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Children’s Book Review: You Look Yummy!

You Look Yummy! by Tatsuya Miyanishi

You Look Yummy!

…………………….You Look Yummy! at Museyon

This sweet tale about the love between father and son is the first in a tremendously popular Tyrannosaurus series in 12 titles to date, with combined sales in excess of 3 million copies in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and France. A long, long time ago, a baby Ankylosaurus is born on a volcano erupting ground. As the little Ankylosaurus begins wandering around, a big Tyrannosaurus comes along. He is about to pounce when the baby cries out, “Daddy!” and grabs onto his leg. The baby thinks the Tyrannosaurus is his father, so as not to disappoint the little one, he takes on the task of raising a baby Ankylosaur. The two develop ever stronger bonds of love, but soon comes the day when they must part. Highlighting the importance of family, this sweet picture book celebrates the love between father and son.

I held off reviewing this one until I could read it with our preschooler. More and more I’m convinced that the opinion of the target audience is way more important than mine. There are a lot of beautiful children’s books with clever rhymes and interesting thoughtful stories that attract grandparents and critics. We have some of them. Some are great. Others sit on the shelf like symbols, waiting to be recognized by some other parent who read the same best-of list.

What I’m saying is that if it doesn’t resonate with our children, then it scarcely matters how great I think it is. Take Goodnight Moon. It’s mostly nonsense. And everyone loves it from when they were kids. Even me.

So I read You Look Yummy! with ours. I explained that it was a book I wanted to read together and that this was a favor. The digital galley had an issue that crops up with visual material sometimes. Two page spreads don’t parse well when they’re split. I got a few confused questions and even a real “what’s happening.” But, the story was generally clear.

An anklyosaurus hatches amidst a volcanic eruption, separated from his parents. A tyrannosaur comes along intending to eat him and the baby mistakes him for his daddy. The unmitigated love of the little lizard overcomes the larger one and they look out for one another.

Yummy this is ramming

Our preschooler was engaged by some familiar beats: the worried dad, the kid who wants to help, the desire to imitate and emulate, and the sort of strangeness a parent’s real skill set can have for the young. Empathetic kids will swell and shrink with the story.

The book ends with the tyrannosaur sending the kid to the full grown anklyosauruses, presumably his parents, after sharing everything he knows. This is done through trickery and it’s kind of sad. This is the part where  the digital pagination probably interrupted the narrative the most. after some rapid back and forth the action was obvious. And disappointing.

Our preschooler asked for two more books as a mental palate cleanser. I think the message conflicted with the one in Dinosaur Train. In that show, Buddy, a tyrannosaur adopted by a family of pteranodons chooses to stay with him when given the opportunity to live with other apex predators.

I reckon the print copy would soften the blow, but the book isn’t a bedtime story. It’s a discussion prompt. Why did he do that? Where is he going? Our preschooler loves drilling down into these questions even when they’re challenging and we’re not mendacious enough to be sly. If yours is the same, this is the book for you.

Recommended for fans of Where the Wild Things Are, The Giving Tree, and The Monster at the End of this Book.


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Comic Review: Jem and the Holograms #7

Jem and the Holograms “Viral” Part One by Kelly Thompson illustrated by Emma Vieceli

Jem and the Holograms 7

Jerrica and her sisters face their biggest threat yet—success! Meanwhile, the Misfits aren’t taking these upstarts laying down… as they find themselves under new management…

Jem and the Holograms completed its first arc, “Showtime,” last issue. Big images, strong emotions, soul crushing conflicts. Even hard-as-nails Pizzazz nearly shed a tear, folks.

As you might expect, this issue returns to more intimate settings and focuses on the internal and the personal. The minutiae of everyday life. For rock stars anyway.

Jerrica struggles to prioritize various aspects of their burgeoning fame while Kimber agonizes over her shattered relationship. Surprisingly, both get some assistance from sparkly holographic supercomputer Synergy.

Across town, the Misfits face some challenges of their own. Their A&R rep is incensed about the disastrous fallout from their last performance. The band tries to play it off, but they’re getting a manager whether they like it or not.

Enter the first of two new, or nostalgic, depending on your perspective, cast members. Eric Raymond has been conspicuously missing from the comic since issue one. And he looks perfect. Fill in artist Emma Vieceli gives Eric the shifting  serpentine charisma he needs without a voice actor.

