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Hugh Likes Fiction: Gideon the Ninth

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Gideon the Ninth
Written by Tamsyn Muir
Audiobook read by Moira Quirk
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: Shirley Jackson’s Lesbian Space Necromancers.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is an extraordinary novel that is a bit difficult to describe, pithy sentence above not withstanding. In a crumbling space empire built on necromancy, eight Necromancers, along with their Cavalier bodyguards, return to a long-abandoned planet to search for a secret power that could save their civilization. It’s a dense concept, and my attempts don’t do it justice, but Tamsyn sells it with from the first incredible opening line.

“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!— Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”

A postmodern space fantasy/ghost story, Muir fills her novel with deeply rich characters like the eponymous sassy swordswoman Gideon and her Necromancer charge, Harrowhawk. Harrow is the teenaged leader of the Ninth House, and Gideon’s only childhood companion, so of course they hate each other, and are only working together to keep the other houses from finding out that a tragedy befell their planet, and they are literally the only suitable candidates. Her characters are outstandingly drawn and painfully real. And her setting, from the nearly-lifeless frozen tomb planet the Ninth House calls home to the abandoned, crumbling palace of Canaan House is a character in its own right; melancholy, ferocious, and disarmingly witty.
Muir’s handling of equal parts tension and farce are deft, constantly surprising, and utterly delightful.
Just as delightful as the writing is Moira Quirk’s narration on the audiobook version. Quirk does an excellent job brining Muir’s already vivid characters to life. She does a stunning job performing a large cast of strange and complicated characters.
Gideon the Ninth draws from the work of masters like Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, and Ursula K. Le Guin, while also building something modern and wholly unique. It is unlike anything I’ve read in a very long time, and not to be missed. You can listen to the remarkable audiobook version via Audible, or purchase a physical or ebook copy from your retailer of choice.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Sayonara Wild Hearts

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

Sayonara Wild Hearts
Developed by Simogo
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A fast-paced racing quest against Magical Girl Motorcycle Gangs.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is an unexpected gem of an indie game. Terms like ‘unique’ and ‘original’ get thrown around a lot in the gaming press, but SWH pushes against the tide of gaming trends and is all the more incredible for it.
You play as The Fool, the alter ego of a broken-hearted girl tasked with restoring harmony to a magical kingdom by racing against a series of girl gang street racers. Each level is a mixture of Synth Pop, Neon, and blazing speed. The combination of magical girl aesthetics and arcade racing style flow as smooth as silk, and the bite-sized level keep the action rolling at an exciting clip.
Each of the twenty-three levels embraces new mechanics as you race to catch your opponents. You’ll start out on a skateboard, but soon find yourself on not just the game’s signature chopper, but flying through the air on a magical sword, racing through a haunted forest on a giant stag, and even crossing a roiling sea on a boat. The game constantly introduces new mechanics, and this helps the pacing feel blazing fast.
The other thing that sets Sayonara Wild Hearts apart, if you haven’t already guessed, is its unapologetic embrace of feminine and queer aesthetics. In a space dominated by often toxic depictions of masculinity it is a breath of fresh air. The Fool is not an object of male gaze, and she isn’t a hyper-roided Space Marine killing a planet full of aliens. She is an altogether different sort of cool. This game came out alongside a few other games that have been gaining more attention, but I hope that SWH’s themes strike a chord with game designers and we see more games like it in the future.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Apple Arcade service. It’s a highly polished indie gem, and well worth your time. I heartily recommend it.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Legion of Super-Heroes – Millenium #1

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Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Drawn by Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, Andrea Sorrentino, André Lima Araújo and Scott Williams
Colored by Alex Sinclair, John Kalisz, Dave Stewart, and Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: Guess who isn’t in this comic?

