Friday, August 1, 2008

Letter from the Editor, August 2008

Next to Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, August is probably one of the busiest months for the dear writers at Estella's Revenge. Getting kids back to school, getting ourselves back to school, and the end-of-summer malaise means we have a light load for you this month. However, I do hope you'll enjoy our foray into "knowledge" and discover a new book to help you out of any summer blues you might be experiencing.

Best wishes for good reading,


Table of Contents

Author Interview:

Feature Articles:



Author Interview: J. Scott Savage

Interviewed by Melissa

A riddle: What do you get when you cross a regional author with a great young adult fantasy idea, throw in an eager publisher, and put the whole shebang on the national scene?

Answer: J. Scott Savage, and his exciting first (national, young adult, and in a series) fantasy novel Farworld: Water Keep.

Thankfully, he was more than willing to take time out of his busy schedule to chat with me (via e-mail, of course) about Farworld, writing, and his first national novel.

MF: How did you come up with the idea of Farworld?

JSS: I bought it from a guy in Hoboken for twenty bucks. Just kidding. The idea for Farworld came from a short story beginning I wrote several years ago in which a wizard and a warrior go in search of a young boy who is about to be attacked by undead creatures. I was just playing around and never thought I would do anything with it. But ideas have a way of taking on a life of their own, so be careful what you let float around in your head

MF: Did you find it difficult to create and write a fantasy world?

JSS: For some reason I never thought I could write. I started writing Farworld at 2:00 AM to prove to myself I couldn’t do it and get this crazy story out of my head. But five hours and five thousand words later, I realized I was writing a fantasy and I was having a ball doing it. The rest of the book seemed to flow almost as easily. Once I got started, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.

MF: Why did you decide to make the main character disabled? How did that affect the way you wrote the story?

JSS: From the very beginning, I knew about Marcus’s disability. That was the very first glimpse I got of Farworld. In many ways it made writing the book. But it had to be there for far too many reasons to list. At the same time, Marcus is not his disability any more than Kyja is her disability—which is every bit as real as Marcus’ in the world she was raised. Neither of them let their issues keep them from reaching their goals. They may be slowed down, or have to take another path. But they will not be ruled by their weaknesses.

What I was afraid of was that people might think it was a gimmick to sell books or something. That is not the case. Without Marcus’s physical disabilities and Kyja’s magical disabilities the story would never have happened.

MF: What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

JSS: Mostly I just want people to come away having enjoyed a good story and felt like they got their money’s worth. Washington Irving has a great quote.
“Methinks I hear the questions asked by my graver readers, ‘To what purpose is all this? How is the world to be made wiser by this talk?’ Alas! is there not wisdom enough extant for the instruction of the world? And if not, are there not thousands of abler pens laboring for its improvement? It is so much pleasanter to please than to instruct to play the companion rather than the preceptor. “What, after all, is the mite of wisdom that I could throw into the mass of knowledge? or how am I sure that my sagest deductions may be safe guides for the opinions of others? But in writing to amuse, if I fail, the only evil is my own disappointment. If, however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make my reader more in good humor with his fellow-beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not then have written entirely in vain.”

Anything more than that is gravy.

MF: You have created so many interesting and unusual characters in Farworld. Who's your favorite character in the book and why?

JSS: You can’t pick a favorite character in your own book, anymore than you can pick a favorite child. But I actually had a lot of fun writing Screech. He just made me laugh.

MF: I'm assuming this is your first novel. I apologize if it isn't... Is this how you make money, or do you have a "regular" job? Do you want to write full time? (How do you manage to find the time with four kids running around?) Was it hard to sell your manuscript?

JSS: It is my first national, my first young adult novel, and my first fantasy. So in many ways it does feel like my first book. But fortunately I’ve got the background of publishing four regional novels first to hopefully improve my writing. I do have a full-time job still, but I anticipate moving to full-time writing next summer. Honestly writing is just like a second job. You end up making sacrifices. But if the sacrifices I make this year translate into spending more time my family from next year on, it will have been worth it. Actually selling Farworld was easier than I expected, but the process took longer. There were a couple of times I wondered if it would really happen. But Shadow Mountain believed in the project and stuck with me.

MF: Can you tell us a bit about the process? How long did it take from conception to finally seeing it in print? How do you feel finally getting your story out there? How did the choice of Shadow Mountain as a publisher come about?

JSS: Well Lisa Mangum said if I didn’t go with Shadow Mountain she would fill my gas tank with Jell-O. Actually, I did have some choices. Two other publishers were interested in Farworld. But I’d been so impressed with the success SM had with Fablehaven and Leven Thumps that they were always my first choice. They have done an amazing job of selling more books than some of the biggest NY publishers. I mean five? four? NY Times hits in two years is incredible. It’s been almost two years since I first finished writing the manuscript to now. That’s actually not long in publisher terms, but it felt like an eternity at times. Still, I am so pumped to almost be there.

MF: Do you have a special time or place to write?

JSS: That goes back to the four kids. Whenever and wherever I can find a minute and a quiet spot.

MF: What are your top five favorite books of all time?

JSS: That changes by the day. I have so many favorites. Today I would probably list:
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Shadowlands by Peter Straub
Enchantment by Scott Card
Life Expectancy by Den Koontz
and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

MF: So, what can we look forward to seeing from you next?

JSS: Well I still do a regional mystery series, called the Shandra Covington mysteries. Then my next book, Land Keep will be out next fall. And I’m working on an dark fantasy series about a PI/Hit Man who goes to Hell and has a chance to be sent back to Earth if he can solve a little problem for the big man.

MF: Thanks so much for your time, Scott!

JSS: No worries. Thanks for having me!

