Heller employs a weird, poetic style, eschewing quotation marks, sentences, pretty much all the cues I've been trained to rely on. It was awkward but effective at putting the reader in the head of the lonely, romantic, maybe-losing-it-a-little contractor-pilot protagonist.
Not terribly satisfying as an apocalypse novel. There's very little exploration of how the world ended (plague) or what was left afterward (evidently nothing) or what might be salvageable. Everyone is either Bad or dead. Guess Heller isn't a big believer in civilization.
The titular welder works on (under) an oil rig off the coast of Canada (Nova Scotia maybe). He has a lonely and hugely pregnant wife but keeps leaving her because he loves the solitude of his work. Not a happy guy, our welder. He neglects his mother and is action-packed with issues regarding his father, who disappeared when he was a kid and is presumed drowned.
Then during a dive he has a supernatural experience/medical emergency. His doctor and coworkers want him to take time to get healthy and care for his expanding family; he's convinced that there are "answers" that can't wait, out there beneath the waves. He leaves his furious wife--who promptly goes into labor, natch--to go back into the ocean. At night. In a storm. Like his missing/dead father is believed to have done. Not a terribly bright guy, our welder.
The introduction by Damon Lindelof compares The Underwater Welder to a Twilight Zone episode, and that's pretty spot on. It reminds me of the episode where a nuclear holocaust leaves a prissy misanthropist with all the time in the world to pursue his love of reading and then SPOILER ALERT he breaks his glasses and there's no one to help him. The Underwater Welder is similarly about a guy getting what he thinks he wants.
The Arrival is completely text-free and absolutely beautiful, entirely drawn in sepia-toned, I don't know, pencil sketches maybe. It's a bizarre blend of styles: the people all look 19th century Ellis Island; everybody has a familiar or pet inspired by Maurice Sendak (my wife says "Pokemon"), like the miniature whale-dog and the fish-bird; and the musical instruments and modes of transportation are right out of Dr. Seuss and Dr. Who respectively (I'm sure I saw a poggle horn, a zimbaphone, and possibly a three-nozzled bloozer). The writing on signs and immigration documents looks suspiciously like a supersecret transliteration code I devised when I was 7.
I like Tan's inventive text-free ways of communicating concepts like danger and the passage of time. The homeland that the unnamed man leaves behind is dark, with shadows of dragontails on all the city streets--in his new home he's startled once by a small apparently-harmless cat-thing with a similar tail. He shows time passing on his initial voyage with a sixty-panel (I counted) montage of clouds, and later with a 24-panel array of a transforming leaf-eye-dandelion. Neat.
Karma is one of Smith's early works, and he got a LOT better with Sacrifice and the Snowfall trilogy. The first half of the book simply bored me, it was hard to relate to a depressed, blue-blooded country club New Englander. I didn't really engage until the hero's extramarital affair was uncovered; he found himself in the interesting position of having to convince his wife that their daughter's life was in mortal danger from implausible bad guys immediately after having destroyed his credibility with her. THAT was juicy.
Rorschach's story was an embarrassment. His contempt for, well pretty much everyone, shone through but he spent the entire book getting his ass kicked repeatedly and tripping into lucky escapes. That's not Rorschach.