First of all, no, this is not a Legion of Super-Heroes book. At least, it isn’t yet. But the concept is entertaining in and of itself, and it looks like it’s getting there in Part 2 of this two-issue series. What this book does do is follow one character, Rose and her alter-ego Thorn, as she lives through one DC Universe ‘future’ after the other, not aging because of something that happened to her during her career as an anti-hero. Something Rose doesn’t even remember.
Each short section of the book does a good job of feeling different, and evoking the character of the setting. The Jim Lee-drawn near future is techy and bright, and very 90’s., while the Batman Beyond section is shockingly violent. The Kamandi section is sad, and beautifully drawn. The fourth section has a very 80’s manga future vibe. I’m not familiar with he character it is referencing, but the sterile gray lines and bureaucracy (and hover scooters) evoked Otomo to me.
Bendis’s writing is fine, but it’s mostly serving the plot and doesn’t give us too much character aside from following this woman who doesn’t age and her 90’s comic book version of Dissociative Identity Disorder. The art is where this comic sings.
While this special issue is more of a curiosity than a great story, It was fun to see these different takes on DC’s ‘future,’ and see a bit of how they are all connected. You can find Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1 at your Local Comics Shop, or pick it up digitally from Comixoloy.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: This Is How You Lose the Time War

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This Is How You Lose the Time War
Written by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Audiobook read by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
Published by Simon and Schuster Audio

The Skinny: Two time-traveling agents begin a correspondence that will have epic consequences.

This beautifully written novella follows Red and Blue, two agents of opposed possible futures working to ensure their side wins history, as they begin an exchange of letters that will, well, change history.
El-Mohtar’s and Gladstone’s writing is lyrical and beautiful. The locations for the two agents’ missions are tiny glimpses into beautiful and compelling worlds. From neolithic labyrinths to ruined battlefields on crumbling, distant planets. But the letters themselves are as fascinating as their correspondents’ adventures. The reader watches as their exchange starts as a taunt, gradually becomes more friendly as the two begin to understand one another, and eventually become something more intimate, in letters written on plain paper, and hidden in more devious methods, in the bottom of a teacup, in the rings on a fallen tree, or the boiled water in an abandoned hospital MRI machine. Each exchange is surprising and engaging, and the reader is left to wonder what they’ll think of next, and to worry as a shadowy figure stalks behind them.
The audiobook, although short, was particularly good, which a pair of excellent narrators that give the poetic descriptions and intimate epistolary sections real gravitas. Often an audiobook is either well narrated or well acted, and finding not one but two narrators that excel at both is a triumph in and of itself.
This Is How You Lose the Time War is a confection of time travel mystery romance that will leave you aching for more, and heading back through to see how they pulled it off when you’re done. It’s certainly award-fodder, and it breathes new imagination into it’s sub-genre. Don’t miss this one!

Hugh Likes Comics:

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Coffin Bound
Written by Dan Watters
Drawn by DaNi
Colored by Brad Simpson
Lettered by Aditya Bidkar
Published by Image Comics

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The Skinny: This tale of Action and Philosophy feels like how you remember 90’s Vertigo Comics.

Izzy Tyburn isn’t just going to die. She’s going to unlive. Living in a wasteland of philosophy and barbed wire, she has become the target of the unstoppable assassin known as The Eartheater. But rather than take the fight to the killer, she’s going to destroy her own existence first.
Coffin Bound is a comic about the ways we face or avoid entropy. It is intensely philosophical, and has a 90’s Vertigo vibe, which is not surprising, considering his other recent work is the relaunched Lucifer book from last year. The story features a figure whose head is a vulture skeleton, a strip club where the dancers don’t stop at their clothes, and an assassin who refers to himself, at length, as a ‘psychopomp.’ It is quite good, but it leans much more towards philosophers than action.
DaNi’s art also feels very reminiscent of 90’s Vertigo. There’s a particular panel of her lighting a cigarette which feels straight out of Sandman. I had a great sense of nostalgia for the period in reading the book, whether that was planned or not.
Coffin Bound is the start of a strange and Existential road trip that will feel almost nostalgic to longtime Vertigo Comics fans. You can buy the first issue from your local comics shop, or get it digitally from Comixology.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Hollow Knight