The Fruit of Knowledge

By April D. Boland

Having been raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, I am well-versed in both the Bible and the doctrines upon which many faithful people base their lives. As an adult, I find myself casting a discerning eye upon the stories I have held so dear. For example, I must ask: Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the first great sin, the one that caused destruction and death to come into the world, came about when humans ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, God created Adam and Eve and put them in a paradisaic garden. His only command was that they not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which resided in the center of the garden. "Eat from it and you will surely die," God said. Eventually, Eve is tempted and eats from the tree. She brings Adam down with her and God casts them out of the garden. This leads to all sorts of terrible things - a veritable Pandora's box, if you will - including death and the agony that accompanies childbirth.

More recent writers, many of them humanists and/or feminists, have questioned the underlying message in this story. Eve was the first person to desire knowledge, and she was punished for it. What is wrong with desiring knowledge, we ask?

Perhaps the story symbolizes something deeper than that. It might be viewed as a metaphor for the fact that knowledge brings about suffering. For example, animals are blissfully ignorant about their own mortality. They don't lose sleep over the meaning of it all, or visit psychotherapists to get prescriptions for Prozac. Humans, on the other hand, have to face a terrifying truth each day of their lives - that they will one day disappear from the face of the earth. Doesn't that make knowledge both a blessing and a curse?

Yet those of us who are dedicated readers crave knowledge. Like Eve, we extend our hand when the world tells us to stay away. Reading is for nerds, they say. Why do you always have your nose in a book? I find it quite comforting that Original Woman, supposedly the foremother of us all, was willing to give up safety, security and sweet ignorance for a taste of that thing that draws us back to our bookshelves time and time again. She set an important precedent, teaching us that some things are worth taking the more difficult path.

Know-It-All Awards

By Stuart Sharp

Since this month is such an enjoyment of knowledge in all its written forms, this seemed like a good moment to celebrate sheer, unadulterated cleverness. In a world of books increasingly dominated by dumbed down nonsense thrown together to tie in with big names and film releases, it’s nice to know that there are still some writers out there unashamed to be unfeasibly brainy. It might have got them bullied at school, but here it nets them respect, not to mention the opportunity to feel slightly smug. So, with that in mind, I present to you my Literary Brainbox Awards. You’ll just have to trust that I’m wearing a suitably spangly jacket.

The ‘And They Still Find Time to Write’ Award

There are, of course, those such as J.K. Rowling who’ve managed to come out with books while struggling along with life, kids, jobs and who knows what else. Those efforts should certainly be recognised, but probably have more to do with good time management and commitment than out and out cleverness.

What we’re looking for instead is a good, old fashioned polymath. Someone who manages to excel in other fields while still finding time, not just to write, but to write with the sort of underlying cleverness that seems almost designed to invite envy. Since it’s me doing the choosing, there’s really only ever going to be one winner of this. Step forward Stephen Fry- Comedian, Actor, Presenter, and also the author, not just of great non-fiction like his Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music and The Ode Less Travelled, but also wonderful works of literary fiction such as The Liar, Making History, and The Hippopotamus. Envious, me? Well, maybe a bit.

The ‘Inexplicable Maximization of Polysyllabic Linguistics’ Award

Otherwise known as throwing in obscure words for the sake of it. There’s a case for just sticking a pin in a pile of poetry books and calling whatever it comes out with the winner. However, that sort of approach might be seen as an attack on the sort of love of language that should be at the heart of good poetry, and is also contrary to the spirit of celebrating cleverness that I’m looking for here. Besides, the only pile of poetry books close at hand is out from the library, and I doubt they’d appreciate pinholes in them.

That means this one’s going to have to go to another of my favourite writers, Gideon Haigh. From The Big Ship to The Summer Game, his exquisitely researched pieces float along nicely before suddenly presenting the sort of word that leaves even those of us who’ve read the poetry books reaching for a dictionary. And then for a bigger dictionary, because the word in question isn’t in the Collins Gem one nearby. The best bit is that this is not a man showing off, or rubbing in the fact that he knows something you don’t. Rather, the occasional baffler comes completely naturally, with the apparently sincere belief that everyone will know exactly what he means.

The ‘You’re Going to Learn About This Whether You Want to or Not’ Award

Of course, there are some writers who know that you can’t possibly know exactly what they mean, because their books are on such obscure areas of knowledge. As such, they know that they’re going to have to enlighten you.

I’m not talking about non-fiction here, though it’s easy enough to find books things that the average person hasn’t even heard of with even a brief searches. Instead, I’d like to concentrate on those authors whose fiction pulls in obscure areas of knowledge, and who then have to find ways of explaining them while still treating them as completely normal areas of the background. Historical fiction is an obvious example, since the author can’t necessarily rely on you knowing all about their favourite period, while crime fiction is another. Consequently, I’m calling this one as a draw between Paul Dougherty and Kathy Reichs.

In books like Murder’s Immortal Mask, Dougherty’s depictions of ancient civilizations make full use of his training as an historian to complete the background to his mysteries, while thanks to Reichs I now know rather more about the decomposition of the human body than I ever really wanted to. Since I’m also an historian, Dougherty would have just shaded this one except for him being a little less subtle in the explanations, particularly with his annoying habit of stalling sentences to reddere verbum Latinus, or translate Latin words. Annoying, isn’t it? As it is, a tie seems fair.

The ‘Strange Allusions’ Award

While there’s a temptation to go for Shakespeare at this point, or possibly Byron, I’d like to think that there have been writers a little closer to our own time who have managed to cram their work full of clever references. The obvious candidate is Terry Pratchett, with so many twisted variations on elements from our own world in his Discworld that he has on occasion had to remind people that not everything in his books is supposed to be one. There is, however, a writer who goes even further. I mean, of course, Jasper Fforde, who has managed to build his books around parodies of literature, legend and nursery rhyme while still producing clever, inventive mysteries. Since novels like the Eyre Affair and The Fourth Bear are crammed with exactly the sort of references that might have been designed with the readers of this zine in mind, it seems only natural to make him the winner.

