heavily populated areas, then vanish back into the wilderness. I’ve even come to recognize the sorts of places they like to make their dens. The darker… the eerier… the better. (18-19)

Fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series will be happy to learn that the story didn’t end with Cinder ascension to the Lunar throne. Unfortunately, the wolf-hybrid soldiers that were sent to Earth by Queen Levana in anticipation of her taking control of the planet are still at large, and wreaking havoc around the world. Cinder can’t jeopardize her relationship with Earthen governments and citizens by sending Lunars, especially so soon after they were threatened by that very race. Humans are no match for the wolf soldiers speed and agility. So that leaves Iko, the plucky robot and loyal sidekick with a chip in her personality that makes her unlike any other android. When she runs into a spot of trouble and needs to call on members of the old gang, it sets into motion events that expose the head of the revolution, Alpha Lysander Steele, and his plans to revolt against both humans and Lunars alike.

I’m a biased, long-standing fan of the series from the very first book. I’ve enjoyed and listened to the audiobooks so often that some of the voices used in those are now in my brain. I didn’t expect the blue tones in the illustrations (considering the covers of the original series, I expected red), but the visuals are exceedingly well done. The pacing adds to the action sequences, building suspense and supplementing the dialogue and text with wordless panels that convey meaning and emotion. Holgate does have a tendency to end chapters by focusing on a singular character, especially with an extreme close up of eyes, but that does lend an episodic, cinematic feeling to the story, where you expect a “duhn duhn DUHN!” to play in the background along with the page flip. The plot reads naturally, and while you can more fully appreciate the plot if you’ve read the preceding titles, there is a short summarizing prologue, and additional back matter is provided within the story in a way that doesn’t feel like obtrusive. Characters relationships with each other and motivations are clearly displayed or stated.

It’s exciting to see Iko get her moment in the spotlight and her personality especially shines in her indignity at the salesman who tries to explain why Iko isn’t as celebrated as the rest of the heroes. There is a short scene where it alludes that we’ll learn more about Iko’s programming in the planned sequel. The relationship that Iko begins by the end of the book is slightly problematic to me right now, but I’m looking to see how it develops in the next installment. I was originally looking at her as a C3PO type character, where it wasn’t necessary for her to pair with someone like the rest of the original crew. I guess like a Shakespearean play or the second half of Little Women, fans might have requested this to happen, but I’ve seen some comments online that indicate I’m not the only one with some trepidation on how this will work out.

The sequel, Gone Rogue, comes out Jan. 30th, so soon you can pick them both up to complete your collection.

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All The Way Down.jpgTitle: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
ISBN: 9780525555360
Pages: 286 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

Daisy and I were scanning stations in search of a song to a particular brilliant and underappreciated boy band when we landed upon a news story. “–Indianapolis-based Pickett Engineering, a construction firm employing more than ten thousand people worldwide, today–” I moved my hand toward the scan button, but Daisy pushed it away.
“This is what I was telling you about!” she said as the radio continued, “–one-hundred-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the whereabouts of company CEO Russell Pickett. Pickett, who disappeared the night before a police raid on his home related to a fraud and bribery investigation, was last seen at his riverside compound on September eighth. Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is encourage to call the Indianapolis Police Department.”
“A hundred thousand dollars,” Daisy said. “And you know his kid.” (15)

When news breaks of the disappearance of a local billionaire, sixteen-year-old Aza’s friend Daisy can hardly believe that Aza used to go to camp with his son, Davis. Aza and Daisy lead very different lives compared to Davis, and Daisy is definitely interested in the reward money. After Daisy and Aza are caught snooping around, Davis and Aza reconnect in a manner that only two lost souls who are looking for support can appreciate. However, Aza is more interested in simply getting through the day, as her spirals of thought prove more consuming and destructive. Her medicines and therapy visits aren’t helping, and even she is beginning to realize that maybe she can’t handle everything as well as she thinks.

Be warned, this review includes several longer quotes. I tried very hard to avoid any spoilers in their content. But if you want to be as blown away by the thought-provoking nature of the book as I was the first time you read it, this will probably impact your enjoyment and awe.

