"Suspend your disbelief," said the little voice inside my head.
When I listened to that little voice I was able to enjoy The Ultimate Game, and there...more"Suspend your disbelief," said the little voice inside my head.
When I listened to that little voice I was able to enjoy The Ultimate Game, and there are elements of this book that truly deserve to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, that little voice wasn't always loud enough to make me suspend my disbelief, and the sound of that voice couldn't drown out the dissonance. Those moments couldn't be overlooked or enjoyed (not, at least, by me).
3 Things That Deserve to be Enjoyed --
The Cliffhanger-- I didn't look into what this book was about before I started reading it, so the cliffhanger at the end of the book, the set up for the sequel, was somewhat unexpected, although I could tell quite early on that another book or two had to be coming if Sean Austin was going to make his story approach completeness. It was good enough that I want to read the sequel.
Two Brothers -- I quite liked Reggie and Jeremy, despite the fact that I bought very little that came out of their mouths. They didn't act their ages, for instance. Still, my like for them existed, and it came down to their love for each other, their loyalty, and the way their emotions rang true. I believed the way they felt about each other and how that translated into the actions they were forced to take, so I cared what happened to them (which is probably the key to the cliffhanger and my desire to see where this story is going).
Echo-7 -- Badass super transformer, Echo-7, is a pretty convincing front-man villain (I suspect someone else is in Echo-7's driver's seat ). He cloaks, he transforms, he tortures, he swallows people whole, he does impersonations, he thinks, he ejects still living boys from his body in plastic bags, he has an army of taser-bots, and he wants to rule the world (perhaps). But wow do you need to roll with his presence (suspend, suspend, suspend) because if you don't you may as well read something else.
Things That Are Hard to Enjoy --
The Militarism -- All boys like guns and violence and military lingo and knives and military philosophies -- and that's okay. More than okay, actually (at least that's what it felt like this book was trying to sell me). It's just fine to fill a book with violence, apparently, and sell that violence to boys ... cause, hey, the US is a peaceful place, the most militarized peaceful place in Earth's history, and militarism's a good thing, a thing that keeps us safe, not something that endangers us, not something we should ever worry about, at least not as much as we should worry about sex and hormones.
The "Token" Girl -- Claire's gamer handle is "Claw," and she's as beautiful as a super-model, and she makes Reggie feel funny in his stomach and then in his heart. Reggie's fourteen. When I was fourteen there was another funny feeling that went along with the stomach and the heart, and that could be found, quite uncontrollably, in my pants. Nothing stirred for Reggie, however. Never even crossed his mind. Couple Reggie's hormonal impossibility with his puppiest of loves, and the fourteen year old he was supposed to be felt about eleven. There was no suspending disbelief here, and it was more frustrating still because Claire was actually an appealing character. She was wasted. Big time.
Violence vs. Hormones -- Couple the glorification of violence for young adults with the chastity of the piece, and the result was an unrealism I was came to despise. The willing ignorance of parents when it comes to their children's hormones, hormones that they once had, makes me despair.
(view spoiler)[Why Wasn't This Whole Thing A Total Recall Scenario? -- If all the gamers had awoken in AAARealityGames hooked up to virtual reality displays or something, and everything they'd experienced had been a BETA test of a new game, this book would have been terrific. But they didn't, and The Ultimate Game was only good. It's a shame. I was hoping for better. (hide spoiler)]*
The Cliffhanger -- I know I said this was one of the things to like about the book, but it has to reside here as well. Sean Austin set up expectations, he teased and hinted at something more, and he failed to deliver. Had he taken more care to avoid the tease, the ending would have been much more satisfying. But I still want to read what's next, so the cliffhanger can't be all bad. (less)
Han Solo and the Lost Legacy is the last of the original Han Solo trilogy published way back between 1979 and 1980. The Indiana Jones movies began to...moreHan Solo and the Lost Legacy is the last of the original Han Solo trilogy published way back between 1979 and 1980. The Indiana Jones movies began to appear in 1981. Keep those dates in mind.
Why? I'll get to it right now. Perhaps it would have been better to name this book Han Solo and the Temple of the Crystal Skull.
I was reading along -- at a slow, slow pace since I had other things to read -- when Han Solo sucked me in for a final reading push with a major divergence from what had become the Han Solo adventure formula. He's riding across a lake on the back of a giant dinosaur-like sauropteroid alien, who just happens to be a ferry on the planet Dellalt, when he looks up into the mountains, throws aside his hunt for the Millenium Falcon and embraces the hunt for treasure he's been on because he's struck by an idea. (Can you see the light bulb over his head? I could).
So off he goes with Sallah ... um ... Chewbacca and a bunch of their adventuring partners, including a pseudo-love interest named Marion ... er ... Willie ... er ... Ilsa Hasti. I couldn't help myself. I flicked back to the cover and what did I see but the fucking Crystal Skull ... uh ... the Crystal Death's Head mask, the symbol of Xim, the Almighty Badass Tyrant of Dellalt. Next thing you know, Indy Han and his friends are being captured by the Ugha Tribe the Survivors in their mountainous temple. Then Mola Ram... um ... some nameless Survivor takes over and prepares them for sacrifice. Fast forward to Club Obi Wan ... the mountain top altar, where Han and Chewie figure out a way to escape. Chewie grabs a giant metal gong, decorated with the Paramount Pictures Logo ... er ... The Crystal Skull ... uh ... Xim's symbol and some runes, and he uses it to deflect all the blaster bolts and projectile bullets as the whole crew runs to the edge of the cliff -- and they jump off. But Chewie sees a chance to make a better escape, so he turns the Airplane's Life Raft ... uh ... Xim gong into a sled, and they all go on a huge toboggan run down the snows of Xim's mountain. Whew! But just as they reach a long flat run and it looks like they are safe ... BUMP ... they hit a bump that throws them off another cliff, and they fall into raging river a giant drift of powdered snow that cushions their fall. No village elders greet them, I'm afraid.
Now I'm not saying that George Lucas is a thief. Surely he would never steal ideas from other places for his own movies. And even if there are similarities between stories in a world full of stories, well, that is inevitable, isn't it? It's must be coincidence that Brian Daley's Han Solo and the Temple of the Crystal Skull has such a strong resemblance to set pieces and plot points in those other Harrison Ford vehicles. And it's probably coincidence, too, that this instalment of the Han Solo Trilogy is the weakest of the bunch. All coincidence.
It was still lots of fun for me, though, despite the journey into Professor Han Jones and his wonderful world of grave robbing. Too bad the Gallandro thread had to end the way it did. I'd have loved to see a whole bunch more of him. (less)
This review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it wa...moreThis review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets indicate some additional information for the sake of readability). It is one of my lost reviews.
What a personally powerful book. A Man on the Moon is such a wonderful reminder of what we are capable of as a species and what wonderful things we can accomplish when we work together. I hope to see a man on the moon in my lifetime, although I doubt it will happen, which is a shame.
It never ceases to amaze me that true life figures are so impressive when their stories are told -- whether they are really impressive or not. Is this all just spin? Is it the grandeur of their accomplishments? Whatever. I love hearing tales of Crazy Horse and Custer, of Henry V or Julius Caesar or Cleopatra. But right now I most love to hear the stories of the Astronauts and Cosmonauts.
