Friday, November 27, 2015

Confederates In the Attic by Tony Horowitz

Confederates in the Attic
by Tony Horowitz

Confederates in the Attic was published in 1998 by writer and journalist Tony Horowitz. It was his third published book. In this book Mr. Horowitz moves across the old American South (the southern states that are east of the Mississippi river and south of D.C.) looking at the contemporary attitudes and memories the people of those states had of the civil war. He started this journey when he and his Australian wife (Geraldine Brooks) moved to Virginia and a chance encounter re-sparked a boyhood passion for the civil war. Because of this he will travel across Virginia, the Carolina's, Alabama, Georgia and more speaking to members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, store keepers, mayors, school teachers, activists, tour guides, park rangers, a convicted shooter, reenactors, widows, factory workers and more. Let me first talk a bit about Mr. Horowitz.

Mr. Horowitz was born in Washington D.C, his mother wrote books for children and young adults. Mr. Horowitz himself would go on to write a number of books himself after getting a masters from Colombia University in journalism (he did his undergraduate studies at Brown University getting a history degree). He would work on 3 continents in journalism and married his wife Ms. Brooks in France in 1984, they remain married. Ms. Brooks herself is a very accomplished writer (one of her books March, is actually set in the American Civil War) from Australia. Given this, it is perhaps no surprise that Mr. Horowitz himself is a very skilled and prolific writer. Mr. Horowitz and Ms. Brook remain married to this day (In the unlikely event either one of you read this review, I'd like to extend my congratulations on maintaining your marriage) and have two sons, at least one of which was born during the writing of the book.

The book begins by setting up Mr. Horowitz's personal connection to the civil war, the memory of his great grandfather studying books of the civil war pouring over photos and art with a magnifying glass. This was interesting as his great grandfather was a immigrant to the United States. He wasn't here when the war was fought, he didn't have any family that was involved. Yet, for reasons lost to time he study and peered into the past at that war. He also passed on that interest to his great grandchild who developed a childhood obsession leading to the painting of a giant mural of a civil war battle across the walls of his bedroom. Among other things... He of course moved away form it for a time in his teens and early adulthood but moving to Virginia with his wife re sparked the interest in him. Which brings us to the writing of this book.

A major part of the book is Mr. Horowitz's experiences with a sub-set of the reenactor community who refer to themselves as Hardcore Reenactors, referring to the others as “Farbs.” We all know people like this, willing to utterly devote themselves to an interest on a level that makes you think this might be less then healthy. In this case the Hardcore's devotion is such that it becomes the central theme of their life, dictating their diet (keeping on intensely low calorie diets so they can look just like the half starved Confederate soldiers) to their dress in the field (nothing that was invented after 1860 is allowed, not even for underwear) and their supplies (Mr. Horowitz wasn't even allowed to bring a bag of applies because they were bred into existence in the 1880s) and their sleeping arrangements (they were only allowed to bring 1 blanket a piece and slept in all in a huddle, spooning for warmth.). This introduces us to one of the recurring characters in this book, Robert Lee Hodge, hardest of the hardcore. Made all the better for being a real person (because no one would believe a fictional character like this!). Mr. Hodge even graces the front of the book, giving a full force Confederate scowl. He's a man utterly obsessed with capturing the feeling of being in the civil war of making some common experience with those men who 150 years ago marched under the banners of Union or Confederacy. To that end he is willing to experience and inflict on himself hardship after hardship, go on pursuits for cotton and wool or just manic hunts for just the right button. To be honest, it's hard for me not to respect the sheer amount of work and effort someone like Mr. Hodges puts into this. It is certainly no mere hobby or diversion for him. We see this when Mr. Hodges leads Mr. Horowitz through a whirlwind tour of civil war sites and battlefields, that he calls a wargasm. Where they move from site to site sleeping on battlefields, eating on the run and constantly looking for the next hit. The parts with Mr. Hodge are in my opinion the best parts of the book and certainly the funniest and most light hearted.