We also get a glimpse of Techrat, though he’s not named, at the end of the issue. I’m using his television pronoun, but the design is completely androgynous. The Misfits seem to have a way of attracting people with a hate on for the Holograms.

I have to admit that I already miss Sophie Campbell. I love the consistency of depiction across diverse body types and the emotional resonance of her art. She makes Jem magical.

However, Vieceli employs an impressive range of expressions and employs some creative stylistic tools that provide both humor and pathos. I’m looking forward to the next issue.


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Comic Review: Jem and the Holograms #6

Jem and the Holograms “Showtime” Part Six by Kelly Tompson illustrated by Sophie Campbell

Jem and the Holograms 6

SHOWTIME SHOWDOWN! The Battle of the Bands is here—Jem and The Holograms will face off against The Misfits…or will they? Battle lines are drawn! Nemeses are born!

Jem and the Holograms is the title I wait for. I was a fan of the cartoon and this comic is its true and worthy heir. The story is great, building from personal places and playing out in public spaces. But the art is fantastic.

Sophie Campbell has reimagined what was essentially a doll line as real and diverse people. And she can make them look glam and fierce covered in mayo and kethchup and goop.

Jem 6 P1p2

In the aftermath of the foodfight triggered by Kimber’s recognition of Clash as the woman with bolt cutters, the must have feminist accessory of summer 2015, Jem and the Holograms find themselves in breach of their Vs! Contest contract. Both bands clean up and come clean. Sort of. We get a rare moment of everyone dressed casually and being brutally honest about their relationships. Campbell’s skill at portraying emotion shines in these pages.

20150908_211418

Star crossed Kimber and Stormer suffer the agony of unanswered, unanswerable calls and texts. If you’d told me anyone, ever, could impart the emotional impact of a relationship in a downward spiral with drawings of smartphones, I wouldn’t have believed you. Now I’m the person telling you that.

I can’t think of a single comic book artist who so clearly lines up the depicted expression with the words being said and feelings in play. Jem and the Holograms is about these moments as much as it’s about fashion and fame. The final panel features both a declaration of war and plainly wounded pride welling in a restrained tear.

There are a couple cool references in this issue. Probably more than a couple, but these are stand outs. First, the Misfits’ guitar-shaped motorcycles from the very first episode, and first song, of the cartoon make an appearance.

Guitar Motorcycles

Check out their original incarnation in “Outta My Way.”

And the final act of the issue featuring Jerrica’s plan to upstage the Misfits as they close out their concert is reminiscent of Sex Bob-Omb’s battle with fifth ans sixth Evil Exes, the Katayanagi Twins, in Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

IDW has some preview pages up if you’re on the fence, but do yourself a favor and go pick this, and every other issue, up with the rest of your books today.


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Graphic Novel Review – The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw

The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw by Kurt Busiek illustrated by Benjamin Dewey

The Autumnlands Volume 1 Tooth and Claw

When a secret conclave of wizards brings a legendary hero back from the forgotten past to save their dying world, they get a hero unlike anything they expected, and trigger a crisis none of them may survive. From New York Times bestselling writer Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Marvels), rising-star artist Benjamin Dewey (I Was the Cat, Tragedy Series), and award-winning colorist Jordie Bellaire, The Autumnlands begins an epic fantasy tale of survival and adventure in a world of beast-wizards, sorcery, brutality, and hope. This specially-priced volume collects the first six issues of the hit series for adults that Wired calls “…deep, rich and quirky enough to stand leagues ahead of its competition.”

I picked this one up because I’m incredibly fond of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. So, seeing little more than a name and some anthropomophised fauna, I took a chance on it.

The story’s told in essentially three parts. Each issue opens with a few pages of mytho-historical imagery, followed by a page of fictive literature complete with attribution. These are followed by the story proper. Each issue thus leads the reader into the realm of fantasy, grounding her in a complex existing world and creating a space for semiological reverberation. How does the initial data inflect the panels to come?

Blade of the One Foretold

You get the sense of both history repeating itself and of the malleable nature of accepted wisdom. So when notions of privilege, perspective, and prejudice arise in the story they don’t have to be foregrounded. The reader does the work, sees the implications, remains immersed.

It helps that the seventeen floating cities are essentially populated by single animal tribes, of course, and that the dogs are loyal traditionalists, the owls are imperious know-it-alls. Our own preconceptions and even our myths influence our reading. So when a fox shows up, we know not to trust her.