Apollo 12's tightly bound crew of Conrad, Bean and Gordon were inspiring with their camraderie; Apollo 13's near fatal accident couldn't have been dreamt up by the greatest of screenwriters; then there's my favourite, the Apollo 17 crew of Cernan, Jack Schmitt and Ronald Evans. The finest scientific achievments of the program, and a fitting end to one of the world's greatest pursuits. Chaikan's book allowed me to take part in the Apollo adventures -- for that I am grateful. (less)
Reading (or in the case of Star Wars The Han Solo Trilogy rereading) Star Wars books, with all their cheesie craptasticness is a great reminder of jus...moreReading (or in the case of Star Wars The Han Solo Trilogy rereading) Star Wars books, with all their cheesie craptasticness is a great reminder of just how bad George Lucas' universe is.
It is all contradictions and stock characters and pretty lights and bad plots and predictability and self-referential bullshit and unspeakable dialogue and sci-fantastic worlds. And that's exactly why we love them so much -- or at least why I do -- because they are drivel.
So when A.C. Crispin, who is obviously a fan of Han Solo, has her hero leading smugglers in an attack on an Imperial Fleet come to destroy Nar Shaddaa, it doesn't matter that it further damages his original trilogy character development (the worst damage was done by Lucas, after all, so the Creator himself set the precedent). And when Han comes up with the master plan that will help defeat the fleet (an ex-lover whose illusions would put David Copperfield to shame), and when Han is used by Jabba and Jiliac the Hutts to bribe the Admiral of the fleet, and when Han barely escapes from Boba Fett long before his Empire encounter with the bounty hunter (and makes him a mortal enemy by stealing his Mandalorian wrist darts), and when Han falls in love with the Millenium Falcon in about as banal a way as I can imagine, and when Han meets and befriends Lando Calrissian on the spot, who turns out to be a man who loves responsibility long before he becomes responsible for Cloud City, and when Han peaks out of a closet at a Darth Vader murder, it doesn't matter because its just as contradictory and silly as all Star Wars tales. And it's just as fun.
So I admit it ... I really, really liked The Hutt Gambit because I am a nostalgic git with no taste. But I'm okay with that.(less)
There is a life lull at the moment, as there always seems to be at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, wherein I have a hard time engag...moreThere is a life lull at the moment, as there always seems to be at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, wherein I have a hard time engaging with people, and books sing to me of their paper comforts. I let myself be led to a cozy bed (whenever I can) or a comfy chair wrapped in a blankie, and I read, read, read.
This is, I think, the best of the Frankie Pickle books. The other two we've read, Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom and Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 were fun, and Frankie's Mom and Dad taught him some fine lessons about personal hygiene and not giving up, but it is their lesson in self-confidence and the way they help him study for a redo of his math quiz (he bombed a first attempt because his lack of confidence led him into Arithmecca, an imaginary land of dangerous numbers, and he doodled away his quiz time) that make this the best of the bunch.
Eric Wight's artistic talent is as fun as usual, but it is the added seriousness of what he puts Frankie through and the way he has his characters teach Frankie the necessary lesson that elevate this book above its predecessors. There is fun to be had. In fact, the lessons depend on it, and the best part is that Frankie doesn't even know he's being taught. Isn't that the best kind of learning? I think so.(less)
I am mostly delusional but not completely delusional. I knew this book was going to be crap when I picked it up at that shack-like used book shop a co...moreI am mostly delusional but not completely delusional. I knew this book was going to be crap when I picked it up at that shack-like used book shop a couple of years ago, but my boy and I love Indy, and I thought it would be a fun book for him to read as his reading skills increased. I stand by that even after reading it; it's a decent movie-tie-in for a seven year old boy.
There're lots of sun and time faded photos from the Temple of Doom (and who doesn't love movie stills?), and hackosaurus Les Martin doesn't offer anything fancy. It's all sort of "this happened, then this happened, and now this is happening but that just happened, and then this happened and now it's over." Perfect for a seven year old boy.
And there is even a cool scene that I've never heard any reference to in any other version of Temple of Doom, wherein Indy is already under the Black Sleep of Kali, and he comes back to Pankot Palace to put Willie to sleep, reassure Captain Blumbart (of Her Majesty's Cavalry) that everything is fine, and spend a little play time with Chatter Lal and the Maharajah. It was probably a scene that Spielberg trimmed from the screenplay (a wise decision), but it was a lot of fun to read here, and it actually tightened things up a little plotwise.
Regardless, this book is pretty sucky. Martin removes all references to "Fortune and Glory" as an Indy motivator -- which is one of my favourite parts of Temple of Doom -- and then he removes the "nocturnal activities" seduction sequence between Willie and Indy. Okay ... fair enough ... this book is for children, so if you have to take out the double entendres, be my guest, but couldn't you also remove, say, the whole Mola Ram ripping a heart out of a guy's chest thing? God forbid a child hears that Willie and Indy might want to sleep together, but by all means let that same child bask in the horror of beating hearts being held aloft. The fucking hypocrisy is what gets me.
Oh well, this was fun for me regardless. A nice thing to do while my computer boots up every morning. It's Milos' book now, and if he misses the full fun of Willie and Indy flirting, he can watch it as soon as he's finished reading.
Cause, after all, who doesn't love watching Kate Capshaw booby snatching the pillar statue?(less)
Thor Visionaries Volume One covers one of the greatest periods in Thor’s little corner of the Marvel Universe, issues #337-#348. I read them when they...moreThor Visionaries Volume One covers one of the greatest periods in Thor’s little corner of the Marvel Universe, issues #337-#348. I read them when they first came out, and they are all packed away in mylar bags and comic boxes in my office. I was pretty stoked to have them all in this Graphic Omnibus edition, and for the most part they didn’t disappoint. Here are my highs, mediums and lows.
Thor Visionaries: Top Ten -- The Awesomeness
1. Balder the Brave – The best story arc of the Omnibus, we see Balder gone to seed after a horrible experience in Hel. He was killed by Loki, banished to Hel, and met all of those he had ever killed in battle while being tormented by demons. It leaves him a husk of a god, and once he is in the land of the living he avows pacifism. The path back to the sword, which is also, interestingly enough, his path back to vitality and life, is the one part of the twelve comics I most looked forward to.
2. Lorelei – Super hotty, especially for a teenager who loved red heads. Even if she’s mere pencils and ink, she’s scorching. And I always kind of wanted Thor to stay under the spell of her love potion.
3. Thor – Pretty cool for a big, violent dumb ass. Still don’t know how being big, dumb and tough makes you worthy to wield Mjolnir, but then I’m not Odin.
4. Odin – I didn’t remember his omnipresence, but it was an excellent surprise. Odin was actually a pretty cool character, and I liked the way that he didn’t always serve as a deus ex machina. He was as vulnerable as the next god -- almost.
5. The Clark Kent Cameo – Silly, and a whole lot of fun, especially with Lois giving him shit for his clumsiness.
6. Reinforcement of Why I <3 Samuel L. Jackson – Of all the changes Mark Millar made to the Marvel Universe, specifically to the Avengers and SHIELD, turning Nick Fury into a bad-ass-Sam Jackson-clone, thus dropping his crusty and clichéd WWII persona, was a stroke of genius. Nick Fury was lame back in my day. Today, he could righteously stand up and tell the Hulk to “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” and I bet the Hulk would listen.
7. Multiple storylines – Simonson’s greatest storytelling strength was his ability to juggle multiple storylines without short changing any. He kept the pace cooking, kept us interested in everything, and had an eye for a long term story. For instance, the opening frames of #337 show the arms of Surtur forging his sword. We see him for twelve straight issues before that little storyline has come to fruition. It is present as prologue. And the last frames of the last comic we see? Surtur ready to kick ass. Very cool.
8. Malekith – Bad ass villain. I even named a half-elf in D&D after him, although my wizard didn’t have the multi-toned skin of Malekith.