There are parts of the book that aren't so light hearted I'm sad to say. Throughout the book we meet members of various organizations (for example the United Daughters of the Confederacy) whose goal in life is to rewrite history. Frankly this annoys me to no end, look I get it, no one likes to be cast as the bad guy and it's true that in the United States that the southern redneck is one of the few whipping boys that it's acceptable to represent in broadly stereotyped and negative ways. That gets tiresome. That's no excuse to rewrite history to try and erase or minimize the crimes of the past. All to often in this book, we see white southerners cheerfully chirp about how it wasn't about slavery when the south left and you know slavery wasn't all that bad anyhow (one is forced to note that they say this where black southerners might hear it). Let me note for the record anyone that reads this reviews and announces that I need a history lesson has best have their ducks all in a row because bluntly on this subject? If you come at me half cocked you ain't gonna be giving lessons, you gonna be getting one. Let me be blunt here, I find this behavior outrageous. I find it at best to be display of ignorance, often willful and at worse an utterly dishonest attempt to expunge problematic history so to make life a bit easier. Saying it's cowardly and dishonest is bluntly the nicest thing I can say about behavior.

For that matter parts of this are downright depressing to read. The fact that while legal segregation might have ended, social and economic segregation remain. Mr. Horowitz notes that when it comes to the Confederacy (or for that matter remembering the work of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr) rarely if ever do the white or black citizens of the south mix. Although recent news about pushes for desegregation (for example we have integrated proms being organized and held by the students themselves recently) are heartening, the fact that is necessary in the 21st century is in itself something that brings an unwelcome feeling. This book drives home the point that the American south (and if we're going to be honest the entire nation to a certain extent) is home to two societies that despite sharing the same land for centuries have different histories, different views, desires and needs. To bring in more bad news these two societies are still really bad at communicating with each other. On both sides we see everyone is defensive, hurt and frankly so very angry about the past and the pain that has been inflicted that any attempt to simply talk to each other gets tangled up into a series of perceived attacks and defenses that cannot be lower. I don't have a solution for this frankly. Realistically no one does, I'm sure a lot of people will say “Oh it's easy they just need to do X” or “They just need to start Y” but the phrase easier said then done comes to mind. Mr. Horowitz does visit several public schools (and to my horror I find that a number of states are trying to sweep the entire war under the mat, some dictating that funds be concentrated on American history after 1890) and finds little to fuel hope there. While children start off ignoring race, by the time they hit high school all the white kids sit on one side and all the black kids on another. I'm trying to avoid bringing up modern events in this review as this is a book review and not a political soap box but frankly it's in this behavior that we see the seeds of many of the tragedies that have boiled up. You don't have to like or agree with the modern movements, but I think it would behoove us all to realize that if African Americans felt that they were being treated fairly by the system, then we wouldn't have these protests and conflicts today. I'm not saying they're completely right, or that everything they do is good. Just that there's a legitimate compliant that has to be addressed if we're going to move forward as a society and we can't be dismissive of it. That's all I'm going to say on that.
That said, there are confrontations with African American activists as well, Mr. Horowitz is Jewish and when he meets a lady from Selma who is willing to support Louis Farrakhan sparks fly quickly. Which is what you should expect if you're willing to throw your support behind someone who publicly suggests that Hitler was a great guy. Frankly I don't have anything nice to say about Mr. Farrakhan (which I'm sure he's perfectly okay with) and going to much into it would derail the review so I'll stop here.

Confederates in the Attic makes for hard reading at times. This isn't the fault of Mr. Horowitz who at least tries to be fair and allow everyone their say. There are parts that are really enjoyable, there are parts that are deeply informative and there are parts that are just damn sad. Sometimes there are parts that are all of these at once. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz gets an -A, I think we could all use a read of this book and to think on it for awhile.

That said... Next week?

