A dear friend’s dream just became a reality. As we all know, the best dreams come true not so much from sleeping as from hard work. This author has put in the work. I’ve not only read the book, I have been lucky enough to know little Nika Thought-werk in another world (it’s complicated. Just smile and trust me), and have spent quite a bit of time with this clockwork girl. Just as I would with any friend, I slowly got to know her over time, and came to appreciate her talents and her quirks. I learned not to use long words, and tried to be helpful if she ran down and needed her key turned.
When it became clear that a book about her life was in the works (or is that werks?), I was thrilled. To have the rare privilege of getting to know a character to the point of calling them a close friend, before reading their book, is a once in a lifetime experience.
Do Clockworks Dream of Gear-Toothed Sheep? is an epic adventure with lovable, likable, but certainly not perfect characters. Whether you are comforted by the underlying message of the book, or are simply enjoying it for the adventure, I can assure you this is a singular tale, the likes of which you haven’t read in a long, long time. Please take a moment to read the full synopsis, quoted below. And might I request you linger a bit over the final sentence. This truly may be a groundbreaking novel in the realm of classic fairy tales.
This tale of the Robot Nika (Volume One) is available for $9.99 in a good old fashioned, comforting, hold-in-your-hands paper book.
“An epic fantasy that echoes some of the most beloved classic children’s tales of all time, E. P. Isaacs’s Do Clockworks Dream of Gear-Toothed Sheep? inspires children to see themselves for who they truly are—and never let go.
Nika Thought-werk may not be made from ordinary flesh and bone, but this doesn’t make her any less loved by her friends—or any less needed by those who find themselves in trouble. Although she is made of porcelain, glass, and wax—a doll brought to existence through the astonishing work of a doctor in 1894 Ireland—Nika refuses to live a life that is anything short of extraordinary.
As she makes her way through tornadoes, a lake filled with stew, giant bubblegum bubbles, and a sheep-napping, Nika must find the strength to go on—even when faced with the gravest of dangers.
Along the way, she meets friends of every size and shape—all of whom help Nika learn to see herself for who she truly is.
This enchanting kid’s tale bravely tackles some of the issues that transgender children face, providing readers with hope and encouragement that they are not alone in their quest to find their true identity.”
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey Mayapple Press
Paperback, 9781936419425, 82pp.
Publication Date: March 1, 2015
It’s hard to resist a book with the title The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Those four words send the mind in a myriad of directions. Is this science fiction? A child’s tale? A woman’s story? A cousin of Frankenstein? And the answer would be, ‘yes, it is, and more. Genre be damned.’
The story unfolds via poetry—little glimpses of life pressed to each page like butterflies pinned to a board. And, like life, it can’t all be told at once, nor in order, and not always in the same mood. The days of the life of the Robot Scientist’s Daughter can be peaceful and beautiful, yet burdened by the price that must be paid. Other times, the nightmares are close to the surface and not always hidden behind sleeping eyes. It’s complicated to be the Robot Scientist’s Daughter.
She lives amongst the clutter and ruins of a Project called Manhattan, quite literally within a notable hot spot. Atomic bombs, nuclear reactors, softly dying plants and animals (and people), weapons grade uranium, idyllic meadows, these are the puzzle pieces that make up the landscape of her childhood. It’s where she grew up, learning, as children do, about their surroundings. She knows the birds and the strawberries and is a true child of nature, such as it is. Her realities are our nightmares, and her dreams are our history.
I wavered as she charmed, terrified, soothed and disturbed me. I often stopped to stare at the palm of my right hand—the same hand that, as a child, I would cup to hold a large blob of mercury and roll it around, watching how pretty it was as it sparkled and undulated, before easing it back into the little tube I would carry around in my pocket.
My hand looks smooth and healthy, after all these years. I can’t help but feel a kinship with the Robot Scientist’s Daughter. We are survivors, we are the products of our time, and we are strong and clever, knowledgeable in the ways of unnatural nature. We survived in the worst of times, how can we help but thrive in the best of times?
If you’ve dreamed of owning Jess Nevins Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana but weren’t willing to take out a second mortgage to get the collectors edition (or your landlord nixed the idea), or if your floorboards couldn’t handle the sheer weight of that tome… good news! It’s now light as a feather in Kindle format, and cheaper than lunch at Applebees.
My review of the hardcover copy (now a decade out of print, very expensive, and let’s face it, big enough to require a wheelbarrow to de-shelve), is reads thusly:
“This book is big. Really big. Vastly and hugely big. You may think it’s a long way down to the chemists, but that’s peanuts compared to The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana. I’ve looked up so many entries and each time I do, I find myself wandering about to other random entries. Cracking into this book requires time (and a wheelbarrow), but it’s time well spent. Rather like wandering through an information maze and finding little prizes at the end of the dead-stops throughout. Jess knows his stuff, and now thanks to his encyclopedia, so do I.”
The official description is probably more helpful.
“This enormous volume is the first comprehensive encyclopedia of fantastic literature of the nineteenth century. From detective fiction to historical novels, from well-known authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, to Russian newspaper serials and Chinese martial arts novels, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASTIC VICTORIANA is a truly exhaustive look at every aspect of fantastic literature in the days of Queen Victoria.”
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat: The Graphic Novel was created by Andrez Bergen (words and images) and his daughter Cocoa Bergen (artwork).
I keep saying I’m not a graphic novel sort of person, and Andrez Bergen keeps proving me wrong, damn him. Turns out I’m a complete sucker for his Bullet Gal comic series (also available at If? Commix). And so, over the Labor Day weekend, I decided to take a look at this 133-page color production with the eye-catching cover. I was hesitant—it’s based on the novel by the same name, which I possess, but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Trust me, I’ll be fixing that oversight soon.