9. Loved the Secret Wars panel – There’s this cool blank space left in #341 with three missing panels, which show the Avengers on the way to the Beyonder’s Secret War. You could cut out the panel from somewhere else and paste it in your comic. I bought extras at the time so I could do that (I know, I know). But they provide the real panels in the appendix here. Fun.
10. Walt Simonson’s Art – There’s a sixties nostalgia to Simonson’s eighties art that always appealed to me. The goddesses, Sif and Lorelei, look like a pair of gorgeous, buxom movie stars, the sort Hitchcock would have cast in his films (nothing like the inhuman buxomness of the nineties), and there is an unfinished quality to his pencils that adds real texture to his section of the Marvel Universe.
Thor Visionaries: Middle Five -- The Blah-ness
11. Beta Ray Bill – I remembered Beta Ray Bill with such fondness that when I saw him on the cover locked in combat with Thor, I just had to buy the graphic novel. Oh! what a difference twenty years make. The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill section of this omnibus was soooooo boring. I wanted to like it, but now I just feel a little stupid for ever having loved it. It was okay, I guess, but a bit much considering its primary purpose seemed to be getting Thor out of his mortal Dr. Donald Blake form.
12. From Donald Blake to Sigurd Jarlson – Not sure this ever really needed to happen, but whatever ... Simonson got to make Thor look like a big Viking beefcake in a t-shirt and tight pants, so some wish fulfillment must have been at work. At least it led us to today and Chris Hemsworth in a t-shirt and tight pants in the film. Silver lining.
13. Sif – She’s okay, but pretty damn fickle and pretty damn thick. But hey, she can overlook Beta Ray Bill’s ugliness, so that’s something.
14. Superman Secret Identity Idiocy – So suddenly Thor is Sigurd. Nick Fury throws a pair of big geeky glasses on him, and Simonson instantly sees that the glasses hiding Thor are as stupid as the glasses hiding Superman, so he pokes fun at it by having a bunch of folks almost make the connection between the big blonde Norseman and Thor, but not quite (one guy figures Sigurd must be Spidey). Good on him for recognizing the idiocy, but it is handled pretty poorly.
15. Surtur and Twilight – The presence of Surtur throughout is cool, but I was bummed when the last comic collected in this Omnibus culminated in Surtur’s escape from exile. That’s where I wanted to start, not finish.
Thor Visionaries: Bottom Eight -- The Crapness
16. Not Enough Loki – Where was he? Sure he shows up once in a while to meddle, but he wasn’t nearly meddlesome enough, and apart from a little nudging of Lorelei in her quest for Thor’s love, Loki spent most of his time messing with Balder the Brave.
17. Fafnir the Dragon – This jackass looks like a pugilistic Godzilla.
18. Simonson’s Idiotic Time Keeping – The major downfall in Simonson’s storytelling is his inability to make time work. His narrative is all over the place when it comes to time. We see days pass in one thread and minutes pass in another, but they are presented as though they are simultaneous. It’s a minor complaint, really, because comics can be forgiven time lapses, but it pulled me out of the moment more than once.
19. Fafnir the Dragon – Could this big Jurassic Park reject just shut the hell up?!
20. Not Enough Warriors Three – Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun are too cool to be barely seen. But there was less of them than Loki.
21. Fafnir the Dragon – So Fafnir is out destroying the poor areas of New York, and he’s yelling for Thor (who is off in Antarctica), and the television news crews are wondering where Thor is, and I’m wondering where the hell everyone else is? Where’s Spidey? The rest of the Avengers? Daredevil? Fantastic Four? Even Sub-Mariner? Silliness.
22. Fafnir the Dragon – Did I mention this dragon sucked?
23. Fafnir the Dragon – Oh yeah, and Fafnir the Dragon. Lamest Thor villain ever! (less)
Frankie Pickle rocks. It is laced with satirically charged pop culture references; it has a protagonist who is almost as likable as Watterson’s Calvin...moreFrankie Pickle rocks. It is laced with satirically charged pop culture references; it has a protagonist who is almost as likable as Watterson’s Calvin; it has a Dad who’s at home in the garage as he is in the breakfast kitchen; a Mom of wisdom and coolness, and a pair of fair sisters who are cool in their own right. Plus, Frankie has a dog named Argyle.
This book is an excellent mix of comic graphics and prose, which is the perfect shift for boys and girls moving from storybooks to pre-teen books. Yet it didn’t blow me away. It was good. I liked it. I did, but it was more butterscotch than vanilla. And that’s nowhere near chocolate. (less)
It’s official. I am now a fan of Vlad Taltos. He may even be one of the great characters of the Fantasy genre.
He’s not a hero nor is he a villain. Th...moreIt’s official. I am now a fan of Vlad Taltos. He may even be one of the great characters of the Fantasy genre.
He’s not a hero nor is he a villain. There’s a little bit of both in there, but I don’t know that he can actually be called an anti-hero. He may be beyond classification. Sometimes he’s a wiseass, sometimes he is just wise, but he is always intelligent, and more intelligent than nearly everyone around him. That intelligence is born and nurtured in a mind that is always thinking, working on itself and on the problems that surround it. He is deadly, cold, temperamental, occasionally foolhardy. He’s capable of loyalty, capable of deep love, capable of caring, and capable of shoving a knife into a lackey’s heart simply because he’s annoyed. He is – in short – one of the most complex and complete characters I can think of.
And, as fans of the Vlad Taltos series will tell you, Vlad is only one level of the series’ complexity. But he is the bedrock upon which everything else rests, and keeping Vlad compelling, keeping him interesting, allows Brust to do things with his stories that he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
In the case of Teckla, Brust is able to engage in meditations on big issues like division of labour, worker and peasant power, racism, and revolution, while he’s busy engaging with the more personal issues of trust in love, self-reflection and family loyalty. Teckla is so many things. And thanks to Brust it is never too many things.
I’m reading these in order. Teckla is the best so far. I’ll be taking a break from Vlad for a while, but I will be back very soon. (less)
Damn. I'd written this nice little meta-review about being a geek, and then some errant keystrokes backed me out of the review I was writing and every...moreDamn. I'd written this nice little meta-review about being a geek, and then some errant keystrokes backed me out of the review I was writing and everything disappeared. I don't have it in me to rewrite at the moment, so here are some quick thoughts.
•Vlad Taltos' little gangster turf war is the best part of Yendi, and I hope that we get a little more of that as the series goes on, although I sense that he may be getting closer and closer to going legit-ish, or at least becoming all political.
•the Sorceress in Green twist was a convoluted (on purpose), but it was a little too convoluted for my tastes. Still, it didn't take away any of the fun, so don't let it stop you from reading the story.
•the prequelness of Yendi was handled well, and I actually thought the Cawti-Vlad relationship was believable, even after the assassination attempt on the latter by the former.
•two books in, and Yendi confirms that this is a series worth reading -- even if it is fantasy gangster lite. I am definitely in for the long haul. (less)
I know, I know, I hear you saying this is the poorest Indiana Jones film, but I disagree, and here is why:
1. The Opening Sequence -- From the Busby Be
...moreI know, I know, I hear you saying this is the poorest Indiana Jones film, but I disagree, and here is why:
1. The Opening Sequence -- From the Busby Berkeley Club Obi Wan dance sequence to Lao Che's menacing, "Goodbye, Dr. Jones," it is the finest set piece in all of Indiana Jones films. It gives us Indy at his best as an early James Bond. We see that he's a grave robbing cad. He steals Lao Che's girl and kills one of his boys. He loses Wu Han. Beats the poison trap. Escapes a rain of bullets. Joins Short Round for a race through Shanghai and winds up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It kicks ass.