You Will Know the Power of the Dark Side!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Log Horizon I by Mamare Touno

Log Horizon I
By Mamare Touno

Let me start by explaining just what a light novel is. Light novels are in a way an evolution of the pulp market in Japan (it truly fascinates me how close and how different Japanese and American culture gets at times). Like in the United States, a lot of fantasy and science fiction started as stories told in series in cheap magazines (the name comes from the fact that they were printed on cheap wood pulp paper to hold down costs). In the US the most successful pulp magazines (such as Ace, Dell and Avon for example) transitioned over to printing paperback novels. In Japan around the 1970s, the pulp magazines started taking up a more anime style (adding anime illustrations in the front and end of every chapter on featured stories) over time more illustrations were added. Cue the internet and legions of writers slapping up their fiction (be it fan fiction or otherwise) for public reading and well!
Today light novels are huge business in Japan. They're short, about 40 to 50,000 words long, usually very focused on teenagers, have dense publishing schedules and are often long sprawling series. Japanese publishing companies spare no expense hunting down the newest talent, holding contests that span the country (the largest had 6,500 submissions in 2013), the winner gets a cash prize and their novel published usually. Alot of light novels are quickly adapted to other formats as well, becoming animes (Sword Art Online started as a light novel for example, so did Spice and Wolf!), manga and live actions films. It's a big business, with the light novel industry clearing over 30 billion Yen in 2009. In a lot of ways they're the Young Adult novels of Japan. Unfortunately their also compariable in quality (Wizard, Furkio, Jason please stop screaming it'll be okay) in a lot of ways.

Log Horizon is a light novel that started on the internet. Written by a young man who goes by Mamare Touno, a native of Tokyo (listing the Bokutou Shitamachi area actually), he started writing Log Horizon in April of 2010, and it was picked up for publishing in 2011. Since then the novels have been translated into English, there have been 4 manga series and 2 seasons of an anime. Which is where I come in. I first ran into Log Horizon after telling a buddy how dissatisfied I was with Sword Art Online (my little brother likes it for good reasons, I dislike it for better reasons of course) while liking the idea of it. He suggested I try Log Horizon, which had just been released on Crunchy-roll (an streaming website where you can watch animes for free!). He told me the anime was alright but the novel was better (as anyone ever said the movie/television series was better then the novel?). After watching 4 episodes... Well I thought the anime was pretty damn good, so I really wanted to find this novel. Wondering around Barnes and Nobles on Veteran's Day trying to walk off a free burger and having a pocket full of birthday money (look I have a job, but other people's money just spends soooo much nicer) I spotted Log Horizon Volume I and I dived on it like a Martyr on a grenade. So let's babble about the story here.

Log Horizon is the story about a very large group (tens of thousands) of Japanese gamers who found themselves taken from Earth to the world of Elder Tale, which on Earth happens to be the most popular, longest running, badass Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game around. One moment they were playing the game, the next moment they were standing there in the bodies of their game characters. Our main character is Shiroe, a grad student who is really good at breaking down and solving problems. He plays an enchanter, a magical support class, with good buffs and debuffs, but otherwise crap combat abilities. Despite this he's well known for his strategic abilities and while he likes people, his inability to really get them tends to led to him keeping most people at arms length. Part of the problem for Shiroe is he's never sure if anyone who approaches him in the game is doing so out of friendship or just wants to get access to his knowledge and skills. Because of this he's a bit stand offish and because he's stand offish people tend to stay away from him... Unless they've decided they can get something from him. Causing a bit of a feed back loop honestly.

The novel is told from his point of view has he grapples with his situation and it's implications and starts to ask... Just what the hell are we suppose to do here? How are we going to deal with each other? This is important as everyone has the skills and abilities of their game character... And game mechanics have transferred over to the extent that our players can't die! So you have tens of thousands of people with a huge ability for violence and they incapable of dying. What exactly do you do in this situation? There are also the more personal questions, like who can I trust? What am I going to do? What role am I going to play here? Shiroe spends the book trying to figure out just where it is he fits into in this new world and what he is suppose to do in it. Of course he's not the only one doing this.