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Hollow Knight
Developed and Produced by Team Cherry
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: It’s as good as you’ve heard

Hollow Knight is a remarkable achievement of an indie game. It falls into a sub-genre colloquially known as a Metroidvania, which is to say it is a platforming adventure game with an emphasis on exploring one huge interconnected map, in which the player gains new abilities to reach new areas. It takes its name from the two best-known examples, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But Team Cherry’s achievement is more than just an imitator. And it is worthy of standing in that hallowed company.
The game sets you as a solitary knight descending into a lost civilization of bug people brought low by a strange infection. As you piece together the mystery of what happened and your own journey’s purpose, traverse miles of twisting interconnected corridors, meet dozens of charming NPCs, and discover untold secrets, all delivered in a gorgeous hand-drawn art style and brutal difficulty.
This game is tough, and it doesn’t hold your hand, but it usually doesn’t force you down a path, either. Once you get certain abilities, there are lots of paths and secret routes to uncover. If you get stuck at one boss, you can always find a new route and go a different way.
This game really nails (get it?) its aesthetic. The color palattes for each area are fairly simple, but paired with hand-drawn and animated characters and backgrounds, this adds up to a system where it’s always easy to tell exactly where you are in spite of the huge map. This also ratchets up the tension and messes with the player as they establish mood and atmosphere. Dirtmouth feels wind-swept and desolate. Greenpath is lush and vibrant. Deepnest is dark and terrifying. In fact, Hollow Knight manages to pull of a trick even most Castlevanias don’t in that I was legitimately frightened at several points due to a masterful use of darkness, tight corridors, and downright creepy sound effects.
Hollow Knight is a breathtaking modern example of 2D action adventure games, with clever challenges, tricky bosses, and charming characters. It is available from Steam and most major console eshops, and I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics: House of X

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House of X #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Pepe Larraz
Colored by Marte Garcia
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Hickman’s first X-Men book is a bold first step. But where exactly is he taking us?

For decades, X-Men comics have been firmly situated in the ‘mutant metaphor,’ the idea that mutants, unjustly hated and feared for their superpowers, corresponded to real-life marginalized and oppressed people. Notable examples include Magneto being a holocaust survivor, and the island of Genosha, an apartheid state which enslaved mutants to provide lives of luxury to their human citizens. Usually, this metaphor brings the reader in and establishes sympathy for the characters. With his first X-Men issue, Jonathan Hickman is doing something completely different.
House of X takes a much more outsider perspective. It barely spends any time at all with familiar heroes, and when it does, there’s something decidedly off about them. They are truly outsiders to the readers in a way that they haven’t been since their inception. The story instead follows a group of Ambassadors taking a tour of a new ‘mutant embassy’ established in Jerusalem. Mutants have unified under Xavier’s banner and established a new nation on the Island of Krakoa, a sentient being that was the villain way back in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Led by Magento, and assisted by a pair of characters that were previously dead, the humans get a tour of the plant-covered building. The rest of the oversized issue are vignettes and infographics that provide background details but also further establish the otherness of this new Mutant Nation.
Xavier’s motives and endgame are still very much up for interpretation, but the whole thing is decidedly sinister.
Laraz’s art is top-notch, and the graphics, designed by Tom Muller, really add to book and establish the stakes. This is, without a doubt, a well-written, drawn, and executed book. But I worry. For over fifty-five years, the mutants were the good guys, and a direct metaphor for oppressed people. If Hickman is flipping that script, what does that say for the politics of this story, and for the Marvel bullpen in general? Marvel has always made a firm stance on where it stood on oppression, right from the beginning. With the state of the world as it is today, this is exactly the wrong time for them to soften it.
I’m not sure where this book is heading, but I can’t deny that I’m hooked. You can get your own copy from your local comics shop, or digitally through Comixology.

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