2. Genuine character development -- Huyck and Katz actually give us some Indiana Jones character development. All he cares about at the beginning is "fortune and glory," and we see him grow into the character who might actually care about the "International Treaty for the Protection of Antiquities" in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He comes to care about more than himself and Shorty, and there is even a hint that he cares about Willy Scott.
3. Willy Scott and Short Round -- If anything was missing in Raiders of the Lost Ark it was a true damsel in distress and an energetic kiddie sidekick. Indy got them in Temple of Doom, and they are perfect. Willy's hot and more concerned about her nails, voice, and diamonds than anything else, and Shorty just wants to be Indy. Maybe they don't work for you, but they sure work for me. I always had a crush on Willy, the one with whom I think Indiana Jones had the most interesting relationship, and I wanted to be Short Round kicking ass and saving Indy. Hell, I still do on both counts. And as screenplays go, this one is a cracker, even if it didn't always turn out that way on the screen.
4. Chilled Monkey Brains -- Nuff said.
5. Villains -- C'mon. You know you love Mola Ram in spite of yourself, and Lao Che is right up there with Belloq as best villain in the series.
6. You say ... -- The mine cars are silly, you say? I say they are rollicking good fun. The fight in the jewel quarry is dumb, you say? I say it's a necessity of the homage, and the voodoo doll makes it fun. The chamber of insects is unoriginal and lame, you say? I say it is the perfect way to generate some screwball comedy between the leads. The pumping heart being torn out of a chest is too gruesome, you say? I say it's creepy cool. The portrayal of Indians is racist, you say? I say ... okay, you're right about that, but no more or less so than the racism in the other movies (except, perhaps, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Hmmm. Interesting.)
Seriously, this book is total crap. Indy is barely Indy, Mihail is an hilarious Romanian descendant of Dracula, Sasha is a gypsy thief who's about as...moreSeriously, this book is total crap. Indy is barely Indy, Mihail is an hilarious Romanian descendant of Dracula, Sasha is a gypsy thief who's about as PC as Sallah in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the nameless boy working with Indy, the subject of this "choose your own adventure" is a bit of a knob. It's your standard trashy boy's own adventure fare.
So Indy is chasing the Cup of Darjeeling.* It's the mystical cup that makes Vlad the baddest vampire of all time. He's watching a vampire movie with our narrator, when the descendant of Dracula bursts in during a staking and sets them off in a race around the world.
In the adventure we followed -- read this with my son, Milos (he got to make all the decisions) -- we wound up being transported across the world in coffins, scaling a tower, and stealing away the Cup of Dracula. Wahoo!!
Idiotic? Yep. Dumb? Yep. Stupid? Yep. Bad? Yep, yep. Fun? That's a little trickier. I don't think I'd have enjoyed it too much if I'd read it as a teenager. Too crappy for my tastes, but as a Dad, hanging out with his Indiana Jones crazy six year old? Yeah, it was worth it, and a whole lot of fun.
So one star for quality -- barely -- and three stars for the company. And here's some advice: if you are a thirty to forty something Dad of little kids, go to your local used bookstore and snag a couple of choose-your-own-adventures. You'll be glad you did.
*it's something like that, but I can't be bothered to look it up.(less)
Immediate Reaction: This was a blast. A little fantasy-noir fun for anyone who likes bad men behaving with honour. Vlad Taltos is an anti-hero extraor...moreImmediate Reaction: This was a blast. A little fantasy-noir fun for anyone who likes bad men behaving with honour. Vlad Taltos is an anti-hero extraordinaire, and all the minor characters and relationships he's surrounded with are equally cool.
Later: This is only the second book I've read by Steven Brust, and the first I've read that he wrote alone. I read his collaboration with Emma Bull, Freedom and Necessity a couple of months ago, and loved their book so much I knew I had to hunt down their other works and give them a go. What Jhereg delivered was totally unexpected.
F and N was a beautiful literary work that obviously suffers in its redership by being written by a pair of Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors. And I expected more of the same with Jhereg. But there is little "literary" in the first of the Vlad Taltos books, but that doesn't make it any less readable. In fact, it might actually make it much more of an addiction inducing habit.
Jhereg is a bit like a fantasy detective story, or a "fantasy noir" (as I called it earlier), with assassin/crime boss/information collector Vlad Taltos taking the role of obligatory hardbitte detective from the works of Dashiel Hammett or Mickey Spillane. And it's as good as the former and better than the latter.
Vlad is surrounded by an original and exotic fantasy world, killer allies (his pseudo-cousin Aliera is a personal favourite), a smart ass familiar named Loiosh, a seamy underworld, nasty enemies (including one who calls himself "Demon"), witchcraft and sorcery (which are nothing alike), genetic engineering (for the slightest touch of Sci-Fi) and the most mundane of domestic lives. Even better, he is one of the most likable antiheroes in all of Fantasy.
I understand from some of my goodreads friends that the depth of this series -- as it goes on, and it goes on for a long time -- is impressive. I've already started Yendi, so it's a good bet that I am going to experience this depth first hand. Having read F and N, I believe that depth is possible. Now I just need to track down War for the Oaks, so I can experience how the other half of F and N writes when out of collaboration.(less)
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to...moreSummerside, Prince Edward Island 29th August 2010
Dear Steven and Emma,
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to toe with Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and won the battle for my attention (and that's saying something). I don't know how you did it, but I am so glad you did. THIS was one of the best reading experiences of my life. Where do I begin?
I want to begin with the form you chose. But I am going to hold off on that and talk about Hegel, Engels and Marx. Hegel, your unifying thread, was used in a way that I am sure he would approve of; he was the natural connection between your boys. Richard and James sparring over the Science of Logic while their lives are at their most uncertain was pure genius. Then you gave us Engels, but not Engels as an abstract ideologue whose impossible ideals inform the characters' actions but as a fully developed character whose realism is a fulcrum about which the novel's action necessarily turns. Then you add Karl Marx in a family man cameo that brings the great historical thinker down to the Earth of his family life. Again...genius.
But you weren't content with your brilliant invocation of historical figures. No. You wanted us to believe in your four main characters. No. More than that. You wanted us to love and pull for and fear for and cheer for your lead cast. And you succeeded. James Cobham, Susan Voight, Kitty Holbourn and Richard Cobham are the most completely realized characters I've read since Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin in Perdido Street Station (and speaking of Perdido, thanks to China Miéville for pointing me towards your marvelous book). They go beyond the page. They live and breathe. Their relationships feel true because they are true. They are petty and self-indulgent and unrelenting and selfish and cruel and spiteful and occasionally silly. But they're also heroic and outward looking and tractable and selfless and kind and mostly serious. They are people I want to know, and they're people I do know thanks to you two.
And now it is time to talk about your form, because the epistolary nature of Freedom & Necessity -- and your masterful execution -- makes all of this possible -- this and so much more. James, Susan, Kitty and Richard are given to us on their own terms because everything is shared with us through their journals and letters (and by the end I felt like one of their children reading the family's history, which I am sure you intended). We only know them through what they want to tell us and through what they need to say about and to one another, and there is no truer record of a life or lives than one's own correspondence coupled with the thoughts and epistles of others.
But even that wasn't enough for you. You had to create one of the most compelling adventure-intrigue-mystery-historical fictions ever written, and again the ultimate genius was in your choice of the epistolary form. I have never read an ending like that, Steven and Emma. You build and build and build towards the denouement, then you skip ahead a couple of days because that's when the players would be ready to write their thoughts, so we get fragments from Richard, nothing from Kitty and James, and the perfect recall of Susan (albeit from her limited perspective). You withhold and withhold and then deliver in dribs and drabs the final actions of your tale in a way that blows my mind. Druidic conspiracies mix with greedy grabs for property mix with labour disputes and revolution, and all of it is delivered from the perspective of our four correspondents. UTTERLY...FUCKING...BRILLIANT!