His two closest companions are Naotsugu and Akatsuki who are two very different people. Naotsugu is one of his oldest buddies in the game. We all know someone like Naotsugu I think. A generally good guy, who fairly dependable and rock steady. As a reflection of this, he plays a tank class by the name of Guardian. Guardians are melee fighters with decent offensive attacks, but they really shine using their defensive stats and abilities. He's cheerful in the face of danger and despair and covers his discomfort with jokes. In Naotsugu's case he uses dirty humor. Often joking about woman's underwear (I honestly begin to wonder about this insistence in anime that having a panties fetish is normal) as a way to shrug off discomfort. Some might insist that Naotsugu is honestly a lech but given his behavior with real women... I don't see it. In any case, he's not a creeper or anything in my view. Just a guy who perhaps uses dirty jokes a bit to often when he's feeling off balance and let's be fair, being dropped into a completely different world in a different body will leave anyone uncomfortable. Course if you want uncomfortable, you have to look at Akatsuki. Akatsuki is a girl whose character was male. This is actually a thing called cross gaming and is actually considered fairly normal as far as I know. That said it's more typical for a guy to cross game as a female character, although I'm told a number of ladies cross-game to avoid harassment. Which I find kinda sad honestly. My position is everyone should be able to play the games they like without people bothering them or worse because of their race, gender... Or anything else really. I mean striking back against a greifer is okay, but constantly bugging a girl for topless pics is not. Sorry, let me get back to the review. Akatsuki played as a male assassin who was about a foot or so taller then her in real life. I got the sense from the book that the height was the important thing here. Akatsuki is often treated by people who don't know her very well as a child, because of her height mostly, but also because of her gender and her looks. She's a very pretty girl, but pretty in a young looking way. As a result for her life is a struggle for someone to take her seriously! Which is also a problem I'm told many women in games have (I say I am told because honestly guys, I'm not a woman and I'm not going to claim I know what it's like to be one). Now assassins aren't just a stealth class, they're also a hardcore damage class. Akatsuki is the biggest damage dealer of the 3 of our main characters, which means frankly anyone who doesn't take her seriously in a fight... Well dies. Lucky for them, this is a world where if an adventurer dies, they just wake up in a temple, but dying still hurts like a bitch.

We actually meet Akatsuki in the book as she goes hunting for and finds Shiroe. See, she woke up trapped in a man's body that was taller and heavier then the one she was born with and it was causing her no small amount of problems. She remembered that Shiroe had a potion that would allow a player to change the appearance and gender of their character, hence her urgent need to find him. While Shiroe is happy to give her the potion, she feels that she can't let this pass without repayment. So she swears to serve Shiroe as his faithful ninja. Which brings us to the final trait of her's I want to address. Akatsuki is a role player, that is someone who is playing a character in the game separate from themselves in real life. To boil it down further, she was pretending that she wasn't playing a game. The fact that she keeps at it, by declaring Shiroe her liege and herself as his ninja suggests this is a bit of coping mechanism on her part.

We also meet some close allies of Shiroe's the Crescent Moon Guild. The Crescent Moon Guild is a mid-sized and mid-leveled support guild. Not focused on anyone thing but on supporting it's members. It's leader Marielle and her XO Henrietta are two capable women who find themselves looking after about 20 people who are not only much lower level then they and Shiroe are (Mari, Henrietta, Shiroe, Noatsugo and Akatsuki had all been at the level cap of 90 before signing on to play the new expansion, most of the players aren't that high) but having to do so in a very stressful and chaotic environment. The plot begins to take off when Shiroe steps forward to help rescue a member of the guild who is trapped in another city which being taken over by a guild of people who have... Well gone bad frankly. I won't go to much into it because frankly you should read it yourself.

Log Horizon present a story that when you boil it down is over a 100 years old, what if a person or group of people were transported from our world into a new world that operated under different physical and social rules? What would they do? What kind of people would they become. Added into this is the mystery of just what kind of world have they been transported into? Are they in the game? In a world that just resembles the game? Or was the game just a window into this world? Frankly it's a more mature telling of this kind of thing then works like Sword Art Online and isn't afraid to look at diverse issues from social order, to politics, to the sheer slow effect of having nothing to eat that doesn't taste like wet rice crackers and how that tears away at your ability to get up in the morning and get to living. As you might have gathered, I like Log Horizon a lot and I like Shiroe a great deal. For all the shit he gets he's constantly willing to bend his talents and efforts to just help people in any way he can and that counts for a lot with me. Log Horizon volume I gets a B from me. The plot just isn't quiet there to get it pass that level but frankly it's got nothing to be embarrassed about. I would recommend it anyone.

