Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The swipe file: Cairo edition!

As I have mentioned, I was in London last weekend. Among the cheap books I picked up was a copy of Cairo, a one-volume hardcover graphic novel written by G. Willow Wilson and drawn by M. K. Perker. I remembered having enjoyed some of Wilson's writing on the web (I have a notion that I was introduced to her by the Girl Wonder site, but I don't recall), but I didn't remember that she's writing the new Ms. Marvel series, which I ought to check out.

So, Cairo is ... OK. I would say that it is better in its concept than in its execution. All the elements of the story are fun: gangsters! Wizards! Jinn! Other dimensions! Reforming journalists! Stoned camels! Sadly, the way it's written is not as great.  It's very "as you know, Bob" talky sometimes, but I think my main problem with it is just that the story is too crowded. It has six main characters, five of whom undergo some kind of life-changing experience. But it doesn't have enough room to explore those, so they come off feeling kind of rushed. When we meet Lebanese-American traveller Shaheed, he seems like a cheerful friendly guy -- although we learn he has a dark secret. But no sooner does the secret come out than he has some big experiences that effectively change every single thing about his life. That's fine and all, but we barely knew him before, so it's hard to feel like the transformation has any weight.

At other times, the plot feels predictable because of its rushedness. For instance, when streetwise smuggler Ashraf and tough-but-principled special forces soldier Tova meet, you instantly think "gee, I wonder if these two are going to fall in love despite the vast differences that separate them."

(Cairo came out in like 2007, so a) it is obviously set in a very different Egypt, and b) the consensus seems to be that Wilson has tackled those problems.)

So Cairo the actual story is not as good as Cairo the modern 1,001-Nights fantasy concept. But that's OK! It was still a fun read, and on this blog we have a very special place for books that are full of good ideas but don't necessarily cohere as single works of art. And that place is: The Swipe File! Let's do this:

  • People grow an intoxicating drug in the wilderness. Animals graze on it and wander around high. 
  • "The jinn have a right to the empty places."
  • A wounded soldier accidentally strays into enemy(?) territory. 
  • "How is life as a wandering mystic?"
  • "There is another river beneath the Nile and it flows backwards."
  • A randomly-looted item turns out to be the important McGuffin. 
  • Water drips upward (fine, Prince of Darkness, but it's still cool). 
  • Jinn can fuck with probability, but they can't make anything because that's God's deal. 
  • A door within a labyrinth is visible only to some. 
  • "I am Nar, well-dressed drug lord and magician."
  • Knowledge of mythology and tradition allows explorers to intuit the dungeon map. 
  • "The wanderer who knocks in the cold hour before dawn, keeper of small horrors and subduer of great ones." That is a pretty good demon name. 
So there you go. Inspiration is everywhere, and I definitely got my £1.95 worth out of this book. And even though I wasn't totally thrilled with it, I will definitely check out that Ms Marvel run to see how the author tackles a superhero character. 

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