So thank you for your genius. I am going to read your solo books A.S.A.P, and I beg you, please, to come together and write another novel because Freedom & Necessity is damn near perfect. I want more.
Yours in humility,
p.s. thanks, Jacob, for giving me the final push to pluck this off my shelf and read it. I am forever indebted.(less)
Instead, we get a fun variation of the classic spy mission opener: Mina Murray (nee Harker, nee Murray) is ordered on a mission by Campion Bond (grandfather of 007) to collect members for MI5's "Menagerie." From this moment to the last, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.1 is a cracking tale of intrigue and action, full of famous literary characters who most readers are familiar with and probably even love. It looks, feels and reads like a summer blockbuster (too bad it was such a flop on-screen).
But this is Alan Moore, and he always has a purpose beyond entertainment.
Moore makes each and every one of his characters unsavoury -- even nasty -- then allows us love them despite ourselves. Captain Nemo is a pirate, Allan Quartermain is an opium addict, Jekyll-Hyde may very well have been Jack the Ripper, the Invisible Man is a multiple rapist, and Mina Murray is a disgraced woman (at least according to the conventions of her time) who doesn't seem to like men much anymore. None of these heroes seem as ugly as Rorschach or Comedian, nor are any as ruthless as V, so we enjoy their adventure, cheer them on as they cross swords with the first M (who turns out to be the granddaddy of villainous geniuses), and overlook behaviours that are little better than the nastiest behaviour of some of Moore's more easy to disdain protagonists.
What Moore wants us to consider is in the contrast between his characters and the established characters. He wants to challenge our affinity for these heroes. He wants us to ask questions about them and ourselves: why do we overlook the behaviour of the League? Why are we on their side? Why do we support -- and why do they support -- a nostalgic view of Blighty's colonialism? Why do we give these heroes a pass?
His answer is that we do it because they are familiar. We know them. We know of their exploits, either through first hand experience or through hearsay, and we are ready to embrace their "greatness" before we even start reading about them in the League. We're steeped in their mythologies from the original books to film adaptations to stage plays to comic strips to animation, and having already accepted them as "heroes" we accept them as versions of us. They are us, and we can't see ourselves as anything other than likable, so we cut the "Menagerie" considerably more slack than we'd cut for Moore's other heroes -- and Moore wants us to see that our willing delusion when it comes to these characters is wrong.
All the way through this story I couldn't help thinking about The Three Musketeers. It's one of my favourite novels, though I haven't read it for a while, and I don't know anyone who doesn't love d'Artagnan. Hell, I love d'Artagnan. What's not to love? Right? Well, plenty if one takes the time to really consider his behaviour. He's a murderer, a rapist, and a purveyor of myriad nasty little vices. Yet we all (or most us) love him.
Moore wants us to think about that for a while. He wants us to think about why we love the characters we love, then apply that knowledge to the way we see ourselves and the world around us. I believe he wants The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.1 to provide as much meaning for audiences as his recognized masterpieces, Watchmen and V for Vendetta. I think he succeeds, even though its manifestation is so subtle it can be easily missed.
The fault, dear Reader, is not in Moore's writing, But in our reading. That is why we are underlings.(less)
I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more...moreI dug Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, but I wanted so much more.
I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more time in the latter.
I dug the Rotters, but I wanted more rot, more zombie madness, and more exploration of their potential ability to communicate and problem solve.
I dug the pseudo-history and Hale Quarter, the fictional biographer, but I wanted more installments of his history.
I dug the back story of Leviticus Blue, but I wanted to be convinced that he was evil rather than merely devastatingly irresponsible because while I can see devastatingly irresponsible as being negative for all, I don’t think it can really be called evil.
I dug Dr. Minnerecht, but I wanted more time in his lair, more time with his nasty deeds, and way less of his silly petulance.
I dug Zeke, but I wanted him to do more, to be more active.
I dug how Briar took responsibility for the killing of Levi Blue, but I didn’t like that she did it nor the way that she did it, and I find the general cheering on of her actions a bit disconcerting.
I liked the supporting cast, but I wanted more of what brought them to where they were, what motivated them, what they cared about, who they were pre- & post-Blight.
I dug the technological steampunk elements, and was more than willing to suspend my disbelief, but I wanted more of the steampunk social criticism to go along with the toys.
I dug the hints of a larger world beyond Seattle, but I wish there’d been more of it here so I wouldn’t have to wait for Clementine.
I dug that there were three interesting women, but I didn’t like their disdain for men nor that they felt like three versions of the same woman.
I dug the dirigibles, and for once there was enough time with the Skypirates to fulfill my desire.
Indiana Jones and the Golden Fleece: Apart from Indy’s flowery journal entries, that he delivers a baby in a blizzard while a giant serpent of Hecate...moreIndiana Jones and the Golden Fleece: Apart from Indy’s flowery journal entries, that he delivers a baby in a blizzard while a giant serpent of Hecate prepares to strike, that he offers the baby as a sacrifice, that the villain is a caricatured Dutchman whose villainy is obvious + the usual handful of Nazis, and that Indy dunks himself and his hat in a vat of olive oil and the latter comes out totally unscathed, Indiana Jones and the Golden Fleece is actually not horrible. The action is fast, the story is short (mercifully) and the art is good. And who doesn’t love people mocking Indy about his name (besides me)?
Indiana Jones and the Shrine of the Sea Devil Gary Gianni’s pencils are the best in the Omnibus, and this tight little adventure is faithful to Indiana Jones as a character, but as with many of the Indiana Jones comics, it embraces the cheesy side of Indy a little too much (e.g. the obligatory buffoon, Caspar Zzyzx). Dumb little jokes and a ridiculous cameo from Amelia Earhart are the most annoying bits of the story, but it’s a good way to kill twenty minutes if you’re an Indy fan.
Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix This story is embarrassingly bad. There is no pacing; it feels like Indy’s circling the globe simply because he’s supposed to (the trip to Ireland with the crazy druids is probably the worst part), and then the story turns into something stolen from an old Captain America comic, with a Nazi bad guy who should be called the Purple Skull. Oh yeah, there’re zombies too. For about three or four frames. And the most annoying part of all is that the writer has Indy say “Natch!” at least two separate times. That doesn’t sound like Indy to me, and it shouldn’t to anyone else who cares about the character. What a joke.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Destiny Better plot, better pace, better use of established characters, particularly Indy, and just better in every department but pencils than the first three stories in the Omnibus. But ... I was driven crazy by Brendan O’Neal, the pain in the ass, ginger Irish bartender turned archaeology assistant turned true king of Ireland. He was written like a leprechaun without a hat, rainbow and pot of gold. He wrecked an otherwise decent story with his presence.
Indiana Jones and the Sargasso Pirates Thank the gods. A tale that redeems the Omnibus. Strong art, creative story, a memorable villain in pirate Bill Lawton, a pair of interesting sidekicks, and NO NAZIS! And that last strength is a huge plus. Using Nazis as the go to villain in Indiana Jones stories is understandable, but it becomes very boring, very fast. It’s one of the reasons I love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom so much. No nazis. Sargasso Pirates was an excellent way to end this otherwise poor excursion into the adventures of Indiana Jones. I hope the next Omnibus is better.(less)
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It's a solid comic yarn with a charmingly antithetical leading...moreI am a man who loves good comic books, and Mike Mignola's Hellboy is exactly that. Good.
It's a solid comic yarn with a charmingly antithetical leading man, fitting pencils, beautiful colour and noirish scripting (helped on by John Byrne in this early volume).