The ‘Smartening Up’ Award

Which leaves us with only one more to pick, and in some ways it’s the most important category, because it’s the one that fights most directly against the tide of dumbing down so prevalent in modern literature.

There are, undoubtedly, a lot of very clever writers out there, demanding a lot of their audiences, but for this ‘Smartening Up’ award, I’m looking for something slightly different. I’m looking for someone who has taken an undemanding, relatively simple story and re-written it with more social commentary, more politics, deeper characterisation, and a more complex plot.
I’m looking, in short, for Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, which has taken the frankly two dimensional world of the Wizard of Oz and turned it into something nuanced, layered, and deeply relevant. That seems, to me at least, like a very clever thing to do indeed.

Now What?

By Chris Buchner

So you’ve started buying comics (hopefully due to one of these articles), now what? Well, there’s no correct way to collect them; it all boils down to what type of collector you want to be. You can be the type that reads them, throws them in the bottom of the closet and forgets about them until they move out. Or you could be the type that gives them away to kids or charity after reading. But, this article deals with those who want their collections to grow and stick around for a while; be it for the love of the books or the hopes of having an investment someday.

Comics are made of paper. Paper, as we all know, is not one of the strongest substances known to man, and people are not the most graceful. You can wipe out an entire novel with a full glass of water. If you’d like to keep your books for a bit, it’s recommended that you invest in some comic bags. These are plastic bags that you can slip your book into and will protect them from the little mishaps of life. They come in a variety of sizes, including current (comics from the 1980s and up), Silver Age (comics before the 1980s, as they were a bit wider in size), Golden Age (for those very early comics) and even magazine (for your MAD Magazine collection). Now most collectors will tell you you have to get the bags made out of more expensive mylar and change your bags within ten years. This can be a pricey proposition, especially as your collection grows. I find that the cheaper polypropylene bags work just fine past the decade “deadline,” especially if you keep your books in a reasonably controlled environment (as in not directly next to your radiator in the dead of winter). Just be sure whatever type of bag you decide to use is clearly marked “acid-free” so they won’t eat away at your books.

So, you’ve protected your comics from spills and mild mishaps, but they can still be bent, crumpled, crushed and damaged. Worry not! Along with the bags are corresponding sized boards. These keep your books nice and sturdy in their plastic protectors, making them harder to damage and easier to store somewhere. Again, make sure whatever kind of board you use is acid-free.

But, let’s face it, they’re still in glorified plastic wrap and cardboard; both of which can be damaged or punctured with enough applied force. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve dropped a comic in a bag with a board and had it land on a corner, only to dent the cardboard AND comic (again, humans are not the most graceful of creatures). Anyway, for that extra durable protection, they have plastic holders. Basically, they are solid plastic versions of the comic bags, which can also fit a comic within a bag and board. Some plastic holders come with a stand similar to that of a picture frame so that you can display your favorite issues.

Okay, we’ve just talked about all the ways there are to protect your books, but where do you put them? Again, there is no standard method of storage. It’s basically all about the amount of space you have, the size of your collection, and how much protection you want for your books. They make boxes for comics in two sizes, called appropriately long and short boxes, which can be turned into virtual filing cabinets by inserting them into specially designed cardboard shells. But, many collectors use generic boxes, file boxes, filing cabinets, 3 ring binders with appropriate plastic pages and more.

You’re reading the books, and that’s great. What happens after you do is entirely up to you. You can easily find comic supplies at your local comic shop, or online with a simple Google search. You can bag them, board them, put them in a box (with or without the former), or even go the full nine yards and invest in a high-tech ultra-sensitive security system with three-inch thick steel plated doors. There’s no wrong way to collect comics. The most important thing is you enjoy them, and maybe share the fun with someone else.

Sure, I Know the Queen, August 2008

By Jodie

This will be the month, I decided, the month when I write a full analysis of the complexities of ‘Daniel Deronda’ for my column at Estella’s Revenge. In the back of my mind I was also thinking I would give up biscuits (again) and start going for walks during my lunch hour. Then I read one of Gideon Defoe’s tiny books about ham loving pirates, googled the author and spent an hour at work laughing (very quietly) at his Livejournal, while eating custard creams. I’d forgotten how funny British writers could be and how sly they were with their humour, waiting until you had a mouth full of crumbs to deliver their funniest lines. Deronda, who might be encouraged to tell a bawdy joke if someone spiked his drink, was never going to be able to compete.

Many random facts seem to make up Gideon Defoe’s identity, the best ones being that he wrote his first book ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’, to impress a girl and that he once served Tom Baker a pint. His pirate series is an example of the cleverly crafted British humour that comes off as completely effortless ad-lib. On the surface it seems like a book thrown together on the way to a pub but Defoe’s swift comic timing and eye for detail quickly become obvious. He knows the importance of choosing exactly the right word and putting it in the perfect place to bring off a joke. The Pirate Captain does not just have a beard but a ‘luxurious beard’ and all the pirates have silly, yet descriptive titles like ‘the pirate in green’ and ‘the pirate with an accordion’. These deadpan touches are the cause of the biggest laughs.

In ‘ The Pirates! In an Adventure with Whalers’, the second book in the series, the pirate’s boat is falling to pieces. Off they go to CutThroat Liz, the deadliest ship builder of all, where their captain’s boastfulness about treasure enables them to take a fabulous boat, ‘The Lovely Emma’, on credit. Unfortunately they can’t afford it and Liz is known to dismember customers who don’t pay promptly. The pirates must try to raise some money before the sand in Cut Throat Liz’s hourglass runs out or face decapitation, so they try very hard to do so in many, doomed ways.