Next week, we leap back into Nonfiction when I review Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Artesia by Mark Smylie

Artesia by Mark Smylie

Artesia, named after the main character is the creation of Mark Smylie. Before writing Artesia he was mostly known for interior art work on a number of RPG source books (two of which Faith and Pantheons and the Complete Warrior I think I have knocking around somewhere in the depths of the library). Arteisa's first issue was printed in 1999 by Sirius Entertainment, Smylie would later found his own publishing company which would mainly publish Artesia related stories (although other independent comics would be published by the company, Archaia Studios Press). Mr. Smylie is still releasing works set in the world of Artesia most recently a novel that I hope to have appearing in this review series once I get through all the graphic novels. This graphic novel debuted with a pretty big splash winning a fairly long list of awards, such as Foreword Magazine's Gold Award Winner for Best Graphic Novel of 2003, Broken Frontier 2004 Paper Screen Gem for Fantasy and more. So let's sit down and take a look at this shall we? The graphic novel comes with a great appendix that made interesting reading but I'm going to stick with what was actually presented in the story.

Artesia is a fantasy graphic novel that takes place in a solid and lushly detailed world. Background details about the cultures and peoples of the world abound and it is a fascinating one. Although I could do without the Christianity expy (Why does everyone turn us into Sun worshipers? Why!?!) bit. We have the native goddess of the highlands, which feel like an actual pagan religion! Alot of fantasy novels, don't do this, at best they repackage 21st century Wicca (to those who are Wiccans I mean no offense but 21st century Wicca is not the paganism of the dark ages or the ancient world) at worse, it's liberal Catholicism with polytheism layered on top. In Artesia, the religion is wild, raw and has the kind of edge that people living in a very untamed and violent world would demand. It is very much part of the world as well. We see through the main character's eyes spirits coming to take the souls of the dead. We see goddesses roaming the earth without much care for mortals. We see animal sacrifice and other rituals that were actually part of ancient pagan religions. I really like how Mr. Smylie made it feel like a religion that could have been practiced by our ancestors. Although I was rolling my eyes at the religious conflict that is touched upon in this novel. We have one side a goddess worshiping religion where there seem to be few if any male deities (this is despite men occupying the majority of the important political and military roles but I'll let it slide). On the other side we have a male dominated sun worshiping cult that worships male deities and seems to loathe the idea of powerful women. It's honestly a kinda lazy division that I hope Mr. Smylie fixes in later books. That said the work put in the main religion displayed in the book is amazing. As is the character's reaction, which feel more elder days then modern. Gods and goddesses aren't just revered but also feared. There's one interaction where our main character trembles in the presence of a goddess and can't bring herself to even look upon her. I liked that, that the divine wasn't turn into a drinking buddy but was presented as an awesome, powerful and while a begneinbenign force, also an incredibly dangerous one.

The politics are not deeply delved into but are fairly believable and competently handled. We have the highlands, a land divided into a series of pocket kingdoms that are always feuding with each other for land, power, glory, who looks prettier in the latest fashion, etc. The kings rule from grim stone citadels and send out companies of men with pikes and halberds led by mounted officers to duke it out. They are loosely allied with a confederation called the Midlands and beyond them is an Empire. The Empire is a dangerous foreign enemy who is believed to want to conquer the world. They're also the home of the sun worshipers. Interestingly enough they are given an Arabic spin, with rulers being called Sultans and Emirs (their Emperor is immortal but somehow unable to rule, as one character puts “lost in the gray dream”). Giving them a Christian, Arabic feel that I kinda like if simply because it's different. When the characters discuss this, there is a sense of history, a weight of many prior events shaping their views and relationships with these foreign powers. There isn't a lot of time spent on this as the focus is on events taking place in the highlands, where our main character faces a number of problems. Let's talk about her for bit.