Mike Mignola loves a great action sequence, and Hellboy's big ol' "Right Hand of Doom" and terrible aim with "The Good Samaritan" -- the oversized revolver the eponymous leading man received as a gift from the Torch of Liberty -- ensure that melee style action and battle are at the heart of the pulpy jewel that is Hellboy.
But if you're looking for literary or thematic depth, if you want some philosophy or politics with your graphics, Hellboy isn't for you. It is clever and fun, but not much else. The villains are Nazis and Black Wizards (like Rasputin) and Demons, which doesn't leave much room for ethical debate. The heroes are not complicated, although Mignola tries to pretend they are (consider Professor Bruttenholm's miraculous child rearing skills, which allow him to nurture the demon out of Anung Un Rama. Fun and clever, once again, but too silly to be truly complicated). And the relationships between the main characters are boringly familiar archetypes.
I don't say any of this as criticism, however. I think Mignola's dedication to pulpy goodness is admirable. I don't want all my graphic novels to be Watchmen or Sandman. Just like I don't want all my novels to be Moby Dick or Sound and the Fury.
When I want some fun, some synapse relaxation, I am more than happy to pick up Hellboy and chill. It's the summer blockbuster of the comic book world (its film manifestations, moreover, are damn fine cinematic popcorn fare ), and there is something to be said for plain old entertainment -- no matter the form.
Plus, if you're looking for a quick fix without diving into the story proper, this edition offers two mini-adventure Easter eggs, written and penciled as intros to the Hellboy character. A junkyard dog turns into Anubis, a floating Nazi head and a talking Gorilla scientist torture a beautiful woman, and Hellboy saves the day -- quick and dirty like.
If Hellboy is demon hero-lite, these mini-adventures are demon hero-fat free. And heart smart Hellboy is the perfect way to fill any random couple of minutes where you're hankering for a comic book break.(less)
WARNING: This review contains some vulgarity. Please don't read this if you are have a delicate sensibility. Thanks.
8 Things I liked + 1 I didn't + 1...moreWARNING: This review contains some vulgarity. Please don't read this if you are have a delicate sensibility. Thanks.
8 Things I liked + 1 I didn't + 1 I hated
8. It's cinematic. -- I don't know if I'd have appreciated this if I hadn't read The Hunger Games in anticipation of the film's release, but the March 23rd premiere precipitated my read, and I could see the action of this book on my "head screen." It's going to work as a movie, and Collins' successfully tranferred the action she saw moving in her mind to the page. She made me see it too, and I am now officially stoked to see the film of her tale.
7. First person. -- I was not impressed with the first person perspective in the first chapter, but by the time Katniss was moving through the arena I understood how right that perspective was. It ramped up the suspence, and it's going to make for an easier transition to the big screen.
6. The Capitol and Districts. -- Plenty of real world, contemporary issues to be found in the structure of Panem. Plenty of room for criticism. Plenty of bile directed at the haves and honouring of the have-nots (now haves?). It may be worth adding this to a first year reading list, but I worry that things fall apart as the series progresses. Which reminds me of the question I had throughout ... "does this really need to be a series?" It feels like one book should be enough.
5. Nostalgia. -- I remember an old Sci-Fi paperback from my Junior High library with one of those pulpy covers. There was some hilltop with a a black sky gate opening above, and for some reason I remember a bunch of kids doing combat on some planet. I wish I could remember something more about the book, but every page of The Hunger Games took me back to the halls of Don Bosco and that book cover keeps flashing in front of my eyes. I love it when shit like that happens.
4. Dystopia. -- I love dystopian books, and as dystopias go this is one of the most normal -- which ramps up the creepiness for me. I pretty much live in District 11 at the moment, and I can see us heading down the road to our own Hunger Games a generation or two from now. There's some compelling immediacy here for me.
3. Mockingjays and Tracker Jackers -- These were some of the best future tech innovations I've ever read. Their backstories made sense, they were well integrated into the tale, they were used subtly, and they added just the right amount of verisimilitude. They were well struck notes, and I will remember them both forever (unless the film fucks them up).
2. Katniss Everdeen. -- I believed in her as a character. She rang true, sure and true (sorry, I'm listening to Albert Hammond), and I can overlook all kinds of crap when I love a character as much as I love Katniss. Her choices made sense to the woman she is; her skills were within reason; I believed her loves and hates; and her conflicts worked. She's the only reason I'd be compelled to read on (well, I would read on also if the movie was good enough to drive me to the sequel).
1. It's compelling. -- I stayed up until the wee hours to read this. I don't do that on purpose anymore. I may keep reading when my insomnia kicks in to keep myself sane, but to actually risk messing up my sleep schedule to finish a book is a rarity. But I needed to finish. And it was mostly worth it.
1. It's sheaf, Suzanne. -- It's not a "sheath" of arrows. It's a sheaf. I thought it was a typo the first time, then it was repeated throughout. Piss poor editing, and an annoying mistake that really could have been avoided.
1. Wolfie Muttations. -- I see no defensible purpose for this bizarre twist. I saw it coming, was begging Collins not to do it, and was left deflated by its happening. Mercifully it ended quickly and we were back on track, but this was a cheap piece of manipulation that really took away from the story for me. I didn't need any more reason to think that Panem and its Capitol were fucked. This was Collins' one bad choice. Overdetermine much?(less)
The Good -- There is much to like in Lee Stephen’s first novel, Dawn of Destiny. As first attempts go this is a cracking effort, and its real strength...moreThe Good -- There is much to like in Lee Stephen’s first novel, Dawn of Destiny. As first attempts go this is a cracking effort, and its real strength is that it never tries to be more than it is, and what it is, emphatically, is an adrenaline fueled military sci-fi action-adventure.
Stephen has a talent for writing action, and the four times Scott Remington and his mates go into battle, Dawn of Destiny becomes a book that can’t be set aside. Whether they are crashing a minivan through an Bakma warship’s cargo bay, stalking necrilids (nasty, insectoid aliens) through a dark high school at night, or fending off a full scale invasion of the Novosibirsk facility, the EDEN (Earth Defense Network) operatives engage in battles that can be believed in. People are wounded, people die, and there is a real sense of danger for the characters, a lack of safety that imbues each new action sequence with serious stakes, which can’t help but draw a reader in.
And Stephen does one better by making sure we actually care about the characters he places in danger. The story revolves around Scott Remington, a rookie fresh out of the Philadelphia EDEN Academy, who believes God has led him to EDEN for a purpose. As the story unfolds, “Remmy” meets and keeps some friends, meets and loses some others, and even sows the seeds of future animosities. The supporting cast is developed fast enough and well enough for us to care about them, particularly the core of David Jurgen, Becan and Jayden. They are flat characters in the Forster sense of the word, but in an action shoot-‘em up that will suffice so long as we’re given enough to make us like them, and Stephen does that.
The Bad -- It isn’t all positive, however. My biggest disappointment is the one-sidedness of it all. There are three alien races attacking Earth in Dawn of Destiny, the Ceratopians, the Bakma and the Ithini (the classic, bug eyed, grey skinned aliens from abduction dreams), but we know nothing about them. There are no characters from those races, no hints of their cultures, just descriptions of how they look and how they fight. Perhaps this will change as the books go on, but it is always tough for me to swallow that those who make up the other side in any combat are just plain bad, and if things don't change that is what we'll be asked to do.
It is to Stephen’s credit that Scott Remington wonders about the motives of those he’s killing, but so far it isn’t enough.