Defoe’s books are full of the boyish, lolloping humour that the best British comic writing contains. There are friendly pirates who are inept at their chosen career, which really should be enough to impress any girl. Just in case it isn’t Defoe makes sure there are lots of jokes about gay goings on among the pirates, disguises, improbable plans and problems bought on by the Pirate Captain’s Pugwash like boasting. Defoe’s pirate boat sounds like it would be a fun place even when something is going horribly wrong, with activities like cloud spotting and albatross romancing on offer. The books also contain real facts about pirates in the footnotes; the kind of facts you might use at a party if someone else was being very dull. Did you know that fair weather cumulus clouds have a lifetime of just 5-40 minutes or that the protein created by barnacles is stronger than the epoxy resin used on the space shuttle? The inclusion of these footnotes shows Defoe’s genuine enthusiasm for his subject. Extra touches added, it seems just for fun, at the end of the books are unexpected and well thought out, for example ‘ The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’ has comprehension questions such as:

‘Which do you think is most important to the Pirate Captain –ham or his luxurious beard? If you had to choose which one was more important to you, which one do you think you would pick?’

and ‘ The Pirates! In an Adventure with Whalers’ has an exhaustive list of fictitious ‘Pirates in Adventures with…’ titles, which you will want to read to the end. Defoe is certainly making strides in comic pirate fiction unlike any you will have seen before. It is possible I think this because I haven’t read any other examples of comic pirate fiction, if you have then please let me know about them.

Gideon Defoe’s writing style has a lot in common with Douglas Adam’s style in his ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ series. Both write in a light tone that implies they just made up silly stories for a laugh. Both include carefully timed ludicrous details and characters that are not very heroic. Both writers have engaged seriously with how best to impress girls. In the first book Adam’s hero Arthur Dent wakes up to find that his house is in the way of an intergalactic road and it about to be bulldozed, along with the rest of Earth. That’s not the only surprise he gets that day: his best friend is an alien who has been trapped on Earth and the girl he once tried to chat up at a party has been flying around the universe. Dent unwillingly sets out on an adventure to discover the mythical planet of Magrathea, mostly the reader suspects to impress Trillian, the only other survivor of Earth’s destruction.

Adam’s series is full of cleverly ridiculous detail like aliens who use their poetry as torture and a planet building industry. Dent, the sulkiest hero of all time, has a line in deadpan dialogue

‘ ‘And what’s happened to the Earth?’
‘ Ah. It’s been demolished.’
‘ Has it?’ said Arthur levelly.
‘ Yes it just boiled away into space.’
‘ Look,’ said Arthur, ‘I’m a bit upset about that.’ ‘

He makes a fantastic straight man to the wonders of the universe. The books also have a sharp edge to them that make parts of them unsettling. Marvin, the depressed robot, is only a small hint at the darker aspects readers will find in this series. The main characters reminiscing about Earth also adds an element of sadness to the books, making these funny books multi-layered. The full ‘trilogy’, made up of five volumes, can be hard to find but is worth the effort.

Adam’s series may be disturbing at times but Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books can be quite horrific. I don’t think I will ever be able to read ‘Hogfather’ again. Many of the other books in the collection such as ‘Pyramids’, ‘Small Gods’ and ‘Witches Abroad’ are also satisfyingly scary, but not too scary. By including common fears, such as madness and loss of control, then creating some classically evil villains Pratchett can easily terrify. He also writes the funniest books in the UK. His cast of thousands of Ankh-Morporkians all throw their bodily humour, sharp wit and misunderstandings into the books, making a fast talking confusion that will have your wallet from you while you’re laughing. Gender confused dwarves, talking dogs and a very tiny Death of Rats, who communicates via squeaks like a demonic Sooty are all integral to Pratchett’s humour.
By setting familiar institutions like the post office and insurance companies in Ankh-Morpork Pratchett seems to be using an exercise my primary school teachers used often. Imagine that aliens came to Earth, aliens who don’t know what a spoon or a cup is, now explain to them how you make a cup of tea. Pratchett shows that what may seem sensible procedures, established beyond debate, are actually methods full of holes that can easily be identified and exploited by people who do not believe those in power are always in control. His satire is one of the main ingredients in his most recent books but he stops his scathing indications from being preachy by constructing his judgements out of harsh wit, such as lines like ‘Steal five dollars and you were a petty thief. Steal thousands of dollars and you were either a government or a hero.’ and filling his characters with laughable humanity.

He is one of the few writers who manages to put all the fun and meat of his adult books into a friendly format for younger audiences, producing slight but magnificent fantasy books like ‘The Carpet People’ and ‘Johnny and the Bomb’ that avoid being twee or charming. I would encourage adults looking for a good time to read the ‘The Bromeliad’ trilogy, about nomes forced to relocate and try to make it in the human world as well as Pratchett’s adult books. In fact read everything he’s ever written right now, especially ‘Good Omens’, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman about an Apocalypse. When I was younger and still felt I had time for re-reading I obsessively revisited ‘Good Omens’ and ‘Witches Abroad’ and now I have a whole bookshelf exclusively for Pratchett. He’s just that good.

The British sense of humour may seem strange at first. More swearing than you’re used to, oblique references to some knights that refuse to speak properly and lots of jocularity about sexual preferences. But if you turn away from British comic writing because it all seems a bit odd you’ll miss out on the pirate adventures, the space travel, the really big turtles…You may never know the true meaning of life. Grab a book and start having fun, Deronda can wait a while longer.

