Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune

Ghost in the ShellGhost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ghost in The Shell was originally serialised in 1989 and then released in 1991 as a tankōbon (Standalone/Volume book). It was written and drawn by Shirow Masamune. The English translation was done by Frederik L. Schoot and Toren Smith while the Lettering was done by Tom Orzechowski and Suzie Lee.

Set in a future where information and technology have developed to the point that the line between human and machine is blurred and people can be augmented with cybernetics. Major Motoko Kusanagi (a cyborg) and her team hunt down the most dangerous terrorists and cybercriminals, including the highly talented and elusive hacker known as The Puppeteer. There’s a nice balance between action, humour and intellectual ideas relating to technology, science and philosophy.

The art was all drawn by hand and is primarily black and white with some colour pages. The art style is very clearly 80’s with a great level of detail and looks great. There are some very explicit scenes of both violent and sexual content, though, so this book is definitely for a more mature audience.

Unlike many Japanese Manga, Ghost in The Shell reads from left to right, possibly because it’s published by Dark Horse, but I’m not sure. The panelling and layout of the book is really easy to follow, with little variation between the pages and the lettering is easy to read too.

The translation has been done really well, which one would hope from a Publisher like Dark Horse Manga.

At the end of the book, there are author’s notes that comment on various aspects of the story, such as details or explanations relating to the science and technology depicted, the political, philosophical and religious themes used in the story as well as comments on the characters thoughts or reactions.

This is a definite read for anyone interested in Science Fiction with a focus on the implications and philosophical ideas revolving around technological advancement and don’t mind mature content. Even though Motoko is a strong protagonist it is probably more the aforementioned technology/philosophy ideas that I really enjoyed about the story.

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Aphrodite IX: Rebirth Vol 2 by Matt Hawkins and Stjepan Šejić

Aphrodite IX: Rebirth, Vol. 2Aphrodite IX: Rebirth, Vol. 2 by Matt Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Volume 2 continues the story that began in Rebirth Volume 1 and collects together issues 6 to 11 and Hidden Files. Again, the story is Written by Matt Hawkins with Stjepan Šejić as the artist and Troy Peteri as letterer.

The story starts where the last finished, with the continuing war between the Gen and the Cyborgs and Aphrodite searching for information about her past. From here new characters are introduced who expand Aphrodite’s world and present some very interesting ideas in the way of technology, science, philosophy, religion and psychology. The story is in no way hard science fiction, but it is entertaining, and probably drew me in a lot quicker than Volume 1 did. There were elements of the story that were a little cliche, mainly in regards to the character of Robert Burch, but they do serve their purpose for the story in the end.

The Hidden Files issue acts as a general information rundown for interested readers as it gives a bit of background on various characters, the two warring races, technology, locations and the history of the world. It’s a nice little addition that I appreciated, but it is, in fact, a little different to the stand alone Hidden Files issues, which also includes information on the 13 Artifacts found within the Top Cow Universe.

The photo-realistic painting that was present at times in Volume 1 is gone in Volume 2, which I think gives the pages a more rounded feel. As much as I like the art of the first Volume, I much prefer the art in this book.

The panelling of the pages is usually quite easy to follow and changes depending on the events of the page. Sometimes they may go down a single page and sometimes they go across two pages, but you can always tell how you are supposed to read it. Even the pages where there’s a large image with overlaying panels is easy to follow, and some of them look beautiful.

The only time I got a little confused was during a scene where Aphrodite is narrating but the images are displaying the birth of a cyborg. At first, I thought these were the thoughts of the cyborg but realised that the narration matched more with the title character and that they were contained within the green box that indicated her narration.

A really interesting part of the book is the Science Class section near the end. In here Matt explains ideas behind the different technologies, sciences, religion and other concepts that are present in the story. As well as explaining his use and reason for including it, he also includes links to websites that he used in his research and that explain the ideas more thoroughly.

Recommended to people who enjoy comics with a lot of action mixed with interesting ideas in regards to science, technology and philosophy without being really heavy about it. It’s an entertaining read and has fantastic artwork to boot.

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The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan PoeThe Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allen Poe collects together The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter and The Pit and the Pendulum.

I must say that I was not hugely terrified by all of the stories contained within this anthology, least of all The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. Although the murders outlined in Rue Morgue are gruesome, the story as a whole was not terrifying to me. The Purloined Letter contained less than this and was simply a mystery. I got the impression from these two stories that Dupin and the unnamed narrator are Poe’s version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and although the stories do seem to drag at times, -especially during Dupin’s expositional monologues- I did find aspects of them interesting.

The other stories were more in line with the title of the anthology and are in turn, some of Poe’s most well-known pieces. Each of the stories kept me interested and I was curious to see how they would turn out, particularly The Pit and The Pendulum; with each development of the story, I wondered what the final fate of our protagonist would be. As I previously stated, I didn’t really find myself feeling terrified by any of the stories, however, I know that if I were to find myself in situations similar to that of The Pit and the Pendulum or The Cask of Amontillado, then, I surely would be terrified.

As these stories were written in the 19th century, the wording and sentence structure is of the time period and includes some peculiar spellings, such as clue spelled clew. I find this interesting to see how language has evolved over the years, but others may find it strange and confusing to read.

These are the first stories by Poe I have ever read and I feel it was a good place to start as it contains some of his most popular pieces and gives a good indication of his style and subject matter. So for anyone looking to get into Edgar Allen Poe, I would recommend this book as a starting point. However, for someone wanting six of his terrifying tales, it is a little disappointing, as two of them do not fit this description.

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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962 and tells the story of several characters (mostly) living in San Francisco, in a world where Germany and Japan won the Second World War. In the neutral buffer zone between the Nazi-controlled west and Japanese-controlled East, lives the author of a best-selling underground novel that depicts a world where the Allies won the war.

The progression of the story is very subtle and steady, at first, I was curious as to where it would lead, but as events unfolded I could see where certain aspects of it were going. There were still some elements I did not expect but made sense once they occurred. It follows half a dozen characters as they go through their everyday lives; it’s a story about the every-person, not the game-changers.

The writing and wording is very easy to follow, I could get a real sense of what each character was feeling, and their mental state at each point in the story. The story is heavily character-focused, with descriptions of the world coming from them, rather than an omnipresent narrator.This, therefore, leaves a lot of room for the reader to imagine certain aspects of the world and add their own detail.

The Man in the High Castle would be an excellent place to start for anyone interested in Philip K. Dick’s writing as it doesn’t get as metaphysical or mind-bending as some of his other books (Ubik for example). However, that is not to say a seasoned reader of his work will not enjoy it, as I did, and is an interesting glimpse into a world that could have been.

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