Our hero, the main PoV character is Dunstan, a terrier and the son of the leader of Keneil. He makes daily obeisance to the gods of commerce, of housing and urban development, but he longs for more. Because this is epic fantasy, he gets it. Some of his illusions about race relations are shattered almost immediately when he accompanies his father on a trade expedition. and his world collapses when an ambitious warthog hosts a conclave of magicians in the westernmost city.

Benjamin Dewey performs a small miracle distinctly depicting dozens of creatures. He shows a range of emotion among his nonhuman faces. Whether it’s ursine unction, amphibian fear, avian arrogance, or rodent curiosity, its clear to the eye. But the cityscapes and natural vistas are just as powerful. Regardless of perspective and scope the stakes are always clear. With assistance from Jordie Bellaire, the panels scintillate.

Autumnlands Tooth & Claw

With a cast of diverse zoomorphs, it’s patently obvious that the legendary mysterious magical entity will be one of us. So why not give it away on the cover.? In fact, it’s important to the story only in that none of the animals might claim him as their own and assert their supremacy.

Recommended for fans of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Beasts of Burden, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.


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Book Review: The Philosopher Kings

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

The Philospher Kings by Jo Walton

From acclaimed, award-winning author Jo Walton: Philosopher Kings, a tale of gods and humans, and the surprising things they have to learn from one another. Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.

The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as “Pytheas” in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it’s evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief.

Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers–including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence–Pytheas/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find–possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves “Greek.” What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover…will change everything.

The Philosopher Kings is a continuation of the story in The Just City. Decades have passed since The Last Debate and the population has splintered into five separate groups each attempting to “do Plato right,” according to their best interpretation. However resources are scarce. One in particular, the art recovered in time traveling excursions with Athene, has become the object of petty but persistent warfare.

Simmea, arguably the heroine of the first book, is mortally wounded at the beginning of the story and Apollo struggles with her last words and her loss throughout the narrative. It’s an excellent parallel with his confusion over Daphne which prompted him to incarnate in the first place. What might be a straight revenge plot in the hands of a lesser writer becomes a discourse on mortality, grief, and maturity.

I’ll admit Simmea’s absence threatened to shake my confidence in the book. But like all of us when we die, she lives on in the hearts and minds of her colleagues, friends, and family. Her golden example inspires and informs their quest for justice.

Her point of view is replaced by her daughter Arete, the only child she had with Pytheas/Apollo. His perspective and that of the eighteenth century woman cum Platonic Master Maia continue to shape the contours of the story. Thus three generations are represented as well as the mortal, immortal, and quasi mortal elements of every good Greek epic.

Where The Just City explored excellence and justice in the limited context of the city and its origins, The Philosopher Kings explores the rights, roles, and responsibilities of gods, heroes, and humans. The inhabitants of the cities confront their relationships with one another and their obligations to the exoteric culture and even spacetime itself. And they explore the tension between fixed knowledge and learning.

Recommended for fans of The Name of the Wind, Homer, and Count Zero.

You can read the first two chapters at Tor.com. The third book, Necessity, is in the editing stage. Walton posted some useful links for those who are interested in exploring Plato and the Masters further.

 

 


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Book Review: A Crown for Cold Silver

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

A Crown for Cold Silver

FIVE VILLAINS. ONE LEGENDARY GENERAL. A FINAL QUEST FOR VENGEANCE.

Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history.

Now the peace she carved for herself has been shattered by the unprovoked slaughter of her village. Seeking bloody vengeance, Zosia heads for battle once more, but to find justice she must confront grudge-bearing enemies, once-loyal allies, and an unknown army that marches under a familiar banner.

I picked up A Crown for Cold Silver because Kameron Hurley blurbed it. “An epic fantasy that will surprise you. When was the last time you read one of those? Marshall deftly sets up and subverts expectations at every turn. If you think you know what’s coming, think again.” Take note, folks: that works. Otherwise I didn’t really know what I was getting into.

It’s a secondary world fantasy with multiple points of view. Alex Marshall has created a deep, engaging world revealed slowly but comfortably. I continually experienced the desire to know more, but never desperately. That is to say I wasn’t confused. The mysteries aren’t dangled like ever receding carrots so much as they’re blended in for flavor.

The story begins on a grand scale. A regimental colonel has been tasked with making an example of an outlying village. With his two superhuman guards he confronts the town’s nominal leader. She just happens to be one of the world’s most fearsome legends.