Also (and this may seem like a silly complaint to some) the lack of vulgarity in the story is off-putting. Replacing the usual expletives with “Veck!” “Trashin’!” or “Flickin’!” may be nice for the censors, and it may make some parents happy, but there are also readers for whom it will be a distraction. I happen to be one of them. When Bakma plasma bolts are scorching holes through armor, “veck” doesn’t really express the pain, horror and anger the way it should. There are times when this really hurts the verisimilitude of the story, and that's a shame.
The Ugly -- Again, this could change, but as it stands Dawn of Destiny’s portrayal of alien races falls into the classic Sci-Fi / Fantasy trap of inhering racism. The characters may not seem racist (and they certainly have no racist tendencies amongst their fellow humans), but the attitudes they hold towards those there are killing certainly are. It is one thing to hate one’s enemies; it is another thing to see one’s enemies as monsters. Seeing them as the latter makes them inferior, perhaps morally, perhaps physically, but inferior to those who are observing them and killing them. This often leads to a hierarchy of races in speculative fiction, with humans as generally good (with the exception of one or two individuals) and the “others” as evil. If Dawn of Destiny was standing alone, this would be tough to overlook, but there is hope that this will not stand in Outlaw Trigger and Hero. A Bakma soldier and the Golden Lion share a moment after the Battle for Novosibirsk, after all, and that moment hints that something better is building slowly. I hope it is.
The Undecided -- Which leaves me with three things I am undecided about. First, Scott’s faith is a huge part of his character, and in this first book it works well. He is a Christian man struggling with his faith in the face of war. That’s good. But there are hints that he has been called to battle by God, that he is “destined” for something. And if it goes in that direction, if it moves beyond his personal struggle and becomes a deus ex machine...well, judgment currently reserved. Second, General von Thoor is evil. It is not supposed to matter that his actions get results. It is not supposed to matter that his decisions make military sense even when they are unpalatable. What matters is that he is bad, that there are rumors of murder, and that his men wear black body armor. Like Scott Remington, von Thoor seems “destined” for something, but in his case it is to be the arch-villain of the tale. I hope that his evil is more palpable before his destiny is fulfilled...so, judgment currently reserved. And third, the women in Dawn of Destiny get to be medics, girlfriends, wives, and objects of rescue. If they are important to Scott, either directly or indirectly, they are important to the story, but I’d like to see them take on some more significant role than the roles they currently have...again, and for the last time, judgment currently reserved.
Now that all my praise and complaints are over, I can finally say the most important thing: this book is a good read. It shows great promise for the rest of the series; it creates a believable future Earth and an alien threat that feels genuinely threatening; and it is emotionally satisfying up to and including its final note.
Dawn of Destiny isn’t great literature, but it is an entertaining book. And that is more than enough to make me want to continue, but it also sets up some serious expectations for the books to come. Let's hope Lee Stephen fulfills that promise.(less)
All the elements you'd expect from a good Indiana Jones story are present in The Fate of Atlantis, but that doesn't mean the Dark Horse graphic novel...moreAll the elements you'd expect from a good Indiana Jones story are present in The Fate of Atlantis, but that doesn't mean the Dark Horse graphic novel (originally a mini-series) is actually good.
6. Indy moving from one chase sequence to another, one action sequence to another. Check.
7. Indy always keeping his hat on. Check.
If nothing else, The Fate of Atlantis scores in each and every category. What a shame that these elements aren't executed better. I'll get to how they're not in a minute, but first I need to talk about the character of Indiana Jones.
You see, the crew at Dark Horse comics (undoubtedly green lit by the ever questionable George Lucas) never captured the spirit of Indy. Sure he does all the things he's supposed to do, but he never does them right. His playfulness is forced, his relationship with Sophia (his psychic link to Atlantis) is as convincing as Richard M. Nixon's "I'm not a crook" speech, and his dialogue has more in common with the worst of Mike Hammer than with the Indiana Jones of film (he repeatedly says, "Eureka," and I can guarantee he's never said "Eureka" anywhere in any film). When Indy isn't Indy, and he sure isn't Indy in The Fate of Atlantis, the adventure is in serious trouble.
And that trouble is compounded by nearly every classic ingredient that should have made the story a winner.
Atlantis and its supply of orichalcum, a sort of Greek God plutonium, is too silly, too "made up," to sustain the story. Indy's travels from continent to continent are a bit of a joke, driven more by obligation than the requirements of the story. Sophia is intended as a wacky Katherine Hepburn-style "girl Friday," but her execution is more like Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost. The Nazis of The Fate of Atlantis are even less frightening than the Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The action sequences, beyond their natural and acceptable diminishment from screen to page, are so uninspired that Indy gets shot in the shoulder...by a Nazi...again.
So why two stars? Well...I am a sucker for Indiana Jones (even bad Indiana Jones), and I read it with my son. He thought it was pretty damn cool, so that's enough to make me think it was okay. But only just.(less)
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is poor. It tried so hard to seem like an Indiana Jones adventure, that it forgot to [u:]be[/u:] an Indiana Jones adventure. It isn't an auspicious beginning for the Omnibus, but since it is the most famous of Indy's comic book (and video game) adventures, it is the obvious choice.
Indiana Jones and the Thunder in the Orient is even more racist than your usual Indiana Jones adventure. Indy spews out "Japs" whenever he's faced with the buck-toothed, bespectacled "Nipponese Army;" the Serpent Lady, a "great" Chinese leader, is the most Caucasian looking Asian woman I have ever seen, and we need to be reminded repeatedly of her incredible beauty, which seems to be the result of her apparent occidentalism more than anything else; moreover, there is a consistent chauvinism towards "others" and "half-breeds" that saturates the entire tale. Come to think of it...all that makes it a pretty straight forward and typical Indiana Jones adventure.
Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold is the shortest entry in the Omnibus Volume 1, but it is also the best, which isn't saying much. The story is simple, the cast of characters is small, Indy is more like himself than in the other graphic novels collected here, the action takes up way more space than the explication (a very good thing), and the less detailed artwork really suits the gritty feel of Indy, but it's still disappointing for true Indy fans. It is pretty sad that Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold is the best of a bad collection. I was hoping for a whole lot more. But, hey, at least my son liked it.(less)
This is one of those beautiful books from my youth that I absorbed lovingly while lying on my bright, orange-copper, shag carpet in the cool of my bas...moreThis is one of those beautiful books from my youth that I absorbed lovingly while lying on my bright, orange-copper, shag carpet in the cool of my basement bedroom on Queensland Drive.
It wasn't just words on a page telling a story; it was the extension of something that would become and remain an obsession; it was a soothing calm from the pain of physical abuse; it was an imaginary father in pictures and words to make me feel safe from a father of flesh and unpredictable anger.
It was poorly written and shabbily bound. It was Raiders of the Lost Ark not so much abridged as reduced. But even the reduction was a beautiful thing captured in still photo after still photo: Spielberg's sweeping landscapes. Harrison Ford at his roguish best. Egyptian sets. Belloq's classy menace. Dietrich's Nazi jaw. Marion's hard beauty. Frozen action. Bad dates ("You eat 'em").
This is a book as an extension of life.
As a book it is probably crap, and maybe worse than crap, but for a young boy in need of a hero it was a gateway to comfort, to escape, to happiness.
I should never read the plaudits plastered on the cover of a book, nor those that litter the first few pages. I am invariably annoyed by what I find a...moreI should never read the plaudits plastered on the cover of a book, nor those that litter the first few pages. I am invariably annoyed by what I find and occasionally even led astray. Luckily with John Barnes’ The Somnambulist, I was mostly faced with the former brand of upset.
