A girl discovers that she freezes time briefly whenever she orgasms. (Ha, how do you measure brevity when time has stopped? MIND BLOWN) Later as a young woman she meets a man who can do the same thing. They compare notes and histories and eventually join forces, using their odd ability to rob banks so that they can save her library...until the SEX POLICE track them down. [Sinister piano chord]
The intro was an amazing depiction of the scary, lonely hell that is adolescence. This girl does not know what is happening to her and her attempts to understand are stymied. Adults pollute answers with judgment, squeamishness, more judgment, incomplete information, bad information. Her mother calls her a whore just for asking about sex. Other kids give her answers for which she is not ready. There's so much TRUTH in this part of the story. It's rare that I find myself empathizing with, cheering on, feeling for a character to this extent.
The "Criminals" chapters are more straightforward...as straightforward as a time-freezing-orgasmic-bank-robbers plot can be anyway. They have sex in bank bathrooms. They rob said banks. The Sex Police hunt them. They run. It lacks the wonderful insight and commentary of the earlier stuff but it's well-constructed and well-drawn enough to be worthwhile on its own. We're also given the best graphic novel villain name of all time: Kegelface.
And I LOVE that the authors acknowledge some of the logical inconsistencies inherent in freezing time. Why can they smell? Aren't the molecules that they're sensing frozen in place? Why do some machines work and others don't? That stuff drives my inner science pedant nuts.
Complaint: The protagonist's time-stopping boyfriend takes the story a little too deep into Beavis-and-Butthead territory for my taste. While she refers to the sparkly timefreeze period as The Quiet, he calls it Cumworld. Once a day he rubs one out in the bathroom then craps in his boss's potted plant. Which, yeah, kind of funny but....ew. Coulda done without.
In desperation, mankind engineers an army of Defenders: 17-feet tall, 3-legged, tactically brilliant, unsleeping, hyperaggressive giants with no serotonin in their brains to render them telepathy-proof. (The lack of serotonin also diminishes dramatically the Defenders' emotional range, making them simple in some ways. While humans adores them, the two groups have a hard time relating to one another.) The tide turns immediately, the Luyten surrender, and suddenly we're stuck with millions of giant warriors with no one to fight.
Defenders asks a lot of good questions, explores some really cool territory. What would happen next? The Defenders are as alien and terrifyingly powerful as the Luyten were. What do we owe them? Can we coexist with them? What missteps do we need to watch out for? It's all very Mary Shelley.
The tension ramps up when the Defenders demand Australia for their home, and the millions of Luyten prisoners--whom the world governments had promised safety in exchange for their surrender--for slavery and random butchery. McIntosh isn't afraid to think big.
It's not without its faults. Parts of the plot come across as simplistic. Why is Australia handed over so easily? Millions of people are willing to just uproot and move to North Dakota? Man's guarantee of safety to the Luyten MUST be sincere (they read minds!), so how could people be so easily ready to hand them over to the Defenders for execution etc? How does a third leg work, physiologically? As written it sounds like they're just glued on. If there's only one sex, what makes it "male"?
Overall it's a big win though. The bizarre Defender psychology works particularly well. Great fun.
Figuring it out so early isn't as satisfying as one might think, it's like seeing The Sixth Sense for the 4th time.
Minor spoilers ahead...
*Unnecessarily gruesome murders--check.
*Killer has a hobby that informs his crimes so that Deaver can show off his research prowess: stage magic/cooking/watchmaking/soldiering/oh how about tattooing!--check.
*Crime scenes almost-but-not-quite devoid of critical trace evidence--check.
*Absurdly, the serial killer targets the crime scene consultants personally--check.
*Brilliant deductions that are explained Scooby-Doo style after the heroes unexpectedly save the day--check.
*Holy shit the bad guy was someone we knew all along--yawn. I mean, check.
125 pages in but my library copy is due and un-renewable. I'm not going to bother finishing it later. Reading it six times is enough.
Where the first two volumes basically told the world's most effed up coming of age story, volume three is tying up loose ends, albeit in dramatic fashion (Fillory's death is long and fascinating).
I find it interesting how Grossman tells an epic story about a magical world full of hidden wonders and talking animals, then he carefully strips all the grandeur out of it. The Tolkienesque sense of destiny, of deeper purpose, of something-greater-going-on isn't just missing...it's noted and then ripped out. For example:
--Quentin succeeds in de-niffining Alice, but she despises him for it.
--Fillory's noble ram-gods Ember and Umber are actually selfish and cowardly when you get to know them, decidedly un-Aslan.
--When Quentin kills Ember in order to re-start Fillory, it is not a noble or heroic act, or a fulfillment of prophecy; it's just a dirty, brutal deed that arguably achieves a debatably greater good, maybe.
--When Quentin and his understudy attempt to use an ancient spell to create a new land, it turns out to be a claustrophobic shit-heap.
Nothing goes the way we've been trained to expect. And that's wonderful in its own way
With the name "Saga", I expected Vaughan's latest to be epic, sprawling, and insufferably stuffy. Over-earnest. Gone with the Wind and Star Wars and Ben Hur and the Iliad.
What I found instead is something that--while still with the potential to be epic--is accessible, sardonically funny, and ENDLESSLY creative. Magic-wielding people with all manner of horns warring against tech-wielding people with all manner of wings. A noble class of human-robot hybrids with old-fashioned tube-TVs for heads. (Vaughan uses the screens to wonderful emotive effect.) People who are just giant heads with legs, a large cat that can tell when people are lying, a sarcastic dead teenager who's a floating torso, and the kinds of orgies that you can only get by inventing stuff like this. And that's the tip of the iceberg.