TSMG:TGN (now there’s an acronym for the ages) has been unnervingly crafted to push all my buttons. Film Noir. Assemblage Art. Lauren Bacall references. Folks from his other novels wandering through and making themselves at home. Witty, tough dialogue. A post-apocalyptic city. Unforgettable characters. Unapologetic drinking and smoking.
Floyd and Laurel’s story should be soaked up, the way a cheap paper bar coaster absorbs slopped whiskey, rather than simply read. Let the graphics seep in, let the smokey story take a long drag and blow the words into your eyeballs.
Andrez counts among his visual influences, “Dada, cut-ups, Terry Gilliam, Jim Steranko, Steve Epting, Dr. Seuss and David Aja,” staying true to his eclectic, magpie-collector, culture-twister nature. Just when you’ve acclimated to one startling graphic, you turn the page and are spun on your head, given a new and intriguing view of what passes for reality in the last city on earth.
When author Andrez Bergen undertook the Herculean task of describing to me the premise of his upcoming book, I was, quite frankly, amazed when he didn’t pass out from sheer exhaustion.
“It’s a futuristic-retro superhero romp that mixes and matches 1930s Art Deco architectural lines with the gung-ho Soviet formalist propaganda style, twisted into 1960s pop art sentiment and the huge influence of Jack Kirby. Think golden and silver age American comics channeled into a dystopian future—via Japanese manga—while heavily skewed by the ’60s Marvel comic book baggage of Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko and their ilk. And then decant that concoction into the legacy of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.”
Now, I did say ‘book’, not ‘comic book’. Andrez Bergen has stuffed all these comic book concepts into one hefty novel. But the visuals so dear to comic book aficionados have not been forgotten. Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is illustrated by a variety of artists from the UK, Italy, the United States, Japan, Russia, Spain, Canada, Argentina, and the author’s homeland of Australia.
“I wanted a more professional take on the visual concept and I also liked the idea of disparate visions of the same character—it’s the way comic books, after all, work in the real world. Bryan Hitch’s perception of Captain America in 2009 was far different from John Buscema’s in 1969.”
But the most challenging hurdle of all was his decision to let me read the book. I appreciate comic books for their rich history and contributions to our culture in the form of action movies, occasional fashion statements and a rich abundance of cultural references. However, my own interest in comics was short-lived, just a small dose of Superman back in grade school. I was more of a Tales from the Crypt, MAD Magazine, Asimov and Bradbury girl. And so, with my anemic comic book background, I cracked into Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? feeling like the odd kid out. Right off, I was introduced to Jack, a kid struggling to survive in the dirty ragged remnants of Melbourne, Australia. Jack and I clicked immediately, since I’m fond of survival tales, and so through his eyes I was finally able to discover what comforts and wonders can be found within comic books.
Eventually, Jack learns of an unusual way to escape his life in Melbourne and finds himself wandering Heropa, a retro-virtual metropolis that seems capable of giving him everything he needs. He gets a fresh start, food, shelter, clothing, and caring friends. Jack bumbles along, slowly figuring it all out, while I cheered and encouraged him along. Turns out Jack is a ‘Cape’ (Heropa’s superheroes) by the name of Southern Cross. He settles in with other Capes and learns more about life in the virtual world of Heropa. There are standards he must uphold; no drinking, swearing, or smoking (there are repercussions), and he quickly learns that wearing a superhero mask every day is really annoying. Oh, and there’s another fact of life in Heropa – every night at midnight, the city gets a reset. The ‘Blandos’ (ordinary folk, think non-player characters in a roleplay game) wake up in the morning and go about their jobs and lives with any mayhem, personal injuries and city damage from the day before set back to a nice tidy default. Their memories are reset as well, so every day is a new chance to do the same old things, oblivious to the repetition.
Seems simple enough on the surface, but Jack begins to discover that something is very wrong in the city. Capes are being killed more often and more flagrantly. The resets have stopped working. Alcohol is re-discovered and overly enjoyed. Jack meets a bank teller Blando who steals his heart. And that’s just the beginning of some very big changes happening in Heropa.
Meanwhile, what’s happening to the people back in Melbourne while their virtual Cape personas fight, fall in love and die? And what about the Blandos? With the reset off, are they closer to becoming real people? Are they capable of building memories and relationships and bringing lasting changes to Heropa? Is the definition of reality changing?
I taunted Andrez about writing this whole review as an allegory to a 1947 Studebaker, but instead I’ll just give you a taste. By comparison, his previous novel,100 Years of Vicissitude, is a Mazda RX-7, able to zip through convoluted Japanese streets and change directions quicker than you can blink.
Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is more like a 1947 Studebaker Land Cruiser. Big enough to hold a pile of passengers and all their baggage, but with enough attitude to cruise stylishly down a vintage virtual boulevard. First gear takes time to work up to speed, but that’s all right, we can study life on the sidewalks as we pass by. Second gear gets you moving along quicker – it’s going to be bad news hitting a pothole at this speed. Third gear and you’d better be strapped in because this car’s not stopping for anything. This novel ramps up the action one gear at a time, each shift revealing faster and more breathtaking scenery right up to the very end.
As a bonus, the back of the book contains a glossary of all the slang and comic books mentioned in his story, as well as bios of the artists, acknowledgements, inspirations, influences, moments of worth in the authors life, and essential comic book reading highlights. As you can see, Andrez is not one to take shortcuts when talking about his passions. I absolutely recommend Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? You have nothing to lose but your preconceived notions.