Back to the 90s: Fatal Attractions, Part 2

By Chris Buchner

Part 2

Back on Avalon, Magneto unleashed an electromagnetic pulse on the Earth that creates havoc with the world’s electrical systems in response to the activation of the Magneto Protocols; an electromagnetic mesh around the planet that negates his powers below it. The X-Men decided it was time to take the battle to him. Xavier donned an exoskeleton that allowed him to walk, using alien Shiar technology, so he could join his students on the mission. The strike team was comprised of Jean Grey, Wolverine and Quicksilver, as well as the Cajun thief Gambit, who could charge matter with explosive kinetic energy, and the Southern belle Rogue with the ability to absorb the abilities of others with skin contact, as well as the permanently stolen abilities of Ms. Marvel including flight, super strength and near-invulnerability.

The X-Men invaded Avalon on their Blackbird jet and used a virus created by Beast to disable the space station. Of course, they met with resistance from the Acolytes and Magneto himself. During the course of the battle, Wolverine almost fatally wounds Magneto, causing him to retaliate in a fit of rage by pulling all the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body through his pores. This event was actually the result of a joke suggestion from Peter David during the X-Men meeting discussing the X-Cutioner’s Song storyline in anticipation of Magneto’s return.. Xavier, in an equal fit of rage over all he had done, attacked Magneto and psionically wiped his mind leaving him in a coma. Gathering up Wolverine, the X-Men retreated back to Earth while Colossus remained behind to care for Magneto.

The Blackbird, however, had no easy trip home. Caught in heavy turbulence, the X-Men struggled to keep their ship together while caring for Wolverine whose healing factor was pushed beyond even its limits. Xavier and Jean repeatedly went into his mind to stabilize the trauma he suffered, but it did very little as at one point, Wolverine’s life signs had failed The ship’s hull had been breached, and Jean sucked out of the hatch and barely able to hang on to the ship. Wolverine is faced with a vision of Illyana as he tried to head towards the light, subconsciously hearing calls for Jean and Jean’s own cries. This helped Wolverine fight back to life and rescue Jean from a certain death.

Weeks later on Earth, Wolverine sought a chance to prove he still had a place on the team by engaging a training session in the Danger Room, the X-Men’s training area with both real and holographic dangers upgraded with Shiar technology. There was a great danger in that Wolverine’s healing factor had burned itself out saving him, but it allowed the X-Men to learn that his claws, long thought implanted during the process that gave him his adamantium, were actually bone and thus his all along. Wanting time to reflect on this change in his life and considering himself a liability, Wolverine temporarily left the team.

On Muir Island, an island off the coast of Scotland which houses the largest mutant research facility on the planet ran by the X-Men’s human ally Dr. Moira MacTaggert, Cyclops, Jean and Xavier call on the visiting members of Excalibur (Nightcrawler, Phoenix III and Shadowcat) to enact a plan to bring Colossus back to their side.


Excalibur was an offshoot team of the X-Men created by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis, based usually in the United Kingdom whose book ran from 1988 to 1998, first appearing in 1987’s Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn. Originally, it was a wacky off-beat book that took its team across various dimensions, but eventually became a more grounded typical X-Book in the later years.

Comprising the team at the time was Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat, with the ability to phase through matter, Rachel Summers, aka Phoenix, daughter of Cyclops from an alternate future with telepathy and telekinesis, and Nightcrawler. Original members Brian Braddock, aka Captain Britain, and his shape shifting lover Meggan were written out of the book shortly before, as well as several newer members with no direct ties to the X-Men.

Xavier sought to use the unrealized romance between Kitty and Colossus to lure Colossus to the island so that they could fix the brain damage they believed caused him to remain with the Acolytes. It worked and the X-Men subdued Colossus, using Cyclops’ optic blast to fix the injury and allow him to transform back to human. The Acolytes arrived to reclaim their teammate engaging in a battle with the X-Men that only ended when Colossus, obviously healed, elects to return with them to space. Unknown to the others involved, Colossus actually sought to try and illicit change from Magneto’s ways from within.


Fabian Cortez would go on to the island nation of Genosha to recruit new followers and ignite a race war in the Bloodties storyline that spanned the X-Men and Avengers books. The war took a turn when Cortez sought protection from Magneto’s wrath by kidnapping his granddaughter Luna, daughter of Quicksilver and the Avenger/Inhuman Crystal, pulling both the X-Men and Avengers into the conflict. Matters were further complicated by Exodus seeking vengeance on Cortez and to eliminate Luna for disgracing his master by being a mere human. This conflict would lead to the Avengers losing their standing with the United Nations.

Colossus would continue to care for Magneto until the mutant Holocaust, a refugee from an alternate timeline known as the AGE OF APOCALYPSE (soon to be covered in BACK TO THE 90s), destroyed Avalon and sent its occupants scattered to the winds. No longer having a home and not wishing to return to the X-Men sought refuge/redemption with Excalibur. Excalibur, in turn, gave up their usual super heroics for the most part and settled on Muir Island to become an extension of Moira’s genetic research center.

Magneto’s fate would be a long mystery until the Magneto War storyline. Before then, however, it was believed a man with amnesia calling himself Joseph was Magneto somehow de-aged and rejuvenated. Joseph joined the X-Men until it was revealed he was actually a clone of Magneto designed to destroy and replace him, but was unable to do so and a blow to the head led to his loss of memory. During the Magneto War, Joseph sacrificed himself to repair the damage the real Magneto had done to the Earth’s magnetic field.

The mutant inventor Forge replaced Val Cooper as liaison between X-Factor and the government. After a time, however, Cooper was able to get back into the team’s good graces and gain a more active role. However, in response to Magneto’s actions, Polaris would end up being abducted to be brainwashed by a secret agency to be the government’s ultimate weapon against Magneto.

Wolverine’s healing factor would eventually return, however faster and more powerful than before. It’s learned that it was slower previously due to its constant fighting of adamantium poisoning, due to the metal being toxic like lead. The Dark Riders, loyal minions of Apocalypse, would try to restore Wolverine’s adamantium (skinned from his foe Cyber) to turn him into one of the ancient mutant Apocalypse’s new horsemen, but he rejected the process and was regressed into a feral beast-like state. His humanity would eventually return, as would his adamantium when Apocalypse was finally able to temporarily transform him into his new horseman Death.