It starts out as a revenge tale and morphs into the band getting back together which is itself subsumed under a tangentially related epic confrontation between political and military ambitions. It never gives up the intensity and importance of personal relationships, though. Familial, martial, and filial bonds drive most of the characters and inform their realistic if often objectively bad decisions.

Almost unconsciously, the reader experiences a world where same sex relationships are quotidian. They’re not more prominent, they just are, too. And that’s great. It wasn’t until I was at the end of the book where I wondered whether they weren’t ubiquitous. And right around then, I discovered they were. I never felt pushed or overwhelmed.

So it’s doing all that right. There are plenty of strong flawed male and female characters, and even some complex representations of mustachioed women and veiled men. But, again, it isn’t overwrought. It just is. Engels in the fantastic.

The story’s compelling and there’s a real sense of fun. It’s a grim revenge tale that nonetheless plays with the conventions associated with that kind of thing. A sense of what a band of lusty conquerors might be like as people and what getting that band back together might entail.

A Crown for Cold Silver is the first book of a trilogy. It ends well, but there’s a definite setup for more to come. I look forward to it.

Recommended for fans of City of Stairs, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and season 9 of Stargate: SG-1.


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Graphic Novel Review – ODY-C Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa

ODY-C Volume 1: Off to Far Ithicaa by Matt Fraction illustrated by Christian Ward

ODY-C

An eye-searing, mind-bending, gender-shattering epic science fiction retelling of Homer’s Odyssey starting with the end of a great war in the stars and the beginning of a very long journey home for Odyssia and her crew of warriors. The journey to Ithicaa begins HERE, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward.

We have close friends who have literally placed several Matt Fraction books into our hands. I’ve read and enjoyed several of them and sought out more on my own. So, when the opportunity arose to check out ODY-C, I was more than happy to give it a read.

I’d heard some good things about the series and I’m always up for reinterpretations. Especially if they do something new with the source material. And ODY-C definitely does that.

The reader learns, or at least thinks she learns, the primary conceit as the story opens. Iconic Odysseus is reimagined as Witchjack Odyssia, conqueror of Troiia. But it’s not exactly a gender flipped epic in space, though that was honestly enough to hook me.

Fraction seems to favor allusion to the primary text over strict adaptation. The major plot points are covered, though not always in their traditional order. It’s all in service of an unfolding plot, so familiar characters, mortal and immortal, can develop and murky motivations can become clear. It’s a story satisfying to the ignorant and the aficionado alike.

And it’s beautiful. I remember wondering in the first few pages if I was going to like the art. Really? This is one of those pages

ODY-C ships

There’s so much to say about Christian Ward’s work here. I could praise its clarity and precision. I could talk about the feminine ship design as opposed to masculine rockets reiterating the world building in the details. I could note the sense of motion and speed and energy. I could gawp at the mythic significance of the background imagery. And, yes, I’ve just done all that. But what I really want to do is compare it to Jack Kirby, favorably.

Everything about the book works. From the explanation of the gender environment to the varied page layouts. The innovative character designs to the emotional reality of the characters. The poetic narration to the thoughtfully color coded speech boxes. Ody-C is amazing.

Recommended for fans of Saga, Bitch Planet, and epic storytelling.


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Review – Rat Queens Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

Rat Queens Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Stjepan Šejić

Rat Queens Vol 2

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

Collects RAT QUEENS #6-10

I should probably do a short recap for folks not familiar with Rat Queens. It’s an American comic book detailing the adventures, in the Dungeons and Dragons sense, of four foul mouthed heroines. Hannah’s more or less an elf mage; Dee’s a human cleric; Violet’s a dwarf warrior; and Betty’s an hilarious take on the halfling thief. We reviewed volume one after our friends compelled us to read it.

Between the last volume and this one, Rat Queens won a GLAAD Media award for Outstanding Comic Book and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It’s also being developed for television. This new volume made the New York Times Bestseller list. That might help explain why it’s sold out on Amazon of all places as I write this.

The Dinglehopper was fortunate to receive a copy, but the new addition to our family delayed our review. This second arc is framed by the incursion of cthonic horrors from Dee’s hometown and provides some background on threMyconid Monster Manuale of the Queens. Unlike a lot of paint by numbers origin stories, though, these glimpses into the past reverberate with relationships already established in the first volume and encourage further interest.

It’s not all trips down memory lane. though. There’s plenty of the intertextual referencing fans have come to love. For example, there’s a pitched battle with myconids straight out of the Monster Manual.

