Ada Palmer, of Ex Urbe, and historian at University of Chicago, has just published her first novel, Too Like the Lightning.

I just finished it (though there was one scene that almost made me stop reading, for real) and would love to talk about it, but I'm not going to spoil you.

Instead, I'm going to give you the jacket blurb, and hope that intersts those of you who haven't picked it up yet:

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…
This is the animated adaptation of the last DC Comics story before they rebooted to the New 52 -- and since it's an alternate timeline story, it should be right up my alley.

But good lord are some the character designs ugly. And the story is beyond violent -- seriously, Netflix says this is PG-13, and it's entirely for the death and destruction.

On the other hand, it's a pretty good Barry Allen story, with a good bit of character growth and lots of inventive use of his power.

The voice cast is uniformly good, and it was fun to hear some of the actors from the DC Animated Universe back -- Dana Delany as Lois Lane was a wonderful treat, for one.

Spoilers Ahead )
So I bought the trade of the New 52 (the DC reboot that wiped out all the previous continuity and many beloved characters) Flash 'Move Forward' recently. It is a collection of the first 8 issues of the rebooted Flash comic, featuring Barry Allen as the Flash.

The art is gorgeous. Seriously gorgeous with beautifully detailed backgrounds; Francis Manapul did fantastic work there. There is some noticeable effort to give the male characters distinctive faces -- Captain Cold has a bit of an aquiline nose, Dr. Darwin Elias has cleft chin, etc -- but they're still mostly built on the same 'heroic' face, and Patty Spivot and Iris West both have the same face if you look beyond their different hairstyles. I'm hoping it gets better as the series progresses, since Wendy Pini was giving her characters distinctive and recognizable faces 20 years ago, iit isn't impossible for other comics artists to do the same.

I'm not sure about dropping the action in media res, with Barry Allen being the Flash for the last 5 years and him being the only Flash to ever exist, due to the New 52 rewriting comics history. I feel a bit adrift. I think it's the writers -- Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul -- attempting to get everyone learning the story as the Flash learns about himself, but the world feels a bit shallow. There's a lot of telling, not showing in this trade, and part of that is that the editorial decision to redo the DC Comics universe as the New 52 has cut away almost all the depth I'm used having chugging away behind the scenes. For example, there's a lot of flashbacks in the opening story arc, about the villain Mob Rule, who turns out to be an old friend of Barry's, sort of; but because this story is not an origin story, the flashbacks often break up the flow of the story.

Another thing that bothered me is that Keystone and Central City are surrounded by 'badlands'. Now, Keystone used to be in Kansas and Central City in Missouri, which makes any possible 'badlands' several hours drive away seeing as the Kansas-Missouri border is prairie and grain fields -- to get to the Dakotas and their Badlands, you'd have to go through Nebraska, which is still full of grain crops and cow pastures! I suppose in the New 52 the cities could be further north, but it seems quite weird, given that these 'badlands' are are explicitly close enough to make a day trip to in a 1912 steam-powered car!

Also, the power outage due to an EMP blast that drive the second half of the trade... I kind of rolled my eyes at. If a power outage leaves the cages at the zoo and the cells at a prison unlocked, then the New 52 universe has lousy security design. The elevator crash that Barry rescues some construction workers from is just plain lack of research -- elevator brakes are designed to engage if there is power loss! Of course, I'm complaining about realism in a book that has the local prison on a rocky island in the middle of the river like a midwestern Alcatraz, so my expectations are probably ridiculous.

I'm also dubious of the backstory on Turbine, the second new villain introduced in this trade. Given his name and his powers, he might be meant to be the New 52 version of The Top. I don't mind that, since The Flash really does seem to be trying to introduce female and non-white characters to the supporting cast, but I'm not sure making Turbine's history be a Tuskegee Airman who was sucked into a space-time vortex was at all a good decision. It seems like a lot of opportunities for history-fail, given that superhero comics aren't generally known for the depth of their research.

On the other hand, I did like that Captain Cold is still obsessed with protecting his sister -- his terrifying dedication to family was one of his more interesting traits before the reboot -- and the fact that she resents his actions is interesting. I'm not sure that I like making him (and the other Rogues, presumably) so young. I preferred it when they were seasoned career criminals, instead of young men being angry violent idiots.

I'm ambivalent about Barry's relationship with Patty Spivot. I can understand why they didn't want to set him up with Iris West -- if you're rebooting the universe, you might as well try something different with the characters -- but frankly it's another case of 'telling, not showing'. We get to see Patty and Barry doing things together, but mainly as a set ups for whatever conflict in that issue is going to be. I'm not sure what she sees in him, since Barry is the only person whose thoughts we have access to, and frankly, I'm finding Barry kind of boring even though I'm trying to give him a chance as a character.

I do find it interesting that the last issue in the story introduced Gorilla City and Grodd. Because gorillas make everything better, apparently? Actually, Grodd is a pretty iconic Flash villian, and was always a serious threat in spite of the inherent silliness of his premise (warmonger from a hidden super-high-tech city of sapient gorillas!) so it's interesting that he's going to be important in an upcoming trade. Though I do wonder about the entire 'kill your father to become an adult' thing. It seems wasteful and impractical, and what happens to younger son -- who do they have to kill to become an adult?

In sum, the art is gorgeous, the story is kind of pedestrian.


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