Her name is Artesia, she's a warrior, a priestess (possibly a witch) and a concubine for a man named Branimar. She's also very nice to look at, but side issue. Neither she nor Branimar are from the highlands but through the dint of their personal talents and skills have risen to high offices. Artesia seems to have done most of Branimar's fighting and the very beginning of the book shows us why as we see a short battle where Artesia proves herself to be a very skilled two legged murder machine. We're shown a lot of her individual skill of combat in the book and the loyalty her company has for her. Although I'm not entirely sure if the basis for their loyalty is anything besides her sheer badassness. While several characters make a big point at her tactical skills, that's not really shown here (maybe in Vol II?). Her skill in magic is shown however, as is her command over 3 rather alarming familiar spirits who show a connections to the goddesses of war. There are number of conflicts swirling around Artesia, first is her conflict with Branimar, they don't have a close relationship and fall out with each other in the first chapter (he converts to the Sun worshiping religion). Another conflict is one she seems to have with other women who don't approve of her choice of taking up arms and a military career. She is berated for abandoning a woman's arts and magic (if she's abandoned any magic I'm not seeing any sign of it), to which she'll reply she's abandoned nothing but decided to follow her own path.

Which leads to another conflict, which is with the memory of her mother. From what the graphic novel tells us, her mother was also a woman with a lot of magic power who was burned at the stake as a witch. Artesia repeatedly states that she knows that her mother would be disappointed in her path and that does seem to wear on her, not a lot but a little. Artesia is shown in this book to be a very intelligent, brave, headstrong woman, who from what I can tell is carrying a grudge or five. Considering that the grudge might be about having to watch her mother die a terrible death and having to run for life to the highlands... That's probably pretty good grounds for a grudge or five. An interesting note here, Artesia doesn't seem to be able to have close friendships with men, all of her close friendships are with women and she seems distant even with her own brother. Let me be clear she doesn't hate men and has perfectly good working relationships with her male Lt's. She is even attracted to men. She just doesn't seem to consider having a friendship with a man to be something that is worth the effort. It's an interesting reflection of a number of male protagonists who have in the past displayed the same attitude but towards women. I've known people of both genders with this stance in real life and all I can say is while everyone should be free to decide such matters for themselves... If you decide you can't be friends with an entire gender you're cutting yourself from really good people, no matter which gender it is.

Moving on...

I can't talk to much about secondary characters in this graphic novel. The antagonists go down fairly quickly so we don't get much of a sense of them, most of the male Lt's all blur together for me and outside of that, no one else gets a lot of time to display any real deep characterization. This book is relentlessly focused on Artesia. She's a pretty decent character to focus on all things considered. I'm hoping in the next 3 volumes to see other characters expanded on honestly.

As for the art, it is damn pretty! The battle scenes are so nice you might want to hang them on your walls. The characters are well drawn and inked. I was very impressed. I liked the equipment the troops showed which was clearly based on late medieval/early renaissance period arms and armor. Most of the women in this book wore armor that wasn't any different from the men! Artesia's armor is... Okay. Her torso is fully covered by her armor as are her arms but her armpits are very exposed. I got the feeling that Mr. Smylie didn't know that people didn't wear armor over bare skin (because it's very clear Artesia is) which frankly means after a battle she should be chaffing so badly that she needs medical attention. Her upper legs are also very exposed. It's restrained compared to the standard Red Sonya get up and sexy in it's own right, but if I was in charge of her gear I would shake my head and send her back to the armory to get some padding and upper leg protection but I'm honestly quibbling there. There is also a lot of smut in this book. Do not get this for a child! It's equal opportunity smut with both male and female nudity but it's still smut. In this case it's a little embarrassing for me as I am not trying to review only smutty graphic novels (this isn't a porn by any means but between this and Rat Queens...) thankfully for my birthday I've picked up something to break that streak.

Artesia get's an A-. A well crafted main character and world along with it's art carry this story pretty far. Hopefully future installments will give us additional characters and deeper looks into the world itself.

Next week, our first light novel.  Which light novel?  Well let me ask, are you ready for the punchline?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Thieves Profit by Doc Davis.

Thieves Profit
By Doctor Bruce Davis

So this is the 3rd review I've done for Doc Davis' books and most of you likely know the deal by now, but I will continue with the disclaimers. I am a friend of Doc's oldest son (and his daughter-in-law) and I've know Doc Davis for years. He even sold me these books at Phoenix Comic Con (at a discount!), autographed and with an agreement that I would review them. I should note that I am always grateful to the Davis family for their friendship. Now that we have the mushy stuff out of the way, on to the review!