Dee’s story is filled out mostly in the present. We already knew she’d left her family and her cult, or religion, or whatever depending on whom you ask. But N’Rygoth has come to Palisade and so has another figure out of her past. Like almost everything in Rat Queens, this is something of a trope subversion. Typically, Dee’s past would come back to haunt her. And in a literal way, it does. However, Dee’s too much her own woman for that to shake her.

You’re here with me now. Just… Don’t be afraid.

We learn a more about Hannah and Violet through flashbacks woven into the narrative with a little memorable magic. Violet’s story is the rebellious girl misunderstood by her family and her society. You know, the one where the girl dons the mask and proves she’s every bit as good as the boys? Not here. She does find her inspiration, though; and we learn why she named the party.

Don’t you know your mythology, girl? Rats are harbingers of impending destruction.

And there’s a touching moment between mother and daughter that just… here.

Violet

Issue eight was the last drawn by former artist Roc Upchurch. He was replaced after an arrest on a domestic violence charge. You can read writer Kurtis J. Wiebe’s statement here.

I am committed to Rat Queens, to stand by what it has always been praised for and to prove to the fans that they weren’t wrong in loving it.

Artist Stjepan Šejić took Hannah and Tizzieover with issue nine. For longtime fans and binge readers both, the shift is a little jarring. The cartoonish gaiety of the first volume gives way to more realistic portrayals and a greater panel depth. It’s a perfect fit as Hannah’s backstory is, predictably, grittier and edgier than the rest. We learn why she’s angry, but also why she’s loyal. We see her first meeting with Tizzie and we get to see them work together when the chips are down. And we learn why she wears her hair that way.

I’m just gonna gush. I love the new art. There’s an incredible range of expression that tells the story as much as the dialogue. The stuff happening behind the focal characters is as or more entertaining than what’s up front. It’s clear, obvious, and in character. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong when you pull a lightning storm right out of a video game.

Rat Queens has weathered the transition. Šejić’s art is perfect for the series and Wiebe’s storytelling is as compelling as ever. The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth is a solid entry that once again leaves the reader wanting more.

Recommended for fans of Bitch Planet, Dungeons & Dragons, and Mean Girls.


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Graphic Novel Review: Trees Volume 1

Trees Volume 1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

Trees v1

Ten years after they landed. All over the world. And they did nothing, standing on the surface of the Earth like trees, exerting their silent pressure on the world, as if there were no-one here and nothing under foot.

Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe, but that they did not recognize us as intelligent or alive.

Trees looks at a near-future world where life goes on in the shadows of the Trees: in China, where a young painter arrives in the “special cultural zone” of a city under a Tree; in Italy, where a young woman under the menacing protection of a fascist gang meets an old man who wants to teach her terrible skills; and in Svalbard, where a research team is discovering, by accident, that the Trees may not be dormant after all, and the awful threat they truly represent.

Collecting issues 1-8.

We’re fans of Warren Ellis here at The Dinglehopper. Erin’s favorite comic prior to the advent of Bitch Planet was, and maybe still is, Planetary. I have a shelf full of trades that’s seen a lot of wear. Even so, since our toddler was born we haven’t seen the inside of our local comic shop more than a handful of times.

What I’m trying to say here is that Trees is something that I should have known about for almost a year now and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t. Like all of Ellis’s best work, there’s a mystery at the center of it. A mystery that the reader, and the characters, have a small piece of. Enough to wonder, to want more.

The mystery is, of course, the Trees; immense mineral cylinders stretching up into the sky, plunked down in the middle of Rio or the middle of nowhere. Their tantalizing power owes a debt to Jason Howard’s renderings of the cityscapes and natural surroundings. The sense of comparative scale evokes a sense of wonder that’s in direct contrast to the representation of life in the shadow of the Trees.

For most of the characters on the page, the Trees are quotidian. Less important than the local authorities, border disputes, mayoral campaigns, or even sexual awakenings. And it’s there where the real story lies.

It’s less about the Trees than it is about us. All science fiction, whether its about the future or aliens, or space travel is really just an exploration of what it means to be human. Here, all the Independence Day heroics or disaster movie chaos happened a decade ago. The Trees are a context within, or beneath, which human dramas play out.

Trees Cefalu

Trees isn’t structured like a typical comic. In particular, reading it as a collection it wasn’t exactly clear when one issue ended and another began and that’s an incredible strength. This is really one long narrative that I got sixty pages into before even asking that question.