According to the book company, Barnes’ style is a mix of Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Susannah Clarke and a little bit of Carl Hiassen. And maybe there is something to these comparisons, but mostly I think these names are lazy choices of a marketing department, choices that will sell more books rather than giving the reader a clear view of what they’re in for. I saw a whole lot more of Tim Powers in Barnes’ writing than anyone else, and was pleasantly surprised because of that.
I could just be lazy at this point and leave it at: “ I saw a whole lot more of Tim Powers in Barnes’ writing,” but I am sure someone would call me on it so here are the connections to Powers:
1. Romantic Poets Make an Appearance: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or some semblance of him, takes part in Reverend Dr. Tan’s attempt to bring Pantisocracy to London with a bloody insurrection, and he’s joined by the left hand of Robert Southey, “several toes ... donated by Charles Lamb,” and some random organs from William Wordsworth.
2. Fantastical Magic and Unexplained Phenomenon:The Somnambulist is full of Powers-esque moments of craziness, from a nine foot giant who inexplicably survives multiple impalings and loves his milk, to a pair of Angus Young-like uber-assassins who enter the fray at the behest of a nasty Albino. There is no explaining it, but then who would want to?
3. Steampunk Sci-Fi and Victorianism: There’s a touch of Frankenstein in the animation of Coleridge, and then a whole pile of the usual trappings of Steampunk: pseudo-science, Victorian gadgets, cops, robbers, government conspiracies, and all things Tim Powers. There are underground societies, far-seers who are forced to flee for their lives, and a pair of Holmesian puzzle solvers, a sort of Victorian Penn and Teller, at the heart of the bizarre mystery.
So you see, it owes more to Tim Powers than his comrades-in-pens. And thank Jabber for that.(less)
The narrative, if it can be called that, is elementary and clunky. The story is just plain silly. And Indiana Jones is barely Indiana Jones. If it wasn't for the occasional mention of his hat and the fact that he's looking for some artifact, one wouldn't have a clue who he was.
But none of that is really important if you're reading it with a little boy you love, and he repeats everything the boy in the story says while acting out as much of the actions as he can without wrecking your office.
When that happens, when you're engaged with the wonder of your son, even the worst book in the world (a title for which this could be a contender) becomes a happy, worthwhile experience.
You say at the beginning of your second solo adventure, By Any Means, that "It struck me that this was what the trip was all about; a chan...moreOh, Charley.
You say at the beginning of your second solo adventure, By Any Means, that "It struck me that this was what the trip was all about; a chance to step into other people's lives for a little while," and that was exactly what I wanted to hear. It is why I have enjoyed all your previous adventures: both your big bike trips with Ewan and your own Race to Dakar. They have always been about you making contact with people, and that is compelling stuff.
In the Long Way Round your camaraderie with Ewan McGregor was so genuine and relaxed that I couldn't help being swept along for the ride, and when you wound up hanging out with a Kalashnikov wielding Russian "electronics store owner" or eating testicles in a Mongolian "Ger," it was your contact with other people, the way you allowed yourself to accept their invitations into their lives, that made reading about your adventure fun.
The same held true in the Long Way Down. Despite the fact that you and Ewan didn't get along as smoothly as your first trip, you still connected with the members of your team, and you met people from all over Africa, really getting to know some of them. The story you told us was about those people, and you expressed a real sense of wonder that made me wish I was there.
Even the Race to Dakar was filled with people. Sure it wasn't about how the people of Africa are affected by the Dakar rally, or even about any African people at all, but it didn't lack the human connection. It was about you and your team -- Simon, Matt and your backup crew (which, as always, included Russ Malkin) -- and those other racers in the Dakar you came to know and respect.
Expressing your relationships, giving us a glimpse of how people interact while traveling, showing us how you engage with the people you know or are coming to know, stepping "into other people's lives for a little while," these are the times when your books are at their best.
The total lack of support crew (your only companions are the ever present Russ and your new cameraman, Mungo) certainly made your adventure more adventurous, but it also cost you a valuable component of human interaction.
But the real problem was the nature of your adventure from Ireland to Australia. Using any means of transportation to get around the world, except commercial airlines, foregrounded the transportation far too much. Your other adventures only used motorbikes, and even though you talked incessantly about those bikes, they were props, mere background to where you were traveling and the humans you met along the way.
But the myriad modes of transport forced By Any Means to be about those modes and almost nothing else. Motorcycles, tuk-tuks, road trains, rocket boats, wake boards, elephants, horses, hiking, helicopters, etc., etc., if there was a new way to travel you took it, and I can see how that would be fun for you and how it would make good television, but reading about how you take a dolmus so that you can cross the next border and reach the guy with the motorbike and sidecar so you can get to the train to the truck to the tractor to the taxi to the truck becomes tedious beyond belief.
Your story is all about the next thing you ride not the people you meet along the way. Sure you give us a quick description of the folks you meet, but there is no sense of engagement, no feeling of you stepping into their lives, just you saying "hi" while you kick them into the backseat of their rickshaw and ride them around Varansi, just you pontificating about their governments while you ride in the back of their cabs, just you delivering medicine for UNICEF without telling us anything substantive about the kids you meet.
I wanted more of what you're good at, not a list of the cool vehicles you got to ride, so...yeah...you disappointed me, Charley. But I'll give this a try on TV, I promise. Those bits that are missing in your book might just be there on screen, and that would redeem the time I spent reading about your latest trip.
And don't worry...I'll still come back for your next adventure. One boring one won't kill it for me. I am made of sterner stuff than that.
Something about distant, desolate Northern climes -- Siberia, Sweden, the Yukon, Iceland -- has always appealed to me (perhaps because I have spent most of my life on the border of those climes here in Canada), and someday I will go myself to see the Northern Lights in their true splendour and drink clean water fresh off a glacier.
Paddling a river by any means available also packs some serious appeal for me. I have been a recreational paddler for most of my life (although the last few years have seen a dearth of paddling for me), and I know something of what author, Colin Angus, and his adventure mates, Remy, Ben and Tim, faced on their journey along the Yenisey River, from the source to the outlet.
Plus, I am a big sucker for tales of adventure travel, and the cultural sharing that is an inevitable part of the experience is something I long to engage with personally.
Yet even with these reasons to love Lost in Mongolia, I could only muster a mild fondness.
There are some fascinating moments in their trip: Colin's twelve day separation from his friends with almost no gear in the middle of a river in the Mongolian Steppes; their time spent with Irkutsk mafioso Vladimir; the unresolved and strange love affair between Remy and Olya, a pair of born-again Christians who meet in the middle of Siberia while Remy's girlfriend acts as his "secretary" back home; and the team's final days with two Nenet families at 71 degrees latitude, where they visit the site of a Stalin atrocity.
There is excitement to be found in Lost in Mongolia and some compelling glimpses of life in Mongolia and Siberia, but there is something missing in Colin Angus' telling of the trip -- a hint that anything he experienced really touched him.
The travel books I really love are from people who have connected deeply with their journey through the people they meet, the spaces they pass through, and the cultures they encounter. They don't necessarily have to be changed by their experiences, but they need to be touched. And Colin Angus seemed untouchable.
He is so focused on his trip, on the conquering of the Yenisey river, that the things around him -- even his most compelling anecdotes -- come off as annoyances and oddities that get in the way of his paddling. And it makes me wonder if he only wrote about most of those moments to finance his further adventures, not because he feels a genuine desire to share them.
Not that it matters all that much. Even if I don't love Lost in Mongolia, I am fond enough of it that it has inspired me to take on the Yukon River Quest in 2010 with my brother-in-law. It's not a challenge like Angus' conquering of the Yenisey river, but it gets me back on the water with a paddle in hand and lets me see the far North before I head for the equator, and for that I will always be indebted to Colin Angus.(less)