Thieves Profit is the sequel to Glowgems for Profit, the story of Zack Mbele a freelance captain of a re-purposed Martian Interceptor looking to stay in the black in several senses of the phrase. I found Mbele a rather difficult character to deal with last book, not because he was poorly written but because I flat out didn't like the guy. He did after all turn on a paying passenger because Cleo Jones made some puppy dog eyes at him. While I do like pretty ladies, thinking with your pants when dealing a women you know will kill people for money is not only immoral but frankly stupid. I found myself liking Cleopatra Jones more then him and I wasn't sure what side she was on! If it wasn't for his relationship with Rabbit I would have written him off entirely and that would have made the book hard for me to read. That said Cleo wasn't even close to my favorite character, that honor was split between Rabbit and Deuce (poor, loyal Deuce who doesn't get enough time in the spotlight).

That said, I finished Thieves Profit with a lot more understanding for Mbele and I found I even liked him a bit better. Mbele still comes off as a scummier Malcolm Reynolds to me but the differences between the men are deeply strengthened for the better. I should note before I go any further that I am a big fire fly fan, I loved the series (ironically introduced to me by my friends in the Davis family among others), saw the movie in theaters twice, played the RPG... I can keep going but I'll stop here. Doc takes a Mbele a man with some similarities to Captain Reynolds (born in the colonies, joined a rebellion, lost his war) but creates deep differences in their histories and personalities. Mbele was directly betrayed by those he went to war for, his Glorious People's Revolution purged him, threw him into prison and experimented on him. As much as he hates the Earth Federal Government... He owes it his life, his freedom and more. So he pushes and tells himself that morality is dead, while acting at times in a strangely moral manner (granted a very unorthodox morality I can't agree with but still!). Captain Mbele doesn't like himself but can't bring himself to truly grapple with his issues. This book helped me get that about Mbele and with that understanding came a lot more sympathy for Captain Mbele and his actions. I can understand what it's like to wake up look into mirror, realize you're not sure you like the person looking back at you and have no damn idea what to do about it. I would still never trust the man and I would say until he can bring himself to confront his issues and determine a solution... He won't get much better.

Thieves Profit takes place a couple of years after Glomgem's for Profit. They're still flying the Profit, a refitted Martian Warship made into a fast small merchant ship. Cleopatra Jones and Captain Mbele got married... And divorced. Despite that they're still both living on the Profit with Cleopatra becoming half owner of the ship. I got to take time out here and ask if Captain Mbele had a shit lawyer or something? Because he owned the ship before Cleo showed up and hired her on as part of the crew. I'm not sure how that entitles her to half the ship? Maybe I'm missing something here? Or maybe Martian Divorce Law was written by those eval feminist lawyers that the MRAs keep warning me about? Doesn't matter. When the story begins Mbele is of course working a con for a big score, which... Of course fails and leaves him in front of someone much more powerful and wealthy. Mr. Wu, the son of man who got rich off of mining asteroids and means to stay rich. Mr. Wu wants him to do a job. Just go out into space and grab a single box off a freighter as quietly and quickly as possible. Here's the catch, Mr. Wu, has bought out the loan on the Profit. If Mbele fails the job? He loses the ship (which is both his home and his business). If he pulls the job off? The loan is paid off in full with a little extra besides. Of course there's a deadline and of course there's complications, such as having to rescue Rabbit from an assassin and as a result being grounded by an AI judge (Having AI law enforcers and judges seems to be near a theme in Doc Davis' work...). Captain Mbele is going to have to figure out how to pirate cargo without leaving the port or how to leave port without anyone realizing or getting blown up for piracy. Add in a heap of interpersonal persons between him and Cleo, him and Deuce and Deuce and Rabbit, as well as friends and love ones in trouble and well... It's not shaping up to be a good time for Captain Mbele is it?

We do get to learn more about Deuce, we learn that he has a step brother and about his mother. We even learn that he was fairly close to his step brother and his wife. We learn where he was when Captain Mbele was carted out to jail, which helps explain why Deuce didn't try to break him out. We still however don't know why Deuce is still so insanely loyal to Captain Mbele. I mean it certainly isn't for his sparkling personality or great leadership abilities. I'm actually hoping that if there's a 3rd book it'll help answer these questions for me. Because Deuce is still something of a cipher. He does however play a much bigger part in this book then he did last book and we learn a lot more about him. So I'm fairly happy.