While there are more than half a dozen locations and attendant casts to keep track of, much of the story is about how they’re interrelated. United by similar circumstances. Here again Howard’s art provides crucial assistance. similar but not identical faces subtly elide the separations between Cefalu, Shu, and Svalbard.

Multiple concurrent narratives initially alternate in service of introduction but come to score and comment on one another. Informing and elaborating, echoing off the page. The wreck of Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema flows effortlessly into Blindhail Station on Spitzbergen, sharing imagery and intent. The plight of Rio youth is inconsequential to the massive indifferent power of the Trees, which, frankly, might as well be us.

The sites aren’t chosen haphazardly, though it might seem so. They’re a representative sample that provide a stage for tense juxtapositions. In Norway, strange flowers bloom in the permafrost as a single man’s obsession endangers an isolated crew. In Mogadishu an economist-cum-president gambles his country’s future atop the world’s shortest Tree. In Italy, the vestiges of two Golden Dawns vie for supremacy. In China, the citizens of a free city explore the boundaries of art, gender, and sexuality.

Within just a few pages, I’d already experienced shocks of recognition, intense curiosity, pathos, humor, and awe. Ellis has once again teamed up with the perfect artist for a project. Howard’s sketchy lines give the pages and what they depict a rough, lived in world with a vibrant kinesis.

Recommended for fans of Orbiter, Ocean, and the ineffable other.

 


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Book Review – The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium

The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel by Michael Marder

Plant

Despite their conceptual allergy to vegetal life, philosophers have used germination, growth, blossoming, fruition, reproduction, and decay as illustrations of abstract concepts; mentioned plants in passing as the natural backdrops for dialogues, letters, and other compositions; spun elaborate allegories out of flowers, trees, and even grass; and recommended appropriate medicinal, dietary, and aesthetic approaches to select species of plants.

In this book, Michael Marder illuminates the vegetal centerpieces and hidden kernels that have powered theoretical discourse for centuries. Choosing twelve botanical specimens that correspond to twelve significant philosophers, he recasts the development of philosophy through the evolution of human and plant relations. A philosophical history for the postmetaphysical age, The Philosopher’s Plant reclaims the organic heritage of human thought. With the help of vegetal images, examples, and metaphors, the book clears a path through philosophy’s tangled roots and dense undergrowth, opening up the discipline to all readers.

I may not be a philosopher, but I might be a plant.

The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium is a difficult provocative book that takes a creative approach to the history of philosophy and the philosophy of plant life.

Marder has written a text that can be read in multiple ways, which is always ambitious and seldom successful.  Following the course of Western philosophy from Plato through Augustine, Leibniz, and Derrida to Irigaray, each of the twelve chapters is subdivided into four sections.  Page by page, the reader gains a thorough understanding of Marder’s thoughts on the philoosphers in question, building on one another <<<>>>.  However, the book may also be read by section.  The first explores the intersections of the lives and work of each thinker via their deployment of metaphorical flora.  The second brings notions of “vegetal existence” into concert with each philosopher’s central concepts.  The third investigates human plant relationships.  And the fourth attempts to recontextualize plants vis-à-vis critical reevaluations of the history of philosophy.

The Philosopher’s Plant does not present a philosophy in and of itself, but recasts the role of vegetable life within recognizable and pliant case studies, presenting previously poorly explored notions alongside their more durable counterparts.  The greater leaps are left to the reader to make in his or her own mind.  The transformative power of this intellectual herbarium lies in the juxtaposition of plant-thinking with Western metaphysics.

The deliberate selection of particular thinkers and their attendant vegetal metaphors can lead to some intriguing inspirations.  The final section deals with postmodern philosophy and the radical reinsertion of plant subjects into intellectual discourse.  Mathilde Roussel’s ink illustrations condense the four sections into a single image with shocking facility.

Recommended for unreconstructed vegans, constant gardeners, and swamp things.

Michael Marder is IKERBASQUE Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, UPV-EHU, Vitoria-Gasteiz. He is the author of The Event of the Thing: Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism; Groundless Existence: The Political Ontology of Carl Schmitt; Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life; Phenomena — Critique — Logos: The Project of Critical Phenomenology; and the forthcoming Pyropolitics: When the World Is Ablaze.

Mathilde Roussel is a French artist and sculptor who has taught and exhibited widely in the United States.