Reading & Reviews, Reviews

November 2020 Books Read Standouts: The Only Good Indians/Conan: Battle For The Serpent Crown

The Only Good Indian – Stephen Graham Jones

     Oh look, it’s the second time in a row Stephen Graham Jones has shown up! WHAT A COMPLETELY COINCIDENTAL CRAZY RANDOM HAPPENSTANCE. I had no idea this was going to happen!

    Night of the Mannequins was a really good introduction to Jones and his way, but odds are if you’ve heard of him recently it’s because of The Only Good Indians catapulting him onto the mainstream literary stage, and cousin ALL of the good things you’ve heard are well-deserved and well-true! So true. HORRIFYINGLY true.
    Jones is a Native author, and in truth I haven’t read widely enough in his work yet to know if it’s regularly from that perspective, but this certainly is and without meaning to sound like a paternalist garbage white guy, he manages to draw from that and make the storytelling language informed by his heritage different and spooky and mysterious because it’s a horror story, not because that experience and point of view are alien or inaccessible or incomprehensible to a non-Native reader. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to be able to relate to Jack Torrence in The Shining or have cancer to feel for Walter White in Breaking Bad (before certain plot and character developments), and you don’t have to be Blackfeet to understand Lewis and his pals desperately trying to escape the shadow of a choice they made one snowy day a decade ago, when they were all young and stupid and were sure that they would live forever, but somehow not quite long enough for the consequences to catch up with them.
    If you’ve only got time for the elevator pitch, here: ten years ago this Last Saturday Before Thanksgiving, four young Blackfeet men went hunting elk, where they knew full well they weren’t allowed to, and they made a terrible, stupid decision that forms the first link in a chain of tragedy that will pull them back into the past one horrible, bloody hoofprint at a time. It’s a paranoid, sad, sweet, unexpectedly hilarious and profoundly spooky tale of atonement and parenthood and a people attempting to find their way when their place in the world was taken from them and Nature Taking Revenge (Maybe), and without spoiling anything I’ll say that if I had read this prior to reading Night of the Mannequins I would’ve made some very different, very incorrect assumptions about the nature of the story I was reading.
    Like look I could spend another 400 words telling you why if you read one new book in 2021 it should be this one, but I’ll leave it at this: I finished The Only Good Indians and immediately asked my wife if I could read it to her at bedtime. If it’s good enough for her, beloved reader, it’s good enough for you, because she, love her though I do, refers to almost all things as being “not even that good” and she loved this.

Score: 10/10 Bottles Of Sprite With A Chance To Win Under The Cap

Conan: Battle For The Serpent Crown

    I gotta level with you all, friends and neighbors: I am bummed in the utmost to report that I did not like this book! And it is a puzzlement; I love Saladin Ahmed, I loved his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon before I even knew he wrote comics, I love his runs on Miles Morales, Black Bolt and Magnificent Miss Marvel! And by Crom do I love me some Conan, the Marvel and the Dark Horse! This combination should have worked wonderfully and it did not, at least not for me. 

    Upshot: Conan finds himself in Las Vegas he knows not how, and gets caught up in a big ol’ Marvel-ass adventure with a cast that rotates every issue, featuring Black Panther, Namor the Sub-Mariner, newcomer Nyla, and Mefrigginphisto in a struggle for the fate of the titular Snakeycircle. It’s a Very Good Circle, you guys! Everybody wants it for their serpentine spirographs, lest their mamas’ fridges like blank and bereft. Cue the fracas-conga.
    I’m sorry to say it’s no good for this citizen! And I think I know why: part of the appeal to me of Conan, the half of this equation to which I am more attached by a significant margin, is that he’s got no time for bullshit and will happily slice in half any man, monstro, magic or Martian that gets in his way. He’s low-fantasy, which naturally requires that the foes and dangers he faces have to be not necessarily mundane, but of the same power-sphere, if not power-level. He can get the better of an ancient alien security system or eldritch critter enshrined in a mad cult’s temple because, I reiterate, those problems can be chopped in half. Know what can’t be chopped in half? MEPHISTO, WHO IS LITERALLY THE ACTUAL DEVIL IN MARVEL COSMOLOGY. So, one might reasonably ask “What is Conan, who trod the jeweled thrones of the earth beneath his sandaled feet but is very definitely just a mortal, non-magical human man, good for in this situation?” The answer: NOT MUCH, GANG.
    I don’t like to be unkind, for I am a Common Wuss, and there were things to like about this series; for me, most of them were “Conan is unfazed by modern technology and customs and relies on punching, the universal language”. I could read that shit all day. Maybe for someone who was more excited about the Marvel stuff than the Conan stuff this would’ve been a better experience, but for me these are just two great tastes that taste better on their own. Your mileage may vary, naturally, and I mean no disrespect to the artists and writer, but for my part I’m gonna stay out of of town until the Son of Cimmeria is no longer the Barbarian In Residence at Thulsa Doom’s Palace Las Vegas.

Score: 5/10 Slot Machines With Beefy Fist-Holes Through Them

I nearly blew right by, in my hurry to the subway

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