Rabbit doesn't get a lot of character exploration in this book, but he was a heavy focus in the last one. So you know... Fair's fair. He does get to pull of hacker shenanigans but those actions don't take a lot of page time, although we see that Rabbit's paranoia hasn't improved over the years as he continues to insist on living in as close to a fortress as he can find and maintain. It doesn't seem to help much though in this story.

Cleopatra Jones spends a lot of the story off camera so to speak, with much of her time in the story interacting with Captain Mbele. I've been told this is suppose to be a toxic relationship, but I'm honestly not seeing that. Before they hooked up Captain Mbele was a drunk, who abused drugs to escape his past and his problems with the experimental nanofibers stretched across his nervous system. This book we don't see a trace of any drug or alcohol abuse on the part of the good Captain and we're very aware that Cleo disapproves of such things. So in least one small thing we know that the relationship has been possibly good for one of the parties involved. That said, this is in no way shape or form a healthy relationship. For one thing, they are constantly lying to each other and trying to trick each other. Both parties are willing to engage in manipulation on several levels to try and get the other to do what they want. At no point do we see Captain Mbele or Cleopatra Jones consider sitting down and discussing their positions like adults. I can't claim to be a relationship expert beyond having made a bucket load of mistakes but I have learned that if you're in a relationship where lies, emotional string pulling and misdirection happen a lot more often then basic conservation? Your relationship is broken and it may be time to consider leaving. Neither one of these two are innocent here and frankly I have to wonder if they're capable of a healthy romantic relationship on any level. I'm certainly not seeing any evidence of that here.

I also want to note that I think it's a shame that Cleopatra Jones basically gets framed in the story through her romantic relationship with Captain Mbele, as it colors every interaction we the readers have with her. Don't get me wrong here, Cleo is written to be as much a person as Captain Mbele. She's not his trophy, his plus one or anything along that lines. She's shown to be intelligent, professional, capable and like everyone else on this ship (expect maybe Deuce) incredibly flawed as a human being. In this book we'll see her outsmart herself pretty good for example. I'm really hoping if Doc Davis' comes back to this series, he'll spend some time on Cleo's origins or give her a side story. Same goes for Deuce. I'd really like a story where Cleo and Deuce team up to find a disappeared Rabbit and Captain Mbele!

We also have the Red Dragons returning to play on team bad guy, which I enjoy because the image of a Welsh drug gang as the terror of outer space is never getting old. More front and center is a mysterious assassin who keeps showing up to cause pain and discontent for the crew. I would tell you more about this guy but... Well you'll have to read the book. That said Mr. Wu is our main big bad and very central to the plot, despite not showing up very often. Not only does the plot turn on Captain Mbele trying to figure out just how to do this job without dying or ending up in a jail cell but on him constantly trying to dig up something... Anything he can use on the rich manic threatening to take away his ship and home. We also get to see just how insane Captain Mbele can be as each revelation has more and more people telling him to break off and take up something safer to do with his time... Like boxing rabid tigers maybe... Only for Mbele to double down. It's another clue to Captain Mbele's mental state where he can't back down and just can't shut his mouth. Not only does he have to insist on taking actions that increase his chances of getting kill but he has to talk shit to everyone while he does it. Frankly it's no wonder that he doesn't get a lot of repeat customers. I'm trying to figure out how he gets decent references honestly.

I'm still a bigger fan of... Everyone else on the ship then Captain Mbele but I do find myself better disposed towards him, which is a good thing. If you enjoyed Firefly, or you like the Han Solo who shot first (which is of course the ONLY HAN SOLO AND EVERYTHING ELSE YOU HEARD IS A FILTHY LIE!) you'll like this book. If you're like me and you need to be able to sympathize with your protagonists, you'll like this book better then Glowgems for Profit (although you should still read that!). Thieves Profit gets a B+.

Next week we return to graphic novels with the award winning Artesia