The Professor program Cable retrieved from Avalon aided X-Force on several occasions. Eventually, the Professor took residence within X-Force’s transport ship and took to the skies to explore the universe.

Xavier’s mind-wipe of Magneto would directly lead to the creation of the force of nature called Onslaught. For more on that, stay tuned for BACK TO THE 90s: ONSLAUGHT.

X-Factor vol. 1 #92
X-Force vol. 1 #25
Uncanny X-Men #304
X-Men #25
Wolverine vol. 2 #75
Excalibur vol. 1 #71

X-Men: Fatal Attractions TPB

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

By Lorrie Moore
Knopf Publishing Group
Reviewed by Jodie

How often have you been charmed into reading a book devoid of style and content by an obscure title? Like provocative or quirky cover art titles like ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?’ seem to scream at you to run away. A book cannot possibly live up to the promise of such an oddball title. Again and again I am unable to avoid the lure of a weird title and this has resulted in some pretty disappointing purchases, but sometimes the fantastical words fulfill their purpose and signal the arrival of a wonderful reading experience.

Lorrie Moore’s ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?’ is a sumptuous retelling of growing up in small town America, loose and without parental supervision. The reader first meets the narrator in Paris with a marriage she is not sure she wants to salvage. The trip has become a monotony of the same meals as well as a desperate attempt to forge a shared experience of the city. The narrator, Benoitte-Marie beginnings to slip into reminisces of her childhood when she and her best friend Sils worked small time jobs at the town’s kiddie amusement park ‘Storyville’. The teenage girls make glorious company for the reader. They sneak out to drink in bars, create the kind of improvised outfits only teenagers can and smoke with an unashamed love that makes it seem oh so attractive. They are bonded together by a singularly intense friendship which has resulted from being all each other has. Everything they feel has an intensity that makes them perfect companions for any reader feeling disillusioned with the world.

Of course the girls are selfish and focused solely on themselves, even within their friendship. Benoitte-Marie ignores her less exciting foster sister for Sils and Sils avoids involving her boyfriend Mike during a momentous episode in both their lives. During the biggest crisis in the book Benoitte-Marie both supports Sils in a heroic fashion but then abandons her at a crucial point, as it seems unimportant and dull to her to wait for Sils. The characters justify these actions and the reader allows them to, swept away by the breathless descriptions of their lives.

Moore’s prose is presented in a devastatingly simple mixture of linear narrative and stream of consciousness. When I picked it up to refresh my memory for this review, a month after finishing it, I immediately wanted to read the whole book again. From the first sentence ‘In Paris we eat brains every night.’ the reader is engaged by the absurd yet honest way in which Benoitte-Marie presents herself. She takes small facts, like what they eat for dinner in Paris and makes them of the greatest significance. As she is unable to achieve the same level of honesty with her husband the reader feels they have been taken into her confidence and come to love her more despite her selfish traits.

Rapunzel's Revenge

Written by Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Reviewed by Melissa

In my house, it is very rare that my 8-year-old and 12-year-old daughters will agree on anything, let alone both agreeing with each other and with both of their parents. This miracle happened recently, however, by the time we all finished Shannon and Dean Hale's most excellent graphic novel.

Heard around the house were comments such as: "It exceeds all my expectations," (That's the 12-year-old). "It was AWESOME!" (The 8-year-old). "A good graphic novel. Very cute," (The husband).

As for me, I've long been convinced that Shannon Hale can do no wrong. She can do more right and less right, but she has yet to make a serious misstep in her writing career. I do have to admit that I had misgivings when I heard that she was writing a graphic novel, for what "serious" novelist takes on such a "light" form? Then, I actually began reading graphic novels, and my opinion about the genre changed. What better way to tell the Rapunzel story than to set it in the Wild West, make Rapunzel a kick-butt heroine with some awesome hair roping skills? And who better to tell this story than Shannon Hale (with the help of her talented husband, Dean, and a brilliant artist, Nathan Hale -- no relation -- of course)?

The plot basically follows the Rapunzel fairy tale: girl is taken from her parents by a witch because father steals rapunzel (a lettuce that I've never quite figured out...). Ends up imprisoned in a tower (in this case, a tree in a forest) until... this is where the Hales delightfully depart from the tried and true. Rapunzel frees herself (with a nod to the fair prince), and decides to go back and rescue her mother from Gothel's (she's the witch) mines and teach Gothel a bit of a lesson in the meantime. She hooks up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) and they head across the land, rescuing and helping people, and generally getting angrier at Gothel with every frame. They get back, confront Gothel, rescue Rapunzel's mom and pretty much have the standard fairy tale ending.

The beginning and ending are pretty typical fairy tale stuff. It's the middle I liked best. The Hales are funny writers -- there were many asides and humorous bits that worked extremely well. A lot of that credit, of course, goes to Nathan Hale and his art work. It's a bit cartoony, different from the other graphic novels I've read -- but it fits the story quite well. I like Rapunzel's and Jack's facial expressions, especially when they're put into some tight situations. In this case, I didn't mind not having the descriptions left to my imagination; it would have been too cumbersome to describe the ease and finesse with which Rapunzel works her hair-lassos; drawing it works so much better.

The book is listed for ages 10 and up, but given from the experience we had around our house, capable younger readers will enjoy it, too. Not to mention their parents. That is, if they can get it out of the hands of their children.