Aza suffers from an unnamed illness which appears to my uneducated brain as some combination of paranoia, anxiety, and OCD. She is constantly reopening a wound on her finger in an attempt to drain any infections or harmful bacteria from her body. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has so thoroughly described a mental disorder from the sufferer’s perspective. It begins a conversation about identity, awareness, and self-control that was started long before the phrase “I think therefore I am”. In fact, that quote is discussed at length in the book:

“It’s . . . like, I’m just not sure that I am, strictly speaking, real.”
Dr. Singh placed her feet on the floor and leaned forward, her hands on her knees. “That’s very interesting,” she said. “Very interesting.” I felt briefly proud to be, for a moment anyway, not not uncommon. “It must be very scary, to feel that your self might not be yours. Almost a kind of . . . imprisonment?”
I nodded. […]
“You’re imprisoned within a self that doesn’t feel wholly yours, like Molly Bloom. But also, to you that self often feels deeply contaminated.”
I nodded.
“But you give your thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”
“But your thoughts are you. I think therefore I am, right?”
“No, not really. A fuller formation of Descartes’s philosophy would be Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum. ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’ Descartes wanted to know if you could really know that anything was real, but he believed his ability to doubt reality proved that, while it might not be real, he was. You are as real as anyone, and your doubts make you more real, not less.” (166-167)

I love the way that John Green presents mental illness in a manner that helps me empathize with sufferers but also allows me to see that there is still a lot to be understood about the brain and how it works. There is a lot to process as the book raises questions on self, awareness, identity, being, and thought. I would love to use this as a book discussion pick, and see what others have to say, either based on their own experiences with mental illness or how they interpret the interactions of biological, chemical, and mental responses.

There’s another passage that I quoted to a friend who is suffering depression right now who said that it pretty damn accurately describes her brain.

“I don’t understand how you can be so inhumanly calm down here, […] but you have a panic attack when you think your finger is infected.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “This just isn’t scary.”
“It objectively is,” she said.
“Turn off your light,” I said.
“Hell, no.”
“Turn it off. Nothing bad will happen.” She clicked off her light, and the world went dark. I felt my eyes trying to adjust, but there was no light to adjust to. “Now you can’t see the walls, right. […] Spin around a few times and you won’t know which way is in and which way is out. This is scary. Now imagine if we couldn’t talk, if we couldn’t hear each other’s breathing. Imagine if we had no sense of touch, so even if we were standing next to each other, we’d never know it.”
“Imagine you’re trying to find someone, or even you’re trying to find yourself, but you have no senses, no way to know where the walls are, which way is forward or backward, what is water and what is air. You’re senseless and shapeless– you feel like you you can only describe what you are by identifying what you’re not, and you’re floating around in a body with no control. You don’t get to decide who you like or where you live or when you eat or what you fear. You’re just stuck in there, totally alone, in this darkness. That’s scary. This,” I said, and turned on the flashlight. “This is control. This is power. There may be rats and spiders and whatever the hell. But we shine a light on them, not the other way around. We know where the walls are, which was is in and which way is out. This,” I said, turning off my light again, “is what I feel like when I’m scared. This” –I turned the flashlight back on– “is a walk in the fucking park.” (262-263)
There’s another scene where Aza is fighting her OCD, and the claustrophobic nature of the conversation is palatable in the prose. It’s these scenes that make the book a stand-out among young adult fiction.
The rest of the book was less effective from my point of view. The plot of Davis’s missing father is all but forgotten for most of the book. Now this was probably intentionally done to emphasize Aza’s point of view and how all consuming her mental health issues are from her perspective. However, for a book billed as being about a search for a missing billionaire, there is very little searching done. The search for clues that does take place is short, conveniently accomplished, and then the mystery is left on the sidelines until the very end of the book. I also wish we had seen more of Daisy. While the subject is broached of how self-consumed Aza can be, Daisy seems equally one track, talking exclusively about herself, her likes, her relationship, and making decisions for both of them. There are one or two scenes where their problematic friendship is broached, but then the disagreement is truncated and they return to each other without resolving the underlying issues. The above quote is one of the few times that I feel there is actual understanding and connection happening between these two life-long friends.

Davis was equally enigmatic. We see more of him through his blog posts and poetry than we do during his interactions with Aza. He’s memorable qualities are his fascination with astronomy, his apathy towards his father, and his uncertainty about his brother. His concern over what will happen to his brother and himself as opposed to what has happened to his father is heartbreaking and the one thing that made him a relatable character. He sees his life as reactive to his father’s actions, a life he has no control over, which is what really allows him to connect so easily with Aza. Both Davis and Aza see their lives as a result of reactions, Davis to external forces (his father, the media, his brother) and Aza to internal forces (bacteria, chemical reactions, the OCD inside her head).

The last two pages seemed unnecessary to me, as the whole tone changes and it’s added almost intended as an “It gets better” postscript” or epilogue to the story. While that might not stick with you, Aza’s struggles will. Don’t pick this book up for the mystery or the romance. Instead, read it for the thought-provoking portrayal of mental illness and the conversations, self-reflections, and empathy it will elicit. If that was the sole intent of the book, to wrap a discussion of mental illness into a digestible package bookmarked by a billionaire’s disappearance, than John Green succeeded in his goal.


