And Then I Read: THE FIGHTING GROUND by Avi

This remarkable 1984 novel takes place near Trenton, NJ during the American Revolution. It covers just over 24 hours in time, but details events that will change young Jonathan forever. The war has been on for some time, Jonathan’s brother is fighting with Washington, and his father fought and was injured, so has returned home. He and Jonathan are planting spring crops, but all Jonathan can think about is whether he will have a chance to prove himself in battle. When he learns that a militia group is gathering in a tavern nearby, he sneaks away to see if they will have him. Despite the warnings of many, 13-year-old Jonathan joins the motley group of farmers turned soldiers led by a devious Corporal who seems anxious to take the fight to some Hessian soldiers moving through the area. When they do, it’s a disaster, and Jonathan is captured by three Hessians who seem lost. They take refuge with their prisoner in a farmhouse and spend a long, frightening night trying to understand each other, and the child found in the house. The Hessians speak only German, and Jonathan speaks none. When Jonathan escapes at dawn and finds his Colonel, the triumph he hoped to achieve turns to an even worse disaster.

The writing in this book is tense, cinematic and real. Jonathan’s dreams and illusions are shattered as he confronts the truth and horror of war. Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE FLASH #60

Image © DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson, art by Rafa Sandoval & Jordi Tarragona, colors by Tomeu Morey & Hi-Fi, letters by Steve Wands.

Part 3 of “Force Quest” has Barry Allen and Iris West in Corto Maltese trying to speak to a new Strength Force user, Fuerza. Unfortunately, she’s in the middle of a battle with the police. When Barry helps her, she allows him to follow her to her headquarters, and agrees to tell him what she knows about the Strength Force, which came to her a few weeks earlier. Meanwhile, in Africa, the twin villains Gemini are on a new mission that will intersect with Flash later, and in Central City, Flash’s fill-in, the future Captain Cold, is being played by another of Flash’s Rogues Gallery. The heart of this issue is corruption, as we learn Corto Maltese’s police chief is not only on the take, he’s getting heavy weapons to use against his people as well as superheroes from someone involved with the Sage Force. The one he uses on Fuerza and Flash is most unusual.

Not loving this storyline, but it’s reasonably entertaining. Recommended.

And Then I Read: WONDER WOMAN #62

Image © DC Comics. Written by G. Willow Wilson, art by Xermanico, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr., letters by Pat Brosseau, cover by Terry & Rachel Dodson.

In the final chapter of “The Just War,” the Prime Minister of Durovnia has come to what Wonder Woman thought was safe territory to discuss peace in the war-torn country, only to find Ares, God of War, ready to strike him down. Diana and Ares battle, but are halted by Aphrodite. Can Love conquer all? Read the issue to find out! I have been liking Wilson’s dialogue more and more as I read this story arc, and like it best of all this time. As Diana and Steve Trevor head back America, separately, I’m curious to see what’s next. The art in the book is also appealing, and I see no reason not to keep reading this series.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: IRONTOWN BLUES by John Varley

Cover art by Florian de Gesincourt

I’ve loved Varley’s work since first reading his short stories in the SF digest magazines in the 1970s. I think of him as a “Heinlein school” writer, and the inclination in his work to use the themes and settings of Robert A. Heinlein as stepping-off points or homages has grown over the years. As Heinlein is one of my favorite writers, I have no problem with this, and it’s not like he’s imitating or retreading, he goes his own way, but the love for RAH is evident and strong. This one is reminiscent of “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” taken further down the road, with other Heinlein novel elements in there too.

Chris Bach lives on Earth’s moon, but in his head he’s in 1930s film noir. He lives in an area where that era is recreated lovingly, and he works as a private detective, he and his partner Sherlock, a bloodhound. Sherlock is not an ordinary dog, he’s a CEC, Computer Enhanced Canine, with implanted links to the web and enhanced intelligence. Sherlock is a master of scents, of course, and he co-narrates the book with the help of a CEC communications expert who interprets his non-verbal language and translates it for us readers. Sherlock’s narration is often more interesting than Chris Bach’s.

As is expected for a private detective, Chris has a troubled past that we learn about in the story, he was part of a raid on some off-the-grid inhabitants of the Moon he thought was a simple clean-up operation, but it turned out to be much deadlier and more sinister. He barely survived.

Chris’s new client seems to want to drag him and Sherlock back to the place where it happened, Irontown. Chris is reluctant to go there for good reason. Sherlock wants only to protect Chris. Neither of them are going to get what they want or expect when they finally get to Irontown.

Great book, highly recommended!

And Then I Read: BATMAN, KINGS OF FEAR #1

Image © DC Comics. Written by Scott Peterson, art by Kelley Jones.

I decided to give this a try. The entire miniseries is already out, but I hadn’t looked at it yet.

I love Kelley Jones’ art, but I have to say it works best for me on characters that are already exaggerated caricatures of humanity. The villains, for instance. On Batman himself, Kelley’s distorted anatomy is sometimes distracting, but his art is full of love for the characters and the medium, and surely that’s a good thing. And how can you not love all the insane details?

Batman begins by taking down The Joker, whose dialogue by Scott Peterson is amusing and insightful. When Batman returns Joker to Arkham Asylum, he’s berated by a doctor there despite the fact that he’s helping. Suddenly the entire Batman roster of crazed villains are out of their cells, and Batman must take them on single-handed. I suspect Kelley Jones asked for that!

All this seems to be a prelude to the real threat, The Scarecrow, who has also escaped Arkham and whose fear toxins take Batman by surprise. The plot thickens.

Recommended.