The Traitor Game

Written by B. R. Collins
Release August 5
Reviewed by Melissa

I can understand the lure of world-building, even though I'm not much of a world-builder myself; how it has the potential to draw a person in -- creating not just characters and situations, but landscape and history -- so that it would feel real to its creator. Perhaps this is what J.R.R. Tolkien felt when he was creating the mythology of Middle Earth. But -- and this is an interesting supposition -- what if you were an insecure 15-year-old boy, someone who had been bullied and beaten, someone who had finally shared his world with someone who he thought was a friend. And what if he thought that friend had betrayed -- strong word, but this is a 15-year-old after all -- him, and more importantly betrayed the world, and was secretly making fun of him? How far would he go to protect not only himself, but the world he created?

This is the basic premise of The Traitor Game. At the outset, I thought it would be something different -- creator Michael falling into his imaginary world, Evgard, which turns out to be real -- but in the end it wasn't that kind of fantasy book. After finishing, I'm not even sure this could be rightly classified as fantasy, which could cause some problems with booksellers and librarians. It's really a story of a boy (who just happened to create a world) trying to find some self-confidence. He goes about it in completely the wrong way, making some serious missteps (with some drastic consequences), and while it doesn't turn out all rosy, he does manage to make some strides in the right direction. That makes it sound more engaging than it was; I found the chapters dealing with Michael's life as a student angsty and ultimately kind of silly.

Interspersed with Michael's story is the story of Argent -- a character Michael has created -- and his capture by the enemy. He ends up befriending his captor, and then has to decide where his loyalties lie when an army from his homeland invades his captor's castle. I actually found this story more compelling; it was shorter, less annoying, and more interesting. However, the story only appeared every three or four chapters, so there was a lot of teen angst to wade through to get there. I also didn't get whether or not we were supposed to think these sequences were real. Was Michael there? Was Michael just making them up? Was Michael dreaming them? The jacket-flap seems to indicate that somehow they were real, that Michael was a part of the action in Evgard, rather than controlling it, creating it. I think it might have been a more interesting story if the two threads were more closely linked, rather than just being thematically parallel.

It did get me thinking, though, about the lines between reality and imagination and friendship and brutality. But that was about it. The rest of it I could have lived without.

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found

Written by Marie Brenner
Sarah Crichton Books
Reviewed by Melissa

Brothers and sisters. Siblings, and all the baggage that comes along with them for many of us. Well, at least, for Marie Brenner. She and her brother, Carl, have had a tumultuous relationship their whole lives, so when Carl drops the bomb that he has cancer and is dying -- his type of cancer only has an 11% survival rate -- Marie feels a desperate need to not only connect with her older brother, but understand him. This book is the story of that journey.

Brenner writes that their mother rightly labeled her and Carl "apples and oranges". She is a reporter -- high-profile for Vanity Fair, having written both an expose on Enron as well as the piece on the tobacco industry that The Insider was based on. He is a former corporate lawyer turned apple grower. He owns orchards in the Cascades, selling his apple and pear varieties all around the world. She is liberal; he a staunch conservative. He lives in Texas and Washington State; she is a tried-and-true New Yorker (in spite of a San Antonio upbringing), with ex-pat leanings. She embraces their Jewish-Mexican heritage; he tries to forget the past, and converts to Christianity. This book is a study in contrasts, one woman's journey to figure out not only her brother -- and all that entails -- but her family, her past, and how that all relates to her life.

Brenner's style is an interesting mix of biting commentary and reflective introspection. My favorite quote comes from early on:
I am a reporter. That means I am a magpie of facts, an issue of sound bites,
a repeater of opinions, an arbiter of everyone else's self-importance, ego
blurts, and grandiosity, a sponge recycling reports from the front.

I thought that was a spot-on observation. But that was before she really got going in the book. I found Brenner to be ruthless in her observations, sparing no one: her family, her work companions, her current and former husbands. In addition to the biting reflections and commentary, the book is disjointed and hard to follow. She bounces around from present to past and back again, making it difficult to follow the narrative. It's frustrating because it is difficult to get a sense of not only her relationship with her brother, but a sense of who she and her brother are. It's also a very posh book -- people flying all over the world at a moment's notice, not to mention her grandfather's and aunt's association with Frieda Kahlo -- which grated on me as a reader. Though, after a while -- once she gets to the Cascades to help her brother through his illness -- the narrative settles down, and becomes not only easier to follow, but more interesting.
There's also the overhanging issue of her unresolved anger and frustrations, not only with her brother, but with her family as a whole. I have to give her credit for reaching out to her brother, but the book is threaded with so much tension that it was difficult for me to sympathize with either her, or her brother, even in his dire condition. I was often angry and annoyed while reading it, and when I finished, I felt bad that I was too bothered by the characters to have more sympathy for either of them; certainly her brother's death didn't affect me as much as I think Brenner wanted it to. Perhaps the brusqueness was Carl and Marie's coping mechanism, dealing with his impending death, but it made for uncomfortable reading.

Brenner is meticulous in her details; I learned more than I thought I ever would about growing apples, her family, and sibling rivalry. But, unfortunately, the story of her and her brother got in the way of actually enjoying what I could have learned. And for that, I am truly sorry.

Farworld: Water Keep

Written by J. Scott Savage
Shadow Mountain Publishing
Release date: September 12
Reviewed by Melissa

I'm always tickled when I like a book more than I think I will. This was one of those cases: I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the story and the characters. Savage has written a grand high fantasy adventure, a good set-up book for the series, and an all-round enjoyable read.

Marcus is not a normal 13-year-old boy. He's an orphan, having been bounced from foster home to foster home before being shipped off to boarding school after boarding school. He has no idea who his parents were. On top of all that, he's disabled from an accident he nearly died from when he was a baby. To escape his miserable existence he imagines a world -- Farworld. One day, however, when someone whom Marcus knows (somehow) is evil, comes to take him away, he discovers that Farworld is not imaginary. It's very real. And his destiny and the world's -- and that of a Farworld girl, Kyja -- are inseparably intertwined.