Gemina.jpgTitle: Gemina
Series: The Illuminae Files #2
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Carla Corvo, MacLeod Andrews, and Steve West, with a full cast
ISBN: 9781101916667 (audiobook), 9780553499155 (hardcover)
CDs/Discs: 11 sound discs (12 hr., 30 min.)
Pages: 659 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 by LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Acting Captain Syra Boll of the WUC science vessel Hypatia calling Jump Station Heimdall, please respond.
Please respond. Heimdall over. […]
On the off chance we are not receiving your transmissions, or you are unable to reply, Hypatia is still en route to the Heimdall waypoint with Alexander survivors and refugees from the original Kerenza assault aboard. We’re hoping like hell it’s not just a smoking pile of debris when we get there. Estimate our arrival in fifteen days.
If you guys can roll out any kind of cavalry, now’s the goddam time.
Hypatia out.

Little does the crew and passengers of the Hypatia know that Jump Station Heimdall is having their own problems at the moment, and could use some cavalry assistance of their own. The same people who blew up the illegal mining colony of Kerenza and is pursuing the Hypatia is intent on cleaning up this botched effort, through any means necessary. And those means just might include making sure no one from Hypatia or Heimdall can report back on the mass murder that has taken place. A celebratory event turns into a hostage situation, with the captain’s daughter Hanna pairing up with the Nik, the reluctant member of the crime family secretly transporting illegal materials on-board the ship. But those materials may prove more trouble than the hostage takers.

With an almost entirely new cast of characters, the audiobook for this second in the series is almost as good as the first. Although some time has passed since I listened to the story, I remember there were two snags in the production of the early discs where the sound quality didn’t quite stay consistent. However, they were easily forgettable by the time you got to the final scenes. A notoriously impartial and unapologetic Surveillance Footage Analyst from the first book makes a welcome reappearance. Towards the end, overlapping narratives portrayed side by side in double-page spreads in the book are read consecutively, so as to maintain the intended connections.

This second outing in the saga gets slightly more fantastical than the purely scientific first book, especially involving the climatic solution to a problem that seems unsolvable. The death scenes are also more graphically rendered, partially as a result of the cargo being stowed on ship. That’s really all I can say about either event without giving too much away. While I enjoyed the continued use of transcripts, typed analysis, and other written communications to convey the story, the commentary provided during some of the more intense scenes stretched credibility. When trying to deter a hacker, would Nik’s cousin Ella, a skilled hacker in her own right, really take the time to type exclamations like “I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU NOT TO DISTRACT MEEEEEE AAAAAAAHDB#OWALEKVNLAKENLQWENVLQKENV”KQENV”LQENV”LAV ” while trying to save her cousin’s life? In my experience, it might have been more of a vocalization as opposed to an actual typed response, especially when your fingers are otherwise occupied. Ella’s disability is touched upon in a matter-of-fact manner, but never belabored.

Having read the first book, readers will be not be surprised by the blooming romance between two of the characters, but like the first one it is relatively tame and PG compared to the violence and death of the numerous assaults on the characters. In that respect their attention is appropriately focused on staying alive rather than developing a relationship, although there are some tender moments between the two. Nik and Ella’s back and forth rapport also brings some lighter moments to the gripping suspense of when they are going to die.  There is some drug use that might not be appropriate for younger readers, but all of the frequently used swear words have been censored out of both the written and audio versions. Overall, an excellent addition to the sci-fi series, and I’m eagerly anticipating the third and final book in the trilogy.


Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

The Golden Compass The Graphic Novel Vol. 1

Golden Compass Graphic Novel 1.jpgTitle: The Golden Compass The Graphic Novel Vol. 1
Original Author: Philip Pullman
Adapted by: Stephane Melchior
Translator: Annie Eaton
Illustrator: Clement Oubrerie (with Philippe Bruno)
ISBN: 9780553523720
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. c2015. (Originally published by Gallimard Jeunesse, c2014) Adapted from The Golden Compass, c1995.