There will inevitably be comparisons to other fantasy works; I have to admit that I saw elements of Harry Potter (not only the brief reference, but in the plot as well) and Lord of the Rings, as well as other fantasy works. But, I think Savage managed to avoid falling into copy-cat traps. He kept the plot fresh and exciting -- Marcus and Kyja not only have adventures in Farworld in the course of their quest, but also spend time in this world, making for an interesting twist on the standard fantasy fare.

I thought the action sequences, while not as intense as they could have been (for older readers anyway, this book really is aimed at the 11-14 crowd), they were still well written. Savage has created a compelling world, with many fascinating characters. If I had a complaint, it would be that Savage probably tried to crowd too much into his book. Every chapter, it seemed, there was a new character to meet and keep track of. While I don't think it hindered the plot overall, there were times that I felt like he was throwing in someone new just so we could meet another cool character he'd created. The other complaint was that Kyja is a little heavy-handed with her moralizing; it fit with the character, but it was a bit blatant for my tastes.

Even so, it was a strong novel to begin a series with, compelling through to the end. The ending even had good closure to it, while leaving the adventure open to continuing, rather than a cliff-hanger, which always irritates me as a reader. I'm curious to see what Marcus and Kyja experience next, what new adventure in Farworld they can have, and how they can accomplish their ultimate task of saving Farworld. It promises to be an exciting journey.

The Penelopiad

Written by Margaret Atwood
Reviewed by Jodie

Authors taking part in the Canongate myths series have reinvented their chosen stories in a number of ways. Some, like Ali Smith, have rewritten a myth in modern language and placed the action in the present. Others, like Su Tong, have opted to rewrite tales but have used a traditional style and placed the action in a historical setting. Margaret Atwood mixes both of these methods together as she rewrites the tale of Odysseus from the viewpoint of his wife Penelope in ‘The Penelopiad’. She uses snappy, modern language and slang but sets her story in Ancient Greece. She includes a traditional Greek chorus but shapes her examination of Penelope and her maids around modern feminist criticism.

However she seems uncomfortable with moving any further into revisionist territory. Where some would have used Penelope’s voice as a tool to refute how she is portrayed in the original, male authored text Atwood allows the classical version of Penelope to take precedence. Her Penelope is still a weeping woman, a loyal wife, more dutiful and chaste than many other characters in the story. Penelope’s cleverness and intelligence may be emphasised in ‘The Penelopiad’ and Penelope may be given space to comment wryly on her behaviour, ‘Excessive weeping, I might as well tell you, is a handicap of the Niad born…Fortunately in my time there were veils…’, but the characteristics remain. This makes Penelope’s narrative of her life story dull in places, a simple retelling of events from a different perspective that adds little to the readers understanding of the characters. Penelope explains how hard it is to hear stories of her husband with other women and shows how jealous she is of Helen to the reader but she never confronts any of the other characters with these feelings. She remains the dutiful wife, sticking by the feckless Odysseus, swallowing her thoughts.

But could Atwood have a reason behind creating such an insubstantially revised character? It could simply be that she feels revisionist fiction still need to follow textual evidence and can not base characters on things that the original text does not say. However perhaps she is actually presenting a more complex idea. It is possible that the Penelope she has created is only giving the reader select information, that casts her in a good light. Perhaps the character of Penelope is as an unreliable narrator, using her position as storyteller to her advantage. Examining the text there are many indicators that Penelope may be an adept liar. The reader is shown several times when Penelope colludes with her ‘trickster’ husband, for example screaming on their wedding night to satisfy listeners at the door. Penelope tells the story of when her father tried to drown her saying she was rescued by a flock of ducks, yet she seems unable to believe the mythical elements of Odysseus’s travels. She also shows the alternative views people have about her husbands fantastical stories ‘Odysseus had been in a fight with a giant one-eyed Cyclops, said some; no, it was only a one eyed tavern keeper, said the other’ so that the reader can see that she does not swallow the most favourable tales easily. As she casts doubts on her husband’s interpretation of events she may also be asking us to question her own stories.

Penelope creates several carefully woven lies herself, such as the scheme of she comes up with to put off choosing a new husband when Odysseus is said to be dead. She also gets her maids to ingratiate themselves with her suitors in order to be her spies. These schemes suggest a devious mind, a liar, a trickster not the straightforward Penelope the reader is presented with for the rest of the narrative. Towards the end of the book she even says of that she and Odysseus ‘ were – by our own admission- proficient and shameless liars of longstanding‘. Is it possible that the entire narrative Penelope has spun is a carefully constructed pose to disguise her true self and to exonerate herself from guilt about the eventual murder of her maids?

This may be an interesting literary device but it does not keep Penelope’s sections from feeling lifeless at times. The familiar language and linear narrative style can feel mundane, especially when contrasted with the many different forms that the maids chorus is written in, such as poetry, court transcription, sea shanty and academic debate. Clean living Penelope is no competition for the lascivious, angry drama of the maids and it is hard to feel that Atwood has invested as much time in her as she has in these murdered girls. Their sections feel energetic and tightly written as they have much less space in which to voice their complaints. Their controlled, bare words capture the disturbing essence of a traditional Greek chorus, for example:
“Here we are, walking behind you, close, close by, close as a kiss, close as your own skin.”

We’re your serving girls, we’re here to serve you. We’re here to serve you right. We’ll never leave you, we’ll stick to you like your shadow, soft and relentless as glue. Pretty maids, all in a row.” .

The collective narrative of Penelope's maids is full of life and venom. Penelope’s narrative feels flat when it is wholly domestic and realized in modern language and she becomes significantly more interesting when reading the passages about her existence in Hades, where Atwood is free to invent interesting details. Read ‘The Penelopiad’ in order to dwell on the strength of its better passages and skip quickly through it’s more stilted recitation of every day life in Ancient Greece.