“Lyra! So that is what they’re teaching you here? Spying!”
“Ouch, that hurts!”
“The wine! It’s poisoned!”
“A spy and a liar. They’ve really done well with your education.”
“I was hiding! I saw! The Master poured powder into the wine.” (unpaged)

Lyra has lived at Jordan College for almost her whole life, and is tired of being supervised by the stuffy professors and scholars who live there. She wants to go on adventures with her uncle, Lord Asriel, whom the head of the school tried to secretly poison on her last visit. Instead, she is whisked away from the dangers of the city, including rampant kidnappers dubbed the Gobblers, by the mysterious Mrs. Coulter. However, Mrs. Coulter has her own agenda, including an association with a board using children to research a mysterious substance called Dust, that multiple groups are racing to understand and control. Heading for an adventure she always wanted but could never anticipate, Lyra is left relying on the help of a group of gyptians and her own skills as she travels to the North, to the land of ice, cold, and not-so-friendly armored polar bears.

I’ve been a big fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy ever since it was first published almost 20 years ago. (Not saying “Man I’m old” prevents me from being old, right?) When I heard they were making it into a graphic novel trilogy, I was excited. I was slightly disappointed to learn that this trilogy of graphic novels is only focusing on the first book, and question the rational behind splitting the original novel in this manner. This first volume leaves off with Lyra’s journey north with the gyptians just beginning, and she still has a long way to travel. The artwork is also not what I expected from a story that deals with fantastical elements and beasts. Muted in tone, with lots of dark blues and dusty orange/reds, the color palette may have been determined by the story’s setting and mood more than the other way around. Lyra’s determination and free-spirited nature is still evident in this portrayal, but quite a few of the more animated facial expressions for her and the other characters strike me as overly exaggerated and at times comical. The number of panels per page (sometimes as many as nine) also necessitates that they are quite small, and so details do not translate well, with the exception being when the artist intentionally makes a panel bigger for emphasis.

The background behind Dust and the deamons has been eliminated almost completely, except for a few quick expository pages and some overheard conversations on Lyra’s part. Readers must pay attention to the illustrations to determine the nature of daemons, including their ability to change shape, the necessity of physical proximity to their humans (I almost typed owners, whoops!) and the ties that bind them to those humans. For readers who enjoy fantasy and the ideas of other worlds, this would be an adequate introduction to the ideas. Make no mistake though, this is a paltry substitute for the real thing, and I’m saddened by the fact that some people won’t be motivated to tackle the original.

Alex + Ada

Series: Alex + Ada
Volumes 1, 2, and 3
Story by: Jonathan Luna and Sarah Veughn
ISBN: 9781632150066 (vol. 1), 9781632151957 (vol. 2), 9781632154040 (vol. 3)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Originally published in single magazine form by Image Comics, c2015

You might think about getting one.”
“Me? An android?”
“Sure. You could always put her in the basement when you find someone.”
“Do you know how sick that sounds? It might as well be a dungeon.”
“Grandma… I appreciate the idea. But, no– even if I had the money– I don’t want an android girlfriend. It’s just… weird.” […]
“Grandma, what were you thinking?
“‘Thank you’ would suffice.”
“When I gave you a spare key, it was for emergencies only! It is not okay for you to sneak into my house and drop off a robot! How did you even get it here?” (unpaged)

Alex is getting over a break-up and is tired of everyone offering him advice, from his coworkers to his friends. So when his grandmother sends him an artificially intelligent, realistic looking android, he is less than happy. Especially amidst speculation that the security features keeping them from being sentient are possibly malfunctioning. But Alex can’t shake the feeling that there is more to the robot named Ada, and pursuing those possibilities might lead him into deep trouble.

The premise reminded me of a more militarized version of the movie Bicentennial Man, and could definitely spark discussion about the current state of artificial intelligence, technological advances, and the ubiquitous nature of surveillance and information gathering. Different viewpoints are presented, and while obviously readers are meant to side with the main characters, both sides have valid arguments and neither one is victimized or demonized. For instance:

“Daniel would have so much potential if he was unlocked. He’d have a life.”
“But it would put him in danger.”
“Is it really all just about the danger.” […]
“I like the way things are. It was why I got Daniel in the first place. I didn’t want complications. But if he’s not sentient, then I don’t see an issue. What harm is there in keeping him as he is now?”
“It would be wrong to keep him locked just because he doesn’t know there’s more for him.”
“Or is it wrong to unlock him when the world isn’t prepared for it?”
“Plenty of people have done important things in history when the world wasn’t ready.” (Volume 2, unpaged)

I was admiring the ability of the artist to keep Ada straight-lipped throughout the series (since I’m assuming her robotic origins would limit mobility) but then realized that every character is drawn in that same manner. The pacing provided by wordless panels enhances the story, as it forces readers to consider reactions before they happen, slow down in the reading, and really look for the incremental differences in facial expressions and body language that provide cues of the character’s intentions and thoughts. While the predictable plot is enjoyable, it also prevents the series from standing out among the cliche of sentient robot stories.